Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Composer In The Park

Recently, I received a letter from my French friend and artist, Marie-France, describing her surroundings in Paris. She commented that Spring had come to this historic park located five minutes from her condo. And this place was also noted for its beautiful trees and artistic visitors. One of those visitors in the past had been the famous composer/singer -- Gilbert Becaud. She inquired if I knew any of his songs or had ever heard of him. Unfortunately, I had not and was a little embarassed by my lack of knowledge. So, Google came in very handy.

I was fasinated by what I discovered. He was known as Monsieur 100000 volts for his energetic performances and charisma. He frequented the music halls and cafes of Paris during the 1950's and 60's. His melodies were very popular with the French audience and extended their popularity to the US, the UK and other European countries. His most famous songs included "Nathalie" and "Et Maintenant". I was drawn immediately to the lyrics and whimsical beat of the first one. Nathalie is a song of love ripening between a Russian guide and her adoring tourist.

As a poet, I wrote a scene from Monsieur Becaud's older life. It opens with him strolling in a city park, still dapper and filled with the vitality of music. He passes by some old men playing petangue, a game of lawn bowling, who discuss his presence there. They contemplate his reason for the afternoon walk and lead into the possibility of a composer searching for his lost muse. Details like red geraniums and a gold foil wrapper provide a sudden flash back to the day he first met Nathalie. It was a cold day in Red Square where the domed towers of the Krelim guarded the plaza with regal silence. She was not a guide as suggested by his song, but a blonde girl who simply turned around to ask him, a convenient stranger, to light her cigarette. The unlit smoke was held like a piece of chalk, ready to sign their encounter with red sparks of heat, (ellipses of fire), that would pause the scene and leave him thinking about what might happen next. Flirtation dominated the moment but words were omitted and things were just assumed. The flame generated between them and that flare emitted by the cigarette, became points of suspension inferring more, this romance would continue. Their meeting would be a fateful one. And in the end, it led to the creation of his beloved and imaginative chanson, Nathalie.


Devant moi marchait Nathalie
Elle avait un joli nom, mon guide
Gilbert Becaud

Along Spring's plaza of trees
he still walks
charged by volts of sunlight
and old music hall tunes.

He wears a white shirt
with a marlin-blue tie
as he moves past
some hunched men
bowling on the lawn.

They grumble
about the game and then look up
questioning their neighbor's
afternoon stroll.
Some insist he is here
to simply exercise.
others say he is searching
for traces of Nathalie,
the Russian muse
he immortalized
in his lyrics --- years ago.

As the players gossip,
their pétangue feet
relaxed with the break,

he notices the red
geraniums blooming
near a stone fountain
and the candy wrapper
left glittering on a bench.

No chocolat
but its gold foil
flashes to the domed roofs
of the Kremlin and the curling
glamour of a girl's hair.

She turns around
and asks for a light, her cigarette
poised like slender chalk
to sign the cold air
and their encounter
with ellipses of fire....the rest
of the picture drawn
later in a café and his song.

Epigram is translated from the French song, Nathalie, meaning – Nathlie walked in front of me. She had a pretty name , my guide.

The art is by French artist, Marie-France Riviere, entitled, "Au revoir Paris" See more of her work here,

Click on Nathalie to hear the song sung in French with lyrics visually shown in both French and English.

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