Monday 19 December 2016

La Môme Piaf

Édith Giovanna Gassion was born in Belleville, Paris 101 years ago today on 19th Dec 1915. At some early stage in her chequered [don't mention the war] career she acquired the name Édith Piaf = sparrow Passer domesticus. I'm showing my age in recognising her in this birthday tribute because she died in 1963 about the time I started to learn French in school, so she was not part of my middle class southern [UK] culture when I was growing up. The Beloved au contraire grew up in a multicultural society on the edge of the Sahel in West Africa. Her mother Souad went to school in Egypt and Lebanon speaking better French than English, had more than a passing resemblance to Édith - diminutive stature and considerable back-bone - and both women had a veneration for Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Souad gave her daughter an LP of Piaf's greatest hits for a birthday just after we got together. We were at the time bone-poor students who had a very limited collection of records, so we played Piaf almost until the disc wore out. As it happens today is the anniversary of ma belle-mère's death last year and the family gathered to remember her this last weekend. Souad taught me that there is no future in regrets, and I'm grateful for that even more than for the many servings of baked ham and megadarra that I ate at her table.

One of the wonderful things about Piaf for foreigners is that, as well as a having a gutsy all-in style of singing, her diction was precise and so listening helped my French no end.  But don't listen to me, listen to her belting it out:


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