Thursday, 27 June 2013

Summer immersion

This time of year, there's almost too much going on in Hades. (Just try finding something in April, September, or after Christmas.) Right now, in addition to shows at the National Arts Centre, we have the lead-up to Canada Day -- which is a big deal in Ottawa --, the Fringe Festival, and the Jazz Festival. I doubt we'll make it to the Fringe this year, but younger daughter, as it may have been established, is a jazz fan. I have failed so far to summon up the large amounts of money nor the courage to attend the big-ticket outdoor jazz concerts in Confederation Park. There are two reasons for needing some nerve: thunderstorms (pretty well every night this week) and the great Ottawan sport of fighting for premium seating while armed with folding chairs of every description -- usually only to have someone stand in front of you anyway.

However the Jazz Festival also features several free concerts, involving less famous but perfectly skilled musicians. Over the years, younger daughter and I have enjoyed noon hour concerts featuring Fats Waller specialists, American Song Book singalongs, and swing dancers, among others. This morning, I checked the schedule and saw that the Nicole Ratté Quintet would be performing popular Quebecois songs in jazz settings, so we set off for the Rideau Centre and managed, thanks to a kind young man who said he had to leave early anyway, to secure seats at the back of the court surrounding the escalators, where lunch-time shoppers drifted up, looking back over their shoulders in something like slack-jawed amazement -- except for every third or fourth person, who was checking his/her cellphone. No smiles, only two people who showed any signs of pleasure. The people leaning over the railings of the upper levels seemed to be having a better time, and off to the sides, I saw a woman moving delightedly in time with the music, while her son studiously ignored her -- and checked his cellphone.

I know a little about the rich tradition of Quebecois popular music from being in immersion the summer I was nineteen, and from teaching ESL to scores of Quebecois students, also in summer immersion. So Quebec music, despite their country being winter, means summer to me. I didn't recognize many of the songs, but the surrounding audience, full of francophones, most evidently did and I did recognize the names of the composers: Robert Charlebois, Felix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, etc.

This show, however, was a sad illustration of how far my French has deteriorated since I was nineteen. I knew I should know the song that opened the set, but the lyrics baffled me. I heard them as (and I blush to disclose this): Recouvrez-moi la mer. Once I got home and googled it, I realized my mistake and the memories came flooding back:

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et ses plages d'argent
Et ses falaises blanches
Fières dans le vent
Je voudrais voir la mer
Et ses oiseaux de lune
Et ses chevaux de brume
Et ses poissons volants

Je voudrais voir la mer
Quand elle est un miroir
Où passent sans se voir
Des nuages de laine
Et les soirs de tempête
Dans la colère du ciel
Entendre une baleine
Appeler son amour

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et danser avec elle
Pour défier la mort

Je voudrais voir la mer
Avaler un navire
Son or et ses canons
Pour entendre le rire
De cent millions d'enfants
Qui n'ont pas peur de l'eau
Qui ont envie de vivre
Sans tenir un drapeau

Je voudrais voir la mer
Ses monstres imaginaires
Ses hollandais volants
Et ses bateaux de guerre
Son cimetière marin
Et son lit de corail
Où dorment les requins
Dans des draps de satin

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et danser avec elle
Pour défier la mort

Je vis dans une bulle
Au milieu d'une ville
Parfois mon coeur est gris
Et derrière la fenêtre
Je sens tomber l'ennui
Sur les visages blêmes
Et sous les pas pesants
Que traînent les passants

Alors du fond de moi
Se lève un vent du large
Aussi fort que l'orage
Aussi doux qu'un amour
Et l'océan m'appelle
D'une voix de velours
Et dessine en mon corps
Le mouvant...
Le mouvant de la vague

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et danser avec elle
Pour défier la mort...

Je voudrais voir la mer
Se gonfler de soleil
Devenir un bijou
Aussi gros que la terre

Je voudrais voir la mer...

Maybe if I had had my French immersion earlier in life...
Actually, I have a bona fide June memory connected with a famous Quebecois song. The following used be sung at elder daughter's end-of-the-year assemblies when she was in a school that was roughly 40% French Immersion and 60% English Stream -- she was in the 60%, but everybody had to take French, because this is Ottawa. Imagine, if you will, a gym full of elementary school students murmuring this song in the heavy, humid heat of a Hades June:

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