- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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PenMarc'h, Bretagne, August 12, 2007 - -
I have been in love with  "La Mer", possibly
the most recognizable French tune with the
possible exception of "La Marseillaise",
for most of my life.

It was written by Charles Trenet, un
chanteur extraordinairre.  And though Bobby
Darin lifted the melody, his "Beyond the
Sea", while wonderful in its production and
orchesta arrangement, bears little
resemblance to the lyrics of Monsieur
To a non-French-speaking American, a
category into which I definitely fall, the
words are very French-sounding.  Not
knowing the words in French, it had
occurred to me to write my own version in
that language, using the words and phrases
I  already know,  or those I remember from
Mrs Lemaster's French class in eighth
grade, during those times when I was also
taking French lessons from Candy Jordan.
With any luck, Candy's an old granny
by now, and Mrs Lemaster has gone to that
big French class in the sky. But the rules
of writing this faux-French song would be
that the song itself did not have to make
sense, only that the words must sound very
French and be those that an
American would recognize, without
necessarily knowing what they mean.  This
would prove to be more difficult than it

I have some Francophone American and
English friends in Paris, and this song
will almost assuredly seem stupid, or
perhaps merely sophomoric, to them.
This is not my problem.   They can deal
with their tragic supercilious smugness on
their own blogs.

Other Americans, though probably not those
tuned into this particular station, will
find the song not stupid but only more
meaningless than was my original intent.
It will not capture their attention because
it has foreign-sounding words.  I speak here
of those whose only contact with French has
been via the Poynter Sisters ("Voulez vous
couchez avec moi,  cet
soir?").  I'm getting into my own little
smuggy zone here, I know...

Wednesday August 8th 2007 - -

So on our long drive across France to our
second gig in The Jura, wa-a-a-ay over in
the eastern part of the country I began
working on it, to the tolerant amusement of
Jean Luc; Felicie and Stephan, the current
incarnation of the post-industrial,
pre-modern French folk band 'Mary-Lou'.

I live a blessed life, I know.  Earlier
this year my friends Jean Luc and Felicie
invited me to come and be their guest
artist on un p'tit tour of France.    Day
before yesterday we played a small holiday
camp in Bretagne to a wonderful audience
and the next day we set out with Stephan
the keyboard player on a jaunt across
France to the Jura, near Switzerland, for
two dates there.
On the way we stopped and spent the night
with friends of Jean Luc's named Nicola and
Celine and their two children.  We were not
the only visitors; a German couple anbd
their child, Uma (like Thurman) were also
there.  It is a house that used to be an
abbey, maybe, as there is an old disused
in front.  We had a delicious meal and
conversation, went to bed, got up, did the
coffee, bread and butter thing and set off

Thursday August 9th - -

Jean Luc and Felicie love what they do for
a living and it shows.  They are a joy to
be around and work with.  They are

Thursday night we played in Dole for about
700 people.  It was an okay show, but the
sound guy had started warming up his rig
with really loud techno, so from early on
we knew what torture we were in for.  So we
did our show by rote, with no contact with
each other on stage through the completely
useless monitors.
God only knows what it sounded like out
At the end of the evening I called out to
him across the parking lot "Bon soir...et
"He didn't hear you," said Jean luc.
This was not surprising.  He hadn't heard
me all night long, either.

Friday August 10th - -

Today we played at a holiday hotel  in
Metabief where we are also staying.  It's
about 7 kilometers, 4 or 5 miles, from
Switzerland.  The owner of the hotel,
Gerard,  is also the mayor of the town,
largely devoted to skiing in the winter and
biking and climbing in the summer.
After the gig he told me about how the area
was occupied by the Spanish to the
satisfaction of the locals for about one
hundred years.  Then Louis XIV hired a
Swedish mercenary army to take it back for
France, which they did, efficiently and
bloodily.   In the process they kicked a
lot of local butt so folks around here
didn't  like the Sun King all that much.
So much did they dislike Louis that they
had themselves buried face down, "so they
could show their asses to the Sun," said

Gerard treated us to dinner before we
played (they do that here in France, feed
the musicians before they play and put them
up afterward.  In the States you're lucky
to get paid).  At the end of dinner, the
mayor served various wines and cheeses of
the region.  Among the cheeses was one, an
almost liquid, cancoillotte cheese.
Which I raved, honestly, about.  This is
some strong stuff.
This morning, as we were leaving, the mayor
sent to the hotel two boxes of various
wines ands cheeses, including the
concoillotte.  To indicate just how
overwhelming this stuff is, let me merely
say that my French companions, who you'd
think would be used to this kind of stuff,
have been complaining of the smell all the
way back across France, opening doors and
windows to air out the van at every stop.
And these people whose old dog, Bilbo, also
on the road with us, is capable of farts
that will make your eyes sting.  So between
Eau de Bilbo and my cheese it has been a
pretty rough crossing.

We arrived back at the home of JL and
after dropping Stephan off at his house,
had a little dinner and went to bed.

Saturday August 11 -- Today I did not do
much, except that Jean Luc and Felicie,
perhaps in self-defense, began to teach me
the real words to "La Mer", and I tried to
take care of some business back in Rockvale
via the Internet.

Sunday August 12 -- Today we had a gig at
the American Car and Bike Festival not too
awfully far from home base.  Our friends
and my benefactors Jacques and Michele were
there, and the other act was a French band
named "Milwaukee", also friends of my
current employers.  This is my last
scheduled date with Mary-Lou, and it's a
shame, because I'm finally learning to play
with them, and though the first gigs
haven't sounded bad, today we actually
kicked ass, in a laid-back Mary-Lou kind of
way.   There is nothing beter than being in
a band with friends, but though I will
continue to be their guest at their house
for another couple of weeks,  as of today I
cease to be their employee, because
tomorrow the formidable, unsinkable country
rocker, my partner Rob "The Doc" Dokter,
his fiancee Dragana and Xander the keyboard
Wunderkind arrive in Paris, where I will
meet them and be off on another, different,
I'm sure, kind of adventure.

Here are my words to "La Mer", with
apologies to Monsieur Trenet, Mrs Lemaster,
 50 or 60 million Frenchmen, and especially
Candy.  Never was a girl so aptly named...:

Music by Charles Trenet
French lyrics for les Americaines  by
Panama Red

La mer
Arrondissement, et chien,
cherchez la femme
Mangeons gateau dans le bateau
Mais je ne connais
Ou est ma tante

Donnez mon chat, ma cher,
et mon chapeau
La concierge dits "quel beau cadeau!"
Je m'appelle Pierre, et c'est mon table

Cet vin
est chardonnay ne pas vin ordinairre
pardonnez-moi, la vache qui rit
defense de fumer avec ton oncle

Gendarmerie, toute suite Merci beaucoup
Comment allez-vous?  Eh, bien, et tu?
Et ta maquillage
Est sur la table

EDITOR'S NOTE -- We are announcing a
contest to send in your own
first-year-French version of "La Mer".  You
only have to provide one verse to be
entered, but you may provide more.  There
are prizes!
FIRST PRIZE: Spend a day with Panama.
SECOND PRIZE:  Spend TWO days with Panama.