Serge Gainsbourg – 20 ans déja [3]

My favourite Serge Gainsbourg song (though that changes once in a while) is about another song – Les feuilles mortes (Autumn Leaves). Serge’s song is called La chanson de Prévert (Prévert’s Song) – lyrics by Jacques Prévert with music by Joseph Kosma. Here are the French lyrics, with the English translation by Alex Chabot.

Oh je voudrais tant que tu te souviennes
Cette chanson était la tienne
C’était ta préférée
Je crois
Qu’elle est de Prévert et
Kosma

Avec d’autres bien sûr je m’abandonne
Mais leur chanson est monotone
Et peu à peu je m’in-
Diffère

A cela il n’est rien
A faire
Peut-on jamais savoir par où commence
Et quand finit l’indifférence

Passe l’automne vienne
l’hiver
Et que la chanson de
Prévert

Cette chanson, LES FEUILLES MORTES
S’efface de mon souvenir
Et ce jour là
Mes amours mortes
En auront fini de mourir

Oh how I’d like you to remember
This song was yours
It was your favorite
I believe
It’s by Prévert and
Kosma

With others of course I give up
But their song is monotonous
And little by little I lose in-
terest

For that there isn’t anything
To do
Can you ever know where the beginning
And end of indifference is

The autumn passes and brings
Winter
And nothing but Prévert’s
Song

That song, DEAD LEAVES
Wipes itself from my memory
And on that day
My dead loves
Will have finished dying

Serge Gainsbourg – 20 ans déja [1]

Serge Gainsbourg died on 2 March 1991. At the time I knew almost nothing about him – perhaps I had heard only one song: Je t’aime… Moi non plus. I watched the state funeral on TV and couldn’t believe how it brought the city to a standstill. I had to find out more about him, I started listening to his CD’s and fell in love with his music – I loved his word play, double and triple entendres that I don’t pretend to understand all of.

(I recently discovered that Alex Chabot is translating the lyrics into English, so we Anglophones can finally “understand what Gainsbourg was saying in each song, and not always how he was saying it”. Alex Chabot: My Own Role – The Lyrics of Serge Gainsbourg in English – pay him a few sous so he can continue the good work).

He was a legend before he died and he still is influencing French music from beyond the grave. His daughter, Charlotte, has preserved his home on Rue  de Verneuil (where he died). The front wall is filled with graffiti homages to him – layer upon layer have been added these past twenty years.

5 bis, rue de Verneuil

 

5 bis, rue de VerneuilInitiales G A I N S B O U R GSerge

 

Château Rouge, where I lived for 2 years, 20 years ago

I just can’t believe it has been 20 years.

After staying for a couple of months in a company-supplied apartment near the Château de Vincennes area (Southeast), I moved to 13, Rue de Suez near the Château Rouge métro (Northeast). It was, and is, an African and North African neighbourhood. People I worked with were relieved every day that I arrived (late) for work – they were worried I wouldn’t survive. While it was not what you think Paris is, it was a safe area – I never had any trouble and never saw a fight. The worst that happened, happened once: my roommate Yasmeen was whistled at.

I lived on the fifth floor – no elevator. I actually exercised for a bit (the Canadian Army 5BX method) and was so energetic that I ran up the stairs and sometimes found myself on the sixth floor!

I took a walk around the neighbourhood, and after 20 years, just like the rest of Paris, some things are the same and some things have changed. I’ve done this so you don’t have to.

There is a story about Oscar Wilde living (and dying, I think) in a hotel near here. I’ll have to do some research on this.


The entrance to métro Château Rouge, which I used every day for two years. There used to be a boulangerie here where I would buy two croissants every day for my journey to work. Because I was a regular customer, the croissant girl would slip an extra free croissant in the bag. When I said I didn’t need a third croissant, she would say to give it to the homeless – but I never found the homeless up at that hour!

The entrance to métro Château Rouge

 

The launderette I frequented is no more – it was very convenient, where I could have my clothes washed and folded for an unreasonable fee, though it seemed they beat the clothes to a pulp. It was the only launderette in which I saw someone reading the Holy Quran. Next to the launderette is this little resto, where one could find the cheapest couscous in the city.

au rendez-vous des amis

 

The market street, Rue Dejean

The market street, Rue Dejean

 

13, Rue de Suez. Tug on my coat-sleeve and I’ll tell you about a fire that broke out in the apartment next to mine.

13, Rue de Suez

 

Navel is an Indian resto on Rue de Suez (I can’t believe it’s still here). I was so excited to find an Indian restaurant five steps from home, but soon found that the Marks & Spencer frozen Indian meals tasted better!

Navel, specialités curry et tandoori

 

Shopfronts are quite different here (many are closed on Mondays).

Bondeko

Chez Willy & Fatou

Suez Bazar

Viande à Gogo

 

Two things that have changed: every shop is either a hair extension place or a mobile phone store.

Blvd Barbès is Mobile Central

Hair extensions

Wigs?

My favourite pavement…

Rue Montorgeuil is a fantastic market street with cheese shops, bakeries, fish stores, wine shops, produce and flower shops. It’s a very hip neighbourhood. There’s a Starbucks that I hope the smart people avoid comme la peste. The area has my favourite pavement. Small, square stones are arranged in a wavy pattern – the streets are dark, the sidewalks are light.

Street walking

Dark

Light

The pavement (Taken in 2006)
Market street scene

Market street scene

Dare I say…

… that all the beautiful people on Rue de Bretagne have ruined the mood here in the Haut Marais?

Meanwhile, I had a 25cl glass of 1664 at Café Charlot – headquarters of the trendy denizens.

20110910-215251.jpg

Context

At the beginning of 1991 I began a two year work term in Paris. A few days after I arrived I participated in one of several anti-war rallies against the first American war in the Arabian Gulf (euphemistically called “The Gulf War”). The march took about three hours and while taking photographs and chanting some slogan or other, we passed monuments, famous buildings and streets – I saw Paris so differently than as a tourist.

 

Four Photographers - One Warrior - Peace For All

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with everything about Paris – except the attitude. Twenty years (and a few months) later Paris is still Paris and the attitude has improved tremendously.

I thought I’d blog about my twentieth anniversary visit. It will be composed mainly of photographs with some nostalgic musings about places revisited and perhaps some new surprises.