Friday, June 11, 2010

Poetry Friday: Soundtrack, Summer 1987

I've been thinking about the way music provides a soundtrack to my life, so that forever after, every time I hear that song it brings back a particular time and place. One of my high school roommates really liked Meatloaf, for example. So if I were to hear "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" (and I just had that dubious pleasure, courtesy of YouTube), I would think of sweet Clare, who was a great friend but whose musical tastes were quite different from mine.

But I was thinking especially of the summer of 1987, which I spent in Paris, studying French, and I was trying to remember the soundtrack of that summer. I can only remember two songs. One is Madonna's "La Isla Bonita," which was everywhere. I remember hearing it in stores, and blaring through the banlieue where we stayed. It's in English and Spanish, not French, but it will always bring back the freedom and delight of that summer.

Edit: I had posted the original video of this song here, but it's been pulled from YouTube, so here's another version - not at all the same as the one I remember.

The only other song I remember is so dreadful that I won't even post the video, though you can go see it on YouTube should you be so inclined. I couldn't remember anything about it except that it was about someone called Hélène. Google came through for me and I found out that it's by Julien Clerc, and the title is, in fact, "Hélène." I know now why I paid attention to this song. It's because the singer says, again and again, "Hélène, j'suis pas Verlaine." In other words, he's not the poet Verlaine, or a poet at all, and yet he will still write things about her. I remember now that every time I heard him say "J'suis pas Verlaine," I thought, "Wow, you sure aren't." (The things he wrote about her made me cringe when I was a teenager, and still make me cringe now. And the only word for the singer himself is smarmy.)

Which brings me to the true soundtrack for that summer: poetry. I was in love, and I was studying literature, and I had an assignment to explicate the poem "Dans l'interminable ennui de la plaine," by, yes, Verlaine. And let me tell you, that guy? He was Verlaine.

I remember working very hard on that explication de texte, which I had to present in front of my class. I would sit in a café drinking a $6 cup of coffee (and I don't even like coffee) or in the Jardin de Luxembourg, and feel pure joy. I was in Paris!

Verlaine was the perfect poet for the bookish teenager I was, besotted with Paris and the whole experience of being in France and in love with a far-off boyfriend who was not writing back to me nearly as much as I wanted him to. (In fact, he broke up with me when we got back to college, but that is another whole different story, and, as Jane Eyre said, "Reader, I married him.")

Here's the first stanza of "Dans l'interminable ennui de la plaine" (and here's the rest of it, plus an English translation and also links to musical settings of the text).

Dans l'interminable
Ennui de la plaine,
La neige incertaine
Luit comme du sable.

Great stuff, Verlaine. And here's the first stanza of another wonderful Verlaine poem, also perfect for adolescence. (Link here to the rest of it, plus English translation and musical settings.)

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville,
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur ?

Delicious. It brings it all back, just as much as music does. Walking through the streets of Paris, eating schwarma or pain au chocolat, buying books from tables in front of bookstores, riding the Métro, being flirted with by charming Algerian boys...and hearing "La Isla Bonita" at every turn.

I think this may be one of those self-indulgent posts that nobody appreciates but me. But I sure had fun writing it.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.


Mary Lee said...

It was fun to walk down your memory lane with you!

Rich said...

Summer 1987 was also the summer that I came to Paris, and walked up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower with you, climbed out onto the lead tiles of Notre Dame, and got our photos taken together in Gare du Nord. I still have those pictures.

My sound track that summer was rather different, spending most of the summer in Oklahoma listing to KJYO, Oklahoma's Greatest Hits!!! I still have cassette tapes that I made of the radio that summer.

Ruth said...

Yes, that was an eventful summer in many ways!

Kelly said...

Certain songs definitely take me back. I remember singing karaoke to La Isla Bonita!!! :)

Tricia said...

I had pain au chocolat for breakfast this morning - yum! (along with some strawberries) There's a local bakery that specializes in French breads and pastries, and they set up at the Wednesday Farmers Market. I'm told it's pretty authentic, but I wouldn't know because my only experience of Paris is walking from one train station to another (arriving from Switzerland, leaving for, um, Belgium?), three summers after you were there.