Saturday, December 21, 2013


For some of us there is nothing like a little heart problem to add spice to life. Note, it is important that the problem be little. If it is too big, it is all consuming. That's not good. The goal is NOT to be worried about dying but to feel driven to live, to savour the linked moments we call life.

If you have followed my blog, you will know that my granddaughter, an anglaise, is enrolled in a French public school. This is not a French immersion school, a school for English children whose parents want them to speak French. This is a French school for French children.

My granddaughter seems to be getting by. The school has had no complaints about her work. I believe the school is being very supportive of her efforts. Still, I worry. I feel driven to learn a little French, to chat with my granddaughter in the language she uses at school. I want the French fabric that is her school life to be frayed a little and for threads of French to find their way into her homelife, too.

To this end I have been watching French television (mostly TV5) and reading French news stories. A new world has enveloped me. The fabric of French culture is a rich weave with lots of threads loose along its edges.

Which bring me to Joe le Taxi — a song that is among the top one hundred best-selling singles of all time in France. It is also claimed to have been number one in Canada. Are you surprised? I am. Clearly, it was a big hit in Quebec. And clearly I have not been aware of the French threads that reach into Canada but get cleanly cut at the Quebec border.

Joe le Taxi is about a black taxi driver in Paris who knows the City of Lights very well. If it's a great little bar you seek, Joe's your man. A rum drinking, saxaphone playing dude, Joe is cool on the outside with a hot passion for Latin music on the inside.

How did I find the thread that led to the discovery of this song? TV5 and a story about Vanessa Paradis. This French singer-model-actress had a fourteen year relationship with American actor Johnny Depp. This connection makes her fodder for a news machine pumping out stories for an anglais audience.

Paradis was only fourteen when she recorded Joe. Today, in her forties, she has a fourteen year old daughter of her own, Lily-Rose, who is now evolving into an artist. Her daughter already shares a writing credit with mom and another woman, a close family friend. Lily-Rose co-wrote Love Songs with them after coming up with the melody eight years earlier when she was only six.

Paradis is attempting to foster creativity in her children, she also has young son. Paradis is surrounding the two with creative people who will lead by inspired example. Paradis is filling her children's lives with threads — creative threads.

Life is made up of threads, billions of threads. We all follow threads. It is the way life works. These threads, an uncountable number, are interwoven into the fabric we call culture. I'm hoping this learning of French will encourage my granddaughter to follow threads which lead deep into the cultural tangle that is Canada than I have ever gone. I hope taking French will be inspirational for my developing granddaughter.

Too many Americans and Canadians wear large, thick cultural blinders. Many Yanks cannot get past the "greatest country in the world" hollow boast. Talk of anything outside the United States makes their eyes glaze over. I do not want my granddaughter to be trapped in a cultural straight jacket.

If a young Vanessa Paradis, barely a teen, singing a charming, little piece of pop music seems a fragile thread on which to anchor an interest in French culture, you'd be right. It is very fine thread. And yet, if you follow it, if you allow it to gently pique your interest, you will find your self travelling deeper and deeper into French pop culture.

You may find yourself immersed in French techno pop music experiencing songs like Vive la fete, Bananasplit, or Laurent Garnier, Flashback. I have followed those threads in the past thanks to a woman who was not a small thread but a large swath of wonderfully patterned cloth in my life: My mother.

In her eighties, cruising from channel to channel one evening, searching for something of interest on television, my mother chanced upon an open-air concert by Jean Michel Jarre recorded in Paris. She loved the concert, the music and the light show accompanying it. We followed the JMJ thread and found it led us to Charlotte Rampling, an English actress and his second wife. This new thread connected us with The Night Porter, a difficult movie from the '70s with Dirk Bogarde. Bogarde was one of my mother's favourite actors. The movie was not.

Threads: Life is composed of threads. The threads we follow lead us deep into the fabric we call life. Threads hold never ending interest. We pass threads from the old to the young, from the young to the old, and from the dying to the newborn. Look about, find a thread, follow it. Live!

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