A few nights ago and without any reason apparent, I felt the most irresistible urge to read ‘L’écume des jours‘ again. I have read it only once before, when it was on our study list from French literature class – yikes, some fifteen years ago.
I loved the book at the time – it grabbed me from the first page: the name of the hero is Colin (which is very rare in France, maybe because it’s also the name of fish?), and the world he lives in is quirky, on-its-head, and fantastical. The kind of world you want to live in even if you’d have to have a daily fight with the eel that lives in your plumbing to stop it from eating all your toothpaste.
We studied ‘L’écume des jours’ in the same year as classic, beautiful (and let’s face it, often depressing and bleak) works by Victor Hugo, Balzac, Maupassant, and Zola. After those dinosaurs of French literature Boris Vian felt like the cheekiest breath of fresh air – the playful creator of a crazy world where two people fall madly in love and even death comes about more poetically (dying from a water-lily growing in your lung… Beautiful no?).
Wanting to immerse myself in Colin’s world again, I hunted for the book – easy to spot: white with a giant water-lily on the cover (fitting).
After two sweeps of our bookshelves I had to conclude I hadn’t in fact thieved my parents’ copy like I thought I’d done before moving here. And I was very disappointed with myself for not doing it.
I wanted to read a beautiful story of love, friendship and death by water-lily, and nothing but Boris Vian will do (internal dialogue as I shuffled away empty-handed feeling stroppy and despondent). But then I thought: I’ll just swipe it next time I visit… And sniggered a little bit. Would Boris Vian have condoned my behaviour? I’d like to think so.
PS: He also sings quirky funny songs. I love him.
(Image from here)
It is one of my most vivid memories from school (apart from the 7:50AM starts): standing at the black board and reciting poetry by heart, in front of the whole class.
I have a theory about this: I think it cracks the teachers up to listen to a 6 year old’s rendition of French Romanticism. Or a 13 year old’s rendition of French classical theatre. Or a 15 year old’s rendition of a Renaissance sonnet (with some old French thrown in). Or a 17 year old’s rendition of Baudelaire describing his perving on the seamstress workshop next door. All of which, you guessed right, I had to render.
And doing quick maths albeit with a glass of wine on board, I can confirm it’s been decades since my Alfred de Musset performance – my first récitation ever. And I can still feel my little 6 year old body shaking as I was trying to remember one verse after another – all about the damn moon: ‘Ballade à la Lune‘.
I never got it at the time – for me the days when we would recite were like the worst type of lottery: the one you don’t want to win but that you’re entered into anyway. But I think I get it now. Because when I look at the moon, I start to recite Alfred de Musset in my head. And boy, is the ‘Ballade à la Lune‘ beautifully written and strikingly imaginative (the man isn’t my idol for nothing…) And my love for him started there, during récitation, and has only grown stronger.
This aside, I still maintain the exercise is intentionally designed to torture and mock little school children, and petrify them by demanding they speak publicly in old French…
(The image is my 1959 copy of Alfred de Musset’s ‘Premières Poésies‘, which belonged to my mother – and which she gave me when I moved to Melbourne. The pages have yellowed to perfection, and it smells respectable like an old book should.)