Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"La maison où j'ai grandi"

Françoise Hardy's is not a name we, particularly we who aren't French, will recognise instantly. This is because Françoise Hardy is no longer young, for, this coming February 17th (2009), she turns sixty-five - a senior citizen. But in the 1960s her name was on the lips of all who followed popular music.

I happened recently upon a song of Françoise Hardy's, "La maison j'ai grandi", which I hadn't heard since 1967 - the year it came out. Thus I didn't remember it instantly. But after I'd played it a few times it all came back - not surprising since we, all of us, forget nothing. All which has happened to us since we were born, all we have learned, all those whom we have known, are stored in our minds as memories, ready to be retrieved when probed.

So I was sucked down the time tunnel to 1967, the year "La maison j'ai grandi" (the house where I grew up) came out, and was played in homes, cafes and bars everywhere. I believe (but am not sure) that "La maison j'ai grandi" was France's entry in the 1967 Eurovision song contest. The winner that year was Sandie Shaw's "Puppet on a String". You who know "Puppet on a String" will surely agree, after you've heard "La maison j'ai grandi", that, compared to "La maison j'ai grandi", "Puppet on a String" is insipid.

"La maison j'ai grandi" is, as its name implies, a song of memories. But are they the memories of Françoise Hardy herself? If so, they must be more poignant to her now - the about-to-be sixty-five year-old - than in 1967, when she was merely twenty-three. In the song, Françoise Hardy sees in her mind her childhood home, the roses in its back garden, and the living trees. But, sadly, neither the house, roses, nor trees now exist because " ville est ....." (the city is there). We must assume Françoise's childhood home and the roses and trees have been torn down and bulldozed over, so a block of flats, or paved parking lot, now stands where the house, roses, and trees once did.

But Françoise had childhood friends who shared her joy in her home, with the flowers and trees, and who empathized with her when, with tears in her eyes, she knew (and so too did her friends) that everything must end, that she must leave. They told her that to leave was better than to stay, for she would discover more things out there than at home.

Nevertheless, when Françoise finally left her home she left her heart there too. However, her friends envied her luck in leaving for the bright lights of a city that never sleeps, day or night ("....une ville qui s'endort la nuit dans la lumière...."). We must assume Françoise's friends, too, would have liked to go to the big city, but their circumstances didn't let them.

But when Françoise left her childhood home she said to herself she would one day return. And one day, a long, long time after, she does, but her home has gone. She is overcome, saying, where is my house? Who knows where my house is? (".... est ma maison?.......Qui sait est ma maison.......?").

The trumpet sounds towards the end of "La maison j'ai grandi" make us aware of Françoise's heartbreak. Only the most stony-hearted of us remain unmoved.

For most of us, what Françoise went through will be familiar, since we, too, will have left our mother and father and the home and town - and often country -we grew up in. We left the nest and confronted the cold big world. Some of us have survived it; some of us didn't. But almost all of us will never again see our childhood home.

But should you do so because you are curious, you'll see it will have changed if it's still there. The wide boulevard which ran past in front, has become a tatty pot-holed side-road; the palatial garden has become a mere plot, weed-covered, unkempt; the large tree at the back is half as high as it was; the house itself, through whose wide corridors you skipped and jumped, has become a nondescript bungalow; the neighbours, in whose gardens you played, have moved away or are dead. Their replacements peer at you from behind curtained windows as you lurk in the road.

You see that your childhood home had become your imaginary homeland, where you could find comfort and succour for a few minutes whenever life's slings and arrows became too much. Because you dared to visit the old house and neighbourhood, your imaginary homeland has vanished and will never come back.