2020: A Journal of the Plague Year

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Well, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? Instead of my usual round-ups of books, movies, and opera, and since I decided in October to just abandon any thoughts of serious blogging until 2021, I’m going to take a cue from one of my favorite books of the year and simply run down the year I had. (Never fear, I couldn’t resist making a few lists here and there and, of course, my annual list of singles that got me through it.)

JANUARY — My year starts off great. I return to San Francisco from New England just after the New Year ready to get both a major work project and my Century+ project off the ground. Noir City at the Castro has an “international” theme and I manage to catch the France, Italy, and Japan nights. January will turn out to be the last time I am out of the city limits until December.

Top Five Films of the 1910s Viewed for A Century+:
Shoes (Weber, 1916)
Male and Female (DeMille, 1919)
Snow White (Dawley, 1916)
Judex (Feuillade, 1916)
J’accuse (Gance, 1919)

FEBRUARY — As per usual, the Math Greek flies up from L.A. for my annual Oscar dinner and pool. We eat food from my local taqueria, drink Parasite (peach) and 1917 (cherry) margaritas, and have make-your-own Irishman sundaes. My French cousin drinks a little too much despite having an important interview the next day, nevertheless gets the job, and her new boss goes on to win a Nobel Prize. Coincidence? I think not. Best of all, my favorite film of the year actually wins Best Picture! But, hey, what’s this? The MG comes down with a mysterious virus the day he leaves. It hits him like a ton of bricks but, no, we have no idea if it was COVID. I also get hit with a ton of bricks, but in my case, we know for sure it was a case of the work project from hell. My year starts to go downhill very quickly, even before the shelter-in-place orders.

Top Five 2019 Movies (FINAL):
Parasite (Bong)
Hustlers (Scafaria)
The Farewell (Wang)
The Nightingale (Kent)
Little Women (Gerwig)

MARCH — In early March, the MG comes up again and we are already talking about him staying long term. I’ve begun stocking supplies, including what will be the first of too many cases of wine, and we notify the landlord of our intentions in case of a lockdown. We also attend a critics screening of First Cow with the ever-generous Mel Valentin. I buy sanitizer wipes at the Target next door and wipe everything down before sitting down in the almost empty theater. This will turn out to be the first and last 2020 movie I see on the big screen. In a sign of what is to come, my March 14 outing to the ballet to celebrate La Belle Chantal’s birthday is cancelled. The MG heads back to L.A. to take care of a few things, but ends up renting a car to drive back one-way on the day lockdowns are announced for both San Francisco and L.A. We think this might be for a month or two. Maybe three. Spoiler alert: He’s still here.

Top Five 2020 Movies (so far):
First Cow (Reichardt)
Nomadland (Zhao)
La Nuit des rois (Night of the Kings) (Lacôte)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Hittman)
Palm Springs (Barbakow)

APRIL — Having started my #LockdownCooking Twitter thread on March 17, the first full day of sheltering in place, I get used to regularly cooking for two. This sucks. I don’t really like to cook, but I don’t like to eat takeout often. (I usually restrict it to the five days a month or so that the MG is here.) I can’t figure out why I feel like I’m cooking all the time until I realize that usually when I cook just for me I have leftovers for days so I can eat home cooking almost all the time without cooking constantly. It takes me far too long to realize this and adjust accordingly.

Top Three Most Used #LockdownCooking Recipes:
Crispy Slow Cooker Carnitas
Garlic Butter Sheet Pan Salmon & Asparagus
Paloma Tequila Cocktail

MAY — At the beginning of 2020, I had planned to take the second half of May off to attend two different weddings, a family affair in France and that of my college roommate’s eldest son outside Seattle. These were obviously both cancelled (to take place as small private ceremonies months later). This was probably for the best as I invoice 150 hours for the first two weeks in May and the project from hell shows no sign of becoming less hellish. Thankfully at this point my other two projects have wrapped up and I don’t drop and break my laptop until late June (because, of course, it’s 2020).

Favorite Discovery of the Year (Household Products division): Dr. Bronner’s sugar soap. The only way I could get my hands on some hand sanitizer early on in the pandemic was to order a lavender gift box from Dr. Bronner on Amazon. In addition to two spray bottles of sanitizer, the box included a pump bottle of lavender sugar soap. Like everyone, we had been washing our hands a lot, so much so I had started to use hand lotion, something I actually never needed before. However, after a week or two of washing constantly with the sugar soap, I found myself asking the MG, “Is it me, or is this stuff making our hands softer?” If you’ve never tried it before, do yourself (and your hands) a favor. Runner-Up: my LapGear lap desk

JUNE — By June I finally work up the nerve to read The Hot Zone, a non-fiction thriller about Ebola that the MG sent me back in February as we started to get prepared for the inevitable. I really struggled to get through books this year, and not just because they were too scary to contemplate. But I read a few good ones, especially as I wait for my laptop to get to and from the Lenovo Repair Center, which has a three-week backlog since they moved to what would become a COVID hotspot at the beginning of the pandemic.

Top Five New-to-Me Books Read in 2020:
Alex (Lemaitre)
A Journal of the Plague Year (Defoe)
His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae (Burnet)
A Holiday for Murder (Christie)
The Hot Zone (Preston)

JULY — In July, we realize that there is at least one flea in the apartment. Or, rather, I do, since I am the one with all the flea bites. I have no animals. Although I am convinced that it came in via one of the many dogs that are now living in my “dog-free” building, the exterminator assures me that it probably came in via the tree just outside my window. While the endless vacuuming and apartment prep are a pain, the most difficult element of the pest control visit turns out to be finding a place to go during the six hours we must vacate the apartment. We end up renting a car and heading out to La Belle Chantal’s place for a backyard visit.

Favorite Discovery of the Year (Food and Drink division): Fresh kielbasa sausage. For the early part of the pandemic, I mostly sourced groceries through Whole Foods (when I could get a delivery time) or by waiting in the line at the nearby Trader Joe’s. However, at some point, I realize it might be safer to go to smaller local stores and the outdoor farmers markets. At the Ferry Building Farmers Market, I discover a vendor who makes fresh kielbasa sausage, which I had never had before (although I pretty much eat kielbasa any chance I get). Runners-Up: Bicycle Coffee medium roast; Rue Lepic’s fried chicken with jalapeño coleslaw sandwich

AUGUST — Just as I begin recovering from the July flea circus, seemingly all of California catches fire. Between the fear of new fleas and the smoke, our windows remain closed all the time. (The full implications of this practice will not emerge until late September.) The project from hell continues apace, and yet I begin negotiating and background work on what will be my two major projects of 2021. Otherwise, August is somewhat of a respite and I begin to miss the fact that I can’t travel in a major way, especially since the fires mean there is nowhere to go even for a weekend getaway.

Biggest Regret of the Year: Not crossing another national park off my list

SEPTEMBER — In September, I discover mold on a suitcase in the closest. Turns out that making room for an extra person by stuffing your extra things in the walk-in closet, and then never needing to go in there for different kinds of clothes, and having your windows sealed shut all the time, is really not good in terms of humidity levels and air circulation. I get rid of the suitcase, bag up all my clothes just in case, and generally move everything out of the closet. As I slowly go through items, I realize the problem is worse than I thought and end up getting rid of bunch of stuff. Most of my clothing looks okay, but everything that can be washed is, with added vinegar. This is more exhausting than trying to source groceries at the beginning of the pandemic. This is not helped by having a minor medical issue and call to the doctor turn into six different in-person Kaiser appointments over the course of ten days. Never fear, after 6 weeks and approximately $6000 in medical tests and procedures, I’m fine. Oh yeah, and the sky did this one morning…

Favorite Discovery of the Year (Accounting division): Kaiser’s Medical Financial Assistance (MFA) program

OCTOBER — October is filled with mold remediation projects and stress over medical issues and the upcoming election. However, the resulting de-cluttering of the apartment leaves me feeling really good, like a psychic weight is off my shoulders. I further reduce the psychic load by accepting the fact that my Century+ project is just not going to happen this year and being okay with that. I make a pact with myself that I will not even think about blogging until the end of the year (except, of course, for my annual first lines challenge, which I have been putting together throughout the year as usual).

Favorite Television Series of the Year: The Queen’s Gambit

NOVEMBER — I vote on Election Day and then proceed to obsess about the election results for weeks. I rejoice in the fact that Orange Foolius will soon be gone. (Not soon enough.) My brother, cousin, nephew, niece, and I surprise my sister with a Zoom call on her birthday. This is not a thing we normally do, even in the pandemic, but clearly we should do it more often because it lasts six hours. I remain stunned that anyone even contemplated getting together in person for Thanksgiving.

Favorite Discovery of the Year (Games division): Pandemic (the board game) on Steam

DECEMBER — I reach December absolutely exhausted but feeling lucky to have survived the pandemic so far, worked steadily throughout, and lived through it all with the MG by my side. I finally leave the city limits again to rendez-vous with La Belle Chantal’s family to visit a Christmas tree farm and pick out our trees. I love having a tree again after so many years spent away from home at the holidays. I remain hopeful that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel and that it is not an oncoming train. I hope you can say the same.

May the new year bring us all a little more peace, love, and joy.

Isolation Blues: The Year in Music

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Oh, I know they say I should stay away
Is it wrong to say that I want you anyway?

When the vaccine’s made will we get back to harmony?
If we’re not okay, I will blame it on the pathogen,
Blame it on the pathogen, blame it on the pathogen…

Oh, I’m filling up my time with visions of you
It’s just the right time for isolation blues.

—Ondara, “Isolation Blues”

Even if I mostly gave up blogging this year, I was still listening to music and I certainly wasn’t going to let a year go by without putting up one of my most popular annual posts. If you are a long-time reader of these pages, you know that my annual music round-up usually focuses on singles, generally things with a beat. While this year I found myself drawn to more reflective material as a whole, such as the Ondara song above, I’ve mostly tried to stick to upbeat material here. May it carry you into the new year with a lighter heart.

Besides the French music I discovered in June (French Kiss, ou Comment S’Ambiancer en Temps de Crise and Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise, Part Deux), here are some of my favorite songs and videos from the past year.

Best in Broken Hearts: Dua Lipa, “Break My Heart” (Future Nostalgia). I can’t think of anyone better to get the party started than Dua Lipa. She is always just so much fun. For obvious reasons, I also really love “Fever”, which is a bilingual outing with Angèle, who I almost put in my French music posts for her “Balance ton quoi” #MeToo anthem.

Best in Break-Ups: Halsey, “You Should Be Sad” (Manic). From the beginning of a relationship with Dua Lipa to the end of one with Halsey, who makes a banger out of the shittiest of situations (though I was very tempted to put the only slightly more optimistic “Graveyard” here instead).

Best in Breed: The Killers, “Dying Breed” (Imploding the Mirage). What? The Killers are still around you say? Yes they are. I didn’t love this album as a whole, but this one was irresistible. It really reminded me of a certain kind of Bruce Springsteen song.

Best in Background Vocals: Sylvan Esso, “Ferris Wheel” (Free). Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, his Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. was apparently one inspiration for Sylvan Esso’s latest. I always love a catchy tune from Sylvan Esso but it is the sample of kids screaming “No!” in the background that makes this one an instant summer classic.

Best in Beatings: Hayley Williams, “Dead Horse” (Petals for Armour). This is one of a handful of songs that made me get most of this album. Really interesting melodies, rhythms, and lyrics.

Best in Bow Wannabes: Raye Zaragoza, “The It Girl” (Woman in Color). A recent discovery that I just can’t get out of my head. I look forward to checking out the rest of her album more closely.

Best in Blaming: This Is the Kit, “This Is What You Did” (Off Off On). There is something about the repetitive nature of the (self) accusations here that really resonated with me in this year of holding oneself and other people accountable.

This is what you get
This is what you did
This is what they want
Why are you still here?

—This Is the Kit, “This Is What You Did”

Best in Brutal Truths: Burna Boy feat. Chris Martin, “Monsters You Made” (Twice as Tall). Speaking of holding people accountable, who better than Nigerian singer and Afrobeat king Burna Boy to take a powerful statement and make an earworm out of it.

Best in Blues: Ondara, “Isolation Blues” (Folk n’ Roll Vol. 1: Tales Of Isolation). If you remember, I featured J.S. Ondara and his debut album, Tales of America, in last year’s music round-up. Looks like he has now dropped the initials and is back with a new album, one that truly speaks to our times. This song was my favorite of the bunch, though I really liked “From Six Feet Away” as well.

Best in Boredom: Echosmith, “Lonely Generation” (Lonely Generation). Another song that speaks to our time, albeit inadvertently, as both this and “Everyone Cries” are from an album recorded well before the pandemic struck.

Best in Beats: Xavier Omär, “Find Me” (If You Feel). While mostly a mellow contemporary R&B singer, this first cut from Xavier Omär’s latest album has a certain bounce that picks me right up after a rough day.

Best in Boozers: Little Big Town, “Sugar Coat” (Nightfall). It was so hard to pick just one song from this album. In fact, when I first listened to it, at one point, I turned to the Math Greek and said, “I don’t think there’s a bad song on this album” (which, if you know me at all, is something of a miracle). I think the harmonies on “Next to You” best showcases them as a group, and of course I love “Wine Beer Whiskey”, but I’ve chosen to feature “Sugar Coat” below, mostly for its incredible lyrics.

And finally we get to the song(s) that I listened to more than any other. And really, it wasn’t even close. If this one doesn’t get at least a nomination for an Oscar, I will be very, very disappointed in the Academy.

Best in Not-Björk: Molly Sandén (My Marianne) & Will Ferrell, “Húsavík” (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga soundtrack). Of course, while this works just perfectly in terms of the film’s story, you shouldn’t sleep on the toe-tapper “Double Trouble” either.

I know what some of you are thinking, Will Ferrell? Yes, really.

And I also know what the rest of you are thinking, “Play ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’!”

Ok, ok, fair enough.

And, on that note, let’s leave the hellscape that was 2020 in our rearview mirror and welcome 2021 with open arms!

For previous Year in Music round-ups, see
Unapologetic B*tch: The Year in Music (2014)
Surf’s Up: The Year in Music (2015)
The Year in Music 2015: Missing Links
Getting in Formation: The Year in Music (2016)
Shadow, Take Me Down: The Year in Music (2017)
Cowboys and Angels: The Year in Music (2018)
Bad Guys and Hopeful Gals: The Year in Music (2019)

*Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

Returning to Manderley 2020

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As promised, here are the answers to the “first lines” challenge I posted last week. Click here if you’d like to try to guess some of the books before reading the answers below.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

—The opening of Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier

1. It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard, in ordinary discourse, that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods, which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus.
—Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

2. Travellers crossing the wheat-yellow plains to Dungatar would first notice a dark blot shimmering at the edge of the flatness.
—Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker (2000)

3. The coach from Ellsworth to Butcher’s Crossing was a dougherty that had been converted to carry passengers and small freight.
—John Williams, Butcher’s Crossing (1960)

4. The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.
—Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm (1932)

5. A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.
—Barbara Comyns, The Vet’s Daughter (1959)

6. “Linnet Ridgeway!”
—Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile (1937)

7. Charles Monet was a loner.
—Richard Preston, The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus (1994)

8. I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr Andrew Sinclair, who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve.
—Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project (2015) [Man Booker shortlist]

9. Our house is old, and noisy, and full.
—Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages (1953)

10. The weather falls more gently on some places than on others, the world looks down more paternally on some people.
—Shirley Jackson, The Road Through the Wall (1948)

11. London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way.
—Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude (1947)

12. By the time Edwin Rist stepped off the train onto the platform at Tring, forty miles north of London, it was already quite late.
—Kirk Wallace Johnson, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century (2018)

Baker’s Dozen Holiday Bonus: In the time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable seaport would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war’s men or merchant sailors in holiday attire, ashore on liberty.
—Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor (1924)

Double-Secret-Probation Bonus Round: The one opened the door with a latch-key and went in, followed by a young fellow who awkwardly removed his cap. He wore rough clothes that smacked of the sea, and he was manifestly out of place in the spacious hall in which he found himself.
—Jack London, Martin Eden (1909)

Congrats to Marissa who guessed 2 of these correctly right off the bat and then worked those hints to get 3 more titles!

Which one(s) are you kicking yourself over? Which one was easiest? Which one was impossible? Which one is the “best” first line?

Look for reviews and comments on these selections and more in my traditional year-end round-up post at the end of next month.

The Eighth Wonder of the World: The First Lines Challenge

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As I have done for the past seven Thanksgiving weekends, I hereby present the “first lines” challenge, stolen from James over at Following Pulitzer.

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

The most important rule of this game is to rely on your own memory and brain and not to cheat by using Google or another resource, print or online. This includes looking up my recent reading at Goodreads.

I’ll say it again, DO NOT use any other resources other than your own brain and/or the brains of those around you.

So, what’s the game, you say?

Below I’ve posted a list of first lines from books I’ve read (or am reading) this year—your job is to guess the author and title of the work I’ve quoted from.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

—The opening of Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen

Some truths:
• Some of these should be quite easy; others are fairly difficult.
• I’ve used discretion as to what counts as the first line.
• The line may be in translation, my own or another’s work.
• The authors or books are generally well known, have won or been nominated for prizes, have been adapted for the silver screen, or have been otherwise much discussed recently.
• The selections can be from any time period or genre, fiction or non-fiction—what ties them together is that I have read (or am reading) them this year.

If you own a copy of the work, it’s fine to check it before you post it as a guess. Any other reference work or tool, print or online, is strictly forbidden. If it’s driving you crazy and you end up googling the answers, that is certainly understandable, but don’t share your findings with the rest of us, that is unforgivable!

Anybody is welcome to comment and guess and I encourage you to do so since even an incorrect guess may trigger something in someone else’s memory. I may also offer hints in my responses so be sure to subscribe to the comments. Whatever is not guessed outright or crowd-sourced through the comments will be posted on Monday, November 30.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

—The opening of Anna Karenina (1877) by Leo Tolstoy

1. It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard, in ordinary discourse, that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods, which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus.
[ETA: This book has been guessed correctly in the comments. Please feel free to add there whether you knew it or not.]

2. Travellers crossing the wheat-yellow plains to Dungatar would first notice a dark blot shimmering at the edge of the flatness.
[Hint: Like #4, this was adapted into one of my favorite wryly comic films, starring an English actress named Kate.]
[ETA: This title has been guessed correctly in the comments. Please feel free to add there whether you knew it or not.]

3. The coach from Ellsworth to Butcher’s Crossing was a dougherty that had been converted to carry passengers and small freight.
[Hint: Along with #5, the most obscure title and author on here, but if you have read it, there is no way you wouldn’t get at least the title.]
[ETA: This book has been guessed correctly in the comments. Please feel free to add there whether you knew it or not.]

4. The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.
[ETA: This book has been guessed correctly in the comments. Please feel free to add there whether you knew it or not.]

5. A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.
[Hint: Along with #3, the most obscure title and author on here. Even if you’ve read it, this line may not trigger anything since the man in question disappears from the novel until the very end, one of the most incredible endings to a book that I have ever read, so incredible in fact that one of the people on the podcast that recommended this book didn’t even realize he was there.]

6. “Linnet Ridgeway!”
[ETA: This book has been guessed correctly in the comments. Please feel free to add there whether you knew it or not.]

7. Charles Monet was a loner.
[Hint: A date is given just above this first line: 1980 New Years Day. If you’ve noticed a theme in some of my selections, this one is part of it.]

8. I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr Andrew Sinclair, who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve.
[Hint: Though the opening has a whiff of a classic, this is a recent book.]

9. Our house is old, and noisy, and full.
[Hint: #9 and #10 are by the same author.]

10. The weather falls more gently on some places than on others, the world looks down more paternally on some people.
[Hint: #9 and #10 are by the same author.]

11. London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way.
[Hint: Almost as obscure as #3 and #5, sorry! I just couldn’t not include this fantastic opener. I took out two books by this author from the library; the other one was for #Noirvember, but I couldn’t get into it and it ended up on the DNF pile.]

12. By the time Edwin Rist stepped off the train onto the platform at Tring, forty miles north of London, it was already quite late.
[Hint: This work of non-fiction is way more riveting than you might think based on the title.]

Baker’s Dozen Holiday Bonus: In the time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable seaport would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war’s men or merchant sailors in holiday attire, ashore on liberty.
[Hint: I first picked this up because I was seeing the opera.]
[ETA: This book has been guessed correctly in the comments. Please feel free to add there whether you knew it or not, before or after seeing the hint.]

Double-Secret-Probation Bonus Round: The one opened the door with a latch-key and went in, followed by a young fellow who awkwardly removed his cap. He wore rough clothes that smacked of the sea, and he was manifestly out of place in the spacious hall in which he found himself.
[Hint: Like #6, this was adapted into a movie this year, and not for the first time, but unlike #6, I doubt you have seen it. However, the book itself shows up in a Nabokov novel, a Sergio Leone film, and a French television series.]
[ETA: This book has been guessed correctly in the comments. Please feel free to add there whether you knew it or not.]

Please post any guesses below, not on Twitter. That way, everyone will be contributing to the challenge in the same place. If you want time to think and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read the comments below and remember to check back on November 30 for a new post with the answers.

For the seven previous annual challenges, click here.

Good luck!

Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise, Part Deux

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Protège ton pouvoir.
Conserve ton savoir.
Protège ton histoire.
Préserve ta mémoire.

(Protect your power.
Conserve your knowledge.
Protect your history.
Preserve your memory.)

—Marcus Gad, “Pouvoir”

Did you think that French Kiss, ou Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise was all there was? Au contraire, mon frère. Here are some more songs I recently discovered, with a few lessons on geography.

First up, some French reggae artists speaking truth to power.

French note: Marcus Gad is singing about his native New Caledonia, an archipelago in the South Pacific. The status and terminology for what used to be referred to as the DOM-TOM (French overseas departments and territories) is changing all the time, nowhere more than in la Nouvelle-Calédonie, which has seen various independence movements and related unrest since the 1970s. Most recently, in 2018, voters rejected full independence and New Caledonia is a Collectivité sui generis, or special collectivity of France, with its people holding French citizenship and having representation in the French Parliament.


Above, the lead singer of the Paris-based Danakil, a reggae band that often explicitly takes on human rights issues, sings with Natty Jean, a reggae singer from Dakar, capital of le Sénégal.

French note: Although Wolof, not French, is the lingua franca of Senegal, especially in and around Dakar, French remains the official language of the country. For this reason, along with its strong musical heritage, many Senegalese artists (Youssou N’Dour, MC Solaar) can be found singing in French on the world stage.


French note: The pop-up labels that appear above each person lip-syncing to this song about judging people based on their appearance are as follows: Ellen, phys ed teacher; Frank, banker; Mohammad, music conservatory student; and Mike, veterinarian.

Speaking of not judging a book by its cover, the two lead singers of I Woks are Savoyards, that is, from la Savoie (like my family originally!), a French departément in the Alps, known more for its cute ski villages than for reggae. However, in this video they are walking through Belleville, which, for simplicity’s sake, let’s call the Brooklyn of Paris.

On est venu danser, oublier que tout va mal.
(We came to dance, to forget everything’s going badly.)

—Tal, “Mondial”

And now for something completely different, a song I found while looking for stuff related to France winning the 2018 World Cup (le Mondial). Tal is actually one of the singers that Marina Sofia recommended in the comments in my previous post on recent French music. I hadn’t made the connection until I went back through some of the songs I had set aside for future use.

French note: I’m not sure where Tal is starting off on her road trip through France. Based on the timbered house (maison à colombages) in the background and the snow, it is likely in the northeastern part of the country, but these types of houses can also be found in Normandy, Brittany, and the Auvergne, so who knows. What I do know is that she makes a stop in Marseille to pick up Soprano, featured in French Kiss, ou Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise.

In a similar vein of brotherhood and common humanity, here is Soprano with Black M. Two years later, Black M would go on to write another song about brotherhood and working together, this time with Youssou N’Dour for the official song of Les Lions, the national soccer team of Senegal.

French note: In French, the suffix -ot is used as a diminutive. For example, Charlie Chaplin, aka the Little Tramp, is known in France as Charlot. So the term frérot indicates little brother, kid brother, or even bro (but without any of the negative connotations sometimes associated with this term in English).

Le petit Guinéen chante pour le Sénégal
C’est la même chose
Sénégal, Guinée, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire
On est ensembles, Afrique de l’Ouest

(The little Guinean is singing for Senegal
It’s the same thing
Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire
We’re all together, West Africa)

—Black M, “Gainde (Les Lions)”

Speaking of the 2018 World Cup, because of the time difference, I watched most of the matches at the Alliance Française de San Francisco, which opened early on the days with French matches. Besides being conveniently located in my neighborhood, it provided the added bonus of a clearly pro-France crowd and broadcasting the games via TV5 with French announcers. To express my French pride, I usually wore the marinière my aunt bought me while we were traveling through Brittany.

French note: Originally worn by French sailors, or marins (hence the name), and generally associated with la Bretagne where many are made and sold, la marinière was first brought into regular play in the French fashion world by Coco Chanel. It re-emerged again in the 1960s with Yves Saint Laurent integrating the look into his haute couture collection and a number of other designers picking up the look, notably Jean-Paul Gaultier.

In any case, imagine my delight when I found a song dedicated to this most stereotypical of French garments, and one with excellent word play to boot. One example of this word play is “J’sais pas si t’es au courant”—a phrase that normally translates roughly as “I don’t know if you’re aware” but in this sense (following “L’océan nous emporte”), could be interpreted literally: “The ocean is carrying us away, (but) I don’t know if you are in the current.”

A “good” marinière is made of thick, tightly woven material. They are quite durable and last a long time and, in theory, could go from person to person as in the video. I don’t know if it is intentional, but at one point in the video we clearly see that this marinière is from Saint James, one of the best-known manufacturers of this type of shirt.

If Hoshi is more in the singer-songwriter tradition of Jacques Brel, Clara Luciani might be said to be carrying on the other great musical tradition of 1960s France: the pop-rock style known as Yé-Yé, popularized by the likes of Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan. And, since what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, let’s hear a little about sisterhood, shall we?



And, to close, something else completely different. I have no idea what this song from Franco-Moroccan rapper Lartiste is saying (and not just because half of it is in Portuguese), but I think we can all agree that it’s a banger.

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