Lights flickered. The quiet gasps of the public surrounded us as we sat down at the theater, trying to make the least noise possible. I looked around to find the theater almost empty, yet the view on the stage was mesmerizing: Up on stage a tiny and frail woman moved frantically as she impersonated “Padam Padam” by Edith Piaf. Her voice and the quiet yet lovely sound of an accordion brought me back to a street three years ago, where a 17 year old girl got lost in the Parisian metro, holding on to her map with dear life as she fell asleep on her way home.
Edith Piaf, ever since I was exposed to her music in sixth grade English class, has always been a sort of like an omen to what Paris, and its streets have meant to me. I would’ve never thought that four years later I would end up living in a small Parisian suburb called Houilles , which stands for coal in French, and which was trapped in between the très chique society of Maisson Laifitte and rural areas next to the Seine. In that tiny suburb I lived with a lovely French family who had three kids and a cat. They taught me what it meant to eat cheese after dinner, that one only has Coke as an appéritif, and that a ride around the North part of Normandie with your windows down is perhaps the best feeling in the world. I did not experience Paris the usual way tourists do. I experienced how the immigrant crisis was affecting the public school system, and how the myriad of cultures clashed perfectly in the heart of the tiny suburb, creating a perfect mix of boulangeries and kebab places where you could get the best of both worlds. I was blessed to experience the marvelous French country side way up North, “chez les ch’tis” (an expression to call people living in the frontier with Belgium), where my French father was from. His family were farmers, and their 200 year old house is perhaps one of the most captivating places in the globe. The smell of wet wood and bread lingered every morning as I woke up to the alarm of the coffee pot, and took a quiet bath, observing the farmhouse through the window.
A high note struck the beginning of another song, “La vie en rose”, as the actress swayed and danced around the lighted stage. The trumpets lured me into the quiet afternoons at the veranda back at my french home, surrounded by my siblings Laetitia,Antoine, and Marie. A smiled broke the silence that was quieting me into an ellipsis of memory, as I remembered that I had to clap, as the actress looked straight ahead the audience, signaling that the memoir, of the little sparrow, or môme in French was levitating to a distant “rue”, next to la Seine where a 17 year old girl walked in the midst of rain and a lingering memory of Baudelaire stuck in her mouth.