Tuesday, March 07, 2006


What can I say? I just worship Jacques Brel!! If he wasn’t too old and too dead, I’d kidnap, kill and mummify him. But you know I don’t want to talk now about him, or at least not about his exotic life. What I want to talk about is his suffocating songs… More specifically, I want to talk about one thought of his memorable song: "Amsterdam". In that song he says:

«...ils boivent aux dames
Qui leur donnent leur joli corps
Qui leur donnent leur vertu
Pour une pièce en or... »

Many translations to English I have encountered fail to capture the spirit of this sentence. My own translation would be:
“...they drink to the health of the ladies
That give them there pretty bodies
That give them there goodness
For a piece of gold…”

And you know what? As hard as I may attempt, I will always fail to capture the essence of these mystical words and translate them to English.

In French there are many ways to say “pretty” you can either say “joli” or “beau” when we were kids at first we learn “joli” and then as we grow we start using “beau” instead. “beau” is just more mature and more sophisticated. While “joli” would be more childish (obviously) the use of “joli” gives a sense of pureness, of innocence, in contrast to the “beau” which might invoke a more sinister meaning, indicating the sexuality of the prostitute’s body. Instead the word “joli” shows a more innocent beauty almost as if Brel disregards the traditional picture painted about prostitutes. Almost as if he sees the inner beauty, almost as if her beauty is “clean”.

It is easily perceivable that this word is close to the English word: “virtue”. And maybe it’d fit very well the translation, but then goodness is better because in this context “vertu” invokes the traditional concept of “feminine virtue” going from virginity and to loyalty to one’s husband.

It seems almost as if Brel saw the prostitute as a piece of art that the drunken sailor doesn’t appreciate. For me this holds so much sadness. In my society women are whores as soon as they are not virgins, or at the best of cases as soon as they sleep with a guy that they won’t marry. It’s enough to be liberal to be a whore. While half a century ago a Dutchman with a catholic background sees the prostitute as a misspelled individual, as someone who preserves her pure beauty despite the ugly nature of her work. Fascinating!!! I just love that guy. Yes I realise that this perspective is shared by many men, even in the heart of Lebanon I see men admitting to women that there part in this life, is more difficult, if not unfair, where a woman suffers her whole life for the fertility that she hardly gets to enjoy. They romantically bow there heads to the female devotion to there family, of how women leave more often there careers to tend for there families. But it’s a sensational sentence, at least for me
Yes I also realise that Brel might have never thought from this perspective but this is how I see it.
And yes I realise I’m a sentimental feminist. Should I apologise for that?


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