A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I'm starting to write an article about Beaujolais--not the cheapo, just-arrived Beaujolais nouveau of the third week of November, but the pricier Beaujolais crus that improve with age. A cru in French is a vineyard; with respect to Beaujolais, the term refers to the ten areas in the Beaujolais region where these potentially excellent wines are made.

The ten appellations, each designating a specific area in the region, are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. Typically, these wines are labelled with the individual appellation. The word "Beaujolais" may be nowhere evident on the bottle. Many consumers are therefore unaware that these complex wines, worthy of cellaring, are varieties of Beaujolais. This ignorance contributes to the stereotype of Beaujolais as an inexpensive, easy-drinking wine of little complexity.

The region itself is, like every other wine-growing region of France, picturesque and beautiful. Every square centimeter of every hectare is lovingly and painstakingly cultivated and cared for. There might be people who can visit such a place and not want to stay forever, but I'm not one of them.

My dog seems to be a bit of a Francophile, like me. She's never been to the country, but she seems particularly attuned to the language. Taz responds much better to commands in French than in English. "Do you want to go for a walk?" produces a mildly interested prick of the ears, while "Tu veux te promener?" occasions a frenzy of barking and a wild scamble for the door.

Last night I was reciting the ten Beaujolais crus to her, in alphabetical order. Taz began a volley of barking; by the time I got to "Regnié," she seemed ready to knock me down. It's hard sometimes to figure out what's going on inside the brain of a dog. Does something about the inflection of French set her off? Does it sound similar enough to commands related to joyous topics like walks and treats to frustrate her, since I'm remaining in my chair? Or--as I like to think--is she saying, "YES! Let's go! Let's go! When do we sail? Let's go!"

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Premier Gaou

One of the perks of working from home is listening to loud music whenever I want. My sons are out of range even when they're home, which most of the time they're not. I've got great speakers, several gigabytes of mp3's to choose from, and pretty good acoustics in this big loft of mine. Blasting punk rock, hiphop, or reggae at 3 a.m. feels naughty and nice.

I'm crazy for African music, and I was happy to find a zouglou classic on a world mix CD I obtained recently. I immediately added it to my favorite playlist.

"Premier Gaou" is the biggest hit of Ivory Coast foursome Magic System. Originally released in 1999, it's been re-mixed and re-recorded countless times by MS as well as by other African groups. It sold over a million copies in Europe, the biggest hit song to come out of Africa in twenty years.

"Premier Gaou" is a song about a guy whose girlfriend leaves him, but comes back when he's become famous. Tries to, anyway. The refrain of this incredibly peppy song is "On dit premier gaou n'est pas gaou ô/C'est deuxième gaou qui est gnatar ô. ("They say the first rube isn't a rube; It's the second rube who's an imbecile.") The meaning is pretty obvious: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Zouglou is an ivoirien musical style which dates from the 1990s. It's got a dance beat and subject matter dealing with the trials of everyday life. The lyrics are usually in French street slang, or they can be in an African dialect. The ô at the end of nearly every line is a musical convention, making understanding or translating the lyrics confusing if you're not aware of it.

A gaou is a country bumpkin--naive or ignorant. It can be used rather affectionately to mean a regular guy (like paisan in Italian). Gnatar, on the other hand, is far more pejorative--idiot or imbecile. It's a corruption of "Qatar."

In the United States, it's Polacks. In Iran, it's Turks. And on the Ivory Coast, apparently, it's Qatars. Dress it up in any beat, any language, dig down deep enough, and it's still the same old story.

The U.S. music industry is huge, and we're not terribly interested in anybody else's music. More's the pity. African music especially has universal appeal. "Premier Gaou" has a theme anybody can identify with--the games people play, especially in love--and the entrenched attitudes embedded in all language. Above all, there's the beat. Even if you've got no idea what they're saying, it's near impossible to sit still and listen to this song.

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