Last Thursday Ribbit, the best husband-to-be ever, took me on a date to see Piaf: La vie en rose et noir at the Théâtre Dejazet on the place de la République. I say best husband-to-be since we were easily the youngest people in the audience by about 30 years and well, liking Piaf as a young person is a little passé. For those of you who may not know, Edith Piaf is the greatest (in my opinion) French female vocalist/songwriter of the last century. From the first time I heard one of her songs (in the very sub-par Beatles movie "Backbeat"), I was smitten. I still remember making my mom drive me to Music Millennium in Portland on my 15th birthday because all I wanted was the La môme anthology. Needless to say, I love Piaf. Her voice and music are the soundtrack to my Paris, an avant-guerre, franchouillard, Bellevillesque* kind of Paris.
Piaf may have begun her career singing on street corners of Paris in the 1930s but she soon became la reine du music-hall parisien, collaborating with some of the great Frenchmen of the time --Jean Cocteau, Yves Montand, Charles Aznavour.
You're probably wondering right now how knitting fits into all of this. Just listen. So stated the narrator of the play, Louis Leplée, the king of the Paris nightclub scene, discovered Piaf singing on the street corner and offered this hard-knocks sprite of a woman (she wasn't even 5 feet tall) a gig singing at his club Le Gerny's on the Champs-Elysées. He gave Piaf her first big break and her nom de scène : La môme Piaf*. But Piaf did not have an outfit to wear on stage, so she worked day and night knitting herself a little black dress. So the story went, Edith apparently didn't have enough balls of wool to finish the second sleeve of her dress and went on stage sans sleeve. Someone in the audience lent her a black lace shawl which she promptly threw on to cover her bare shoulder.
So there you have it, one of the greatest female singers of all time was a knitter too...
avant-guerre (m): refers to any period before a war, in this case, before WWII
franchouillard (adj.): denotes negative aspects of the French middle-lower class
Belleville: a working class immigrant neighborhood in Paris (where Piaf was born), mostly located in the 19th arrondissement
môme (f): kid (colloquial)
piaf (m): slang for sparrow, the bird. La môme moineau, moineau being the correct word for sparrow, was already taken by another singer, Lucienne Dhotelle so Leplée coined her Piaf, in a nod to her street cred, and because she sang like a little bird.