Alouette. I sung it as a child. I’m sure you did too. It’s a familiar and catchy little tune; Alouette, gentille Alouette… All these years though, and I’ve never actually known what I’ve been singing about. In fact, I confess, I always thought it was Alouette, jonty Alouette. I had no clue what ‘jonty’ meant. But then I didn’t know what an Alouette was either.
Then, many years later, I found myself on an intensive French language course. I really disliked that course. 6 months of studying a language I find so difficult – it would have helped to have supportive teachers, instead of ones that made you feel 3 inches tall when you couldn’t remember a verb. As testimony to the quality of the course, I offer the fact that, despite progressing to – and passing – level 3 (which they term ‘intermediate’), I still didn’t know how to say “sorry, I can’t speak French”, in French! I digress. Back to the Alouette song…
As part of this course, we sung. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed, but a least I was in the corner at the back, so I could sing quietly and not be noticed. One of these songs, of course, was Alouette. We attacked it with gusto. A song that we could all handle. The words were there on the song sheet, so we read, we sung. We didn’t understand.
After a few renditions, it was time to actually discover what the words meant.
For those still in the dark, the song is about plucking a bird (an Alouette is a bird. Actually, it’s French for Lark. I know that now). Each verse details the progressive mutilation of this innocent little creature. Depending upon the version, you pluck the feathers on it’s head, then the wings, and and the back, even the poor little bugger’s beak gets tugged out! And no mention of the bird being deceased before the commencement of this torture either. Disturbing.
Naturally, I did what all self-respecting, sane, relatively new parents would do. I found a version on YouTube, and played it to my 10 month old son. He loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Wanted me to replay it over and over. It rivaled Beyonce’s Single Ladies as his all time favourite (what is it with that Beyonce video mesmerizing babies?).
My son’s favourite version of Alouette:
Of course, the French are not the only ones to impose songs and rhymes of dubious content on the next generation. It got me thinking of a few other little ditties we used to sing. It’s no wonder we all grew up to need therapy:
– Rock-a-bye, baby in the treetop… When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall, And down will come baby, Cradle and all – what kind of whack-job would hang a baby in a treetop? Especially on a windy day.
– Humpty Dumpty, a giant EGG with arms and legs fell off a wall and smashed his head into pieces. (“Daddy, what have you been smoking?”) The King’s Men, couldn’t save him, and presumably with that level of head trauma, the paramedics wouldn’t have fared any better.
– Jack and Jill fell down the hill. Jack broke his crown. No word on whether he’s going to survive, or on Jill’s condition.
– Oh, and in other news London Bridge is falling down.
It’s worse than the six o’clock news.
Any more unsettling kids tunes spring to mind?
A recent comment on my blog got me thinking. The comment, from my friend Maria, questioned what pieces of the accents of his English dad, American mom, and Quebec home he would pick up. It got me thinking about his ‘identity’.
I am a dual citizen – British by birth, Canadian by naturalization. Kerri – my much better half – is American. My son was born in Pointe-Claire, Quebec in 2009. He is Canadian.
I never got round to applying for my Canadian passport, so I travel on a UK one. Kerri holds an American passport, and my boy has a Canadian one. This seems particularly confusing and disturbing for US customs officials. And, I find myself wondering if Evan (that’s my son) will grow up confused about his national identity.
When you ask Canadians about their nationality, many tend to answer by describing their heritage. I had a conversation with two Canadian colleagues recently on this subject. One is of Indian heritage, but was born and has lived her entire life in Montreal, the other has Iranian ancestry, and has been in Montreal since her formative years. They felt that when someone asked where they were from, they were actually enquiring about their lineage. That’s why, when asked, they tell people of their heritage.
Does it matter that people who were born and raised in this vast country answer ‘Scotland‘, or ‘Morocco’, or ‘Italy’ to the question ‘where are you from’? Does it dilute Canadian national identity? Or add to the eclectic melting pot we live in?
I’ve reminded myself of someone I met very early in my Canadian adventure. He was a barman (go figure – I met a barman in my first days in Canada. No idea how that happened). He was a big guy. I’d put him at 6 foot 3 inches. And wide too – strong, muscular. He was wearing a tartan skirt. Or as the Scots like to call it, a kilt. His chest was adorned with a blue t-shirt with the cross of St. Andrew blazoned across the front, and the word ‘Scotland’ in old-fashioned, intricate looking lettering. I got talking to him.
“You’re Scottish?” I asked.
“I’m Scottish and English” he replied.
“My Mum…”, he emphasized the ‘U’ in mum, “…is Scottish, and mi Dad is English. From Caaaarlisle.” He explained. The emphasis on the ‘U’, the use of ‘mi dad’, and the drawled out aaarrrr in Carlisle, adding what he thought was authenticity to his claim. It was somewhat contradicted by his obvious Canadian accent.
“Oh great!”, I said. “When was the last time you were back?”
“Never been. I’d love to go.”
Is this my son’s future?
The ‘Habs’ are the Montreal Canadiens. To be fair to the Habs, they are pretty much universally recognized as the lifeblood of ice hockey. Montreal is hockey mad, unlike any other city on Earth. And, Habs fans are acknowledged as being some of the most passionate and knowledgeable of all. And, just like British football fans, they can get a little feisty. It has been known for violence to erupt on the streets of Montreal after a big game from time to time.
Having experienced both big football occasions in the UK, and important hockey games in Canada, I am of the opinion that the level of intensity at football exceeds that of hockey by some way. And, (I say this with no particular pride) hockey ‘hooliganism’ is not at parity with even the much reduced British version of recent times.
I have an old school friend in England who has visited me on this side of the Atlantic on a few occasions.We’ll call him Adam, because, well, that’s his name. On his first visit, I sold him on going to a hockey game. I told him he would see a lot of goals, and a few fights. Exciting stuff. In those days the Bell Centre was called the Molson Centre. If you sat in the cheap seats, right at the back (where locating the puck is impossible), you would see a giant Habs shirt hanging from the scoreboard in front of your section. The shirt would be adorned with a player’s name and number. If your guy scored, everyone in the section got a free beer. I have no idea if they still do this, but it was the pitch that sealed the deal for Adam. We were off to watch the Habs play the Florida Panthers.
I haven’t seen enough hockey to be able to claim this with any authority, but it was possibly the dullest game of hockey ever played. Florida won 1-0. There was one half-hearted scuffle. It seemed to go on forever. Adam looked at me as if it was my fault.
A couple of years later, Adam returned. The Toronto Maple Leafs were in town. For the uneducated (Brits), this is like Liverpool vs Man. Utd. Probably the most significant rivalry in hockey. I suggested we take in the game. I got a look. We ended up in a bar instead.
The game was on the big screen. We ate, we drank, we chatted. The game was intense. All the things I said that hockey was: heated, passionate, fast, action packed. And we could see the puck. There were goals, lots of them (I think the Habs won 4-3, but don’t quote me on that). There were fights – blood was drawn. The patrons in the bar were obviously excited. It drew us in. Very enjoyable.
We left the bar a considerable time later, and walked along St. Catherine Street (the main thoroughfare in downtown Montreal). There were not many people around. It was late, it was March, it was cold. We ambled along behind a small group of young men draped in Habs shirts. Across the almost deserted street, a similar group of 4 or 5 came into focus. They were wearing blue and white. Leafs fans.
You could see the agitation, an increase in excitement, as each group spotted the other. Nudging and pointing ensued as the two groups slowly followed a trajectory that would see them pass.
Adam, being English, had experienced situations like this before. Rival supporters, after the big game, and no doubt a few alcoholic beverages, coming face to face in the city centre. It was bound to get ugly. At times like this adrenalin kicks in, your senses go into overdrive, the blood rushes through your veins. It’s the danger. Anything could happen, and you’re right there.
The two groups were now almost parallel to each other, on opposite sides of the street – separated only by a few yards of tarmac.
The Leafs fans started first: “You Suck!” was the cry – repeated several times by each of the individuals in blue and white as they pointed across the street. Well, you have to understand, that is quite the insult in Canada. The Habs fans had no choice. They volleyed back with “You Suck!” in an equally animated fashion.
The two groups passed and continued in opposite directions.
Adam stood in silence. He looked back over his shoulder at a disappearing rabble of blue and white as they walked down the street. And then back at the red group, who were likewise going on their way. “That’s it?”, my friend enquired. “Yup. That’s it”, I replied with a chuckle.
Many in Montreal would have you believe it’s the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day Parade in North America (the first one was in 1824 apparently), although some folks in NYC might dispute that. Regardless, the 187th Montreal Paddy’s Day Parade will go ahead on March 20, 2011. And Montrealers just love it.
I’ve seen various attendance estimates – anything from 300,000 to 500,000 line the streets to watch the parade every year, depending on which article you read. Exactly how they count is beyond my comprehension. Let’s just say a lot of people show up.
They wear tacky Irish themed hats, paint their faces green, and pretend they’re from the Emerald Isle for the day. The irony that St. Patrick was born in Britain (England or Scotland depending on which legend you subscribe to), that the colour originally associated with him was blue, and that his name was probably not Patrick at all, is undoubtedly lost on most. Still, why let facts spoil a good party?
For many, the Paddy’s Day Parade signals the end of winter, but you can still be standing in snow, freezing your arse off watching it. For others it’s a day of too much green beer.
I used to partake in the green beer fest. But, alas, time has caught up with me. The pubs are just too busy for me now. Too many people, standing on too little floor space, drinking far too much beer that they had to wait too long to be served. Somehow this was fun in 2002, but now, it’s not for me. I have work the next day. Yes, I think I am old.
But, I will be there on Parade day. As always. This time I will be with my young boy. We will clap our hands as the marching bands pass, wave at people dancing on floats, and point at inflatable objects. We’ll have a blast – and be home for nap time.
I worked at one of the town’s largest employers – a glass works. There had been a glass works on that same site since 1751. I will resist the temptation to suggest that many of the folks I worked with had probably been there since the opening day. But, there was a history of generations of families earning their living there. I worked with people whose Dad had worked there, and their Dad too.
Basically put, the majority of the workforce were local – from Rotherham, Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster. As a native of the Black Country, I was definitely the ‘exotic’ one. This type of local community was one that I was familiar with. Most of the folks I went to school with were from within a couple of miles radius. I suspect that things may have changed a little since I left the UK, but in my day, when you entered a community, you usually found yourself with locals.
Canada is made of immigrants. And they emanate from all corners of the globe. Montreal is a melting pot of diverse nationalities and cultures. In my first job in Canada, I remember working with 1st generation Canadians with Italian, Indian, Greek and Israeli heritage. Added to that, bona fide, just-off-the-boat immigrants from Sri Lanka, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, Lebanon and myself from England, and it was an extremely multi-cultural environment. I’m not talking about folks scattered throughout the company. These were not people I’d bump into every now and then – these were my closest working colleagues, sitting within yards of me every day.
At the moment, I work directly with two Iranians, a Japanese, a Filipino (spelled correctly, I checked), an Armenian, an Italian, a Venezuelan, and a couple of Canadians… not to mention the South Korean and the Frenchman I occasionally engage with, and the recently departed German.
I suspect that the UK is becoming more diverse too. When I speak to my old friends back home, they talk about the people from eastern Europe currently living their lives in the cities and towns of Britain. On my last visit, I was served coffee by a Czech, I was waited on by a Pole, and an Albanian cleaned my table. Three different venues between breakfast and lunch. And, they all seemed pretty Indian in Shimla Pinks (I recommend this Indian restaurant if you’re in Birmingham – and they’re not paying me to say that).
The Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: November 2010, seems to support the theory of a changing demographic in the UK. The report, published by the UK Office for National Statistics, shows Poland as one of the top suppliers of immigrants for the year up to March 2010, joining more traditional immigrant providers such as India, Pakistan and Ireland.
I’m not sure that the Brits are as comfortable with this type of diversity as the Canadians are, yet.