Thursday, 14 September 2017

La traîtresse - Adultery with an unexpected twist

This song is the lament of an adulterous lover, whose free-spirited lady friend has dramatically turned the tables on him.
As Georges Brassens often played this same role, we might at first assume that the song is based on a personal experience.  However, we would be doing Brassens a great injustice, as the attitudes to love and women shown by this deserted lover would seem to be very different from those we would associate with Brassens.

(I talk about Brassens’ love life at greater length at the end of this post)


J'en appelle à (1) la mort; je l'attends sans frayeur ;
Je n' tiens plus à la vie ; je cherche un fossoyeur
Qui aurait un' tombe à vendre à n'importe quel prix :
J'ai surpris ma maîtresse au bras de son mari,
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

J' croyais tenir l'amour au bout de mon harpon,
Mon p'tit drapeau flottait(2) au coeur d' madam' Dupont,
Mais tout est consommé : hier soir, au coin d'un bois,
J'ai surpris ma maîtresse avec son mari, pouah !
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

Trouverai-je les noms, trouverai-je les mots,
Pour noter d'infamie cet enfant de chameau(3)
Qui a choisi son époux pour tromper son amant,
Qui a conduit l'adultère à son point culminant ?
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

Où donc avais-j' les yeux ? Quoi donc avais-j' dedans ?
Pour n' pas m'être aperçu depuis un certain temps
Que, quand ell' m'embrassait , ell' semblait moins goulue(4)
Et faisait des enfants qui n' me ressemblaient plus.
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

Et pour bien m'enfoncer la corne(5) dans le coeur,
Par un raffinement satanique, moqueur,
La perfide, à voix haute, a dit à mon endroit :
"Le plus cornard(6) des deux n'est point celui qu'on croit."
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

J'ai surpris les Dupont, ce couple de marauds(7),
En train d' recommencer leur hymen à zéro,
J'ai surpris ma maîtresse équivoque(8), ambiguë,
En train d'intervertir l'ordre de ses cocus(9).
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

 (1960 – Album - Le mécréant,)


I am calling on death – which I await calmly;
I care no more for life; I seek a gravedigger
Who has a tomb for sale at no matter what price:
I’ve just caught my mistress, upon her husband’s arm,
My mistress, the traitress!

I thought  that I held love firm upon my harpoon,
My little flag fluttered o’er Mme Dupont’s heart,
But all that’s at an end: last night down in the woods,
I surprised my mistress with her husband. Sick'ning!
My mistress, the traitress!

How shall I find the names, how shall I find the words,
To brand with infamy this degenerate child 
Who has chosen husband to cheat upon lover,
Who has brought adultery to its utter limit
My mistress, the traitress!

Where had I been looking? What had got in my eyes
For not having noticed, that for a certain time,
When she was kissing me, she seemed  less voracious
And she bore babies who, no longer looked  like me.
My mistress, the traitress!

And to drive the dagger deep in my foolish heart,
With diabolical refinement,  to mock me,
The perfidious one said loudly  to my face:
“The worst dupe of the two isn’t the one thought to be”
My mistress, the traitress!

I surprised the Duponts, this couple of dropouts,
Absorbed in restarting their marriage from scratch.
I surprised my devious, two-faced mistress
Busy reversing the order of her cuckolds
My mistress, the traitress!

Translation notes

(1)   J'en appelle à la mort  means I call on death to strike me- an expression of total despair

(2)   Mon p'tit drapeau flottait au coeur d' madam' Dupont. When an army conquers territory, a flag is raised over it to show possession.  This Don Juan sees himself as a conqueror, as his later image of catching and holding a woman with a harpoon implies. Brassens would have been appalled by the idea of one human being possessing another.

(3)   Cet enfant de chameau.  “Chameau” is the word for camel but, in French, it is used as an insult , to say that some-one is a low kind of beast.

(4)   ell' semblait moins goulue –voracious,  greedy, in this case greedy for love.

(5)   m'enfoncer la corne dans le cœur – la corne is the horn of an animal.   « Porter des cornes » is a common expression in France to denote a man who is being deceived by his wife, as he wears horns of humiliation that everyone else but the husband can see. Brassens uses the word in the singular to make it a dagger of sexual deceit.

(6)   Le plus cornard des deux – « Cornard » is the adjective from the usage of “cornes” explained in note 5 above.  It means therefore “cuckold”

(7)   Ce couple de marauds-  un maraud is a scoundrel or a rogue – someone who stretches the social code to the limit.

(8)   ma maîtresse équivoque  to translate the word  « équivoque » my dictionary gives me : equivocal / ambiguous or (with a sense of deception): dubious /questionable.

(9)   En train d'intervertir l'ordre –”  - The chauvinist male is ironically the one who comes off worst.  In this and in other songs, e.g. “95%”, Les croquants” Brassens takes pleasure in the idea of women being the controller in the game of love.

The irregular love life of Georges Brassens.

Some of Georges Brassens' devoted followers are disinclined to talk about his irregular love life.  However Brassens himself had no such inhibitions.    In the biographical film : “Regard de Georges Brassens" he tells us unashamedly that he never knows love except through adultery.  He explains that this is a necessary consequence of lifestyle.  He had chosen never to marry because he wanted to write songs and not be distracted by the domestic concerns of wife and children. (These sentiments are expressed in his song: “La Non-demande en Mariage”.)  He goes on to say that his policy was to choose women who already had a husband but who had got fed up with them.  He says that there is a plentiful supply of them in Paris and indeed in the provinces.

In the same film, his friends comment on the number of women who made themselves available to him, mentioning the legal outcome when they were found out.  The name of Georges Brassens was often cited as the third party in divorce cases heard in French courts one friend claims.

However at the same time as he knew all these girls and women, he retained his great undying love for his Jeanne and asserted his strong devotion to his Puppchen, Joha Heiman, both of which relationships were, true to form, adulterous. We note that in the biographical film it is said that Brassens felt pangs of conscience with regard to Jeanne's husband, Marcel.

Brassens' unconventional attitude to marriage and sexual relationships should not surprise us as he was always the outsider to polite society. He tells us this in many of his songs - very forcefully for example in: “Je suis la mauvaise herbe.” 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

La complainte des filles de joie -whose work secretly merges the social classes

Although on a subject very serious to Brassens, this song has a light-hearted tone with some quaint detail- e.g. the girls’ corns.
Coming from a humble background, Brassens always took the part of the poor and oppressed and resented the richer classes that had the power to control the rest.  One group of the underprivileged, which he defended in a number of his songs, was that of the girls and women who made a living by prostitution. 

In this “Lament of a prostitute”, the “filles de joie” are presented as victims of this class conflict.  Brassens, as always, is angered by the hypocrisy of the upper classes that denigrate street girls, while many men from their supposedly morally superior ranks secretly use their services.  In this song, however, Brassens is amused by the irony of the merging of the classes as a result of these brief “marriages”.  He believes that these liaisons secretly make intimate relatives of the street girls and the snobbish kids who mock them.

Bien que ces vaches(1) de bourgeois
Les appell'nt des filles de joie(2)
C'est pas tous les jours qu'ell's rigolent,
Parole, parole,
C'est pas tous les jours qu'elles rigolent.

Car, même avec des pieds de grues (3)
Fair' les cent pas le long des rues
C'est fatigant pour les guibolles(4),
Parole, parole,
C'est fatigant pour les guibolles.

Non seulement ell's ont des cors,
Des oeils-de-perdrix, mais encor
C'est fou ce qu'ell's usent de grolles(5),
Parole, parole,
C'est fou ce qu'ell's usent de grolles.

Y'a des clients, y'a des salauds
Qui se trempent jamais dans l'eau
Faut pourtant qu'elles les cajolent,
Parole, parole,
Faut pourtant qu'elles les cajolent.

Qu'ell's leur fassent la courte échelle
Pour monter au septième ciel
Les sous, croyez pas qu'ell's les volent(6),
Parole, parole,
Les sous, croyez pas qu'ell's les volent.

Ell's sont méprisées du public,
Ell's sont bousculées par les flics,
Et menacées de la vérole,
Parole, parole,
Et menacées de la vérole.

Bien qu' tout' la vie ell's fass'nt l'amour,
Qu'ell's se marient vingt fois par jour,
La noce est jamais pour leur fiole,(7)
Parole, parole,
La noce est jamais pour leur fiole.

Fils de pécore(8) et de minus(9),
Ris pas de la pauvre Vénus,
La pauvre vieille casserole(10),
Parole, parole,
La pauvre vieille casserole.

Il s'en fallait de peu, mon cher,
Que cett' putain ne fût ta mère,(11)
Cette putain dont tu rigoles,
Parole, parole,
Cette putain dont tu rigoles.

On the album « Les trompettes de la renommée » 1961

Although these middle class idiots
Call them filles de joie
Their life’s not a big laugh each day.
I swear it, I swear it
Their life’s not a big laugh each day.

For, even with feet right for the job,
Pacing the streets up and down
It is tiring for spindly pins.
I swear it, I swear it
It is tiring for spindly pins.

Not only the girls get hard corns,
And soft corns but even more
It’s crazy what shoes they get through.
I swear it, I swear it
It’s crazy what shoes they get through.

There are clients, who - dirty oafs
Never take dips in water
Still they’ve got to be cuddled,
I swear it, I swear it
Still they’ve got to be cuddled.

Whether girls use the short cut
To get them to the heights of love
Believe me the cash is hard-earned.
I swear it, I swear it
Believe me the cash is hard-earned.

They are despised by the public,
They are pushed around by the cops
And they’re under threat of the pox.
I swear it, I swear it
And they’re under threat of the pox.

Although they make love all their lives
And marry twenty times a day.
Wedlock isn’t theirs for the taking.
I swear it, I swear it
Wedlock isn’t theirs for the taking.

You, son of silly and stupid,
Do not laugh at our poor Venus,
Poor skeleton in the cupboard.
I swear it, I swear it
Poor skeleton in the cupboard.

It would’nt have taken much, m’lad,
For this whore to be your mother.
This whore that you’re making fun of.
I swear it, I swear it
This whore that you’re making fun of.

1)     ces vaches de bourgeois – Vache is used like the noun « cow » in English as an unpleasant word of abuse and a worthless person perhaps fat and and ugly.  The word “cow” has no adjectival usage, but the French word “vache” does have.  When  “vache” is used as an adjective, it tells us that some-one is mean and unkind.  Examples in the French dictionary are: “Pas la peine d’être vache avec moi” translated as “You don’t have to be mean with me” or “l’amour vache” translated as “tough love”.  I was originally going to bring out the cruelty in the character failings of this couple,  but it is their stupidity that Brassens talks of towards the end of the poem and so I accentuate that.
2)     Filles de joie – I keep this in my translation, because outside France it is a term well-known for “prostitute” in a French context.  Also I need a term referring to joy as the next line says that the girl themselves did not have much fun.
3)     grues  - Grue has 3 meanings:
·       A crane- the construction device for lifting weights–not applicable, of course, here  
·       A crane-  the long legged bird. (See picture below)The image may be of street girls showing of their legs, the height of which is accentuated by high heels. 
·       A slang word for tart/prostitute. 
There is an expression in familiar speech: “faire le pied de grue”, which, thinking about the crane bird’s movements, means flitting about the place. Brassens may also be making a combined play on words to say these restless feet are the feet of prostitutes. These different shades of meaning would seem difficult to convey in translation
4) les guibolles is the slang word for « legs” like the English slang version: “pins.”
5) grolles is a word used in dialects for “shoes”
6) qu'ell's les volent-  voler means to steal but as in English it is used for not to give value for money  e.g on n’est pas volé = you get your money’s worth all right.
   7)  C’est pas pour ma fiole  - This is an idiom which means “It is not for me”
  8) pécore – Originally this word meant the little animal in a flock. This meaning is no longer used       and “pécore” is used exclusively as an insult to say that someone is silly and stupid e.g. Taisez-vous, petite pécore.  In this penultimate verse, Brassens is referring back to the middle class pair whom he addressed so contemptuously in the first verse.
  9) Minus = This term is used to describe some-one who is incapable and unintelligent .
  10)  vieille casserole -  Une casserole is a saucepan, an everyday domestic item.  However, perhaps because a standard practical joke is to secretly tie a pan to the back of a car etc to embarrass the occupants, it is used in French for a major scandal or embarrassment e.g.  - traîner une casserole = have something to hide.  
In the French dictionary, I found the following example of the word's usage:
 « s'il faut traîner des casseroles alors tous peuvent reprendre les anciennes casseroles et les faire traîner à nouveau”, which translates as:
«  if we must be haunted by a scandal - then all of us can drag up past scandals all over again.”
This is the meaning that I have preferred but other translators stick more closely with the word "saucepan" and see it as an insult for  a woman as a mere receptacle, perhaps more particularly apt for a prostitute. 
11)  Il s'en fallait de peu, mon cher, que cett' putain ne fût ta mère.  This line puzzles me. If the father of the middle class young man whom Brassens is addressing had had sex outside his marriage, the son cold have been close to having a different belle-mère/stepmother  There is little danger of mothers being wrongly attributed as fathers traditionally are.  The Ancient Greek poet, Homer had the line “…they tell me that I am the son of Odysseus, but it is a wise child that knows his own father.  Shakespeare had the line in the Merchant of Venice Act 2 Scene 2:It is a wise father that knows his on child.”  Even in this age of gender equality, it is difficult to adapt it to “It is a wise child who knows its own mother”, as Brassens seems to imply.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Le bistro- unflattering description of a favourite meeting place

We know the name and location of the bistro that Brassens describes in this song.  It is called "Aux Sportifs Réunis" and it is situated opposite the "parc Georges Brassens" (Paris 15e)  Below is a photo:

It was owned by  Yanek (Jean) Walczak. He was originally a miner and took up boxing in his youth.  During the Occupation, he won the title of amateur light-weight champion.  He became a professional boxer in 1947 and the peak of his achievement was winning was winning the welter-weight championship of France. He fought the best in the world. In 1948, he fought his friend the legendary Marcel  Cerdan for the French Middle weight title but was knocked out.  He had fights in the U.S. and fought the greatest boxer in the world, Sugar Ray Robinson three times in 1950-1951.

After Robinson knocked him out in June 1951 Walczak retired from the ring and opened his restaurant in Paris. It was a place where he could meet up with his friends locally. The bistrot was frequented by famous personalities, including Edith Piaf and Georges Brassens, who lived close by in this unfashionable quarter.  His son tells us that his father was a well-liked host, who always enjoyed a good laugh.

It is said that Brassens was no longer welcome at 
"Aux Sportifs Réunis" after publishing "Le bistrot" in 1960, but that is perhaps only the natural conclusion that anyone would make after hearing the song.  This may not be true, however, and evidence will be provided later in this post.

Le Bistrot

Dans un coin pourri
Du pauvre Paris,(1)
Sur une place,
L'est un vieux bistrot
Tenu par un gros

Si t'as le bec fin,
S'il te faut du vin
D’ première classe,
Va boire à Passy,
Le nectar d'ici
Te dépasse.

Mais si t'as l'gosier
Qu'une armure d'acier
Goûte à ce velours,
Ce petit bleu(2), lourd
De menaces.

Tu trouveras là,
La fine fleur de la
Tous les marmiteux(3),
Les calamiteux (4)
De la place,

Qui viennent en rang,
Comme des harengs,
Voir en face
La belle du bistrot,
La femme à ce gros

Que je boive à fond
L'eau de toutes les fon-
-taines Wallace,
Si dès aujourd'hui
Tu n'es pas séduit
Par la grâce

De cette jolie fée (5)
Qui, d'un bouge, a fait
Un palace,
Avec ses appas,
Du haut jusqu'en bas,
Bien en place.

Ces trésors exquis,
Qui les embrasse, qui
Les enlace ?
Vraiment, c'en est trop !
Tout ça pour ce gros
Dégueulasse !

C'est injuste et fou,
Mais que voulez-vous
Qu'on y fasse ?
L'amour se fait vieux,
Il a plus les yeux
Bien en face.

Si tu fais ta cour,
Tâche que les discours
Ne l'agacent.
Sois poli, mon gars,
Pas de geste ou ga-
-re à la casse.

Car sa main qui claqu’e,
Punit d'un flic-flac
Les audaces.
Certes, il n'est pas né
Qui mettra le nez
Dans sa tasse.

Pas né, le chanceux
Qui dégèl'ra ce
Bloc de glace,
Qui fera dans l'dos
Les cornes à ce gros

Dans un coin pourri
Du pauvre Paris,
Sur une place,
Une espèce de fée,
D'un vieux bouge, a fait
Un palace.

Album;- "Le Mécréant" 1960

In a run-down spot
Of the poor Paree
On a square
Stands an old bistro
That’s run by a man
Fat and  gross

If your palates’s fine
If you must have wine
Very top class
Go t’drink in Passy
The nectar served here’s
Beyond you.

But if you’ve a gullet
That’s armoured with
Steel plating
Taste this little blue
Velvety, heavy
With menace

You’ll find them here
The elite of the
All the bedraggled
Calamitous folk from
Round about

Who come in shoals
As of herrings
To see up close
The pub’s fair lady
The wife of this man
Fat and gross.

May I drink dry all
Of the Paris Wallace fountains
If from this day on
You are not seduced
By the grace

Of this fair siren
Who from a slum made
A palace
With her female charms
From top to bottom,
Nicely arranged

These matchless treasures
Who kisses them, who
Fondles them?
In truth it’s too bad.
All that for this man
Fat and gross

It’s unjust and mad
But what do you expect
To be done?
Cupid’s getting old
His eyes can’t see straight
Any more

If fancying her
Try talk that doesn’t
Annoy her
Be polite my lad
No grope or beware
The rough stuff

For her stinging slap
Two way, punishes
Cheeky men.
F'r sure, man is not born
Who will put his nose
In her cup.

Not born’s the chancer
Who will unfreeze this
Block of ice
Who will place horns on
The back of this man
Fat and gross.

In a run-down spot
Of the poor Paree
On a square
A kind of siren
Made, from an old slum, 
A palace


1)   Although in English, we pronounce Paris with the final "s" sounded, we also talk of "Gay Paree". I wondered if using it here helped the emphasis on a different face of Paris than we usually see.

2) Ce petit bleu - In familiar speech, this describes a poor quality wine

(3) marmiteux - My French dictionary tells me that this adjective means: looking old - in a bad state

(4)  calamiteux- My French dictionary tells me that this adjective means: catastrophic, calamitous, unfortunate, disastrous.

(5) fée - As well as fairy, this can mean; enchantress, siren, magician.


A later photograph shows Brassens and Walczac sitting happily together at the restaurant of Pierre Vedel. Walczack is sitting to the right of  Brassens.  In spite of the latter's insults, it might seem that the former boxer's face is quite presentable and he is not too overweight.  Probably the song would have been acceptable in their group as it was recognised as massive exaggeration intended to provoke but not too seriously- which Brassens often enjoyed doing.

Walczack's son now runs the business, whose restaurant he now calls "Chez Walczac".  However he has ensured that "Aux Sportifs Réunis"  lives on, to sustain nostalgic memories of the Brassens era.  All this is advertised on the Internet at: