On Friday 18 July I shall be departing Oliver Tambo/Johannesburg International Airport for a conference in Prato, Tuscany (just a 15 minute train ride from Florence), where I shall be giving a paper (more about that later this week). I have a stopover of two days in Paris! And who better to exemplify the spirit of the French capital than Edith Piaf (1915-1963).
The throaty tones of the Little Sparrow often emanate from my CD player, especially when I am cooking. Born Edith Giovanna Gassion, she was named after Edith Cavell. When I was young, I was captivated by the story of the heroic Edith Cavell, the British nurse who was executed by firing squad in WWI for helping French soldiers escape German captivity. Edith Piaf's life was very different from that of her namesake but I think she was also a brave woman to survive an extremely deprived childhood. Her life is difficult to summarise: growing up in brothels, singing and doing acrobatic performances on the streets of Paris as a teenager, she was discovered in the Pigalle area by a nightclub owner. Her Svengali taught her stage presence, nicknamed her 'the little sparrow' and instructed her to wear her trademark black dress. Edith married twice, had several lovers and reports of her activities during WWII range from performing for the occupation troops to helping individuals escape Nazi persecution. Her most famous song, La vie en rose, Life in the pink, was recorded in 1945. You have seen the 2007 movie by the same title for which Marion Cotillard won an Oscar this year, haven't you?
Linking to Edith, the survivor of childhood trauma, my conference paper deals with the life stories of four African women (my former students) who triumphed over childhood deprivation to become qualified teachers with postgraduate degrees. When I have packed my little suitcase, I shall post an extract!
PS My thanks to dear friend, Karen Harvey Cox at the magnificent A scrapbook of inspiration who has kindly awarded me a prize! Karen, I will try to publish the award and my seven prizewinners before I fly! If not, as soon as I return!