À l’aurore je suis née
Baptisée de rosée
Je me suis épanouie
Heureuse et amoureuse
Aux rayons du soleil
Me suis fermée la nuit
Me suis réveillée vieille
Pourtant j’étais très belle
Oui j’étais la plus belle
Des fleurs de ton jardin
This song literally translates to “My friend the Rose”, and holds a dear place in my heart.
I remember being at the edge of eleven years old, right at the start of awkwardness and weird crushes on boys just because they had short bright hair and pretty hazel eyes. Back when I had an assigned desk that I couldn’t leave, one which I would try to discreetly write on, to then again see my scribbles wiped away the second day, never knowing which hand scrubbed them off, and why.
One of the things that instantly bring me back is this tune in particular, and the singer’s thick accent. I never knew her name until I searched the song today, although I always knew the name of the song, which seemed pretty obvious after the 12th time she says Mon amie la rose me l’a dit ce matin.
The story behind my little memory can be summed up with only a few details; me standing up, looking at my empty but very cluttered classroom. The tables and chairs slightly and un-accordingly moved, tilted, disrupted as if some kind of mild hurricane forced through only the four walls of our little chambre de travail.
My friends, aligned next to me, all of us tightly gripping lyric papers with our little fingers, trying not to mess up the words or fall behind, because messing up did show, very fast, and listeners follow the slightest hiccup to the point where one little girl who might skip or add a few words to the chorale could mess up the entire presentation, and be blamed for the global dysfunction of 11 year old choir. But not me. I was a proud double-pony-wearing music and song enthusiast at the fragile age of 10/11. I would make sure to learn all the words and was usually careful to avoid any unnecessary slip-ups.
I’ll show you a metaphorical polaroid picture of how things would go down in my old Lycée’s CM2 class.
It’s morning in honk-filled Beirut, twenty six agonized and slightly excited ten and eleven year olds stand one after the other in line with very heavy bags on their backs, going from ranges of princess-pink accessories to power rangers and Batman backpacks; we await the blue door to open. And it does, in which we hurriedly walk through to sit in our little chairs and arrange our little desks to start the day with “Une Dictée!”
-Noooooooon! Is usually said/whispered simultaneously, protesting the teacher’s decision to give us a dictation on the first day of the week. But we still prepared our pens and minds to listen carefully.
Our teacher was no normal teacher, and that’s probably why out of all the classes I had, hers was the only one I could recall after years of finishing school. Her name was Miss Lama, I think she was a French teacher. And I do mean I think, because I remember all CM2 courses being taught by one major teacher for every class.
Miss Lama had long red hair at the time. She would come in full makeup, and was usually in a black top and baggy army pants that would crumble up by her ankles, paired with black high heels. I don’t know if it was the fashion at the time but this is the only remaining image of her in my head.
Miss Lama would usually arrive and give us coursework to agonize us with, but I have to admit she was a pretty cool teacher.
The first time we started realizing her special-ness was right about when we started hearing music in the classroom while we were busy scribbling down everything we had learned on our exam paper. She started gently putting soft songs (to test the waters, in my opinion), until we were fully on board with it, and even tried suggesting it a few times, and getting mentally ready for it.
She would usually play old French classics mostly of Charles Aznavour and another tune that particularyly stuck with me; Roxette’s Listen to your heaaaaart, when it’s calling for you! , I don’t remember what else played but she did have distinctive taste, both in Arabic and non-arabic songs.
So why else was Miss Lama so special? Probably because she would encourage us to sing while we were doing course work, and would make us stand in a line, short people in front (as I always was), and the taller kids in the back, as they always were, and we would sing, loud and proud, to Mon Amie la Rose and Listen to your Heart like our little lives depended on it, like we were making the world a better place and if people actually concentrated on us they will probably end up listening to their hearts after our earth-shattering (and also imagined) performance.
We were the rock stars of Room 12, the musicians of the furture, who had no professional vocal training whatsoever but sung anyway. In fact sung enough that we were heard by our neighbors in room 13, who were lead by the most strict human being I had ever seen in the past eleven years of meeting people and living on this earth. She was shorthaired and short-tempered. She was French, cold, and usually frumpy. She would sometimes give Miss Lama sturdy looks of disapproval when she would hear us sing while doing coursework, and would often judge our activities as “time-wasting” and unethical. We never cared for what that meant anyway, and we knew how jealous the kids from the other classroom were every time they heard the radio playing English music from our room while they had to stare onto a green board with numbers all day, watching miss Old-frump wipe white chalk off her hands and fingers.
All that was good and fun until one day, one usual practice, and one comment; that spiked my love for tunes, music and voices. Miss Lama was making us practice “Listen to your heart”, as we were finally going to be able to present it as an end-of-the-year concert to our parents. And as my little self sang “Listen to heaaaaaart” Miss Lama looks me right in my eyes and gets closer to me “When he’s caaaling for youuuu” she calmly says “raise your voice a little higher”. Only to me, while others continued, I flushed and raised my voice a little higher like she asked. She then told me to stop for a bit and continue to follow, which I did without hesitating, and that created the first layering I had ever heard, which I, apparently and quite surprisingly created. My friends would sing “Listen to your heaaaart”, and I would follow about a second later with the same verse, my own “Listen to your heaaaart”, and by the time we got to the end of the song she would tell me to make my last words longer so that the last tune would be heard from my voice while the room slowly went quiet, I was starting to feel a little stress and a little chill run up my spine, as pure excitement and rush-like feelings built up in me. The last thing she told me on that day was “You’ve got a nice voice girl”, in a hybrid French-Arabic language spoken only by the the truest Lebanese at heart. I smiled and she smiled and it was just the best day to ever happen to me. After school I rush home to tell my mother every detail before I started forgetting little parts of the story.
We ended up having a great show by the end of the year, and we all bowed down like true professionals of the business as the cheers erupted in the big gymnasium, but I knew what Miss Lama had given me was something much more precious than a memory of a school chorale, that deserves much more than a simple blog post.