Are you familiar with the classic song ‘Que C’est Triste Venise’ by French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour? It was a big hit internationally in the 1960s, translated from the original French to English, German and – most successfully – Italian. I love the song, and I listened to it often while writing my novel The Echoes of Love. It sparks such a sense of romantic nostalgia in me. Following are the French and Italian versions, and an English translation (source).
The original French version
The later Italian version (‘Com’è Triste Venezia’)
How sad Venice can be when you return alone
To find a memory in every paving stone
I walk among the birds that fill San Marco’s Square
With echoes of her words around me in the air.
How sad Venice can be when the mandolins play
A song she sung for me, one unforgotten day
Like images of sleep, the gondoliers go by
But when I try to weep, I find my tears are dry.
How sad Venice can be when mist is in your eyes
And you can hardly see, as pigeons fill the skies
I find the little street and then the old café
Where we would always meet to dream away the day.
How sad Venice can be, beneath the silent moon
That rises from the sea and silvers the lagoon
I hear the vespers chime and cross the Bridge of Sighs
I know that it is time to bid my last goodbyes.
There’s nothing more to say, I pass beneath the light
And then I turn away from Venice in the night
How sad Venice can be, it’s too lonely to bear
When you have lost the love that you discovered there.
Whenever I’m writing a book, I create a playlist of music that transports me to the time and place and feeling of the novel. For The Echoes of Love, my next novel that will publish on 6 December, I very much enjoyed immersing myself in Italian music, especially the romantic songs.
Today, I’m sharing with you one of the songs that features twice in the book, at times of great emotional impact for my hero, Paolo, and heroine, Venetia: once during their first chance encounter, and the next time when they dance. It is, if you like, their song, symbolic of how the world falls away when they are together. The song is ‘Il Cielo in una Stanza’, sung by Mina, which translates to ‘The Sky in a Room’. I love the opening:
Quando sei qui con me
questa stanza non ha più pareti
quando sei qui vicino a me
questo soffitto viola
no, non esiste più.
Io vedo il cielo sopra noi
When you are here with me
This room doesn’t have walls any more
When you are here near me
This ceiling breaks
No, it doesn’t exist any more.
I see the sky above us
Mina, ‘Il Cielo in una Stanza’ (1960)
I love flash mobs, because they are surprising and theatrical and romantic and the very embodiment of the French phrase joie de vivre. Since their inception in 2003 (the first was in Manhattan, organised by the editor of Harper’s Magazine as a social experiment), flash mobs have crept into the public consciousness to the degree that if you are out on the street in a big city and rapidly increasing numbers of people start to do something strange around you, you quickly realise that you’re watching a flash mob.
So a YouTube search for ‘flash mob’ and you find thousands of videos of spontaneous, joyous, non-conformist events. Some of my favourites are those that have been organised by a hopeful suitor who drops to one knee at the end and asks his love to marry him. Here’s a beautiful one: a man who arranged three hundred people to give his girlfriend a flower each, and then appeared in a tuxedo to propose – ah, romance!
But a new trend in flash mobs is pushing through that’s really exciting: creating a new way to express the arts and bring them to the public’s attention. For example, in autumn last year Lafeyette College in the States played host to a literary flash mob for Banned Books Week in which participants read aloud from 30 books that have been banned in America’s history. Not a beautiful sound by any means, but powerful.
Then recently, to mark the reopening of Amsterdam’s wonderful Rijksmuseum, actors re-created the museum’s most famous work, Rembrandt’s masterpiece ‘The Night Watch’.
Of course, you also have wonderful musical flash mobs bringing new life to classical music, such as the following unexpected performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping centre food court:
What do you think? Would you love to stumble upon such a flash mob – or perhaps even take part? Do you think art belongs in a museum, or out on the streets, intermingled with everyday life? I would love to hear your thoughts.
My novel, Burning Embers, is set in 1970, and the protagonist, Coral, is an English girl very much of her era – fashionable, independent, ambitious, fiery.
The other day, I was browsing music online, and I got to thinking about what kind of music Coral would have been listening to at the time Burning Embers was set. So I had some fun perusing the Billboard Top 100 for 1970, and I came up with the following six tracks to form a soundtrack to the book. I’ve included a quote and a video for each. What do you think? Certainly, listening to these songs made me nostalgic – such simple romance back then.
Diana Ross: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Oh no darling, no wind, no rain
No winter’s cold can stop me, baby…
Elvis Presley: The Wonder of You
Your kiss to me is worth a fortune
Your love for me is everything
Simon and Garkfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: Tears of a Clown
You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad
The Beatles: Long and Winding Road
The wild and windy night that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears crying for the day
The Carpenters: Close to You
On the day that you were born the angels got together
And decided to create a dream come true
Singing in the Rain, Les Misèrables, Guys and Dolls, Cats, My Fair Lady, Cabaret, West Side Story, Chicago, The King and I, Anything Goes, The Phantom of the Opera… Musicals: you either love them, or you hate them. And I think most dreamers and romantics, like myself, are firmly in the former camp.
I love, love the expressionism in a musical. Everything is bigger, brighter, more vivid, more colourful: the settings, the costumes, the lighting, the audio, the movements. Music and dance have such power to convey emotion, and in the musical every feeling is heightened through such mediums:
When a character falls in love, we feel it. Think of ‘Tonight’ in West Side Story and ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ in Grease.
When a character is joyous, we feel it. Think ‘If I Were a Bell’ in Guys and Dolls and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ in My Fair Lady.
When a character is sad, we feel it. Think of Joseph’s ‘Close Every Door to Me’ and ‘Where Is Love’ in Oliver.
When a character dies, oh how we feel it! Think of ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ in Les Mis and ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ in Phantom.
Everything that draws me to reading and writing romance novels is there in a musical. Of course, they push the boundaries further into fiction than a simple romance film or play, but there is something wonderfully escapist about that.
When I was young, I loved the classic Hollywood musicals, and I think the depth of the feeling between characters in these productions inspired me in my writing. One my favourite reviews of Burning Embers is ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’. My characters don’t break into song and dance routines, but I hope that they sweep my readers away in the same vein as a musical.
It has been a delight, in recent years, to see Hollywood resurrect the medium of the musical, and indeed it is a genre that has been gaining critical recognition, with BAFTAS and Golden Globes and Oscars for the recent Les Mis. I was so pleased to see the artistic effort that went into the film, and its unashamed pursuit of being a big-screen epic. Perhaps this will be the film that finally earns the musical much-deserved respect as a worthy and influential art form.
Recently, I read an interview with Patricia Kelly, wife of that classic Golden Age musical actor Gene Kelly. She pointed out that filmmakers today are reticent about making musicals because of the cost:
“When Gene was at MGM he was working with an extraordinary repertory company that would make several films a year. They had the greatest composers, arrangers, actors, dancers, costume makers, cinematographers – everybody was at hand. To pull that kind of talent together now is prohibitively expensive in today’s Hollywood terms. Studios don’t want to risk that, instead they’ll make big action movies and make millions of dollars.
Gene kept waiting for the next guy to come over the hill; he was somebody who looked to the new generations. Of the people who could sing, dance and act, such as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, Hollywood seems to have made them and then broken the mould. Hollywood needs to cultivate that talent again.” (Source)
I so hope they do, because I for one think the world would be a better place were the cinemas showing more musicals and fewer violent, dark films.
I will leave you today with the iconic scene in the musical genre, ‘Singing in the Rain’ from the musical of that name, which was named the best musical of all time by the American Film Institute. It is one of my favourite uplifting songs from the musicals (well, living part of the year in England, I do have to find some means to smile through the rain!). Amazing to think that Gene Kelly shot this scene with a temperature of 103 – he utterly defies the concept of man flu, don’t you think?