Sunday, March 2, 2014

la mer

Perhaps it's the unrelenting winter that won't let go; Monday's forecast: icy rain, temperatures in high-20s.

Perhaps it's because I am reading Moby Dick and just learned that the more distant part of the sea seen from the shore, beyond the anchoring ground is called the "offings." I didn't know that and have only been beyond the offings—out to sea—three times in my life: off Cape Cod to Nantucket, off Ocracoke Island and the Outer Banks, off Maui. Yes, Maui.

But, I have been thinking of the ocean for a while, or at least walking along a beach to gaze at the offings. It's been years for me.

But one thing leads to another and then another. There's a Hardee's commercial airing lately of a scantily clad beauty in a bikini walking out of the surf only to sit in the sand and very seductively start eating a fish sandwich almost as big as the great white whale. Now if I were a 20-year-old male, this would work for me. I'd eat fish with mucho tartar.

But, at my age the song playing in the background is more appealing: Bobby Darin's 1959 "Beyond the Sea." Its airiness makes it one of my favorites.

Now, if you know the song, you may not know that it's an English version of the older French song, "La Mer." Same tune, but totally different lyrics. As legend goes, Charles Trenet wrote the original French version in 1946 on toilet paper while traveling along the Mediterranean Sea. Great inspiration: the sea not the paper. His lyrics are more about the moods of the sea, while the American version is about finding love beyond the sea, or love unattainable with your feet rooted on solid ground.

Here we go back to Melville’s Ismael. In the opening chapter of the outcast's story, we learn the narrator suffers from melancholy and longs for the sea as a cure and perhaps romance: man and the sea, not man and woman. There's no women in Moby Dick, which is perhaps why everything is so dark and laced with melancholia. Truthfully, I am not a big fan of books or movies that are all male because there's usually a lot of violence and fighting or everyone dying in pursuit of a great white whale.

Ismael notes, “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet…then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."

Was Ismael as weary of winter as I? Was his sea, our spring?

Perhaps Ismael had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and didn't need to go to sea at all. He just needed the bright sunlight of the Carolina coast. Of course, the whole story of the Pequod, Queequeg and Ahab's obsession would have been lost.

Not wanting to end all damp and drizzly, here’s a real treat, “La Mer” in the original French.

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