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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Port of Amsterdam

So far this year I have only written of travels so even when I stayed in Budapest for a week I can’t help writing about some other place. Not that I don’t like Budapest and its bits but by some coincidence one of the haunting melodies in my head this week is 'Le Port d'Amsterdam' written and performed by Jacque Brel.

If you had the patience to listen to it, it is a fantastic song by one of the greatest French speaking artist of second part of the 20th century – the Belgium Jacque Brel. Brel sings all his songs in a deeply moving and highly sensitive way but in this case one would say all his male ancestors were sailors who lost their lives in street fights by the port.

And in the city of Amsterdam Brel definitely doesn’t take us to a tulip show or the Royal Art Museum or not even the Van Gogh Museum and the potato eaters. He takes us to the port pubs of Amsterdam where ‘Y'a des marins qui meurent/Pleins de bières et de drames’ or in the English lyrics ‘There is a sailors who dies full of beer, full of cries’. Brel’s sailors are rough and desperate, constantly drunk but somehow strangely poetic. Yet, they do things I’d better not mention here and this is definitely not reading the Bible between two trips.

I started writing this text because of this interpretation of the same song by David Bowie that I discovered recently in a hotel in Pristina.

Being a genius, Bowie surpassed the original and fully impregnated the song with his character adding a more dynamic guitar. The English lyrics remain very similar yet different. Here is Bowie’s sailor:

There's a sailor who eats
Only fish heads and tails
And he'll show you his teeth
That have rotted too soon
That can haul up the sails
That can swallow the moon

It’s clear that these sailors have not had proper dental care and do not have their tooth plaque cleaned on a regular basis.

This reminds me that I have an appointment with my dentist on Friday who will hopefully finalize a treatment of a strangely and elegantly winding root canal.

This also reminds me that when in Amsterdam I once folded my tent while still wet and when I unfolded it a year later it had rotten like Amsterdam sailors' teeth.

1 comment:

I_am_Tulsa said...

Oh I love how Jacque Brel rolls the "r"s! The song is melancholic and makes we want to get on a boat and sail the seven seas...
Thank you for another glimpse into a world I have not yet visited!