It comes as a surprise to me that once again I have Boris Johnson to thank for something. This time an October evening looking out from a garret room over the rooftops of North London. I never really imagined thanking him for anything at all, but its not the first time, that zip wire fiasco a few years ago, that was a humdinger, or that time the big oaf flattened that little Japanese boy with a rugby tackle, achingly bufoonishly funny.
Boris this time has my thanks for my fourteen day quarantine, I am under strict instruction to isolate myself and avoid mingling with the masses on the streets of old London Town after arriving from a Spanish sojourn.
I have Boris to thank for this moment, without him I wouldn’t be looking out of the window at the moon, that reliable lump of rock that comes and goes as regular as lunar clockwork, I stand and stare & feel it necessary to snap a pic with my iphone to mark the occasion. In my head Debussy plays, the best moments always go well with a good soundtrack after all, Claire De Lune of course, a schmaltzy tune if there ever was one that I can’t help but like.
My enforced isolation and the moon has me musing, Debussy was a creature of Paris & the fin de siecle society that flourished there, he numbered Ravel & Stravinsky & Satie amongst his mates & spent his time composing, teaching & as a critic to earn a crust in between amorous adventures with the good & the bad ladies of Paris.
As a critic he once wrote that he hated sentimentality in music and yet when I listen to Claire de Lune it feels laden with it, every phrase & note. He composed the piece after a poem by Verlane a slightly older fellow countryman who wrote ‘Claire de Lune’ in 1869.
Clair de lune
Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.
Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,
Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.
Moonlight ( with apologies for my translation )
Your soul is a special land
Where masked revellers & party people journey
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.
All sing off key
Of winning love & the luck of life,
They do not seem to believe in their fortune
And their song melds with the moonlight,
With the clear moonlight, beautiful & sad
Which lifts the dreaming birds in the trees
And the fountains crying in ecstasy,
The water fountains that issue from marble
Both Debussy & Verlane could be described as gents who were just a little less ordinary than most, both talented, both imperfect, lovers of the venial and carnal, their lives were at times messy & complicated, boozed up Verlaine at one point shot a friend after an argument and did prison time. Afterwards he then left France for England, living in Bournemouth of all places for a while. He ultimately died comparatively young, from alcohol & drug abuse and an over attraction to Absinthe. Debussy’s philandering led to him to leave his wife who then attempted suicide, by shooting herself. It didn’t work though, she survived, living the remainder of her life with the bullet embedded in one of her vertebrae. They were buried together in a little cemetery in Paris, Debussy’s last wish was to lie amongst the birds and trees.
Despite a wealth of research no link has ever been found between the phases of the moon and a correlating influence on humans. Though it’s hard not to believe that this same celestial body that circles the Earth & in doing so moves the tides of every ocean does not have some effect on us, creatures as we are made almost half of water.
The moon has been written and spoken about for ever, we have poems about it, songs about it, hell we’ve even worshipped it. There are more potted theories about the moon and man that you could shake a stick at but on an October evening looking out of a London window it’s enough to watch the little white disc and to lose myself in a daydream, or maybe it should be moon dream.