Friday, November 30, 2007

ode to clémentines and a happy Carl

I first encountered clementine oranges in 1996 while living in Mulhouse, France and teaching English. My roommate and I both came down with the flu simultaneously and for several days all we ate were clementines--so sweet, so juicy, so easy for feeble fingers to peel, so chock-full of desperately-needed vitamin C.

Ever since I have sought them out here in the US, and now they're easy to find. But as the grocery stores sell them in five-pound bags, I occasionally end up with a bad batch (not so sweet, not so easy to peel, getting soft and moldy on the bottom but hidden in the middle of the bag) and then am stuck with four and three-quarters pounds of less-than-optimum clementines. Or else I binge on them, eating a pound or two a day, and then don't want any more for weeks.

Anyway, it's clementine season and we've been buying bags of them (no yucky ones yet). I brought along a few while babysitting two weeks ago and offered pieces to Carl when it was time for his snack. His face lit up and he kept asking "encore, encore" for more clementines. As I sat there trying to save some segments for myself, the song "Oh my darlin' Clementine" was (inevitably) running through my head. I started playing around with the lyrics and thanks to the fact that "clementine" in French is "clémentine" (say it with a nasal middle syllable: clay-mon-teen), ended up with a song about Carl's newfound love for this delicious fruit:

Carl aime, Carl veut, Carl mange une clémentine
À la table avec Tatie et la clémentine il dîne.

(Carl loves, Carl wants, Carl eats a clementine
At the table with Auntie and the clementine he dines.)

Okay, so it sounds a lot better in French.

The other song I have recently rewritten for Carl's listening pleasure is "Sur le pont d'Avignon," a French folk song about dancing on the bridge in that town in southern France:

"Sur le pont d'Avignon,
On y danse, on y danse,
Sur le pont d'Avignon,
On y danse tous en rond

(On the Avignon bridge,
We dance there, we dance there,
On the Avignon bridge,
We all dance there round and round.)

Again, it has more of a ring to it in French.

I developed my version of this classic when playing with Carl after he woke up from a nap a few weeks ago. He had thrown his stuffed animals out of the crib, so as I fetched them I made each one dance along the rails along the top of his crib. And since they were dancing round and round, it just made sense to adapt "Sur le pont d'Avignon":

"Sur le lit de Carlicot,
Hibou danse, Hibou danse
Sur le lit de Carlicot,
Hibou danse puis il tombe

(On Carlicot's bed,
Owl dances, Owl dances
On Carlicot's bed
Owl dances then falls down.)

As I say "tombe," I let the stuffed animal fall into the crib. Carl pounces on it, holds it up to me, and cries "encore!" It's endlessly entertaining. Now he's at the point where he asks me to sing but makes the animals dance on his own. And when I pause before the last word, he cries out "tombe!" for me and drops the toy and laughs uproariously.

(Hey, it's not nearly as violent as "Alouette," that French children's classic about ripping a lark's head off.)

I love making up French songs for him and making him laugh! What songs have y'all invented for the children in your lives?


  1. There is a German children's song called "Gruen, Gruen, Gruen, sind alle meine Kleider" (green, green, green are all my clothes). Each verse says a different color, and the reason why is because the person's love is various professions that relate to the color. So green=hunter, white=baker, blue=sailor, etc. here's one complete verse:

    Gruen, Gruen, Gruen, sind alle meine Kleider,
    Gruen, gruen, gruen, ist alles, was ich hab'
    Darum lieb' ich, alles was so gruen ist
    Weil mein Schatz ein Jaeger Jaeger ist

    (green, green, green, are all my clothes
    green, green, green, is all that I have
    I love everything that is so green
    Because my love is a hunter)

    So, one day, my twins were both on my lap and they were both wearing blue. So I started singing, "Blau, blau, blau, sind alle meine Kinder" (blue, blue, blue, are all my children). Later I changed the whole verse to be:

    Blau, blau, blau, sind alle meine Kinder
    blau, blau, blau ist alles, was ich hab'
    Darum lieb' ich alles was so blau ist,
    Weil meine Schaetze meine Zwillinge sind!

    (blue, blue, blue are all my children
    blue, blue, blue is all I have
    I love everything that's so blue
    Because my loves are my twins!

  2. That's lovely, Jeanne! Thanks for sharing.

    I suspect that most parents make up songs about/for their young children in their native language....but isn't it fun when we can manage it in our second language?!

  3. Dear Sarah, your song about clémentine is not grammatically correct. You could say "A la table avec tatie, d'une clémentine il dîne".
    Dîner de.
    No capital for tatie.

    Yes, I am a incorrigible French who can't help when she sees mistakes. (You can correct my English anytime).

  4. Merci Zorglub!

    The "diner de" does make more sense--I was trying to fit the syllables to the melody and end the sentence with an -ine for rhyming purposes. He "eats a clementine" is much clearer than he "eats with Auntie and clementines"!

    I still don't understand why words like "maman" and "papa" and "tatie" aren't capitalized in French, when they are clearly acting like proper nouns, the names of these people! Oh well.