The woman in my bed….

woman  in my bed

I woke up with a French tune this morning: La femme qui est dans mon lit…The woman in my bed. Written by Moustaki for Edith Piaf when they were lovers, it is a song of praise for the older woman (she was nearly 20 years older than him).

It brought back memories of one of my trips and my encounter with a younger man. I was in my early thirties when I visited Sénégal and met Suleyman, the son of a village chief.

It was a 2 week trip which could have changed my life. I could now be writing to you from a Peuhl village by the Lac Rose. No, I am not delusional and this is not a flight of fancy. Marriage was proposed (preceded by an entirely platonic courtship).

He was young and beautiful. As beautiful as his name. Suleyman, the Magnificent. Now, Suleyman translated is Solomon, a name I particularly dislike. Please forgive me, but the first one I knew was King Solomon and he rather irritated me – so self-righteous, with his air of knowing everything and God, his rather idiotic plan of cutting the baby in half… How naive were these women to think he would actually do that?

Solomon’s one redeeming grace was falling in love with Sheba. But she was so alluring, so winsome, who would not have? Sheba. Queen in her own right, independent and beautiful and wise; who God knows why, went looking for a master – women never know how to leave well enough alone.

I think it was French actress Jeanne Moreau who said: Freedom is being able to choose who you will be a slave to. I remember a story about Sheba being so beautiful, other women disliked her intensely and spread the rumor that she was Belial’s daughter, and Solomon to make sure he would not be cavorting with the devil’s offspring, had her walk over a mirrored floor so he could see whether she had cloven feet. I have another thought about this mirrored floor trick. I know guys who have done it, albeit on a much smaller scale (handmirrors), but I’d say it was about looking higher than the feet…

High, low, it’s a question of perspective. A woman who was being courted told the man “But sir, my heart is taken” only to have him respond “But madam, I was not aiming so high..”

In any case, Suleyman – Ah! that name. I felt I was dealing with a sultan – Suleyman was our travel guide on this trip and he was young and handsome. We left Dakar and were visiting small villages on our way to the beach area of Saly, and Suleyman started sweet-talking me. As he was charming and as we were captive in the tour bus for a few hours, I listened intently: Behold, thou art fair, my beloved…Those who know and love me can vouch for my clumsiness – I regularly bump into people and furniture – but Suleyman compared me to a gazelle and although Senegalese women are among the most attractive I have seen, he thought me as beautiful as the Peuhl women of his tribe.  I also learned that he lived with 2 wives in another village; that he had built a house for each and that he would do so for me as well: Sénégal would be my land of milk and honey. No one had ever offered me such riches before.

To persuade me further, Suleyman made a detour so we could visit his village. We entered through dirt roads and reached a small, dusty, humble village, where he was greeted warmly by women and children alike. He introduced me to both wives (young and pretty) standing at the doorstep of their modest brick homes. I was offered tea, which according to the custom, was served in three rounds: the first strong and bitter, the second sweetened, with a little mint, and the third very sweet, with more mint – these stages reflecting friendship which becomes sweeter the longer it lasts.

Afterward, we stood on the porch and having displayed all his worldly treasures, Suleyman asked me for my response. I talked about my life in the United States but he begged me to consider his proposition as there was some urgency regarding children. That prompted my answer that at my age, I didn’t want anymore children. Age? responded Suleyman, baffled. What is your age? When I told him, he looked as if I had purposely deceived him. His previously exuberant demeanor turned to sadness and then to brusque and total coldness.

I watched him gather his thoughts before he methodically explained that he had been mistaken, that he’d thought I was younger and that he was sure I’d understand that he could never get involved with someone my age. I watched him turn away, climb back in the tour bus and ignore me royally for the remainder of the trip.

Ah, Suleyman who had gifted me his brass and copper cigarette holder (I still have it- a woman must keep mementoes of such moments!) … If I had his address, I would have sent him a recording of Moustaki’s song… It begins with:

The woman in my bed
has not been 20 for many years
Her eyes are darkly circled from nights of love
And her mouth is used by too many kisses…

and ends with this declaration of love:

Yet she offers me her body and her hands
And it is her bruised heart that reassures me….

Here are 2 different recordings of the Moustaki song: the classic Regianni and a newer version by Christian Delagrange:

Regianni

Chritian Delagrange

They are both preceded by Baudelaire’s poem, Pour une lionne illustre (In honor of an illustrious prostitute)

“Si vous la rencontrez, bizarrement parée,
Se faufilant, au coin d’une rue égarée,
Et la tête et l’oeil bas comme un pigeon blessé,
Traînant dans les ruisseaux un talon déchaussé,
Messieurs, ne crachez pas de jurons ni d’ordure
Au visage fardé de cette pauvre impure
Que déesse Famine a par un soir d’hiver,
Contrainte à relever ses jupons en plein air.
Cette bohème-là, c’est mon tout, ma richesse,
Ma perle, mon bijou, ma reine, ma duchesse…”

“La femme qui est dans mon lit
N’a plus 20 ans depuis longtemps
Les yeux cernés
Par les années
Par les amours
Au jour le jour
La bouche usée
Par les baisers
Trop souvent, mais
Trop mal donnés
Le teint blafard
Malgré le fard
Plus pâle qu’une
Tâche de lune

La femme qui est dans mon lit
N’a plus 20 ans depuis longtemps
Les seins si lourds
De trop d’amour
Ne portent pas
Le nom d’appas
Le corps lassé
Trop caressé
Trop souvent, mais
Trop mal aimé
Le dos vouté
Semble porter
Des souvenirs
Qu’elle a dû fuir

La femme qui est dans mon lit
N’a plus 20 ans depuis longtemps
Ne riez pas
N’y touchez pas
Gardez vos larmes
Et vos sarcasmes
Lorsque la nuit
Nous réunit
Son corps, ses mains
S’offrent aux miens
Et c’est son cœur
Couvert de pleurs
Et de blessures
Qui me rassure”

michèle voltaire marcelin

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