4.09.2010

Around the Campfire

Last weekend I went to a birthday party for a dear friend who has essentially been celebrating her 50th for a year. That's okay, because she knows how to share and plays well with others. To finish off the festivities, her husband (who seems to be getting in touch with his Inner Girl--to say nothing of his outer girl--in the most surprising ways) invited a musician to play for their friends. As we gathered at their house, in walked Antje Duvekot. I am not embarrassed to say I did not know her. (This represents the attainment of a new life stage, one in which I finally understand why the simple questions are the most important ones, and why it is always a smart idea to admit to ignorance.)

Duvekot had a handsome guitar, and began to play and sing songs she had written. It had taken a while for the husband to herd everyone with their glasses of wine into their seats, as we were like children who could not settle down after the cupcake course. But as soon as Duvekot started singing, we were quieted, and then we became entranced. She has a gorgeous, rich voice, beautiful delivery, and an appealing way with lyrics. Within moments, I wanted a blankie and if I were a thumb-sucker, I would have been well on my way to dreamland.

As it was, her music triggered a memory of being at summer camp, so many years ago, dozens of girls sitting around a fire, listening to the gruffly soulful counselor we all had a crush on, Jacques Abel, strum his guitar. "Tiens bon la vague et tiens bon le vent, hisse et ho! Santiano..." At this point I should interrupt my reverie (and but for the miracle of the Internet I would remember nothing more of that song) to explain that I was at a French summer camp, in Ferrisburg, Vermont: Ecole Champlain. Only my mother (and it later occurred to me, clearly hundreds of other mothers) would find a camp at which you were required to speak French, sail in French, waterski in French, canoe in French, eat in French and dream in French. As a result, if I find myself on skis behind a boat, I must say "Vas-y!" when I am ready to slalom.

There were always a few girls who were gifted vocalists and guitarists. I can still see them, strumming in the firelight; I hear their voices ringing out. I wish I knew where they were, and I hope they are still singing and playing. Those were the days of great folk songs. The rest of us joined in the choruses. This explains why I thought Kumbaya was a French hymn.

Those evening campfires were magical. The water lapped at the stony bank, tall hemlocks and pines made a cathedral over our heads, stars twinkled, the fire crackled, the ground was soft and mossy, and we sang our hearts out. Summer camp was one of the high points of my life. I recently dug a campfire pit near a boulder in my garden; I intend to greet mes annees soixantes (okay, I have a way to go, but there's lots to be done in preparation) with a recapitulation of hits from my life in the 60s and 70s. Next, it'll be tie dye. A headband. Maybe a dulcimer. Lanyards. But I will draw the line at macrame.

When was the last time you listened to live music in an intimate setting--either in someone's kitchen, or sitting on the earth in your own backyard, or at the beach?  It's one of those things that we learn to leave behind. But I think it is soul-saving. The husband's gift to his wife was a gift to us all. So, friends, dust off your guitars, or get your teenager to tune his up, build a fire, and watch the sparks fly.

*  *  *

And will wonders never cease? This just popped full-throated into memory. I could not have recalled it if I had tried. It was always the last song of the evening. ("Do you hear, in the fire, all those mysterious noises? Those are the embers, singing 'Camper, be joyful'.") Does anyone know the chords?

Entendez-vous dans le feu,
tous ces bruits mysterieux?
Ce sont les tisons qui chantent,
Campeuse, sois joyeuse.

40 comments:

Karena said...

What a lovely time and experience with your friends, and very thoughtful of her hubbyy!!

Karena
Art by Karena

TeaButterfly said...

I love the way you wrote about this whole singing experience!

I sing everyday to myself, and whenever i'm near a guitar!

Last was this Sunday March the 21st, so it's not a forgotten memory!

btw, I'm French, so allow me to say that the last sentence in your recalled song is in the singular, therefore no final "s". It should go:

"Campeuse, sois joyeuse".

I'll do some research on that song, for sure!

my best,
-Vic

TeaButterfly said...

here are the chords:

http://www.mlebelm.ca/index.php?2006/08/22/537-entendez-vous-dans-le-feu-do

Have a nice day!

-Vic

Dominique said...

Tea Butterfly, thank you! I knew I would get in trouble with that French, I'm quite rusty, which is part of the problem of not being in summer camp any longer. However, I meant campers, in the plural. So is the verb incorrect? d

Tinkerbell said...

In the midst of a snarling divorce, attempts to resuscitate a business gasping for breath, and facing the gloom of a looming empty nest, I felt the crackle of an instant ocular migraine when I received the estimate for the portion of my son's college tuition for which I will be responsible. Witnessing my distress, my 17-year-old son sat beside me and softly began strumming his guitar. Instantly I felt my soul exhale, then relax. Music is such a gift. One we too often forget to turn to in times of strife.

Emom said...

Oh I am back at Camp Okeneechee in the mountains of NC, near Lake Lure, (yes of "Dirty Dancing" fame). It would be about 1965, I would be 8 yrs old, and the songs, while not in French were soulful and "soul-saving" as you said....big smiles, and many thanks for the renewed memories...

virginia said...

yes, i remember my earliest years in song, forever fixed in purple ink:

"quand j'etait petite fille, les moutons, j'allait garder..."

"tu es partie, tres loin d'ici, ami de ma jeunesse...

"c'est moi le gai pipeur d'oiseaux, qui vais toujours, par monts, par vaux..."

mistakes in conjugation and spelling, i'm sure, but it's been 45 years.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

As I am married to a songwriter, I am often serenaded in the kitchen as I cook dinner. Or in the back garden on a summer's evening, with the dogs asleep in the grass at my feet.

Yes, I realize I am a lucky girl.

Anonymous said...

Ah, L'Ecole Champlain...where parents sent their children to perfect their French and their manners, and children escaped their driven parents in order to become scofflaws...and did the wild rumpus(histoire sauvage?)begin!

TeaButterfly said...

dear Dominique,

if you mean campers in the plral, then, as you said, you have to change the verb accordingly.

"Campeuses, soyez joyeuses !"

and your French is not so rusty!

thanks again for your beautiful blog!

-Vic, campeuse joyeuse.

Dominique said...

TeaButterfly, I'm going with singular, as plural (soyez) messes up the rhythm of the line. Many thanks. Anonymous: Wild rumpus indeed! L'histoire sauvage may well have begun in those days. Which is why they must be remembered; that's where the North Star is. x

cynthia newberry martin said...

Hi Dominique, I found this lovely post by googling Ecole Champlain. I was there in 1970, 71, and 72 and I also say vas-y when I'm ready for the ski boat to take off and I definitely remember Jacques Abel (and his motorcycle). When were you there? I look forward to finding out more about your book.

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