I have long been enamoured of Edith Piaf, her life story and of course, her singing. I don’t remember how old I was when I first became aware of this wonderful, pitiful, strong, brave woman, the Little Sparrow starting life singing in the streets and living in a brothel. Not a great start in life for anyone and particularly a woman in Paris in 1915. War was raging; her father was fighting at the front and her mother had neither the money nor the inclination to look after a baby.
We are told that Edith was born under a street lamp in a doorway at 72 rue de Belleville in the 20th arrondissement on the 19th of December 1915. Above the worn out marble doorstep is a plaque that reads, ”dont la voix, plus tard, devait bouleverser le monde” translated as ‘whose voice later was to upset the world’. Edith did not just go on to move the world with her voice, but brought inspiration to many and continues to do so even today.
Her mother, known as Line Marsa, chose to call her baby daughter Edith after Edith Cavell, the celebrated British nurse who was celebrated for saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers from both sides. Cavell was later arrested by the Germans and shot by a firing squad just days before Piaf’s birth.
Shortly after the birth, Edith was packed off to live with her maternal grandmother. A bad decision that was overturned by her father on his return from the front. He sent his mother and aunt to bring her back. The aunt owned a thriving brothel in Paris and so Edith’s early days were spent surrounded by prostitutes and the men of class who came to visit them.
When I think of Piaf I think about her passion, her determination, the carefree spirit of her younger days and the spirit of constantly seeking greatness.
But why am I writing about Piaf on the 5th day of this New Year? Some years ago shortly after my husband died, I was playing companion to an elderly English woman. She was that particular type of woman, from her class. Peremptory, imperious, and brusque, so used to giving orders and being obeyed. But we got on very well and over the months and several returns to Chichester by me, we became friends. I remember her saying often, regret nothing; apologise for nothing. So no New Year resolutions for me – instead I am working on regretting nothing that I have done. Oh yes, some foolish decisions that would have been best left unmade but on the whole, I have enjoyed all the years of my life even when in amongst the good, the fantastic and the truly memorable, there have been a couple of hiccups when loved ones departed this world.
So onward into this New Year, with no regrets for what is past; it cannot be changed, but hopefully I can learn from it.
And now from my very favourite poet, from whom we haven’t heard for a while –
what is it you plan to do
with your one
wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver