La Mer - Charles or Bobby?

The sea was Mediterranean aqua this weekend, blatantly masquerading as somewhere far more exotic than the south coast of England. They say the sun always shines in your childhood memories, but in a strange back-to-front version of this, I am always surprised at how much more beautiful it is now than I ever remember; how even on a less than perfect-weather-day, sunlight will skim the water, thin as a thread near the horizon.


I’ve always loved the sea, but honestly speaking, I remember the seaside of my growing up years rather differently. I’m sure our beach days back then were spent shivering in a range of 1970s towelling beachwear (or, on a really bad day, with anoraks over our swimsuits), watching the angry sludge-brown waves smash onto the shingle as we cowered in the shadow of that indispensable accessory to all UK beach holidays, the windbreak.


So days like Saturday - when I paddled through soft sea-weedy shallows and plunged under irresistibly huge turquoise waves, letting them lilt over me with their push and pull, before drying in the sun, skin sticky with sea salt – still feel like a gift every time.

And on these occasions I sometimes find Charles Trenet’s voice popping into my inner ear, uninvited, singing his melodic French rhymes about glistening waters and sea-swept houses.


When his song ‘La Mer’ was ‘translated’ into English (and when I say ‘translated’, I mean ‘made into a completely different song to the same music’) it became Bobby Darin’s ‘Beyond the Sea’, the tale of waiting for one’s beloved on the other side of the water (actually written by Jack Lawrence).


I like both versions and, at first it seems they can’t be too far apart in meaning. The tune is the same, they are both talking about the sea... But then you realise that while in ‘La Mer’, Charles Trenet is singing a love song about the sea, with all its intricate details, in ‘Beyond the Sea’, Bobby Darin merely considers the ocean as a pesky obstacle, holding him back from what he really wants.


So while Charles waxes lyrical about dancing waters, silver reflections that change in the rain and angel-like white horses (or ‘sheep’ as they are known in French), all Bobby can think about is his beloved. For him, the sea is a means to an end, and for now he’s stuck in the waiting room, not really appreciating how very lovely it is in its own right. Not so much as a passing mention of crystal clear bays and reedy pools from him.


We all have our ‘Beyond the Sea’ moments, especially now, waiting for some new kind of normality to emerge. It’s not wrong to wait expectantly for what we want. It’s never wrong to hope for change. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to seeing friends far and near, waiting hopefully.


But maybe Charles has got it right. He’s there in the present moment, stopping to lap up all the beauty around him, come sunshine or rain, rather than looking beyond the sea to the thing it is apparently ‘keeping’ from us.


There’s a place for both. But I’m wondering if I can try to be a little more ‘La Mer’ in my daily life, stopping and allowing myself to be amazed by what’s right here. Living in the present and finding a little bit of God’s beauty in all weathers, in every situation, even while I wait.


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