J’ai Deux Amours

It’s not particularly my beloved Paris, as Bogart says to Conrad Veidt in “Casablanca.” But we were talking about favorite cities last Friday evening, and one thing led to another—I’ve been listening to various performances of this ever since. It’s associated most closely with Josephene Baker, who either wrote it or had it written for her. DeeDee Bridgewater named an album after it. But this easygoing Madeleine Peyroux version is probably best known at the moment.

Not surprisingly, it’s most affecting in French. English translations lose a certain, uh,  je ne sais quoi. It would be a compliment to call my French truly lousy, but this is my version, which attempts to get the meaning, not necessarily the individual words or idioms, right. I’m not all that happy with the big black trees or “my ravished heart,” but I don’t do this for a living. And nobody in his right mind (I know, I know, it’s inevitable) would try to sing this song in English.

(I have seen a few performances—in French, but by Americans—that move the song from Paris music hall toward western swing: clippity clop, clippity clop, twang, twang. There are a few on YouTube. Weirdly wonderful. This is, after all, clearly a song written from the point of view of an American yearning to come to France.)

They say that over the sea,
Over there under the clear sky,
There’s a city where it’s enchanting to be.
And under the big black trees,
Every evening,
My spirit turns that way.
I have two loves—
My country and Paris.
By both of them
My heart is ravished.
Manhattan is beautiful,
But why deny it,
What puts a spell on me is Paris—
Paris in all its wonder.
Seeing it someday
Is my fondest dream.
I have two loves,
My country and Paris.

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