Do you know which French singer was given the nickname Le Fou Chantant? I’ll give you a clue: one of his most famous songs is called La Mer. You’ve probably heard that song at least once, perhaps in its English version called Beyond the Sea, performed by Bobby Darin and others, and more recently by Robbie Williams for the film Finding Nemo. No, it was not Debussy, he didn’t sing!
The singer’s name is Charles Trenet – had you guessed it!? Charles Trenet was born in Narbonne on May 18, 1913, at a time when his father was notary public in Saint-Chinian, and where Charles spent much of his early years. Charles’ mother had inherited her parents’ house in Narbonne, which is where Charles Trenet was born. The house stayed in the Trenet family until Charles donated it to the town of Narbonne, on the proviso that it would be opened to the public as a museum.
I went to visit the Maison Natale de Charles Trenet, which is what the house is called today, during the last European heritage weekend. A guided visit had been announced for 1:30 pm, and I thought that would be a perfect for my first visit. When I got there, quite a few people were already waiting. When the doors opened, a larger than usual number of people were admitted – lucky for me!! 🙂 We were ushered into what had been Charles Trenet’s living room on the ground floor of the house.
Our guide explained that Charles Trenet redecorated whenever he thought something looked a little shabby. Consequently, there were four different kinds of wall coverings in the living room! 🙂
From the ground floor, a staircase swept up to the first floor (the second floor if you are in the US) – the mirrored wall in the entrance hall gave the impression of a double flight staircase!
Next door was the bedroom where Charles was born:
After his mother died, Charles Trenet had a sauna cabin installed In the room next to his mother’s bedroom – the only modification he made to the first floor following his mother’s death. Apparently he spent half an hour in the sauna every morning – in his later years he attributed his good physical shape and the condition of his voice to that habit.
The bathroom next to the sauna is incredibly dated – I’m not sure which period it is from – the 60’s or the 70’s? The large fireclay bathtub in powder blue must weigh a ton, perhaps literally!
Across the hallway from the bathroom is the kitchen, with the same brown tiles as in the bathroom!
Amongst my pictures of the house, I cannot find one of the family dining room – this room was always very crowded during my visit, so perhaps that’s why.
There was another flight of stairs to climb to the second floor (third floor for readers in the US). One of the walls surrounding the staircase was hung with red drapes. On the narrow wall there was a picture of Christ on the cross, and the next wall up showed various record covers and publicity shots – a somewhat odd juxtaposition, but whatever…
The second floor was where Charles had his private rooms. The large sitting room contained many personal mementoes and photographs. The upright piano is where Charles would have worked on his songs.
His bedroom was next to the sitting room, and it was fairly spartan in its furnishings.
Across the hallway from the bathroom was a guest bedroom. I’m not sure that I could live with that colour scheme 🙂
Charles Trenet had a number of homes in France, but he frequently visited his birthplace and he was always very attached to Narbonne. I leave you with a song (e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to view the video), and a picture of the bronze statue in the little front garden of the house.
The Maison Natale de Charles Trenet is located at 13 Avenue Charles Trenet in Narbonne, and open to the public every day except on Mondays. You can find full details here.