Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Edith Piaf's love letters to cycling champion published

 French chanteuse's 50-plus letters to Louis Gérardin during 10-month affair suggest a love not fully reciprocated.

                                                                          Photograph: Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images
 Edith Piaf performing in Paris in January 1961. She broke off her affair with Louis Gérardin in September 1952.

 A set of love letters by Edith Piaf to the cycling champion Louis Gérardin have been published in France.
 The great chanteuse's passionate months-long affair with the married cyclist inspired a torrent of flowery, emotional missives, dotted with spelling mistakes and crossings-out.
 Gérardin was not her only paramour but it is the first time such heartfelt letters by the singer – dubbed "La Môme Piaf", or little waif sparrow, as her mesmerising presence propelled her from the streets of Paris to international stardom in the 1940s and 50s – appear in a published collection.
 "You have taken me like no other man has ever done, and I have given you what I have never before given, which is to say: myself!" wrote Piaf in early 1952.
 Three years her senior, Gérardin was the object of Piaf's passion from November 1951 to September 1952, during which time she wrote more than 50 letters to her lover, who she nicknamed "Toto".
 "This is what I would like before leaving for America," she wrote on 13 April 1952, before a tour. "To be so worn out, so filled with love, that I cannot make love any more for months but await my marvellous return to be with you again like your little pet dog."
 Piaf also wrote of her desire to have a baby with Gérardin, and offered to give up her singing career to be with him, yet her letters suggest an undercurrent of insecurity and desperation and a love not fully reciprocated.
 "If you could write to me, that would please me, but if it bothers you, don't do it!" she wrote on 25 January 1952.
 Gérardin reportedly said of his lover: "Forty eight hours with Piaf are more tiring than a lap in the Tour de France."
 Piaf's affair with Gérardin came two years after the death in a plane crash of boxer Marcel Cerdan, considered the great love of her life.
 That relationship was chronicled in the 2007 film La Vie en Rose", in which the actor Marion Cotillard gave an Oscar-winning performance as the singer.
 Another affair was publicised when a passion-filled letter Piaf wrote to the Greek actor Dimitris Horn in 1946, while she was in a relationship with fellow French singer Yves Montand, sold at auction in Greece for €1,500 (£1,350) in 2009. The same year an anonymous buyer paid €67,000 at Christie's for Piaf's original letters to Gérardin.
 The letters, with the scribbles and errors cleaned up, were published by the French publishing house Bernard Grasset under the title My Blue Love and released in late March.
 A 12-times sprinting champion with a chiselled frame and slicked-back hair when he became involved with Piaf, Gérardin would win the top French title once more in 1953.
 In her letters, Piaf made plans for a future home with him – "We will have pretty drapes and a beautiful table service" – even sending him a copy of her accounts and expressing happiness that she could provide a comfortable retirement for them both.
 Raised in a brothel after her mother abandoned her, and first spotted when she was singing for coins on the streets of Paris, Piaf looked up to Gérardin, her letter from January 1952 suggests: "I want to completely better myself, I want to be worthy of you, you must help me to transform, you will be my little professor, dear, and I will blindly listen to you like a master that I adore."
 Piaf, who struggled with drugs and alcohol abuse and the death of her toddler daughter, died from cancer in 1963 aged 47.
 In later letters, Gérardin's wife, Bichette, crops up more and more. Sometimes Piaf expresses sympathy and says he should return to her. At other times she urges him to break ties.
 On 18 September 1952, the last dated letter of the collection, Piaf wrote to Gérardin from New York to cut things off.
 "When you receive this letter I will be married," wrote Piaf, now engaged to the French singer Jacques Pills, expressing hope that she and Gérardin could remain friends.


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