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Jacques Brel vs. Colonel Gaddafi: Zangra Meets Zenga Zenga Posted by on Mar 31, 2011 in Business, Film, History, Literature, Music, News, People, Vocabulary

IF someone told you that Colonel Gaddafi‘s life-long vocation as a deeply confused dictateur (dictator) traced back its origin to the military career of a World War II fascist foot soldier, whose mission was to resume the century-old Italian occupation of la Lybie, you probably would wonder how that could be the case.

But what if, in addition to that, the so-far unsuspected intricacies of this histoire (story) went back even further in time—much, much further in time?


In order to piece up this petit puzzle, involving as a key figure un personnage (a character) that was until recently one of the most intimate copains (buddies) of “scandal-prone” billionaire-turned-Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi (among other powerful “notables” of this world, of course), let us first go back together several decades ago:

Starting with l’Italie.

It was barely one year after the outbreak of la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale (the Second World War) when Italian writer and journalist Dino Buzzati published what was to become his most successful work, “Il deserto dei Tartari” (“The Desert of the Tartars.”)

This intriguing roman (novel), faithfully translated into French nine years later as “le désert des Tartares“, and brought to the Italian grand écran (big screen) under the same title in 1976, tells the ostensibly Kafkaesque story of a young Italian officer, Giovanni Drogo, who is dispatched by his military superiors to le désert (the desert) in order to safeguard the old fort Bastiani against a possible incursion of a little-known “Tartar army.”

“The Desert of the Tartars”, le film italien (the Italian movie), gathered on the same set some of the most famous international names in Cinéma: Some French, like Jacques Perrin, Philippe Noiret, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and others, like Vittorio Gassman (the Italian “Scent of a Woman”), and the recently naturalized French citizen, Swedish-born actor, Max von Sydow (“Father Merrin”, of “The Exorcist” fame)

* * *

As the hours, the days, the years went by, and in a long wait that is strikingly reminiscent of Samuel Beckett‘s “En attendant Godot(“Waiting for Godot”), the youth and ambition of the Italian lieutenant slowly cédèrent le pas (gave way) to old age, leading him inevitably to deep and bitter disenchantment towards life and the world…

Painfully captive in his own fort, which turned bit by bit into a virtual bunker, surrounded by the wilderness of a gigantesque (gigantic) desert, and waiting for the deliverance of an elusive moment de gloire (moment of glory) that would confer some sense and purpose to his existence: The description and traits of Buzatti’s lieutenant Drogo fits in more than one subtle way with the personnalité of a notoriously infamous colonel: The one known in the Arab world as “Madjnoun Libya” (Arabic for “the Madman of Libya.”)

And how about the novel’s desert?

It may very well depict the vast Libyan Sahara. That is, as history reminds us, the same desert, the same dunes, where, one may note in yet another cruelly ironic coincidence, thousands of Italian troops spent many long years in a doomed colonial enterprise, which started exactly a century ago, in 1911

* * *

 Isn’t it high time for ce fou et foutu colonel (this crazy and… “bloody” colonel) à-la-Dr. Mabuse to finally step down, to give a break bien mérité (well-deserved) to his people, and maybe take a long-due one-way trip out of the country: Not to Jeddah this time, the fleeing destination of choice for Tunisian and Egyptian former neighbors and “partners in crime”, Ben Ali and Mubarak respectively, but to Tel Aviv (thus emulating his ex-foe, Anwar as-Sadat, who didn’t quite “make it back” from that trip, as it turned out), where he could eventually team up in a music band with Israeli “Dj Noy Alooshe”, the author of the new hit remix: “Zenga Zenga”!

* * *

Jacques Brel, in a rare “Gaddafi-esque” moment, sings “Zangra”

* Jacques Brel’s “Zangra” and Gaddafi’s “Zenga Zenga”:

Speaking of “Zenga Zenga“: The title of the Gaddafi hit remix that went recently “viral” on Facebook and Youtube, “Zenga Zenga“, tanslates “alleyway by alleyway” in Arabic.

Alleyways which the barking-mad dictator vowed to “clean up”—not only “au Kärcher“, as would have eloquently put it yet another one of his ex-buddies, Nicolas Sarkozy.

At any rate, one can easily notice the title’s vivid resemblance, both phonetically and thematically, with Jacques Brel‘s song “Zangra“: A song that was inspired to the Belgian singer -hold your breath and get ready to hear this…- by none other than Dino Buzzati, in his very same novel “Le désert des Tartares!

But perhaps the most telling and “prophetic” of all is the fact that, at some point of the song, Brel‘s mysterious protagonist, Zangra, makes the following revelation about himself:

Je m’appelle Zangra, je suis vieux colonel” (“My name is Zangra, I am an old colonel”), right before the moment he realizes that “l’ennemi est là, je ne serai pas héros” (“The enemy is here, I shall not be a hero…”)

One thing is certain though, the majority of le peuple de la Lybie (the people of Lybia) attend ce moment cathartique avec impatience (waits for that cathartic moment with great impatience.)

* * *

Was the name of Brel’s “Zangra” based on Giuseppe Zangara, the Italian-born American who attempted to put an early end to the life of the great American President FDR back in 1933?

* * *

For those who wish to pursue even further the possible origins of, and veiled allusions to, the names “Zangra“, “Zenga“, “Zanga“, or “Zangar“, they would perhaps identify an interesting parallel between the ongoing standoff “géopolitique” opposing China, Iran, and the Western powers on le continent africain (Lybia being but one of the numerous “théâtres de combat” set on the “African chessboard”, so to speak) and an age-old “Zoroastrian myth“, famously recounted by the Persian poet Ferdowsi more than a thousand years ago, in his epic “Shahnameh” (“The Book of Kings” in Persian.)

The name “Zanga” is mentioned in Ferdowsi’s “Shahnameh”, which, according to the remarkable account of Professor Iraj Bashiri, alludes to a grande confrontation between three main superpuissances (that is, what we would call in today’s terms “superpowers”):

– The West (referred to in the Persian epic as “Salm“)

– China (given the name of “Turan“)

– And finally Iran (referred to as “Iraj“)

And maybe it is no mere coincidence that it was precisely the latter country, namely Iran, which was retained as the location of choice to capture the quasi-surreal scenes of the above-mentioned movie “Les désert des Tartares“, in 1976

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