I love the cinema but often find I don’t have the time to sit in the inky dark of a movie theatre watching the trailers in anticipation of the main event. As a result, I have become a big fan of Air Canada and the personalized entertainment on almost every flight. I always climb aboard with a list of films I am hoping to see someday…
One of the films this trip was “Midnight in Paris”. I think I have seen every Woody Allen film – even the bad ones! This was supposed to be him returning to his glory days.
The film starts with panoramic shots of famous Paris iconography. Few cities have so many instantly recognizable famous sites. It took only seconds for me to realize it was the absolutely PERFECT film to watch on the plane to Paris!
The messages of the film resonated over my first two days in Paris. I have been to Paris so many times I have lost count – and have explored a lot of the city. But all the visits have been far too fleeting and there are still many corners left to discover so now my strategy is to choose hotels in new neighborhoods to expand my knowledge of the city.
Paris v1.0 this trip I spent two days in Montparnasse. Montparnasse is close to St Germain des Près, my usual stomping ground, but just far enough away to be something new.
Sometimes I use my guidebook and sometimes I just use my instincts. In Paris, I just used my instincts. And ended up at La Closerie des Lilas, where the paper menu had been signed by Buzz Aldrin along with many others. I chose it because it looked busy, the menu looked appealing and the maitre d’ seemed OK with a table for one. The server was exemplary, teasing me that since I had a French menu, I had to order in French (no problem :)) and bringing me a half bottle of bordeaux he deemed worthy of me.
The server, the bordeaux and the entrecôte on a balmy March night in Paris would have been enough but at the end of the meal some ladies invited me to join them. This is how I learned the restaurant had been frequented by Hemingway but was apparently not all it had been back then.
Nostalgia – not one of the deadly sins – but dangerous all the same. For those who haven’t seen “Midnight in Paris” the big theme is how we always think an earlier era was the “golden age” and sit restless and unsatisfied in our “real-time” world.
I think it’s an important message for the educated traveller. I have been teased by a French server at Les Deux Magots trying to imagine Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir arguing over a coffee. I have drunk an outrageously expensive Bellini in the original Harry’s Bar in Venice (where it was invented). I have sipped the most expensive glass of champagne of my entire life on the veranda of the Victoria Falls Hotel pretending to be a pampered colonist. Like the guy in the film, I have run all over Paris trying to be Hemingway.
The experiences have been OK. But none have been special. And mostly I just felt ripped off. So I finally had that eureka moment and quit drinking overpriced beverages chasing the glamorous past I had read about in books with ghosts and embraced the future.
I was travelling to the past to find the zeitgeist. It made no sense. The Paris of 2012 will never the Paris of the 1920’s. But the Shanghai of 2012 might well be. If you want to be like Hemingway, you need to think, “where would Hemingway hang out in 2012?”
Certainly not in Paris. Maybe Shanghai? Maybe Mumbai? Istanbul? These are the exciting cities of the 21st century. I haven’t been to Mumbai yet but in the other two I felt like I was discovering the future.
I started finding history in the making and participating. Making up my own narratives in places that would – in the future – be someone’s golden age. My life became exciting and my stories started to rival Hemingway’s.
And if the film is accurate, lots of these famous guys were douche bags so WHY did I want to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps anyway? Or Picasso’s? My sense is these guys were assholes. So who cares what they drank – or where – or with whom? I need to create my own personal narrative. So far I think I am giving them both a run for their money – and my ex’s LIKE me 🙂
One of them – with whom I am still friends over a decade since the breakup – described me as “a woman who is hard to forget.” Hemingway would likely have been intrigued. But I would have told him I don’t do bad boys. Nice guys are so much more fun! Without all the nice guys taking pity on me and bringing me out of my shell, I would never have become the kind of woman who would tell Pablo Picasso, “honey, you’re talented for sure, but you’re a little too Kim Kardasian for me. I think Otto Dix is far more interesting…”
I send people to Paris to pretend they are living in the 18th century. Paris is one of the only places I’ve been that preserves its history with such diligence. It is a wonderful city. But it is only the exciting center of the universe it was in the early twentieth century in the movies. God bless Woody Allen – Paris has never looked better. You should see the film. And you should come to Paris. But also go to Berlin and to Istanbul. They are cities where the zeitgeist is in the present.
Revel in the zeitgeist. Be part of your own era. Embrace it and create the stories of the present that the people of the future will romanticise and try to re-create on their own voyages into the dangerous land of nostalgia.