Monday, May 30, 2011


Ever since I was a kid, I've had a weird obsession with Paris.

Seriously, far before I had any right or reason to.

As an obnoxiously well-traveled child of 5 living in the suburbs of Amsterdam with my ex-pat family, I don't even know where I first heard of Paris or why I decided I wanted to go there. I'm sure it had something to do with pictures of the Eiffel Tower -- no buildings I knew looked like that, and I sure as heck wanted to see one that did.

So when my parents announced that we were going on a trip around Europe with my grandparents and uncles (and their now ex-wives and ex-girlfriends), my only childlike request was that I wanted to go to Paris. No, the adults said. We'd be driving through France but not stopping and not going to Paris.

"But (I imagine I incredulously continued) why would you NOT stop in Paris if we're going to be in France anyway?"

There was no time, I was told. It was France or Spain, and all the grown-ups wanted to hang out in Spain, so Spain it was. France was to be a mere throughway from our stop in Brussels (where we had distant, distant, distant relatives... three times removed) on the drive to Madrid. I have a distinct memory of being in the van we rented as we passed by the outskirts of the city and seeing the Tour Eiffel far off in the distance. I think I remember this -- it very well may be some formulated faux-memory that my brain has accepted as truth. But real or not, I remember seeing the tower silhouetted in the distance and thinking that one day I was going to go there and noting how close it was and wondering how long it would REALLY take to swing over by there and WHY CAN'T WE JUST STOP IN PARIS???

I was one bitter five-year old.

The funny ending to all of this is that we ended up having a kind of crummy time in Spain -- my dad got his wallet stolen, the adults were fighting a bunch, and then it turned out that my dad thought my grandma wanted to go to Spain and my grandma assumed it was him who wanted to go to Spain when in actuality, no one gave a wet blue fuck about visiting Spain.

(Extra dose of irony: These days when I tell friends of mine that I'm planning a trip to Europe, where do they all tell me I simply MUST go? Fucking Spain.)

Why am I thinking about this? Well, in addition to my impending vacation plans, I just went to see Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," which is a glowing, gushing love letter to the City of Lights in a way that I suspect only a Francophile will truly get. The opening montage of Parisian streets, from Montmartre to the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre to a series of gorgeous shots of the bridges over the Seine is either just shots of locations around Paris or a swoon-worthy sequence that sets you longing to stroll the cobblestone rues et avenues.

Without giving too much away, the focus of the movie is something called "Golden Age thinking," which basically means longing for an idealized time before your own. For Woody Allen-- uh, I mean his protagonist... Oh, who are we kidding; we all know they're one and the same at this point. The lead is once again a self-deprecating screenwriter obsessed with death, possessing the usual Allen tics. But I don't watch Woody Allen movies for the creative character development; his characters are so recognizable, either from one film to the next or just as being someone so plucked from everyday life, it takes no time to figure out where they're coming from. (Exception: Annie Hall.) I watch Woody Allen movies for very specific reasons -- to laugh, to be charmed, and to see truths about people addressed in that very unique style. And of course, for the opening-jazz tune.

Anyhow, Woody Allen's "Golden Age" is clearly Paris in the 1920's, the haunts of the Fitzgeralds, Ernest Hemingway, surrealist painters, and so forth. Personally, my Golden Age could fall anywhere between the 1920 and 1968 in Paris, but if I has to be more specific, I'd pick Paris in the '60's. Rock 'n roll, French New Wave films... I watch too many movies, but the ones that truly make me want to be in a different time and location take place there and then. (Example: Bertolucci's "The Dreamers.")

But I realized that Woody Allen HAD Paris in the '60's -- when "What's New, Pussycat?" was being shot in 1964, he lived in the city for the duration of the shoot, and that's when he fell in love with it. And I read an interview where he mentioned two of the crew decided that they were staying in Paris, and he considered it for a time, but ultimately returned to New York. (I imagine Woody Allen without NYC is something akin to me walking around missing a shoe. Or a limb.)

In the movie, it becomes clear that every time is someone's Golden Age, and that Golden Age will seem boring to the people who live there and then. The protagonist of "Midnight in Paris" experiences his Golden Age, among others, but [SPOILER ALERT] ultimately decides not to stay. While Woody Allen experienced my personal Golden Age, it wasn't enough to make him stay; I can't even fathom having been in 1964 Paris and not wanting to up and move there. But then again, I've been a great many places which will be Golden Ages to somebody (somewhere, maybe someone is saying "I wish I could have been in Hong Kong in the early '90's") and haven't stayed.

In all honesty, southern California in 2011 ain't bad.


spartacus said...

A friend of mine moved to Paris for her love affair with the city. But 3 years later moved back to the states.

Paris is awesome. You'll love it.

Dana said...

For the sake of brevity, I left out the fact that I DID actually make it to Paris when I was 19 or so. But I was with a tour group, we were only there for a couple days, and since one of the guys (read: IDIOT) got his wallet stolen on the Metro (because he clearly looked like a tourist and his wallet was visible in his pocket), the group spent our time there bashing the French and were general downers. This time, I at least saw the Tour Eiffel from a bus that was driving right past it, but once again, there was no stopping. Can't wait to go on my own damn terms.

spartacus said...

I generally travel (read: Backpack) alone when I go international. It's because I did have a travel group experience after college. Certain people sucked the fun out of the experience. So I prefer to travel alone or maybe with one person I know well. I meet people as I go and hang with them or not. I do what I want when I want, no committees deciding anything. I don't get stuck doing what I don't want.