I just finished watching Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s latest film. Although I’m not a huge Allen fan, I did particularly dig his take on the “city of lights” (named so because of its luminaries, not its electrical wattage, BTW) as viewed through the eyes of an American writer.
That’s especially because, as an American who earns his living writing, I can identify with the premise – even though I’m not an outsider like the protagonist. I was raised in Paris. Lived there for my first 16 years, pretty much. So my take on the city is a bit different. I can connect with the outsider’s fascination while having experienced my formative years there as an insider. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that being multicultural isn’t an advantage.
In the story, we travel back in time to the 1920s, where we meet the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald , Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot , Pablo Picasso (who never got called an asshole), Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, Louis Buñuel and Man Ray. Truly astonishing that these people all lived in Paris at the same time (see “city of lights”, above.)
This all leads me to the news that George Whitman, the owner of Shakespeare & Company – the legendary English language bookstore on the Left Bank – recently passed away . S&C is where, for years, writers and poets like Samuel Beckett, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Baldwin and William Burroughs hung out, when they were in Paris. Check out this great article, if you aren’t familiar with the store. My older sister, who attended the nearby Sorbonne, used to take me there pretty regularly.
Whitman was another U.S. ex-pat who was taken with Paris’ undeniable, and irresistible to some, romanticism. Both he and the writer in the Allen flick ultimately decided to move in.
Mine is a reverse trajectory – a mirror opposite of their experience. As a kid, I was completely taken with the mystique of the “new world”, and couldn’t wait to move out.