I love Paris. Not in the way that young girls and lovers romanticize dreams of sidewalk cafes, impressionist paintings and dimly-lit streets on a rainy evening. I’ve eaten at that cafe, seen those paintings, and strolled through the streets on a rainy evening. In fact, I’ve even fallen in love under the Eiffel Tower (another story for another day). What I have is a true, deep love and appreciation for the City of Light and everything it has once and continues to offer.
I was 13 when I began learning my je m’appelles and enchantés. I won’t lie; the choice to study French was not a glimpse of an early hunger for cultural enrichment, although I’d like to think subconsciously it may have been. Instead, it was merely my adolescent angst and determination to go against the grain and differ from my throngs of peers who took Spanish. Probably not the wisest choice, however, considering the latter proves to be insurmountably more useful in Southern California. Regardless, 5 years of studying and a decade later I can still successfully introduce myself, tell you where I live, how old I am, order an omelette, and purchase a grapefruit with gusto (Je voudrais un PAMPLEMOUSE, s’il vous plaît!).
I may not be able to write a dissertation or perfectly translate what benefits your shampoo can provide, but those 5 years left an overwhelming appreciation for French culture, cuisine, art, and the city that cultivated many of the world’s greatest artistic and literary contributors.
On my plane flight today, I happened to catch the film Midnight in Paris. I don’t usually care for Owen Wilson films, especially when he is in a leading role, but this film was so beautifully written and exquisitely depicted. It was as if Woody Allen sat on a bench beside the Seine with a blank canvas and waited as all of the splendor of Paris soaked into its threads. Then, he unveiled that canvas through the eyes of Owen Wilson on screen.
The story follows Gil (Wilson), a writer, on his visit to Paris with his fiancé (played by Rachel McAdams). At midnight he goes for a stroll through the streets of Paris and happens upon a vehicle that takes him back into time where he meets Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and many other art and literary greats. There’s a romantic plot in there somewhere, but it is lackluster in comparison to the emotional and artistic journey Gil embarks upon as the allure of Paris exposes him to greater heights of creativity as a writer.
As he meets each character, the dialogue and wisdom they exchange is written with such profound elegance, it’s impossible to not fall in love with Paris and desire all the inspiration it has to offer. Adriana, a costume designer played by Marion Cotillard says “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.”
Paris may not be all love, lights, art, and music as it is so often glamorized, but every now and then it is so romantic to imagine how being in that city can inspire someone creatively.
I leave you with one of my favorite scenes between Gil and Ernest Hemmingway as Hemmingway describes the root to conquering fear and death:
“All men fear death. It’s a natural fear that consumes us all. We fear death because we feel that we haven’t loved well enough or loved at all, which ultimately are one and the same. However, when you make love with a truly great woman, one that deserves the utmost respect in this world and one that makes you feel truly powerful, that fear of death completely disappears. Because when you are sharing your body and heart with a great woman the world fades away. You two are the only ones in the entire universe. You conquer what most lesser men have never conquered before, you have conquered a great woman’s heart, the most vulnerable thing she can offer to another. Death no longer lingers in the mind. Fear no longer clouds your heart. Only passion for living, and for loving, become your sole reality. This is no easy task for it takes insurmountable courage. But remember this, for that moment when you are making love with a woman of true greatness, you will feel immortal. “