‘Paris is dead.’
There are few statements I like less. (Though, ‘Happy Friday!’ comes to mind).
A fellow expat uttered this nugget of wisdom over Sunday night drinks. It was accompanied by a bored flick of the hair and a glance around the bar to see if there wasn’t something more interesting going on.
Usually, I’d smile and make non-committal noises until the subject changes. But this time, I couldn’t hold my tongue.
‘Didn’t you see ‘Midnight in Paris’?’ I blurted, rocking back and forth slightly in my booth seat.
Conversation around the table halted and the group of girls looked at me aghast.
‘What does Woody Allen have to do with anything?’
And so I explained.
Everyone in the film thinks that the Paris of another era was livelier, and somehow more essential. Modern day Owen Wilson wishes for Paris of the 20s, where the Lost Generation artists and writers haunted the smoke-filled bars. But Marion Cotillard lives in the 20s, and longs instead for the luxe and glamour of La Belle Epoque.
I think it’s a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Or, to put it another way, not seeing the magic for the metro strike.
The other night, I was sitting on a café terrace overlooking the Place de la Contrescarpe. With a glass of Saint-Emilion in one hand, a piece of camembert-spread baguette in the other and a good friend by my side, the scene was picture-perfect Paris. And yet, a line from Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, Hemingway’s wife describes a very different scene:
‘…a square that stank of the drunks spilling out of the bistros or sleeping in doorways.’
I don’t believe that Paris is the centre of the universe, nor that it is the city of everybody’s dreams. But I do believe that there’s more hope and openness and love and joy to be had in thinking more like Cotillard’s character, and less like the grumbling expat:
‘That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.’
All images courtesy of:
tout_moi on Flickr.