Before: Never been here, let's see what I can learn through the veil of nostalgia.
After Read: When I was a young man, I read A Moveable Feast and was...moreBefore: Never been here, let's see what I can learn through the veil of nostalgia.
After Read: When I was a young man, I read A Moveable Feast and was intoxicated by the idea and mystique of Paris. I wanted to be an expatriate that made love to a Parisian woman, clumsily at first, but soon with the deftness and craft of a master. And I fantasized that the only way to accomplish this was to run off and escape my way to Europe. I was seventeen at the time. Needless to say, that never happened. Instead, I soon found that I could have a secret liaison with the City of Light through the words of so many before: Hemingway, Stendhal, Balzac, Hugo, Celine, H. James, Rousseau, Proust, Sartre and dozens more that I am forgetting.
Not all of these liaisons were healthy. Sometimes, as in the case of Celine, it was brutal; like being trapped in an abusive marriage for thirty years before deciding to leave but at the same time knowing that those thirty years could never be given back. Or in the case of Proust—who had so much to share and tell—it was mostly boring but still incredible in its own idiosyncratic ways.
Fast forward time.
I am now thirty-one. I have never left the United States. Not even to Canada. In fact, barring a few trips to Hawaii, one to Boston and one to New York, most of my years here on good old planet earth have been in South Dakota. I was born here. I went to college here. I met the love of my life here. My wife and I have boy-girl twins here. But there’s more, right? I mean, no disrespect to my native land, but c’mon, how many times can a guy see Mt. Rushmore? But I have never done anything about this. You see, Paris is still a fantasy to me. It’s like a siren that calls to me perpetually in the subconscious recesses of my mind. Oh I can ignore it. I have. But the calls are becoming more frequent. Louder. Sometimes, they are even disturbing. They are telling me that the hourglass fills more and more each day. Even if only a few grains at a time, it’s like that abusive marriage where all those years were lost, I’ll never be able to get any of them back.
Enter Paris In Mind.
Now I’m not about to tell you that a book can take the place of a good romance, but this one has helped tame some of my desires. When I saw it on the bargain table at my local library, dirty from use, torn from possibly being placed haphazardly in a backpack, pages dog-eared and smudged by what looks like to me fudge (at least I want to believe that it’s fudge) it called out to me. And when I took it into my hands, something happened. All those names that I mentioned above came cascading back to the forefront of my memory, displacing all the French fries v. Freedom fries bullshit. And for a brief moment my love affair returned. Images of a nameless beauty winked at me from my mind’s eye, and I knew that a fire still burned inside me for exploration and adventure. So I bought it.
When I got home, my wife was reading on the couch as the twins were building robots out of Play-Doh and blocks. (It’s easier if you don’t ask.) I needed to share with her my discovery. Since we first met she has known my infatuation with Paris. The history. The characters. The architecture. Napoleon. Revolutions. Passion and romance. I mean there’s a reason why so many astounding books have Paris as a backdrop. She saw my excitement and eagerly accepted the book. But when she flipped through it, wafting the smells of an imaginary Parisian life my way, disappointment crisscrossed her face.
“These are just vignettes of what other people thought about Paris,” she said.
“Not just any people,” I retorted. “This is Paris with what all the literati thought about and experienced and dreamed and sought and reminisced over. In here the reasons for wanderlust are given.”
It was lost upon her. This book provided two things in my life that I am passionate about: Paris and literature. So I took the book back and went down to my office (Den of Inequity) and read the first two chapters. And before I knew it, E.B. White and Edith Wharton had transported me back to Paris during WWI and WWII. But it wasn’t the bombings or the carnage they recalled, rather it was the aftermath of lamenting a life that was momentarily taken from them. White even goes as far as taking the encyclopedia off her shelf when she heard an armistice had been reached and read the article about Paris, ultimately chocking up when she read about the annual rainfall because it reminded her of all the tears that had been spent crying over the past five years. Friggin-A! When was the last time you read anything describing pain that beautifully? But I couldn’t stop there. I went ahead and read what Art Buchwald had to say. And, you know what? He reiterated what my heart and mind had been trying to tell me for the past fourteen years: It was okay to laugh at the fanciful nature of romantic foolishness of Paris and humanity because we all need a little romance in our lives—even if it’s misconstrued or fabricated.
But there was more. Thomas Jefferson. Gertrude Stein. Irwin Shaw. Langston Hughes. Benjamin Franklin. Mark Twain. John Adams. Anais Nin. Sylvia Beach. Dave Barry (!). T.S. Elliot. James Baldwin. They all had things to say about Paris. Remarkable things. And as the night wore down, I sat in my chair and rocked and thought about the movie Last of the Mohicans when a British officer scornfully says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that their [French soldiers] Gallic laziness combines with their Latin voluptuousness with the result that they would rather eat and make love with their faces than wage war. To me that doesn’t sound too bad.
When I was young I had a dog. Like anyone that had a dog as a kid, there are special memories that I'll never be able to forget. Like the time when B,...moreWhen I was young I had a dog. Like anyone that had a dog as a kid, there are special memories that I'll never be able to forget. Like the time when B, my golden, chased squirrels, but when he couldn't catch them he would chase me instead in a loving cujo-esque way. (Looking back now I guess that it was more scary than fun, but I could climb trees, he couldn't.) Anyway, when he died, my mother gave me this book. At first, I was pissed that she so casually dismissed the passing of B by believing a book could fill the void of my lost friendship, but then I decided to open to page one. It's incredible when you decide to open to page one, something happens. I was fourteen so the writing wasn't something that interested me yet. But the story did. And as I read this, that void decreased. Not all the way. But that wasn't the point my mom was trying to make. She knew she couldn't heal me; the only way it was going to happen was when I decided to start healing myself. (Cue sad music.) Page one did that for me. Now, when I watch my son and his dog in the backyard, this book comes to mind. I hope one day he has enough courage to turn to page one when that time comes.
The book itself is not remarkable. But what it signifies to me is. Four stars for nostalgia. (less)
So far, I have enjoyed what Gardner has to say. Although he is a bit elitist against genre fiction, his insights into the craft pertain to all. After...moreSo far, I have enjoyed what Gardner has to say. Although he is a bit elitist against genre fiction, his insights into the craft pertain to all. After completing this, I'm going to have to read some of his bigger novels and see if he adheres to his own rules or if this, like so many I have perused before, was something to make a buck.(less)