Today I was looking at my old street on Google Maps. Ah, Google Maps. I couldn’t even picture that street a few moments ago, except for my parents’ restaurant and a 1-hr photo shop. One of my childhood friends goes to college across the street now, what did that building look like . . ? I remember skating on their stoops and railings all along the block. I remember my time living on that street as my childhood, but I was only there until I was 13. As I wondered whether the building on the corner is a church and whether I could pop in there one day, I realized that the whole of the world is available to me now in a way that it never had been: I’m officially an adult, I’m considered a real person now. Alcohol, justice system, etc. Yet I haven’t aged a bit, I’m just a child. With a child’s eyes I can explore. Looking into my past is like looking at a comic strip, and I see why people are always talking about their “golden childhoods” (or at least Chinese people say this), because your memories are always saturated with that pigmented nostalgia for something you can never get back. Even when you watch your own children grow up, you know you can never enjoy laying in the dewy grass by a river in the same way again. (At Giverny, I actually fled the grass because this guy kept trying to talk to me.)
That’s why I liked the movie Minuit à Paris (Midnight in Paris) so much. I actually saw it in Paris, too, so I had the privilege of laughing at the “American” jokes that would’ve otherwise left the room full of chirps (plus the privilege of watching it in a theater about as big as the waiting room for the toilettes at Bloomingdale’s). [Note to self: must put up some pictures of trip to Paris.] I talked to some of my Parisian friends and acquaintances about this film. One of them asked, Have you seen it already?
–Yes I loved it, have you?
–Complete piece of shit, that film!
What? Not so! Maybe you need to have a certain perspective to enjoy a film like this. It requires more than a bit of suspended disbelief.
–The Americans have no culture of their own, that is why they always have to romanticize ours.
*I berated him, the only reason he or anyone else would say that is that they cannot understand a culture that is more diverse and welcoming than it is old.*
Those who stand to benefit the most from the moral of Minuit à Paris are particularly those who consider themselves artists, whether they be photographers or dancers or mathematicians working on a beautiful theory. Putting aside the notions of pretention often associated with this self-identification, more than anything else, an artist is someone who draws from inside what they see and feel to produce that which will enhance the world with beauty and wonder or bring awareness to its audience, igniting tentacles of our consciousness that otherwise slither or thump about blindly, intermittently, in search of meaning through sparks of thought and emotion.
What is it that artists do? (No spoilers yet.) Like Owen Wilson’s character in the movie, they often look back on the works of other great artists, those who’ve died and whose great oeuvres are seen as complete. There’s no arguing with those people, their statements are as finite and infinite as they ever will be. But we, we’re still struggling, floating in the air looking for words that dissolve just as we alight upon them. In addition to that, artists all at some point have to consider the frightening possibility that all that is great, particularly anything we can possibly dream up, has already been said. That is why it’s tempting to look into the past and say, That was a different time, when ______ was so much easier. (Moral-of-the-story alert, not that it would really surprise you.) Like Owen Wilson’s character, the “artist”–or all sentimentalists–must realize at some point that there is no great period that embraces him. Every person is a sitting duck in history and you can’t look to the past to tell us what will be important in the era in which we’re living. And there’s definitely no point in letting that fear get in the way of anything you could do. Each person has so much potential, the only obstacle is finding what you’re meant to do, and failure in one area can’t stop you in another.
(I have a feeling I’ve written this all before.)
A somewhat drunken summary of this I gave to my Parisian acquaintance. If you’ve never seen the world with nostalgic and longing such that it seems your future and your entire person is somehow hinged on your relationship with these two elements, then you cannot enjoy the realization that Wilson’s character has at the end of the film, however “corny” it may be to some who are rather more pragmatic and cynical than Allen’s characters. For me, it’s sometimes rather relaxing to watch a film and sail through it with pleasure rather than great and violent waves of emotion.
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I’ve been in a bad mood today because earlier in the year I’d decided to let go of some people I had been “friends” with but never really felt anything for, yet their constant reappearance has thrown me a bit. Why do I feel guilty for letting go when, in the case of one, I never liked them? I always thought that some affection of mine would grow towards this person, but it never did. Maybe I feel bad for giving up. Advice?
I’m really missing Paris. I can’t wait to graduate so that I can move there. Art, cheese and racism, ho !