PARIS IS LONGING

Hemingway said it best when he said that once you’ve been to Paris, wherever else you go in life, “it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”. For better or for worse, it is la ville de mon coeur, the benchmark against which I measure all other metropolises, and it never fails to inspire my poor, romantic soul. With all that said, despite my adoration of it—because of my adoration of it—it doesn’t always bring me happiness. If Milan is lust, say, and Berlin is logic, then Paris is longing.

The problem with Paris is that it’s so wholly beautiful—even the bits that aren’t so beautiful are still beautiful, because it’s Paris—it makes you believe that you deserve nothing less than to have a life as beautiful as it is. There’s nowhere else in the world that makes me feel quite so completely myself—wild, wistful, woman, lost, found—as it does. But, at the same time, there’s nowhere else in the world that manifests itself into so many of daydreams, and really, that’s what makes me sad; sad for who I’d like to be and who I’ll never be and who—hopefully, maybe, still—I can one day be.

(I mentioned this concept to my friend during our annual girls’ trip there only last month.
“Well, that makes sense,” she laughed, more than used by now to my strange thoughts and my often stranger rants.
“It’s a thing,” I insisted, as we strolled along the Seine, past Île Saint-Louis, making our way, towards Les Deux Magots, which, incidentally, was one of Hemingway’s most frequented haunts, for as much champagne as we could muster. “I love it so much, but sometimes, it just makes me sad.”)

I suppose, for me, it all comes down to this: if I can’t be my best self (which, I would argue, is a carefully constructed mixture of the self you already are and the self you want to be) in the city of light—surrounded by its architecture, immersed in its ethos and its history; in the eternal company of Duras, Piaf, Wilde, et al—then, in all honesty, I’m not entirely sure where else I can be.

Answers on a postcard, please.

x, G

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WHAT ELVIS MEANS TO ME

Apart from a few select members of my immediate family, the first person I can actually remember knowing and recognising, as an excitable, little, dungaree-wearing human, was a hip-shaking, lip-curling, rock and roll singer who died twenty-five years before I was born. I was a child raised on the stars of a fading era (stars who were very formative in my youth and who are still very precious to me as an adult): my grandma gave me Doris Day; my dad gave me Danny Kaye; above anyone else, my mum and my aunt—two of the most important ladies in my life—gave me Elvis Presley.

I was weaned on a diet of his worst musicals and the That’s The Way It Is album. By the age of about seven or eight, I’d seen his entire filmography umpteen times, been to concert screenings of the 1968 Comeback Special, checked out all the merchandise we had stored away (I’m talking a rug-with-his-face-on levels of merchandise), and regularly re-enacted scenes in my bedroom, pretending to be Ann-Margret (Viva Las Vegas has always been my favourite). He was as much a part of the everyday as the people who tangibly surrounded me were and even when those early halcyon years were over, when other fleeting interests had come and gone, he was still there—is still there; tucked away in a little corner of me that no one else can touch. As a long-time enthusiast of that lost era of Hollywood, there are others whose work I generally prefer (in terms of music, Frank Sinatra is, for me, unsurpassable; in terms of film, I adore Gene Kelly), but none of them are quite so firmly rooted in my memories or my psyche as the figure of Elvis is.

As you grow older, there are people who you can’t imagine your life without, but he’s someone who I actually can’t remember my life without. Today marks forty years since his tragic death and it’s strange to me to think that someone who I never even once shared the same earth with has had such an impact upon my identity; although, I suppose that to believe that means to forgo the belief that he lives on in his legacy—and he does live on. Elvis means a lot of things to a lot of people the whole world over, still, now, after all these years. To me, he’s my namesake (well, his home is), he’s indisputably The King, and—in a strange and roundabout sort of way—he’s family.

x, G

THE AUTHOR: CHAPTER II

•••

She kneels, pressing the worn key into the warm earth, covering it over
with cracked leaves and loose soil and past sorrows.
It will not be too long until spring unfolds.

•••

PARIS EST UNE FÊTE

•••

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

•••

Every time I leave France, in whatever capacity I might have visited, it’s a bit of a struggle. Whether it’s Arras or Brittany or Normandy or Paris, I find it difficult to return home; I’m often plagued with the sad feeling that I’m actually leaving my home behind. Last weekend, it was a whistle-stop trip back to Paris and I’m still feeling a little melancholy now. (Oh, Paris. City of light, city of love. I’m infatuated with you and I think I always will be.) A self-confessed Francophile, I’ve always felt the strongest of affinities with its culture and its way of life, and each time I visit is a chance to connect even deeper with that feeling, often through food or history or literature. This time around, it was through Hemingway.

America’s most-celebrated writer, he’s infamous for his brawn, his brains, and, of course, his drinking. Hemingway created a world for himself (in his literature, at least) that was dangerous and exhilarating, a world of hunting and heroism and women; an antidote for his fear of death and his impulse towards suicide, which overcame him at the age of 62.

His writing prowess aside, my main fascination with him really comes from the fact that, at least for a little while, he was living a life which he was happy with (as seen in the posthumously published A Moveable Feast) and of which I’m envious; Paris, in the 1920s, swaying in its literary circles with Fitzgerald and Joyce and Stein. Last Sunday afternoon, in the French capital, sitting in ‘Les Deux Magots’, one of his most well-known haunts in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district—cold, blue skies above and champagne in hand—I could almost, almost, convince myself that I was back there, too.

•••

Here’s a small pick of Hemingway’s best quotes, taken from both his novels and his essays.

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”
The Old Man and the Sea

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
A Moveable Feast

“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.”
Notes on the Next War

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
A Farewell to Arms

“Every day above earth is a good day.”
The Old Man and the Sea

x, G