I walked by the building, intentionally, on the way home from seeing Woody Allen’s new film “Midnight in Paris”, a poetic reflection on the seeming attraction of former eras.
The access to the building is now sealed. Not just boarded over with plywood that I could pry loose. Not even with brick that I might be able to chip away with the right tools and enough sweat. No, the former door is now a solid wall of impenetrable concrete cinder block.
Thirty-five years ago, I walked through that door and met Bill. We created a new life together that evening, one that continued for over three decades during which we lived large in laughter and music, in art and politics, in travel and work, in pain and suffering, in love and loss.
That life is over and it feels like memory is all I’ve got left.
Without giving away anything too crucial about the plot of “Midnight in Paris”, let me just say that Woody seems to conclude that the past is not quite as romantic as we might imagine nor the present as pedestrian as we might fear.
The movie prompts reflection on memory and verges, I think, on deprecating memory as ultimately shallow—quaint and curious nostalgia that is unreliable as a guide to life in the present. That’s my take on it anyway. Many may disagree with my interpretation and I’m prepared to admit that my reaction may be coloured by more than a little defensiveness about the place of memory.
Paris was a special place for Bill and me. We had both studied at the Sorbonne before we met and we returned to the city of lights many times during our years together. Those are some of the memories that I cherish, that I hoard, that I guard with an army of emotional weaponry. Yeah, I’m a bit defensive.
But just so you don’t send the straight-jackets to take me away quite yet, let me reassure you that there is, I think, some good news.
I’m not only wallowing in the memory, though I do do that. I’m not dysfunctional and incapable of getting up and making breakfast each morning though that is difficult on many days. No, the good news is that I’m working with those memories, mauling and molding them, creating meaning out of them to help me understand where I’ve been, where I am now, and where I may be headed.
This memory work for me is through writing. The memoir, August Farewell, came first. After finishing it, I felt compelled to keep on writing and thus emerged the novel, Searching for Gilead. And maybe next, a series of short stories.
This memory work is not easy. It does suggest though, that if memory is all I’ve got today, it is not all I will have tomorrow. I’m not prepared to just stare at that sealed-up door and walk away in despair.
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The picture below is of Bill and me standing on the Japanese Bridge over the lily pond at Monet’s home in Giverny on one of our many trips to Paris, years before Owen and Rachel stood on that bridge in the lens of Woody’s camera.