I’m a little behind in my movie-watching, but tonight I watched “Midnight in Paris.” I can take Woody Allen’s movies or leave them. Some have been brilliant, and some are just the same story retold. “Midnight in Paris,” however, is like porn for writers–it gets your writerly blood moving to all the right places. Seriously.
In the movie, an aspiring novelist on vacation in Paris with his fiancée is somehow transported each night to the Paris of the 1920’s. There, he meets every famous author and artist from that period. Gertrude Stein helps him polish his manuscript, and despite a tempting offer to stay in the past from a mistress of both Picasso and Hemingway, he goes back to his present and, ultimately, his future as a writer in Paris.
I started wondering how I would react to meeting the writers I studied in high school and college or the ones I’ve read and admired over the years, other than being speechless with shock. I’ve never been a Hemingway fan, with the exception of the short story, “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” and the novel The Old Man and the Sea. So, he and I would probably have little to discuss. He would be a great drinking companion, however.
Fitzgerald, though, would be someone I could talk to all night. He and I could compare notes about how he dealt with Zelda the nutcase and how my father did the same with my mother. And Gertrude Stein–wow, that would be an amazing conversation. We could discuss lost generations–hers and ours in the 1980’s.
Several years ago, for a trip to New York City, I had the opportunity to stay at the Algonquin Hotel–the Dorothy Parker room, no less. I ate dinner there and could almost hear the voices of Parker, Sherwood, Ferber, et. al., at their famous Round Table. (The first editor I worked for as publication assistant was a “adjunct member” of the Round Table, and I loved her stories about those famous lunches.) I felt pretty cool, sitting at table in the Algonquin Hotel dining room, having a delightful dinner and wonderful wine, while jotting story ideas in my Moleskine. Yes, I thought that was an authentic touch.
Do writers imbue places with their essence to inspire future writers? Who knows, but maybe the inspiration comes from walking the same streets or sitting the same room. Maybe the inspiration is ours, and a shared history brings it to the surface.
If you were the 21st Century author in “Midnight in Paris,” which writers would you want to go back in time and meet? Believe it or not, I’d want to meet Thomas Hardy. Why? I’ll write about that some other time.