Monday, May 21, 2007

Paris, Je t'aime

This long weekend I decided to go to Paris.
On Friday a colleague and I saw the movie Paris Je T'aime which has just opened in Toronto. It's a lovely film - a collection of eighteen vignettes by different directors, all exploring various human connections in the city of love. They were by turns funny, surreal, touching, heartbreaking, and just plain romantic. My favourites included a mime love story, a relationship between an actress and a blind composer, a strange episode about jealousy in a metro station, a lover's quarrel at the tomb of Oscar Wilde, and the final story about an American woman who takes a holiday in Paris and then writes an essay about it. Some of the most moving and poignant episodes tackled the immigrant experience in Paris and really showcased the less famous and picturesque parts of the city. The cast was fantastic - was there anyone NOT in this movie? - Juliette Binoche, Fanny Ardant, Natalie Portman, Miranda Richardson, Rufus Sewell (!), Bob Hoskins and so many more. Of course the city was the real star. It had a wonderful soundtrack too.
On Saturday I was eating croissants and researching Metro and train directions online for my mother who IS going to Paris in a fortnight. She's going on a walking holiday in the Loire Valley and spending her free day in Paris which is only an hour away from where she's staying. I am madly jealous.
On Sunday I read John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparasse which has just been re-released by New York Review of Books. It's the story of two Montrealers, John and his pal Graeme, and their adventures in France in 1928 and 1929 when both were barely out of their teens and doing everything to avoid writing by living as intensely as they could. This involved lots of drinking, eating, sex, and conversations and encounters with the literary and artistic set of the time which included Hemingway, Kay Boyle, Djuna Barnes, Robert McAlmon and Morley Callaghan. Today when "memoirs" such as James Frey's recent A Million Little Pieces have come under such scrutiny for "truthfulness", Glassco's book is a timely reminder that stretching the facts in a memoir is nothing new. He intimates that the book was mostly written in a hospital bed just two years after the events it details; in reality it was penned decades later when some of his memories may have grown a bit fuzzy. This lapse doesn't detract a bit from the story however; they were crazy and exciting times and these two Canadians were in the midst of them. For a female version (set a little later and purportedly fiction, although somewhat autobiographical), pick up The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. This is the story of Sally Jay's comic adventures looking for love and life in 1950s Paris. You can see Audrey Hepburn or maybe Audrey Tautou playing her in a movie version. If you are a librarian -you absolutely must read this novel! (I can't tell you why without giving it away, but trust me, you'll love it). This is one of those books I continually press on all my girlfriends. It's just such a life-affirming, feel-good book.
On Monday, I went to see another recent French movie which I absolutely adored and can't recommend highly enough. It's called Avenue Montaigne which doesn't make any sense as a translation from the French title of Fauteuils d'orchestre. However, it's a delightful modern fairytale about a spunky French waitress who comes in contact with a concert pianist who wants to chuck his stressful career, a sick, elderly man who is selling his magnificent art collection, and a soap opera star, appearing in a Feydeau farce who badly wants the role of Simone de Beauvoir in an upcoming film. One of the reasons I love European films is their effortless acceptance of how culture can change one's life and how beautifully those simple artistic moments can so easily integrate themselves into everyday experiences. Though it is completely different in tone, this movie reminded me of the recent Oscar winner for best foreign film, The Lives of Others - another wonderful film that explores the role of art in life.
And there you have it - lots of joie de vivre without the jetlag.

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