It’s been a few days, and I know that everyone is aware of the situation that unfolded in Paris on Friday, November 13 in Paris. Not as widely publicized but equally as important are the tragedies that also befell Beirut, Baghdad, Japan, Mexico, and Kenya, overall resulting in a total of thousands of deaths around the world all around relatively the same time. I want to say straight away that my thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and survivors in these areas. Unfortunately, of all of these amazingly beautiful and diverse nations, I have only been fortunate enough to have ever visited the city of Paris, and the time that I had there was limited but unforgettable. This is the reason why the subject of my blog today will revolve around Paris. I could talk about the details of the attacks. I could talk about the politics, my views on the mater, about ISIS, or gun control, or about what action should be taken next in retaliation. I could talk about any of these things, but I want to focus on what Paris means to me.
I’m a young, American girl, and as such, you can safely bet that I have a vast collection of stereotypically “girlie” items that have the Eiffel Tower plastered all over them, including necklaces, earrings, posters, and sweaters. I, like a good portion of Americans, studied the French language in high school and in college. Also, like a good portion of the American population, have been to Paris. So nothing about my connection to the French culture seems out of the ordinary up to this point, I’m certain.
But still, there exists a certain allure about Paris, even to me as a young girl growing up in a small city in the middle of Nevada (on the converse, I can’t imagine a young Parisian girl dreaming about living in Reno, Nevada…so it’s all relative, really!). Maybe it was growing up with French oriented films, like Beauty and the Beast, or Ratatouille, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I was dead set on learning French (much to my 12 year old dismay once I realized that my middle school mandated learning Spanish) and visiting France when I got older. Before I graduated high school, both of these dreams had come true.
I spent a total of 36 hours in France, and the vast majority of it was spent in Paris. The summer of my senior year, my mother and I took the quick excursion before meeting up with the rest of our party, my high school drama department, in London for the intended portion of our trip. Paris was undoubtedly the top locale on my bucket list, and quite honestly, now that I’ve “been there, done that,” I feel a little lost as to which site is my next “must see!” In 36 hours (which I believe was only 3 hours of sleep and 33 hours of racing around like mad trying to see as much as we could), I got to climb the Notre Dame, see the outside of the L’oeuvre, walk through L’arc du triomphe, see Le Moulin Rouge, tour L’opera du Paris, watch the final minutes of the men’s championship finals of the French Open in Roland Garros, walk beneath the Eiffel Tower, take a dinner boat along the Seine in the rain, and, one of my fondest memories, reenact Midnight in Paris.
This brings me into the next level of why Paris is so important to me: it appears to be chance, but all of my favorite things revolve around Paris. The first movie that I ever went to the movies by myself to was Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris. This may seem like an unimportant detail to you readers, but for a cinephile, we remember such things, especially when the film is particularly fantastic. I knew nothing about the film going into it, and truly went to see it only because I was bored and I saw that it was getting good reviews. I was just about to begin attending high school and was gradually gaining more independence. This was a big move for me, and the movie certainly did not disappoint. In the film, written and directed by Woody Allen, the protagonist (which seems to be an autobiographical portrayal of Allen himself), played by Owen Wilson, on vacation with his shrew of a fiancee and her family in Paris, accidentally stumbles into Paris in the 1920’s when the clock strikes midnight and he is alone in a particular part of the city. Every night, he is able to visit with some of his literary and artistic heroes, like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and many more, all of which are played magnificently by actors like Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Corey Stoll, and Tom Hiddleston, in one of his first cinematic roles.
I related to Wilson’s character, Gil, on so many levels. He’s a screenwriter who has hit a rut in his life. While a 14 year old isn’t necessarily in a “rut” at that point in her life, there did exist a lot of uncertainty for me at the time. My preferred time period to live in would undoubtedly by the 1920’s, much like Gil. Also like Gil, a discovery I wouldn’t make until actually visiting Paris myself, I fell in love with the city. As Gil says in the film;
“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.”
I took it upon myself to visit the same stairs that were used for filming whenever Gil would travel back in time. I was there right at midnight, and while no car came for me to take me back to the 1920’s, it was no less magical than the film. Additionally, the next morning I went to Shakespeare & Co., a famous bookshop on the Seine and I bought Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Moveable Feast, penned during Hemingway’s time in France and also referenced in Midnight in Paris. I have since read the book, and it is one of my all-time favorites.
Since visiting Paris, I have played a French girl in the United States premiere of a British farce entitled Building on Sand. I’m still fairly certain that the only reason why I got the role is because I was the only 17 year old in Reno who could speak French and was willing to get cozy with a man playing her boyfriend who was exactly twice her age (actors, am I right?). Still, it was my first production outside of my high school, I was the youngest member of our small cast of five by about seven years, and the experience gave me a theatre family. I loved learning to speak English with a French accent, was completely at home every night of the show, and was subsequently heartbroken when its run came to an end. Much like leaving Paris, the show had an expiration date, and life had to go on. But also, much like Paris, I have been chasing an experience like Building on Sand in my theatrical career ever since and still haven’t found it.
So through visiting the city and falling in love with music, movies, plays, and books surrounding it, Paris became a surrogate home to me, despite my spending only a little over a day there. Perhaps that’s why hearing about the attack that has as of now resulted in 129 deaths and 352 injuries on Friday night affected me so deeply.
I was five when the attack on 9/11 happened. In my memory will forever be the image of the smoking towers on the television in my parents’ room, but beyond that, I can’t recall much. Additionally, there are things that a child that age just can’t process. I hope that I never have to live through a similar attack on my home country in my lifetime, but feeling the wounds open up in a place I hold so dear hurt in a very profound way. When I woke up in the morning, I found out about the tragedies in Lebanon, Japan, Baghdad, Mexico, and Kenya, and I do not wish for this post to minimize those horrors in any way. I pray for Paris, I pray for the world.
I think the worst feeling for me is the helplessness I feel on my end. A blue, white and red French flag filter on one’s Facebook profile picture can only do so much. I want to make a difference, I want to help. Not just for Paris, but for anyone whose lives were forever changed this weekend. And I’m in a spot where I truly don’t know what I can do with the resources I have. Maybe that’s why I am writing this post…maybe I’m trying to make a difference with words. I don’t know how, but I will devise a means by which I can help those in need, and I will not rest until I am certain that I have done my part.
Finally, I wish to send out one final thought to everyone hurting out there. One of my favorite songs is entitled, “Tu es de ma famille,” and it is sung by a variety of contemporary French pop singers as a part of a tribute album celebrating songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman. Much in the style of BandAid or “We Are The World,” all of the artists come together in the song, becoming a single unit. The lyrics of the refrain, translated into English, state a simple, yet powerful message:
“You’re from my family
From my order, from my rank
The one I’ve chosen
The one I feel
In this army of ordinary people”
So to everyone, “pauvre, riche ou batard, blanc, tout noir ou bizarre,” I hope that you hear these lyrics and find hope in knowing that you are not alone. Help is out there, help is coming, and look to the sky, for tomorrow will be brighter.