Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paris: Ma Vie En Rose

The first group of vignettes I wrote for this blog—my Paris series—is still my favorite. Are they the best I’ve written? I really couldn’t say, as I have no objective metric when it comes to my writing (or anything else). No, I think part of the reason that they remain so powerful for me is that they were my first. And like a first kiss, the newness of the experience left me weak in the knees.

But it’s more than that. I think it’s also Paris.

The City of Lights has been on my mind again. Soon, I’ll be working on the final revisions for Plum Blossoms in Paris, my novel that’s due out next August. And I’ve been questioning why this city still maintains a hold on me. I’ve been there twice, and while I enjoyed my time immensely, that experience of Paris—with me scared of the food (eggs on PIZZA?; now THAT’S a reason to start a revolution), embarrassed by my pathetic attempts at French, and even a bit underwhelmed, at times, by the sites (Mona Lisa, I’m talking to you)—is not, for the most part, what's reflected in my writing.

No, what shows up in my Paris writing is romance. It’s not always blissful. But even the pain I portray feels Romantic, in that splayed-nerve, nineteenth century sense. It is a Paris of extremes, then, that captures my imagination. Yet this vision is likely naïve and derivative to Parisians themselves, who simply see the city as home, with all the boredom and grind that also denotes.

But Paris is a muse for me. And do we question our muses, or simply follow their inspiration? Does it matter if my interpretation just scratches that gilded surface, and feeds a hungry fantasy machine? (It does for some. When my book was being shopped around, a couple editors who rejected it talked about this “clichéd idea of Paris,” which horrified me; perhaps because truth has the saltiest sting) Or maybe the many tributes to this city—in books, in art, in film, in song—have grafted the dream into reality for many of us lucky enough to walk her cobblestone streets. I did sense it while I was there. In flashes. Like heat lightning, or the whiff of ozone after it rains. Which, because a muse’s appeal also draws from her elusiveness, was all I needed to remain infatuated.

All of this meandering does have a point. I’m going to return to Paris (in spirit, anyway) over the next couple weeks and write some more vignettes. I haven’t the dimmest idea what the city will evoke this time around. I’d like to dig deeper, but my reach is somewhat limited by the Atlantic. Anyway, we’ll see what the Seine has to murmur during this visit. In a very self-indulgent sense, Paris is my metric. To see how I’ve evolved. Or not.

As Edith Piaf also sang, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

No regrets.

Let’s go.


Stephen Parrish said...

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower at night is Paris at its most glorious.

Aniket said...

No. We never question our muses. :)

I love Paris to the core and I haven't ever been there. Go figure.

I will surely visit it once in my lifetime. Am pretty darn sure of it. :P

And you know how attached I am to my first write-up. I guess we all are.

Soooo looking forward to what Paris will bring for us (via you) this time. Bring it on, lady.

Here's to paris dreams and to all the first times. :)

Margaret said...

I can't wait to read what the Seine murmurs to you this time round Sarah. I'm certain you'll come up with something tremendously romantic!

I've been to Paris only once when I was in my teens but I'm afraid I haven't got any lasting memories. I've enjoyed other European cities, such as Prague and Vienna a lot more.
Maybe I need to visit Paris again - let's see if your upcoming posts can convince me Sarah. :D

Sarah Hina said...

Steve, I haven't been atop it at night. Yet. But I believe you.

Aniket, you'll get there. I know it, too.

And thank you for the anticipation! I will try to live up to expectations. ;)

Margaret, a challenge! I happily accept. :)

I loved Vienna, too. Especially after seeing, Before Sunrise. And I still want to make it to Prague someday. Which, with two young kids, seems very far away, indeed.

Catvibe said...

Ah Paris...When I was there I was 16 and dreaming of some stupid boy I thought I loved who was back at home having sex with my best friend behind my back. That dreaming kept me from enjoying the city in the present, but when I think back to all I saw and experienced, I feel such a great nostalgia. I can't wait to return...but until then, I am really looking forward to your vignettes!

Sarah Hina said...

Cat, I thank you for that!

And you've just given me an idea for my first vignette...

(okay, I'm kidding; but I do like the idea of being in the "dream" of Paris and dreaming of somewhere else)

Jennifer said...

Sarah, I am off to read your Paris series, and to kick myself--did I not go back this far earlier?? And of course I am looking forward to reading what's to come.

Your comment about cliche has me wondering if maybe those of us who see Paris in a certain way are bound to experience it accordingly--and therefore the cliche becomes grounded in reality, at least for us, at least for a time. I spent almost a month in Paris the summer after I graduated from high school and of course I fell in love while I was there--but only while I was there. I remember he came to the airport to see me off and I felt properly done with the whole thing, even a bit irritated by his promises to visit me in the U.S. Perhaps the magic of Paris, sometimes, stays in Paris?? :)

One thing that never wore off was the thrill of seeing, with the object of my fleeting affection,
U2 perform in an outdoor concert with the smell of the city and a not insignificant amount of drugs saturating the air:

"I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you"

But I still hadn't found what I was looking for. ;)

Can't wait to read what you post..although of course this has strong potential to make me impatient for the release. (August? August???? I was thinking more like January 2nd!)

Karen said...

...and I cannot wait to see what you produce! J'aime Paris (said in my best French accent)! I loved it more this time than ever before - and this was my third time there. I loved everything about it - from the metro to personalities of the neighborhoods, to the architecture, art, music, food (yes, even the pizza avec weird things), and the people. I'm so happy to find someone who shares that affinity!

I went to see Julie & Julia yesterday just to see Paris! Cannot wait, Sarah! I know you'll make the City of Light come alive for me again.

Anonymous said...

We're all eager to see what you weave.... :)

Sarah Hina said...

Jennifer, thank you so, so much for dipping into my archives! I really didn't expect anyone to do that, but I was very happy to read your thoughtful comments on all the stories. :)

And I do think there's something to expectation. And the bubble factor. Maybe you did fall in love, in part, because you were in Paris. And because you knew it didn't have to last. There's a great freedom in that compression. Until the bubble pops.

I've always loved that song! (Of course.) The Joshua Tree was the highlight of 80s music, as far as I'm concerned (and in spite of the fact that I always favored REM as a group). "With or Without You" was another unforgettable track from the album.

(and yes, August; there was a slight delay, but it'll be here before we know it! :))

Karen, I thought of you, and Vesper, in Paris. I think your trips there were partially responsible for my thinking of doing this. I could sense your love for the city, and the energy it sparked.

I want to be braver when I go back. I think I was so intimidated by the, erm, Frenchiness of the people the first two times. ;)

And I was going to go see that film, too! For largely the same reason. :)

Jason, I'm glad you'll be here for my second go of it. :)

the walking man said...

You do know that at the turn of the 19th to 20th Centuries Detroit was actually called "The Paris of the Mid-West."

You write of your Paris Sarah and I, unfortunately, will write of mine. Let's go a travelin' now shall we?

joaquin carvel said...

paris, london, new york...of course they can be cliched - but for every mona lisa there's a raft of the medussa. the muse is no fool.

(ironic that one would use a french word to dismiss a parisian novel - est cliche, no?)

Rick said...

My son took VIA Rail to Montreal to propose to a young woman he was hopelessly in love with and, in a moment of awkward timing told him upon his arrival that she had fallen in love with someone else during his absence. He called me, brokenhearted, and asked, "Dad, is there any romance left in the world?"

After reading your posting tonight, I called him and told him that yes, indeed there was.

Sarah Hina said...

Mark, let's see what we find. And what it reflects of us travelers, too.

Joaquin, you picked a great one. I remember it vividly. I was also taken with the Delacroix paintings I saw. Orphan Girl at the Cemetery, in particular.

(and oui, it is; thanks for making me smile, Joaquin :))

Rick, your comment touched me like none other.

I feel terribly for your son. It's bad enough to lose his love, but to lose all hope in love is even worse, I think. That kind of pain and despair is difficult to surface from.

I really do hope, that with time, he'll come to believe you again. With his mind, and his heart.

Thanks so much, Rick.