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.