On Tuesday afternoon I took myself to lunch at Le Hibou, a local favourite and a place that always ends up successfully seducing me with its lure, as the well behaved side of my brain does everything in its power to convince me that a trip to the market for fresh salad to be made at home, would suffice.
Hibou, being the French word for owl, attracts a really interesting crowd and I’m never sure who will be on the next table. During my visit to Hibou on Tuesday, I made a mental note that I had at least four hours until two very dear friends arrived from London for a highly anticipated visit, and after ordering my lunch I settled in for an hour or two in the sun which had finally returned after days spent under an overcast sky.
An hour or so into my date ‘en seul’ a man and a woman sat at the table beside me. He was unmistakingly Australian and she, American. They chatted about Paris and its romantic lure, before the conversation turned to Hemingway. That often happens- people love coming to Paris to talk about Hemingway and I usually switch off, but for some reason, on this occasion I kept my ears on as he spoke about the many rich people who’d come to Paris in the past to ‘get their rocks off’ and the creatives who had found a life here for a fraction of the price of New York. He’d lectured on Hemingway at the Sorbonne and as recently as that morning, he’d ordered an Orangina, only to be cheekily delivered a neat gin. His French was definitely fluent and neatly spoken- a talent for which I aspire. His female companion hung onto every word- was it an interview perhaps?
Before too long, he started talking about Woody. ‘Did you imagine Midnight in Paris would eventuate?’ she questioned. With this, he took her through a verbal tour of where filming had taken place, waving his hand towards landmarks where scenes had been captured. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that my lunch neighbours were Woody Allens biographer John Baxter and his companion, a French/American journalist. I busied myself with looking busy but listened with careful intent as he provided insights into a life so odd, but not without complete genius and a talent for bringing some favourite, quirky and thought provoking films to the big screen.
Midnight in Paris is always funny as Gil (Owen Wilson) has midnight encounters with Hemingway, Gertrude Steine, Picasso, Man Ray and Dali among many others. It’s a film brimming with clichés beyond the cliché but it always manages to make me laugh as it is so true, and a complete reminder of the lure that this city has always maintained, with its left bent and seemingly blind eye towards rules (which are apparently made to be broken). Paris is a place where people have come with a belief that they can do things they couldn’t do anywhere else – as they take in hundreds of years of history while surrounded by an air of what can only be described as feeling that you are on the film set of a never ending movie.
Each day I am reminded that the clichés are just that. This is also a city which normal people inhabit and where they go about a normal life- have children, feed their pets, go for morning jogs and do other ‘normal’ things like go to work. This is my chosen centre for finding a new ‘normality’ and this week has seen tiny wins that have edged me just the tiniest bit away from feeling like a tourist in a big, strange and beautiful hub. These ‘wins’ are seemingly insignificant in comparison to a life that was once fulfilled and realitively familiar, but somehow they feel more exciting than being promoted to CEO of a large conglomerate with the promise of millions of dollars (this has never happened to me, but I can imagine it might feel pretty good if it did).
I’ve been summonsed to appear at the Office of French Immigration and Integration next week, for two appointments which sound about as enjoyable as being bitten by a rabid dog, but they are an important piece of the never ending puzzle towards my determined aspirations for an ongoing social experiment, in a different city. The second win came after I sent an email to the Croix Rouge (the Red Cross) and I waited patiently for a response, receiving an email on Wednesday inviting me to become a member and thanking me for offering to ‘work on their side’ as an unpaid volunteer. And the third exciting win in as many days, was receiving my pre-registration certificate for the Sorbonne where I will complete a semester of French language and civilisation from September until December. I have been relishing in bureaucracy this week as I delight in stamped, scanned paperwork being delivered to my inbox.
I’m just one in several millions of people before me who have been lured to a life of Parisian clichés. Like a goldfish at feeding time I find myself in raptures as little specks are sent my way, while I swim in what feels like continued circles- plotting what is next as I try and shift my status from hopeless visitor with an uphill linguistic battle, to an individual existing with purpose and a sustainable way of living here. This challenge is set not for immediate benefit, but for the many years that will follow this tiny dot on the horizon in the long screenplay of life.
The encounter at Le Hibou was a welcome reminder that you never know who is on the next table, regardless of the year or the place in which you are living. The legacy of those before us is as powerful as the legacies we work towards creating, as we write our own history books. After three lovely days with two gorgeous friends, the following is more apparent to me than ever – drink the champagne, buy the shoes and light the candle. We can plan for tomorrow, but today is the only time that is completly guaranteed – today is here to be enjoyed and if it is peppered with clichés, this will only serve as a reminder that whatever it is we are experiencing, it has usually been tried in the past.
Literature and film are a fine example of the role that we all play in our everyday towards inspiring others, regardless of where we may sit and regardless of what our situation may be. No one is completely alone, just as no one is completely original.