By April Lewis
The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on:
Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line…
Words written centuries ago in The Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam has me reminiscing about the past. Turning back the frayed pages of our life’s story. Fragments of our history lined up like bowling pins blurred by the events which have sculpted and informed our lives. Getting all sentimental and nostalgic about what was and what could have been.
Thanks to Woody Allen and his latest brilliant and whimsical movie Midnight in Paris, the cineaste in me was able to go back for a while and reflect on this notion of nostalgia. Back to the moveable feast of Hemingway’s Paris in the 1920’s with Cole Porter’s Let’s Fall in Love as a backdrop . Back to Maxim’s, the restaurant famous for entertaining the social elite from La Belle Epoque of the 1890’s. All set against the romantic notion that Paris is even more wonderful in the rain.
Paris in the rain. I remember being a poor student arriving in Paris in February with nowhere to live. I answered an ad for an “au pair” and was ushered into the boudoir of Madame whatever her name was who sat upon her bed all resplendent in her negligee with a feather boa trim. She was straight out of a Jacqueline Susann novel. She asked me if I could cook. I replied despondently “I can’t even boil an egg” and stood there forlornly, a drowning rat, dripping wet.
Paris in the rain indeed!
Nostalgia. This looking backward which Allen refers to as “golden age thinking” where we think a different time period is better than the present and where everything was so perfect.
“Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present.” one of his characters muses. Another character states “the past has always had a great charisma for me…the present is dull.”
Denial…dull…or is it the other “d” word that is inextricably linked with nostalgia…
Are we afraid of death or simply on an obsessive search for our immortality?
Catherine, 60 does not agree at all. She recently posted old photographs of her father, her family and herself on Facebook and said she was only happily reminiscing. Nothing deeper than that. In fact, “At 60” she says, “I am probably happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve found my place emotionally and spiritually.” Oh sure, she would love to have a younger, firmer body but has no desire whatsoever to exchange her life today for another stab at yesterday.
Camilla, 87 has a different spin on the subject of looking back. “If one wishes to be nostalgic, it should only be for a short and selective time and associated with pleasant memories only.”
These pleasant memories are like a downy comforter and can assuage the looming spectre of the inevitable although she insists emphatically she is not afraid of death. She has however, fed into her immortality as she has donated her body to UBC for research purposes!
Perhaps as we look back, we are simply rationalizing the actions of a past we cannot alter or are wishing we took the path less travelled.
No time like the present.
If your present is dull, do something about it. You can’t unwrite the past nor should you waste your precious time trying.
Life is short.
Death is not.
And if you’re planning on going to Paris, buy an umbrella!