We’ll Always Have Paris

Although Hawaii has its pluses, mostly the weather, I’ve never found my tribe here. Only two places have ever felt like home – Pennsylvania and Paris. And Paris is always a good idea.

The last time I was in Paris, someone asked me for directions, thinking I was local and, of course, not knowing about my directional dysfynction. I held my head high, sometimes literally lost, looking for Rue Cler until the smells of the vendors drew me there. I never minded being lost in Paris.

Since Dr. Fauci still recommends staying off planes even after getting the vaccine, Paris in person is not an option. Pennsylvania may take a while too, but that is easier to forego.

Vicariously going to Paris is easy; there are so many books. What are your favorites?

Here are a few of mine – some I may reread.

  • Paris by the Book by  Liam Callanan
  • Paris Letters by Janet MacLeod, matching my postcards with hers
  • Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer, a memoir of a writer living inside Shakespeare and Company
  • A Moveable Feast.  This classic by Hemingway visits places that still exist.
  • Paris Metro Tales.  Helen Constantine’s short stories will take you to all the arrondissements.
  • Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant – move over Bridgerton for French sex and scandal
  • The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurraine  A bookseller’s search for a woman in Paris
  • Lunch in Paris  by Elizabeth Bard   I’ll meet you there

and one I missed when it was published in 2018 – my next read:

  • Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift   Time travel to Paris – sounds perfect

Thoughts…

Finding art museums in my travels is almost like looking for book stores.  My visits always inspire me, sometimes surprise me, often intrigue me.  From the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Gardner Museum in Boston, and so many more. I have bookmarks and notecards from their gift shops, but, more importantly, I have memories I can call up anytime and vicariously revisit to feel better.  Since I cannot visit in person lately, those imagined visits can be a balm to earth-shattering reality.

One of my favorites is the National Gallery of Art, where I often sat in the garden alcove during my lunch hours, sipping expensive coffee and absorbing the tranquility of the surroundings. When I had time, I walked to the Capitol Building.  Although it is not known as a museum, it holds an astounding collection, from Trumball’s painting to the famous fresco on the ceiling.  Anytime I entered the Capitol, a feeling of awe came over me – as though I were in a museum or even a church.  Those around me spoke in hushed tones.

I told a good friend I had dreamed about having dinner with friends, talking about the art we has just visited in a museum.  She told me it was my mind taking a break from the insanity just seen on television, and she is right.  Images of the desecration of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. will remain in my mind and not be forgotten.  But, someday, hopefully soon, civilized behavior will return, and art, in person, will be the balm it always has been.

In the meantime, the word “base” keeps assaulting me on the news.  The word has a page of definitions in Merriam-Webster, some referring to the noun in mathematics, science, or architecture, but the one that seems to best fit the description of the rioters at the Capitol this week is the adjective: “lacking or indicating the lack of higher qualities of mind or spirit, {or} being of comparatively low value and having relatively inferior properties.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

In making a Faustian deal, an eighteenth century young woman escapes an arranged marriage. But the devil is in the details.  

Addie LaRue gets her freedom and her wish to be her own person, even gaining immortality, but no one she meets remembers her.  In The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E. Schwab cleverly spans three centuries across Europe and the United States in a time travel fantasy examining the value of a legacy.

Addie initially struggles through the hardships of suddenly being without family or any means of support, but she does have her freedom, including the ability to steal what she needs and being instantly forgotten for doing it.  She makes it through the plague (not the current one), fashions herself into a well-read and astute thinker when women were not expected to do more than marry and bear children.  As she gallops through the centuries, her accomplishments are bittersweet because no one knows about her, forgetting her almost instantly.  Later, this talent to reintroduce herself to the same person gets a little strained.

Known by her seven freckles resembling  a galaxy of stars across her face, she discovers she can make her mark through others as artists use her as their muse. She fills art and music with the memory of ideas she has planted. Her devil appears occasionally over the years to taunt her with difficulties but she is never willing to surrender her freedom and her soul.

Suddenly, after 300 hundred years, she finds a soulmate in Henry, a bookstore owner who has made his own deal with the devil.  To her surprise Henry does remember her, and for the first time she can hear her real name from her lover. Although Schwab nurtures the romance, true love really does not lie with these two characters.  Addie’s true love is her freedom and, despite the devil’s machinations, she finds a way her to leave her mark and be remembered.

As I finished the story, with its unlikely and clever ending (I won’t spoil it for you), I remembered my own much shorter journey so far, and the marks I’ve left behind.  Like Addie, most have morphed into an amalgam of pieces leading to others’ adaptations.  The ideas I created may not have the same name, but most are still viable and progressed with the times, as they should.  Yet, we all want to be remembered.

Caitlyn Paxson for NPR said: “Addie LaRue manages to pull off like the prestige of a particularly elegant magic trick, leaving us with the feeling that we too have been a part of Addie’s long and invisible life. I for one will most certainly remember her.”

So will I.

 “Strive not to be a success but to be of value.” Albert Einstein

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Imagine you are in a small theater (not likely these days).  On the stage the scene is set like  Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks; small and dark with a woman in white seated at the end of the counter.  The setting stays the same and a small cast of characters come and go in four scenes.  Crucial to the plot – a time portal carrying the time traveler back to an important event or conversation they want to rectify within the minutes before their coffee gets cold.

Toshiikazu Kawaguchi’s short novel was originally a play in Japanese, and it is easier to read if you imagine it still is.  The themes of regret and anger are tempered by the possibilities of hope and change in the future, and these days we could all use a lesson in hope.

The novel is told over a series of small vignettes, each revolving around a specific trip one of the regulars of the cafe takes.  The stories follow a theatrical setup – single location and only a handful of characters.  Forgive the awkward translation and be open to the message.

What would you do if you could travel back in time for only a few minutes – until the hot steaming coffee poured into your cup got cold?  This premise connects four chapter stories with related characters who each have different motivations to see their worlds again in the past.  The cafe, named Funiculi, Funicula, has the reputation of being able to transport willing customers to another time, but only if the rules are followed.  Only one seat in the cafe serves as the vehicle, and it is usually occupied by the same patron absorbed in reading her book; the woman in white fiercely guards her territory and only leaves her seat to go to the bathroom. She is, in fact, a ghost who did not follow the café’s most important rule – to finish drinking before the coffee gets cold.  The time ravelers may only stay a short amount of time before being whisked back to their own time, but if they fail to drink the coffee before it gets cold, they will join the ghostly chorus.

A married couple, Kei and Nagare, are the current owners, while Nagare’s cousin, Kazu, a university student, helps out when she’s not in school. Regular customers include: businesswoman Fumiko who is desperate to be more open and vulnerable during her last meeting with her boyfriend Goro before he relocates to the U.S., nurse Kohtake wants one more opportunity to talk to her husband Fusagi before Alzheimer’s made him forget too much – including her. Bar owner Hirai needs to talk to her younger sister Kumi, whom she’s been avoiding for too many years. Finally, co-owner Kei, who is pregnant, bends the rules to go into the future to meet her unborn child.

Each chapter ends on a bittersweet note with the time traveler returning to the present, knowing it has not changed.  And yet, Kawaguchi does offer a change of perspective to each from their brief experience reliving a past moment; they return with renewed hope for the future. Perhaps reworking a significant turning point in the past would not change the present, but recognizing its impact can affect the future and how we live in the present.

Kazu notes at the end of the book,

“No matter what difficulties people face, they will always have the strength to overcome them. It just takes heart. And if the chair (the time portal) can change someone’s heart, it clearly has its purpose.”

I made myself a cup of coffee to time how long it took to go cold.  Not long. Better “Drink the coffee before it gets cold.”  No time to waste.

 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Today is Scott Bakula’s birthday.  You may know this actor in the crime drama he plays on television, but back in the early nineties he was a time traveling scientific wonder, jumping from life to life in the serialized show Quantum Leap.  Matt Haig uses this construct to create an entertaining story in The Midnight Library.

The heroine, Nora Seed, is so despondent and dissatisfied with her life, she sees no reason to live.  Cue the angel in the Jimmy Stewart classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Ms. Elm, the kind and generous librarian who manages the midnight library, appears with a trove of books documenting Nora’s life and regrets as the stacks precariously slide along the ethereal walls.  Before she dies, Nora has the chance to be in lives that might have been, and the adventure begins.

Who hasn’t wondered about the ‘road not taken,” life decisions leading to inevitable consequences.  What if another choice had been made?  How would a different decision have affected your personal life, your career, your impact on others, your contribution to the world?  We can only speculate, but Nora gets the chance to really experience the results of other choices she might have made.

The book of regrets reminds Nora of what she might have done, and she starts a series of quantum leaps through the universe, reliving her life as a successful rock star, wife of a pub owner, glaciologist fighting a polar bear, revered author and professor, married, unmarried, with children, without children – the possibilities are endless but Haig sticks to just enough detours to convince the reader that Nora is probably happiest back in her old life.

And like the song, “Back in Your Old Backyard,” Nora finds herself seeing the life she has as not so bad, with still time for constructive changes.

The Midnight Library offers some respite from reality, and a reminder to be grateful for what we have, no matter how dire the circumstances.