What if I wrote about sex and drinking and fantasies of life being really good? Would serious readers automatically turn away in favor of texts on global warming, gender inequality, the horrors of Donald Trump? I’d like to see the Serious Reader take a moment to confront him or herself. To say, “I care about all the chaos in this world and yet I also care about sitting in a cafe sipping a cappuccino.” Nothing necessarily revolutionary here, but I’m trying to decide whether to put a photo of a stormy sky atop this post, or instead some sort of idyllic vision such as you see on the top of many inspirational Medium posts.
I hear a woman at the next table saying “I would not go to Paris.” This is exactly what I’m talking about. I mean, I get it that with terrorism on the rise (is it?) people are cautious about travel. And Europe, particularly France, has seen tough times. But, I’m sorry, stating that you would not go to the most romantic place of all (even if it’s not) is a step too far because it de-legitimizes fantasy. And I think that is what sex and drinking is all about. Just now I had a glass of red wine and I feel like I am in Paris. I can’t help having flashes of a truck mowing down pedestrians (as well as Tom Cruise sneaking into the Louvre to eliminate an alien time-traveler), but the truck image is surrounded by images of bookshops and sidewalk cafes, of bad duck confit in basement restaurants with my parents, of endless gravel paths. And images of secret societies creeping around in the sewers, from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. I would not go to Paris: don’t you see that all these things are ephemeral breezes, shenanigans, terrible, evil shenanigans perhaps, but symptoms of the human pathos of an old, old place. Not spoilers of a day at Disneyland. Spoilers, perhaps, but for God’s sake the bookshops still must make a living! Have we no shame? Probably not. I’ll stay away from Paris for another year but I don’t know that it’s a good idea. I suspect by staying away I do more harm than the terrorists if I’m joined by millions of others. Should Paris be starved of tourism because one man acted outside the bounds, one crazy man? Should tourists be brave, be accountable for what they support and what they starve of support?
The wine wears off. The No Paris Ladies ask for their check. I take a photo of some trees against an old building outside this restaurant. I feel a cool draft from the doorway and am reminded (paradoxically?) of New Orleans. Also of an Alaskan cruise. And of something I don’t quite identify. Forrest Gump’s house, my friends’ house with the pool across the lake from New Orleans, my grandmother’s house with the “swamp cooler” before they had air conditioning, a glimpse of just being outside in Tyler, (East) Texas in the summer with the bugs buzzing and you can feel that you don’t want to be out there too long…I guess that’s it. Travel is about being in the midst of something different. I’m not proud of staying away from Paris, even though there are probably 20 places I can name that I’d rather go first. There’s a reason the No Paris ladies mention Paris at all, because it’s an epicenter of culture and history and romance, and you can’t really avoid it, no matter how much you try to attend to Machu Picchu and Venice, Alaska and New York City. Paris is still there, like a stain, like Old Rome, at the rotted center of it all. And if we stay away too long we do so at cost to our souls.
Oh, this writing was supposed to be about sex and drinking. It is, don’t you see? Paris is the cultural cypher for what is most essential. And, guess what is? Fantasy. Nothing matters as much as the stories we tell to hold ourselves together. So to pursue the fantasy vision you use music, travel, maybe sex (or maybe just a reference to sex?), and maybe drinking. But if you run from Paris and are instead consumed with Disneyland, then the people creeping around in the sewers are not so romantic, or so fascinatingly, passionately distopian, anymore. They’re just keeping Daffy Duck’s costume clean, and making sure he doesn’t take his duck head off while kids are around. Because if he did, then the kids would have to ask themselves, “Why am I pretending that Daffy is real?” And why does Mom always say No Way to Paris when Dad doesn’t really want to go there yet anyway, he just wants to know that he’ll see it again soon. Really soon. Maybe even before another trip to Disneyland, or maybe as a surprise one sunny Sunday morning or one rainy Thursday afternoon.