I feel like I am living in Paris in the twenties lately. I was able to score one of the first available rental copies of Woody Allen’s film, *Midnight in Paris. I watched it about five times before I had to give it back. Last time I saw the movie, I was in Paris. My daughter, husband and I went to see it the night before we left for London and she left to come back to Canada. It was amazing to watch it and then walk out of the cinema and be on the Blvd. Beaumarchais. It’s a great movie. It brings back happy memories. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
I think part of the reason it’s so popular is the fact that it is everyone’s dream to time travel. If I could time travel, it would be back to the twenties and these days, I can say for certain, one of the destinations in my time travelling journey would be Paris in the twenties.
At the same time as I was watching Midnight in Paris I was also reading a book by Canadian writer, Morley Callaghan, entitled That Summer in Paris. Someone in my writing group suggested that I read it. Callaghan met Ernest Hemingway at the Toronto Star in 1923 when he was 19 and Hemingway was 24. Hemingway believed Callaghan to be a talented writer and he encouraged him to go to Paris. Callaghan did go during the summer of 1929, shortly after his marriage and graduation from the University of Toronto law school. There he met Scott and Zelda and all the other famous American ex-pats. He and Hemingway became good friends and used to box regularly at the American Club in Paris. He also becomes friendly with Fitzgerald.
The book paints a very interesting portrait of both men. Scott Fitzgerald appears to be a bundle of insecurities. Hemingway, too, but for different reasons.
F. Scott Fitzgerald tells Callaghan a story about going to visit Louis Bromfield, an American writer and early environmentalist. Bromfield came to the door of his chateau wearing his slippers. According to Fitzgerald, he and Zelda considered this such a sign of disrespect that they never visited Bromfield again.
After recounting this story, Callaghan says:
“… I marvel at the little things that shape the relationships of men; only the little things seem to do it. Not the great matters of principle, or articles of faith, but fancied slights, a little detail acutely observed that is supposed to reveal how things really stand between friends.”
Callaghan goes on to say that years later he met Louis Bromfield and told him the story. He describes Bromfield’s reaction:
“Wide-eyed, not smiling at all, full of wonder, he explained that he always wore those slippers in his own house when his guest was someone he felt close to. He had often wondered why [Fitzgerald] had turned against him.”
As the summer of 1929 goes on, Callaghan finds himself in the middle an incident between Fitzgerald and Hemingway. It happens at the American Club. This day, Hemingway and Callaghan box with Fitzgerald as timekeeper for the rounds. Fitzgerald forgets to call time, lets a round go an extra minute and Callaghan ends up knocking Hemingway down. Hemingway thinks Fitzgerald wants to see him humiliated. There is more to it than this but the relationships never really recover from the incident. The story gets repeated and embellished. It becomes very important to Hemingway that people believe he can knock out Callaghan. He challenges Callaghan to another match. He writes to Callaghan and wants him to admit Hemingway can knock him out. (Are we still talking about boxing here?)
Callaghan thinks that Hemingway is starting to believe his own publicity, his macho image. He refuses to make any such admission believing that would just mean he was buying into the mythology. Callaghan writes back in a joking manner, saying since he has never been knocked out, he cannot do what Hemingway requests. Isn’t it better, he suggests, that they both believe in their own invincibility. He says, “For heaven’s sake disarm.” He never hears from Hemingway again.
It is Callaghan’s musing on the nature of these broken relationships that remind me of adoption or, more particularly, adoption reunions. He says that Hemingway and Fitzgerald appeared to remain nominal friends but “had become very cynical about each other.” Callaghan is advised by his publisher, Max Perkins, to forget the whole thing. He was reassured by Perkins that neither Hemingway not Fitzgerald held any grudge against him. Callaghan comes to realize listening to Perkins was a mistake.
He says near the end of That Summer in Paris: “Insulted and injured people…find themselves lying awake at night making up little speeches, some of them angry, and the one to whom the little speeches are addressed in the dark never has a chance to answer.”
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
“… [T]he little things that shape the relationships… Not the great matters of principle, or articles of faith, but fancied slights, a little detail acutely observed that is supposed to reveal how things really stand …”
It seems very much to echo exactly what happens in some adoption reunions to me. The imagined slights. The inability to disarm. The misunderstandings, the reluctance/inability to express the hurt.
The walking away like Scott and Zelda insulted by Louis Bromfield and his slippers.
Here is the haunting theme music from Midnight in Paris, where you can see Hemingway and Scott and Zelda come to life. The song is called, interestingly enough, Si Tu Vois Ma Mère (If You See My Mother). I think you will be hearing a lot of it around Oscar time.
*January 3, 2011
I came across this: A Cultural Cheat Sheet for Midnight in Paris. It tells you all about the real people portrayed in the movie and some of the locations.
*January 9, 2012
Another bit about MIP. An interview with the actor who played Ernest Hemingway.