Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Into The Past

Into The Past

Imagine you are walking on a crooked little street deep in the heart of Paris. There are puddles floating on the cobblestones like lily pads - they linger from an afternoon shower, reflecting the glow from the street lamps that line your pavement path. Weary of your romantic sensibilities being patronized and misunderstood by your more literal companions, you have finally taken your leave and are now, quiet blissfully, alone. Pausing by some ancient stone stairs, you listen as somewhere a clock strikes midnight. You start at the the sound of a car making its way round the corner and turn to see a yellow Peugeot Landaulet pulling to a stop at your feet. The automobile door opens and you are invited inside. You peek into the lavish, upholstered interior. You gaze in at faces from long, long ago, faces belonging to your idols of the past - Ernest, Zelda, F. Scott. You hesitate, but only for an instant, before climbing aboard this transport to another age.
This is a scene from the wonderful escape of movie, Midnight in Paris, and it actually made me ache with envy. Oh, just imagine! It is a hot summer afternoon and I have just left the library to begin the walk back home, when a car such as that pulls up to the curb, the door swings open, and I bend to look inside. Just what would I see? Which past era holds for me such fascination, such longing, that I would happily jump right inside? Whose are the faces that would peer back into mine?
As a child I was enthralled by Elizabethan England, and how I would love to sit down for a chat with that most formidable lady. To stroll along the Nile in conversation with Cleopatra. To take tea at Haworth parsonage with Charlotte, Emily and Anne. To sit talking with Churchill as he painted by the river in Marrakesh or to follow Edith Wharton round her garden in France. Imagine arguing over lunch at Charleston at the height of the Bloomsbury days, or strolling the Ringstrasse in 1880’s Vienna in a silk lilac dress. I could play in the dusty streets of 1930‘s Monroeville, Alabama with Harper Lee and Truman Capote or perhaps sit silently in the corner of Oxford’s Eagle and Child pub on a Tuesday morning, listening to members of The Inklings discuss their latest works. I could witness a performance of Henry V in the original Globe Theatre before the Puritans torn it down. Or perhaps visit The Cavern in Liverpool to listen to four local boys perform their new songs.
So many choices, just where would I go?
Like so many romantics, for most of my life I have been utterly convinced I was meant for another time. A time more gracious, less crowded. An era in which nature far overshadowed steel and concrete and the popular music of the day was Mozart, Gershwin or Bach. The movie, Midnight In Paris, understands how universal and constant is this longing for a golden age, for in the movie, even those from the past seem to long for the past.
As L. P. Hartley so famously wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.
Differently yes, but better, I don’t know. Would I trade my world of air-conditioning and antibiotics, indoor plumbing and iPods for one in which I could easily die from both a visit to the dentist and the plague, where I had to wash my clothes on a rock and couldn’t keep my favourite coffee ice cream in my kitchen freezer? Probably not. But that is exactly what makes the life of the romantic such a happy one. We can always dream. We can close our eyes any time we like and step inside a totally different, completely golden, era. Perhaps we would not choose to stay, but a visit would be lovely.
So, if that big yellow Peugeot pulls up beside you tomorrow, just who would you see sitting inside?
Just where would you wish to go?
Etching above by C.F. Barry


  1. I'm dying to see it but haven't had time! Hopefully Wednesday. Btw - I love all the beautiful art you share with us...almost as much as your writings!

  2. The 20s would be one of my choice - it was lovely seeing slivers of it come alive in Allen's film. The Restoration, Renaissance Italy, Constantinople during the Tulip Era... So many choices!

  3. I've always wanted to go back in time and live in another era, but now I'm content to visit in books and movies. I wouldn't want to be without air-conditioning or modern medicine. The rest, I could live without.

  4. Hello Pamela

    I long for the Medieval/Modern periods in England! I love food history and learning how people lived during these periods.

    Have a great week.

    Tracy :)

  5. oh pamela as soon as i spied your title, i curled up with my laptop knowing i would love where you would take us.

    granted one wish i would request the ability to time travel. my first visit would be to mary queen of scots and listen to this this tragically misguided woman's tales of woe. next up.....the world of beatrix potter, vita-sackville west, i would have to meet a knight, and then..........aghhhh, thank you for a moment to pause and dream

  6. I loved this witty movie too - the juxstaposition between now and then was fun and quite thought provoking. The dreadful fiance and her rich right wing parents with their terrible arrogance were frighteningly real. The casting was great too.

  7. Pamela this is it, I now MUST see this movie!! I do think I have lived in another era.

    Art by Karena

    I have a New, very fashionable Giveaway on my site! Come and enter!

  8. Oh, I escaped through Midnight in Paris two days ago...it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon away from the real, real world of rainy weather and frustrations.

    My escape choices would be medieval abbeys, the court of Henry VIII, the studios of Henri Matisse, Van Gogh, Chagall, and Michelangelo. And the medieval landscape of Pillars of the Earth.

  9. I haven't seen this yet. It is now at the top of my list.

    I woud like to go back just to spend an evening with someone. So many on my list: Shakespeare (ink involved I think), Van Goch (drinking involved I think), Marquis de Sade, (sex involved I think) Vlad the Impaler (murder involved I thnk). So many tortured minds, what revelations one evening would bring!

    What a wonderful image you create.


  10. Hi Pamela,
    I think that we are sometimes taken over by the romantisism of the past and forget the black side of it. As you said, we are so used to our luxuries in life that I don't think I could give them up now. I think that I am so lucky to live just outside London, a city in which I can go back to many different era's, just by getting on the train. I also live very near to Hatfield House, Henry V111's home and where Elizabeth found out that she was Queen, as she sat beneath one of the magnificent oaks. Henry used to hunt all around the woods where I live.
    I don't think that I could choose a specific era to travel back to as they all hold a fascination for me. XXXX

  11. I am one of those Pamela who sticks to the old adage "never go back." I have found that on the few occasions I have attempted this it has been a huge disappointment, so these things are best, for me at any rate, left in my dreams.

    I ust say however, that I would love to have been in that vehicle with John Steinbeck and Charlie in "Travels with Charlie" my all time favourite book.

  12. I haven't heard of this movie but it definitely sounds my kind of thing! Just at the moment I would like to see Agatha Christie inside that yellow Peugeot and she would take me on the Orient Express and then on to one of the archaeological digs that she shared with her husband Max Mallowan. Perhaps we would also stay a while at the Winter Palace hotel in Luxor and then travel to Petra - hopefully Hercule Poirot would be there as well:) I've been to both Luxor and Jordan and loved both but to see them in the 1930s would be perfect.

  13. I'm so wanting to see this movie! Tea at the Parsonage with the Bronte's sounds perfect...but knowing what was in store for them would make it a very bittersweet meeting....would that we could have rose colored glasses on for that moment and just bask in their presence...unaware of their future, yet still knowing their history...to much to ask of the little yellow Peugeot?
    So nice to have you back!
    xo J~

  14. I saw this last week and thought it was classic Woody Allen...same story, different characters...and loved it. It reminded me of his earlier and more favored work - Manhattan, Annie Hall. As to where would I go...not sure but the 400 years between the Old and New Testament have always enthralled me. What happened, to whom, where and why? Of course, no way of knowing who would be in the auto, but still...

  15. Into the Canadian wilderness with Tom Thomson and the group of seven, or with Emily Carr to the British Columbia interior. Maybe a visit with Van Gogh. Agatha Christie would be fascinating. Now THERE is a car full.

  16. Count me Pamela as another who cannot wait to see Midnight in Paris. I think I'd quite like to be at the Cavern watching those 4 London blokes perform. So many fascinating times to take a journey back to, but like you said, would we really want to stay? You have yet again managed to make my mind think of all sorts of possibilities. I know I'll be watching out for that yellow Peugeot!
    x Deb

  17. Just returned from seeing Midnight in Paris. It is fabulous! Woody's love letter to Paris is over the top. Personally, I would love for the little yellow Peugeot Landaulet (thanks for telling us what kind of car it is) to pull up beside me, Adrien Brody would step out and say, "Come along with me, my dear," and we would stroll through Paris at Midnight. Since I am a big fan of the "Impressionists," anytime between 1880 and 1920 would be fine. Owen Wilson does a fine job, but I can't wait for Adrien Brody to come up with another role of Academy Award caliber; his talent is very obvious in his portrayal of Dali. Now I'm ready for a re-run.

  18. I think I would would choose the period that Woody Allen covers in his film. The 1920's in Paris had to be an exciting and magical time. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso. The cafe conversations and the parties! And I would love to have had the opportunity to buy some of the art being created at the time. Just a little Matisse! I saw an amazing exhibition in New York, "Collecting Matisse: The Cone Sisters." What was going on in the art world at the time was incredible. It was the beginning of modernism in the arts. How exciting.

  19. I read your post and immediately researched the movie, then got in car and went to see it! How had I missed this? It's lovely! As is your post about it and musings on other times. I, too, have always felt out of place in this time, though I sat tonight after the movie and marveled at the things we have at our fingertips that we often take for granted, so accustomed are we to them. Thank you so for bringing this wonderful film to my attention!

  20. First thought in the wee hours of the morning....to Winston Churchill's garden, coming upon hims whilst sitting in his 'reflecting' chair (as shown over at Midlife Wisdom) then a drive to all my favourite places around Surrey to see them in another era. Timing would be everything on this one!

    Great post Pamela...I can see you are travelling in your thoughts again, one of my favourite places for you to be. :)

    I am back and catching up, thanks so much for your note...life has been a bit of a whirlwind these past few weeks. Still waiting for my feet to touch ground. :)

    Best wishes Pamela...

    Jeanne xxx

  21. Lovely post. You've reminded me to order Midnight in Paris, thank you xx

  22. 'arguing over lunch at Charleston at the height of the Bloomsbury days' - oh yes - I'd be there. Great post!

  23. Saw the movie two days ago and loved it, the scenery, 'meeting' those authors and artists from the 20's but especially the realization that the 'golden age' of the past didn't seem golden when it was merely the present...

    ~ Violet

  24. I would look into the car to find Byron, Shelley and Mary Shelley and go with them to Italy to watch whilst they tell ghost stories! Or the car would take me to a meeting of the Lunar Society to hear what Messrs Darwin, Wedgwood, Bolton, Watt and Priestly make of the latest scientific discoveries. I can think of so many but like you would want to come back to all the luxuries we have in the world right now! I must see that film:)

  25. i love this small jewel of a movie. can't wait to own it so i may see it often.
    i would want to meet anais nin in the peugot. we would talk very seriously til we ran into henry miller and lawrence durell... then we would laugh and drink (a little too many small glasses maybe) but the conversation would be brilliant! we would all walk back to the hotel in the early morning mist of paris just going to sleep.

  26. Beat the heat this afternoon - local 'art theatre' with old fashioned seats - a matinee performance extraordinaire! Hemingway's words had me breathing hard, Toulouse Lautrec, an amazing likeness, and the exquisite Mlle. Cotillard more lovely than ever.

    DH and I loved it and have already started thinking how we can get back to Paris before too long! I'll be searching for the yellow automobile!!!! First stop, La Belle Époque, s'il vous plait!

    Happy 4th dear.

  27. I also love the Tudor/ Elizabethan period and actually even before that, the Crusades time perhaps- or otherwise I would like to visit Georgian England or Edwardian England, or interwar France or anywhere in the 60s.

    however I'm concerned that any of these places were much worse to live in in reality unless you were wealthy- and that they were also much more smelly until about 1900!


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!