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I was living in the Middle East (I’m leaving the exact location vague, for narrative reasons) as a pit stop on an around-the-world trip I never finished (having started in Ireland, with a one-way ticket from New York, six months previously). I’d packed a set of watercolor paints (see photo) and a sketch book, thinking that people who go around the world must pass by a lot of things that inspire painting. My painting plans fell as short as my travel plans — I never painted a single landscape while I was on the road.

But this is a picture I took of me trying to paint a pretty little flower that grows wild in The Levant, AND a WILD pomegranate! I still have that sketch book: I never painted the pomegranate, but I still have the watercolor dabs of that flower.

[Consider this a footnote: Those are the paints that I'd had with me in Paris in 1978-79, when I was a mopey au pair,painting a lot of manuscript-illumination-type decorations; and, when I picked up painting again, 15 years later, I still had those paints! (I'm on my third or fourth set now, now that I'm, like, a semi-professional illustrator; and I still use the same paints -- Grumbacher all the way. The olive green always is the first to go.).]

This is me in 1985 (taken in that Middle Eastern country):

I bring this up because I got a call from someone I’d met there, in the M. E., as it happens just a few steps from where the pomegranates grew wild. After all these years, Facebook has brought us back together. When I knew him he hadn’t even been to university yet — now he’s a corporate executive and travels all over the world. So he asked me to meet him in Paris.

And I said no.  And I told him the honest reason why: Because I’m writing a book about France that has a very specific time line, and I have to protect the integrity of that time line. I’m afraid that if I go to France now, I’ll get all new impressions and observations that will contaminate the memories and narrative that I’ve been working on.

In other words, I’ll go to France and realize that all my old ideas of France suck and I’ll want to re-write a whole new book about it that won’t be true to the France that I’m currently writing about. For better or worse, I am committed to the France that I experienced within the parameters of my Damn France Book, and until it’s done I have to stay away from France, Paris, and old boyfriends. Yes: I’m that dedicated to my vision.

Also, I don’t have  naturally auburn hair anymore. Or bangs. (And I wonder, about every other week, if I’m too old for bangs. )

By the way, Top Cat would have been happy to take me to France, too; and I told him the same thing: I don’t trust myself enough as a writer to go and not add some new layer of expereince to my previous story (especially if it makes me look smarter, better informed, cooler, or more soigne). When you write memoir-ish stories (and I do), it’s hard to stay true to the limits of your memories, hard to be honest about what you really did or did not know in the past. In my small way, I’m trying to be as least dishonest as I can be, and that’s about as good as memoir gets.

Here’s another photo from 1985, the wierdest thing I saw in the whole Middle East:

Yes, friends, those are telephone covers, from the Arab market in Jerusalem. I think this about velour telephone covers:  That’s everything you need to know about the esthetics of home decor in the Middle East.

And I wonder; is there any other good reason besides writer’s ethics to stop me from going to meet an old boyfriend in Paris? Anyone want to advise me on this?

5 comments to Once upon a time in 1985…

  • Nadine

    Don’t go to Paris until after the first full draft is finished and you’ve captured your “vision.” Unless you’re able to experience such a long-shot blast from the past in one of the world’s best cities and NOT be affected, such a trip will indeed compromise the memories you’re trying to capture.

    You know how after you break up with someone you need to re-claim your life by creating new memories of the places you shared as a couple? Or, how you want to protect a perfect memory of a favorite place when you were a kid by never going back as an adult in case the reality is not like you remember? The present always overwrites the past.

    Don’t tamper with a memory until you no longer need it to stay intact.

  • maryann

    “is there any other good reason besides writer’s ethics to stop me from going to meet an old boyfriend in Paris?”

    well, the only one i can think of is this: top cat
    but he’s pretty cool, so if he says you can go, then next time you get an offer, GO! :)
    and send your faithful blog-readers hand-painted postcards! :) :)

  • Nadine

    I had another idea: meet him in London. That way, you won’t spoil your Paris memories and you can satisfy your curiosity.

    When you get as old as we are, and if you’re not on your first marriage, jealousy over old flames is kind of silly. Bring TC along. It’s always interesting to see who people end up with. This is just old friends catching up — not an effort to rekindle the past.

  • emily m

    seems to me if it was about catching up with the past, he could come here and meet you with TC so why not just leave Paris out of the picture and think about old friends meeting in a current reality.

  • Shelley

    I say get TC’s blessing to avoid marital “issues” (assuming that’s a concern), and meet somewhere other than France to preserve your writer’s ethics, and have a wonderful time.

    If there are no marital repercussions or writer’s integrity to be concerned with, then there’s no good reason not to go (and you definitely MUST send hand-painted postcards)!

    From my vantage point (having been married since before Jesus left Chicago), I’m completely envious and would love to have such dilemmas!

    Shelley (in the throes of mid-life restlessness, and longing for someone to want to meet me in Paris)!

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