Taking It Personally: Yearning For An Earlier Time
But I don't want to be Woody Allen ... nor Owen Wilson, either
Two things happened recently which, at first, seemed unconnected: The Lexington Historical Commission published an expanded Cultural Inventory and I went to see the new Woody Allen film, "Midnight In Paris," at Lexington Venue.
Many people think of the Inventory as a list of houses that are somehow historic. But “historical” has a broader meaning here so that, as I understand it, and distilling things a bit, my barely postwar Cape has a cultural significance that goes beyond what most think of as historical.
George Washington did not sleep in my house. The Treaty of Ghent was not signed there. No president has ever visited it. But, for some reason that I must admit largely escapes me, houses like mine have cultural significance. Fortunately mine has not yet hit the list, although I note others of the same era have.
Like the Cultural Inventory, Woody Allen movies are not universally applauded. I used to love them, but then we all found out that he really was playing himself and sometimes that wasn’t attractive. And his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn was sort of a dope slap to many of us.
My daughter was aghast that I would even think of going to the movie. Since she has lived and worked in Paris, my wife and I felt she would like the movie, but she felt that seeing it would constitute some sort of approval of Woody Allen. Children can be harsh when it comes to judging their parents.
But I suspected that the film would be an homage to Paris -- and was I ever right.
Oh, sure, there is Owen Wilson playing the lead as the latest stand-in for Woody. The first movie I ever saw with Owen Wilson in it was "Shanghai Noon," which I have seen at least five times. But now Owen is a troubled person, so he fits the Woody Allen persona nicely.
You could go to see the movie just for the scenes of Paris. Every time a new scene flashed on the screen you could hear people in the audience saying “I’ve been there.” I was one of those people.
Hemingway is funny. Gertrude Stein is well played. That’s not the point, though. I got interested in the premise, which is that the Owen Wilson character has been born too late and he wants to stay in 20s Paris, where he has met a true love.
While I was watching the film, the old barbershop quartet number, "I Was Born Seventy Years Too Late," was running through my head. There aren’t any good versions on the Internet, but if you are interested, here is one version. Suffer through the intro. The song is after that. There is another version, which is better if your computer will handle it.
Things come unglued when Owen’s new love from the 20s now wants to be in another time, and they jump back, which of course makes sense. She wants the same thing Owen wants, after all. Unfortunately, Owen only wants to go back one jump, not two.
The yearning for an earlier time when things seemed a little slower and a little more peaceful is not a new one nor is it one to which I am unaccustomed. In fact, I hear it a lot.
“My street used to be quiet. I want the traffic reduced.”
“I want the old house down the block preserved because it reminds me of an earlier time.”
“A big house has just gone up next to me. It disturbs the neighborhood. It should have been smaller.”
Unfortunately, too often the people saying things like that are living in larger houses, have two or three cars in the driveway, and wouldn’t think of living in the houses they would like to have preserved. Moreover, as Town Meeting has proven time and again, any attempt to actually reduce the size of new houses will probably be defeated. What’s good for your present world may not be good for your future world, it seems.
I am a product of my time, so I tote around a bagful of electronic gadgets which, to tell you the truth, I kind of like. I wrote most of this column on a netbook computer while sitting at a table outside. I don’t have a Smartphone, but I suspect I will soon. Too many people send emails and then are aghast when I have not answered them within two minutes.
But soon I will head off to two weeks at camp, and camp is a hint of what I will be doing when I win the lottery. Camp has no morning newspaper, no Internet, and no cell phone signal. “Hey—I would have returned your phone call, but I didn’t even know you had called …”
You should know that when I win the lottery, any lottery, the next day my house in Lexington will be vacant. If you want to talk to me, you will have to come to Paris, where I will either be sitting in any of a number of cafés on the Seine having a quiet glass of wine, or I will be relaxing in my small apartment near Notre Dame. I will not have a cell phone nor will I have a connection to the Internet. You will have to come see me in person.
But I do want to get as much money for my house as possible, so I hope the prohibitions on what I can do with my lot don’t get too restrictive until AFTER I sell it.