Tony's review of Never Any End to Paris drew me to this book, along with the fact that Paris is much on my mind these days (more about that later). You can't resist a writer who begins his memoir/fiction by telling about being disqualified from a Hemingway look-alike contest in Key West because he does not look at all like Hemingway.
I don't know how many years I spent drinking and fattening myself up believing — contrary to the opinions of my wife and friends — that I was getting to look more and more like Hemingway, the idol of my youth.
Vila-Matas, a well-known Spanish writer, is ostensibly describing his two years in Paris in the mid-70s in a three-day lecture he is delivering about writing. Irony is much in evidence here. Along the way he tells about his friends, about writers he is excited to spot in a bookstore, his landlady Marguerite Duras. It might have been dreary for someone like me, so unfamiliar with Spanish language writers, but he livens things up with his self-deprecating humor. In a serious moment, he says
Everything ends, I thought. Everything except Paris, I say now. Everything ends except Paris, for there is never any end to Paris. It is always with me, it chases me, it is my youth. Wherever I go, it travels with me, it's a feast that follows me. There can be an end to this summer, it will end. But to my youth, to Paris, there is never any end. How terrible.
Which brings me to the reason I've been thinking about Paris lately. My friend, Will May, has a 2-month artist residency there beginning in September; his photography project Near and Far for which he is raising money through Kickstarter, involves the backers assigning him locations or situations to explore. Will seems to be echoing Vila-Matas when he says
Paris is both real and imagined. You know it from personal experience, family memory, rumor, history, film or fiction, and this information will be the basis for a series of explorations.
I have spent hours look at old maps, Google Earth, old books and remembering my visits there as I plan my suggestion for Will. Vila-Matas' book was especially poignant for me as my first exposure to Paris was around the end of his time there, 1976. I was traveling alone and remember being intensely excited to be in the place that was so important in my imagination. Having studied French for four years in high school and two in college didn't make me fluent in the language, sad to say, but I loved French literature and culture.