Are you nostalgic? Do you long to return to a former time in your
life, to your home or homeland, your family and friends? Do you
look back on your college days with sentimental longing? Or was it
when your children were young?
Do you feel you were born in the wrong era? That an earlier
period of history would have been preferable? Does the past seem
unfailingly better than the present?
Nostalgia presents itself in various guises. There's the person
whose house is decorated in full-on mid-century modern. There's
the person of a certain age who is always longing for the time and
place of her youth. There's the person like me who is constantly
dipping into a different period of history in an attempt to bring it to
Gil Pender, the protagonist of Midnight in Paris, is a Romantic.
One characteristic of Romanticism is the longing for an ideal past.
In the case of the Romantic Movement in English literature, that
time was the Middle Ages.
The novel Gil is writing is about a man who works in a nostalgia
shop. Gil himself is nostalgic for the Paris of the '20s, the era of
Hemingway and Fitzgerald. During that time, he meets a young
woman who longs for Paris of the belle epoque, from the late 19th
century until the first world war. The artists of that era found their
golden age in the Renaissance.
In addition to the scenes where Gil finds himself in another era in
Paris, two scenes refer to his obsession with the past. In one, he
hears a Cole Porter tune playing on a gramophone in an old music
shop, and in another, he picks up a book in a stall by the river.
Both become major plot points.
I, like Gil, have always been a Romantic. I used to feel that I had
been born into the wrong era. I was especially drawn to the
Romantic Age of the early 19th century--at least until I thought
about the lack of indoor plumbing!
The 1950s of my childhood was particularly uncomfortable for
anyone who wasn't white, male and propertied, yet I am constantly
surprised at the number of people who forward nostalgic emails to
me about that time.
I enjoyed much about the '60s--particularly the sense of improving
society, enfranchising a greater number of people and considering
major questions like peace, justice and equality.
The '80s were entirely too caught up in materialism for me. But I
came to understand more of the ebb and flow of history. We react
by swinging to extremes, which we then attempt to correct by
swinging to the opposite extreme. Sometimes it seems that we
never get it quite right.
An overarching theme of the movie Woody Allen wrote and
directed is about growing up and learning to be content with who
you are and what you have.
It's the message of certain scriptures. God made us the way we
are, and the way he made us was "very good" (Genesis 1:31).
I especially appreciate the message of Isaiah 45:9: "Woe to him
who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots.
Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or
'Your work has no handles'''? (English Standard Version).
'But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is
formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like
this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same
clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?'
'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him
who accuses God answer him!" (Job 40:2).
These verses and others like them challenge me not to contend with
the goodness and mercy of God, to be more content with my
appearance, my position in life, the time and place in which I live.
And I am constantly trying to live out the words of Paul:
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know
what it is like to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I
have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I
can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians
My maker is the God of the universe. He loves me, and he does
what is right for me and for everyone else in the world. I must do
the same--seek right and good for all, live a life, not just of
contentment, but of gratitude.
My belle epoque is the time I'm living in right now. My beautiful
city is Los Angeles, with all its problems and needs. And my
challenge is to live in the here and now in a way that is positive,
encouraging and helpful to those I encounter until God calls me to
the perfect timelessness of his eternal present.