After re-watching “Midnight in Paris”, I was brought back to my own strolls in different cities in the world.
Thinking a lot about the plot of this movie as well as of my own experience, I realize some very interesting things:
Whether you take long walks, and how you do it, says more about you than you think.
Long walks in cities have always been one of my favorite activities to do alone, or with some good company.
Don’t know if it holds true for you too. I’ve met people who complain about walking too much and getting sore legs and hurting feet after (only) one hour of walking, while I can joyfully accept a 5-hour long walk with a good conversationist in an interesting city. (Provided that I’m not in heels)
The beauty of such activity lies in the simple but dynamic form of spending time: when I’m alone, I observe the street and the people in it. I listen, I smell, I feel the vibe. If I’m with pleasant company, I can enjoy both the conversation as well as the scenery around us.
In the movie, Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, takes long walks in the street of Paris. Sometimes alone, sometimes with “a girl of his dreams” — literally, since she’s living in the 1920s and in Paris — both the most Romantic symbols for Gil that are unattainable and nostalgic.
When Wilson’s character wonders alone in Paris, in the sunshine, and in the rain, I feel envious.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say “that’s the dream”. But being able to take walks aimlessly, with no time stress, in a fascinating city like Paris must be a blessing.
One thing is subtle but significant: Gil (Owen Wilson) doesn’t walk in Paris because he lives there. He’s not walking in his world, but in a place that serves as the stage of his imagined “Golden Age”. That’s why Paris is magical to him.
Paris in the 1920s means the ideal world Gil would like to live in. Yet what he experiences in “that world” is not real. Paris becomes Gil’s world only after when he starts a conversation with a Parisian girl from his own time.
The same goes for his walks in the city. He has been an outsider watching, and mostly, imagining what has happened there. The city doesn’t belong to him. And he doesn’t belong to it.
He wants to “move there”. To be part of it.
But he has to learn something first: moving to Paris could only be as fulfilling as he wants it to be when he accepts his reality and begins to appreciate the messiness and the precious beauties in his homeworld.
I do the same. When I’m alone, I’m walking down the street, and the next, and the next. I’m spending half the time watching other people, dogs, and buildings; the other half time, I’m spending with my own thoughts.
Spending time in another reality.
Not everyone can do these long walks. In recent years I find it difficult to do it, too.
The problem is not that I don’t have time. We all have time. It’s just what time means to us changed.
What a shame.
If I can just spend a day somewhere in a beautiful city by myself, in the streets, that’d be wonderful. And I would be proud of myself for having a strong and clear mind.
Because no fear for time is the greatest martial art for the mind.
Another thing about long walks that I really love, is to walk and talk with a really good friend.
I used to do that a lot with some friends back home where I grew up.
The walking-talking sessions were usually one-to-one.
We used to meet up somewhere and started talking and walking, aimlessly through the city.
No destination. No restaurant. No bars.
Just a friend and I, in the street of a busy city.
We passed by street food stands. We ate, and then kept walking.
We walked for hours, hardly touching our cellphones.
Anything we saw along the way could spark up a new topic or a sequel of what we just talked about.
We laughed hard, crazily.
We laughed so much that we had to crouch down, didn’t care what other people were thinking.
Today’s me would have hated us back then. So careless and loud.
So rogue and not give a damn.
What I can’t forget is that, while feeling so free, I was feeling very safe as well.
I don’t mean that it’s dangerous to walk with one person in a big city (at night, maybe). But the sense of “security”, the feeling of “certain” and “sure” of yourself and everything in your life… that kind of “safe”, “assured”, and even “content”.
Because the person you can take these long walks with must be very special.
You talk for hours but it’s not just about you nor only about her/him, but both of you.
Interestingly, I felt more “safe”, “assured”, and “content” when I was in my early twenties. But less and less when I’m getting older and older.
And of course, these people with whom I could take these long walks are fewer and fewer.
Well, even I can hardly find the headspace to take such walks.
But I hope you have at least one person in your life with whom you can do such things.
The things that look like wasting time. But in fact precious like gold.
With someone, you feel loved and supported, and you will love and support her/him with all your heart.
If you have such a person in mind, just go ask him/her:
“Would you put on some walking shoes and stroll in the city with me? Make sure to take a bottle of water. And we will stop for ice cream.”