Traveling on the Eurostar from London to Paris, heading from one press junket to another, I finally had a moment to sit back and digest a remarkable fact: For the first time in my life I was going to see Paris.
Being a writer and not having been to Paris has always been something of a shameful secret for me. Especially given my love for Hemingway and his Paris years – that beyond-cool period in the 20’s when ex-pats and writers hung out in the Montparnasse Quarter, the band apart that Gertrude Stein called the “Lost Generation.”
Not to mention the deeper history, art, jazz, Josephine Baker, and the cabaret bars of Pigalle; I relate to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris fantasy in a very big way. One of the few movies I’ve gone back to see twice in its first run.
But my first encounter with the Paris of my imagination goes back much further than the time I read Papa’s A Moveable Feast. And that’s what I came to truly realize on that train ride toward the City of Lights. I began thinking of the first novel I ever read and how it changed my life. The book, Notre Dame de Paris, an epic French Romantic/ Gothic novel by Victor Hugo was gifted and signed to me on my 9th birthday by my Aunt Mary. There is little doubt that Aunt Mary was appealing to my fascination (obsession) with Universal Studios horror classics and the actor Lon Chaney. She must have remembered the Quasimodo plastic model that I erected and kept on my bedroom windowsill alongside Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman.
And so, when I unwrapped that epic novel I was simply pleased that there was a haunting illustration of Quasimodo on the bell tower of the Notre Dame cathedral (I remember that the drawing looked more like the Anthony Quinn version than Lon Chaney). Soon after though, I began reading the novel. I remember being instantly hooked and swept into the story, put under a disturbing spell. Yes, Quasimodo was my initial interest, but I was soon caught up in the multiple storylines and complex characters, and pulled, like an undertow, into Paris of the 15th century.
At nine years old, I read that book every night by a lamp on the family couch, and when I was done weeks later, I started it over from page one. It was my first real experience with literature transporting me into another time and place. It was an uncanny form of addictive time travel, and after reading and re-reading the book, I felt compelled to put pen to paper and try to conjure my own worlds, my own characters, my own time travel. In a way, I started writing so I could go on those trips that Victor Hugo had sent me on, and guide the journey the way I wanted to. It was the purest magic I had ever touched. That’s when writing truly began for me. Nine years old, getting up in the morning before anyone else – because secrecy and silence was part of the ritual – and writing in notebooks. My 84 year-old mother- who encouraged me to write and dream -still has those notebooks, filled with short stories. From there, I began writing scripts as well, casting neighborhood kids, and shooting short movies in Super 8 film.
So, after all of these years of being asked when my writing started, the answer finally became clear to me: It started with Notre Dame de Paris. This trip to Paris, long overdue to begin with, took on more meaning. In some ways, a kind of full-circle experience.
After an initial run of all-day press interviews – TV, print, and online – we had a day scheduled for some social media visits to some of Paris’ famed landmarks. I told my story to our great Netfix marketing team (thank you Cynthia, Katie, and Stuart) and was thrilled when they told me they were going to add the Notre Dame Cathedral on our schedule. So that I could finally visit what was the central location and theme itself of Hugo’s classic work.
We visited the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, of course, but it was Notre Dame de Paris, and the moment of standing before that magnificent architecture that made Hugo write the book (it is said he wrote it as a plea for preserving its architecture) , and seeing those bell towers that Quasimodo scurried back and forth from in silhouette. It was going inside and walking down the actual halls in which I once wandered in a nine yearold ‘s imagination that made me feel that I had finally arrived in Paris. Very fitting that the setting that long-ago inspired my writing dream was now part of a social media stop to promote my own writing.
I savored a silent moment inside that cathedral and reflected, gratefully, on all of it. And then we were on our way. Next stop New York. Paris has been a fleeting whirlwind tour, but it was worth it.
As Hemingway writes in A Moveable Feast, “Paris is always worth it.”