I had an interesting discussion with a friend, a few days ago – about… well, about past and future.
Yes – yes, he is the kind of friend with whom you chat late at night, and wax philosophical, and at one point he said that it bothers him that he will not see all of the future. “The best part of the show – and I’ll miss it.”
I asked how could he be sure it will be the best part at all… And he said something along the lines of “Baby, it’s the Future…” No, the capital F wasn’t there, but it was somehow implicit.
This startled me into a laugh – or at least a laughing emoticon. “Why,” I typed. “This is Midnight in Paris in reverse!”
And it’s not quite, of course – but this optimistic faith that the best has yet to come, that the Golden Age lies ahead, and that the future is certain to be the best part of the show, struck me as quite specular to what seems to be the bottom line of the movie – until the hero learns better – and to my own view… or perhaps not.
Let me try to explain. To me the past is the Past, but perhaps not quite in the same way that the future is the Future to my friend. And I think I realised this with some surprise when, on my saying that Midnight in Paris resonates with me, my friend asked whether it’s a case of “Oh, How Lovely The Past Was”…
And I could, in perfect honesty, answer that no, it’s not. Granted, I’d give a kingdom for the chance of a visit to Elizabethan London, to meet Kit Marlowe, Ned Alleyn, Shakespeare, Jonson, Watson, Raleigh, the Great Bess and the rest… But I wouldn’t stay there. I’m not sorry that I cannot live Back Then – and not because I have any wise notion about living in the present. Indeed, I’m not even sure that I’d love to be there (then…) as a visitor. Chances are that I’d find out I love my own idea of Elizabethan England more than the real thing.
I fear it’s a dangerous admission for an author of historical novels and plays, but there it is: while I spend much of my time in other centuries inside my head, I know perfectly well that no age is golden in its own eyes, and that the Past would lose its capital P, its golden light and much of its charm the instant it became the present.
So in the end, while my friend’s melancholy is that he’ll miss the best part of the show, my own is that the best part of the show may never have quite existed. Are you surprised if I tell you that we are still trying to decide which of us is the optimist?