Talking Paris, Movie Inspiration and Oklahoma with Robert Reid

Written By: jeff

Posted On: February 23rd, 2012

paris cafes, career break travel adventures in Paris, France

Dining outside Les Deux Magots in the St-Germain area. (Will Salter/Lonely Planet Images)

It’s Oscar time in the US and scenes from one of the Best Picture nominees, Midnight in Paris, has me thinking about my previous travels to France, particularly to Paris. I first visited in 2005 just in time for New Years, leaving the next year 2006. It was a short trip, but the City of Lights exceeded my expectations. I returned during my career break in the summer of 2008 for three weeks, in part to attend an old friend’s wedding. Her reception was on the Seine, a quintessential Parisian experience.

Paris a city that needs no introduction. How many more superlatives does it need? Other than a quick pass-through, it doesn’t get mentioned a lot by long-term travelers or career breakers. Funny that the time in your life when you can really spend some quality time in the city, we career breakers tend to head off to more far-flung (and probably cheaper) cities.

Even after my two trips to the city, I know there is still much more for me to discover. I had the chance to interview Robert Reid, the US editor of Lonely Planet, about how someone on a career break or simply just spending a while in Paris could go beyond the Eiffel Tower, get off the beaten path and really get deeper feel for the place. Inspired by the movie, Midnight in Paris, I took the chance to ask Robert about some other travel themes that appear in the movie.

1. Beyond this year’s Oscar nominees, what are your favorite movies about Paris? Why?

I don’t care if it causes a collective groan, but ‘Amelie.’ All the delicious little scenes around Paris makes you wish you live there. The train stations, the markets, the café, the scooter. And, be honest, no one watches the movie without having a crush on Amelie.

2. Movies can be powerful for instilling wanderlust in people to travel. Do you think that they actually motivate people to action? Do you have any examples where you seen this or heard about it happening?

They certainly can get us dreaming. Though I think kids reading ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ a century ago probably had the same reaction. But film, and TV, wow. I remember when INXS made that ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ video in Prague – this is way back, before everyone was looking for the ‘next Prague.’ And seeing the scenes of this beautiful city. Michael Hutchence walking past the crooked tombstones of the Old Jewish Cemetery. And it was like, where is that? And how can I go? Whether it’s ‘Motorcycle Diaries,’ Pink Panther films, TV shows like Amazing Race, if you show it, people will went want to go.

3. Do you think plays have the same power? For example, do you know if the Claremore CVB sees a steady stream of Oklahoma tourism?

Well, you picked probably the best candidate (other than maybe seeing Hamlet’s castle north of Copenhagen). And I can tell you, as a former Okie, that the state of Oklahoma is in love with Rodgers and Hammerstein. Outside Tulsa, where I grew up, they hold an annual summer open-air rendition of ‘Oklahoma!’ It draws lots of out-of-staters who equate Oklahoma with ‘Oklahoma!’ And locally, all kids growing up in Oklahoma have to learn the songs – I grew up in Tulsa and was Mr Carnes in the play (the only one with a gun). I was just happy I didn’t have any singing lines.

Shakespeare and Co. bookshop in the Marais, career break ravel adventures in Paris, France

Exterior of Shakespeare and Co. bookshop in the Marais. (Will Salter/Lonely Planet Images)

4. We hear all the time about how travel changes people, a theme played out in the movie as we see it Gil’s love of Paris end his relationship with his fiancé. Can wanderlust be destructive or does it simply evoke emotions and provoke actions that one might not take otherwise?

For the movie, I sort of get the feeling that Gil and Ines were fated to break up – it wasn’t Paris’ fault. It just sort of bumped up the time frame a bit. But, yes, travel can change people’s outlook too. Away from work, away from usual responsibilities (and friends and family), and in places where everything is new… you sort of feel there is an adventure, something new and thrilling, potentially around every corner. So it’s not an accident that people can do some wacky things traveling, and not just in Vegas. Sometimes you end up imaging what it’d be like to live there. I know when I’m in places I respond to, I end up scanning apartment rentals and planning my fake second life.

5. A lot of people visiting Paris have a few days to a week, max. If someone is going to be there for a few weeks on a career break, what advice do you have for getting to know Paris beyond the traditional tourist trail?

Read ‘A Moveable Feast’ for starters. It’s the guidebook to the movie, essentially, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir the lit days of the 1920s. In it, he’s nearly penniless and shows how to love Paris: walking. It’s one of the world’s great walking cities. He lingers long in Luxembourg Gardens, goes along the river and watches fishers. IF you’re staying there for a while, you’re lucky. Take it slow. Take it by sidewalk. And be thankful for every second.

6. What’s your favorite way to spend a day in Paris? Any favorite neighborhoods, cafes or sites?

It’s just that: walking. I shouldn’t say this, but I’ve been to Paris several times and I’ve never gone into the Louvre. I’m likely to go again this year, and I probably won’t again. I just want to walk random streets, on both sides of the river, eat long meals, sit for an hour over coffee, sit around parks, and watch people. And go to St-Oeun Flea Market, where Gil picks up the Cole Porter record in the movie. It’s a legendary flea market, and I’ve not been there either. No offense, but I’d rather see what I find there, than wait in line for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.

7. Paris is such a timeless city. Some people keep going back. I know on my first trip, I was a bit overwhelmed (especially in the Louvre) and in blissful awe of the city. On the second trip, I lost a bit of that. What tips do you have to help keep that sense of awe on a second, third or fourth trip to the same destination, whether it be Paris or somewhere else?

Paris, like London and New York, is one of the cities that is truly a life, a world in itself. So there is no way to tap out what you can get out of it. I met Adam Gopnik recently, who wrote the book ‘Paris to the Moon,’ and he talked about how great it is in winter. That in that season, more than any other, is where Paris is most itself – people lingering longest in cafes and bistros. When the sky can turn velvet gray, threatening snow, but it never falling. Well, I’ve not been in winter. Not yet. There is no end.

Shakespeare and Co. bookshop in the Marais, career break travel adventures in Paris, France

Interior of Shakespeare and Co. bookshop in the Marais. (Will Salter/Lonely Planet Images)

8. Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, gets to meet some of the great authors and artists from the 1920s (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Picasso, among others) while in Paris. Which authors inspire you and where (and when) would you travel to meet them?

Well, Gil got it about right. Hemingway and Fitzgerald in the same room? I’d take that. Still, I’d rather ride the steamboats with Mark Twain, later in his life, long after his success, he returns as a passenger and remembers what it was like to be a captain for awhile. I bet he could’ve used a drinking companion. That’s the dream. Actually I’d be happy just to get a ticket on a steamboat down the Mississippi.

9. What is one thing that would surprise someone who’s never been to Paris about the city? And, what’s one thing that would surprise a ¨Paris veteran¨ about the city?

So much to see underground. If you read books like David Downie’s ‘Paris, Paris’ he devotes a chapter on what lurks below. Beginning with his cellar into the darkness and old relics found there. And tunnels that connected cellars, and on to catacombs, where hipsters have been known to throw weird parties. You can also go down steps off the Seine into the sewers. The sewer museum in Paris is fascinating, and hilarious. They still use these massive century-old wood balls to go through tunnels, squashing muck and pushing it through. And it doesn’t even smell that bad.

10. One last question, what makes Paris so sexy and what about it inspires people to want to live there or even fall in love there?

Because people want it to be sexy, and they want to fall in love. You have to want it. If you do, Paris will always meet you half way.

About Robert Reid:

Based in New York City, Robert Reid (@reidontravel) is the US Travel Editor for Lonely Planet, ( He’s written a couple dozen guidebooks for Lonely Planet, hosts the ’76-Second Travel Show’ and had articles published in publications including the New York Times.

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