Contrast, Context, and Core Memory: A Trip to Paris, Part Two

by Cari Borja

“I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.”

—Celine, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995)

[This is Part Two of Cari Borja’s story about her visit to Paris with her daughter, Royal. Here is Part One.]

Jesse and Celine on the Seine, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (2004).

Jesse and Celine on the Seine, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (2004).

“Does consciousness exist without interaction?”

—Nathan, Ex Machina (2015)

Still of Caleb and Ava, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2015)

Still of Caleb and Ava, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2015)

Paris is juxtaposition, and it is contradiction—of people and places. But it is our interactions with these places, and with each other in these places, that make it special, hold meaning, give us consciousness. To think that 15 years ago a similar trip to Paris (after the Cannes Film Festival) left me with the sounds of Rickie Lee Jones that my daughter can now sing; and with an image of that city that was initially sculpted by Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1963) and Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1973). This image was refined by seeing a midnight screening of Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) in Cannes with Gaspar Noe, along with Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000)—being transfixed by Kronos Quartet one minute, and Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme” the next.

Still from Chris Marker’s La Jetee (1963).

Still from Chris Marker’s La Jetee (1963).

My trip with Royal was exactly this—a mixture of contrasts and juxtapositions—and it became more meaningful the more people we integrated into our adventure. Day 5 ended with cocktails with Pam at Le Mary Celeste, and Day 6 began with a lingering morning at Le Progres, whilst Royal remained asleep. We talked and laughed and drank and ate and planned our day, which had as its goal the “Tour Eiffel.” This was Royal’s raison d’etre of the trip, and I have to say that for me, it is the final image of Carrie in Sex and the City ‘s “An American Girl in Paris”—the hands held that break apart, the MC Solaar song, the broken necklace, the broken heart. What I concretized from that scene was the song “La Belle et le Bad Boy,” used for the finale of my 2005 runway show, and the tulle skirt, made dozens of times—in pastels, neutrals, deep reds—for others, and for me. I keep mine in my studio. Its layer of diaphanous-ness is Paris; more specifically, the Eiffel Tour—of having a dream and getting there: possibility realized. And we were taking Royal there. On our way, we stopped at Bon Marche, tried on a dress, bought stockings, ate salads, devoured sundaes.

Royal, first time at the Eiffel Tower.

Royal, first time at the Eiffel Tower.

Still of Carrie and Aleksandr from “American Girl in Paris” (2004).

Still of Carrie and Aleksandr from “American Girl in Paris” (2004).

“Suit Up” runway show, Cari Borja and Artful Gentleman (2014).

“Suit Up” runway show, Cari Borja and Artful Gentleman (2014).

“I like the Eiffel Tower because it looks like steel and lace.”

—Natalie Lloyd

And it looks like a sculpture—a strong, blinking beauty. We climbed it, looked down from it, descended it, and crossed over to see it from the side of the Trocadero. Then we disappeared underground to Bistrot Paul Bert across town—for steak frites, and my very first Ile Flottante, aka divinity in whipped eggs and milky custard. On our way back home, we happened upon Charlie Hebdo quarters, by chance. It literally stopped us, silenced us—took us aback. We looked at the images, the candles, the altar, and walked home in contemplation, Pam telling Royal what had happened at that place on which we had stood.

Royal and Pam, Charlie Hebdo, 10 Rue Nicolas-Appert.

Royal and Pam, Charlie Hebdo, 10 Rue Nicolas-Appert.

Pam in front of Le Progres, 1 Rue de Bretagne.

Pam in front of Le Progres, 1 Rue de Bretagne.

The next morning we awoke to my now-ritual of a Le Progres café crème, as well as Pam’s departure back to London. Next was lunch with filmmaker Justine Malle, who took me to the lovely and classic Astier. Afterwards, consignment shopping on my way back to pick up Royal; lunch for her, wine for me, as we headed slowly (with stops for macaroon and chocolate tastings) to Boulogne Pont de Saint-Cloud for an adventure to Vaucresson, dinner with my friend Lara Voloshin and her family; and our very first Uber (ever) back to Paris after midnight.

Our last day I got up early to hunt down bakeries, patisseries, a café crème at La Perle and returned with a bag of goods to eat, to bring back home. We headed to Montmartre, Sacre Couer, to Cafe des Deux Moulins where Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001) was shot; I take Royal there so she has the experience before she sees the film, rather than after.

La Perle, 78 Rue Vieille du Temple.

La Perle, 78 Rue Vieille du Temple.

Still life of some of our favorite things.

Still life of some of our favorite things.

Cafe des Deux Moulins, 15 Rue Lepic.

Cafe des Deux Moulins, 15 Rue Lepic.

We ended our evening meeting Eugenie Grandval at the beautifully lit and intimate Entree Les Artistes (the old one; the new one is in Pigalle), then to a friend’s house, and our final walk through La Marais, up Rue Vieille du Temple over to Rue de Turenne, and up the tiny elevator to the top-floor apartment that we called home for the week. That last evening we kept awake ‘til morning, Royal on FaceTime with friends back home, excited to return, and me watching Gossip Girl, both excited about and dreading the return to real life—making sure I had a perfect record in words and images of our trip to share with Lloyd, my mom, my in-laws, and to write this piece. But also, most importantly, to remember through these tactile moments memorialized. Like little gateways to another place and another time, we see films as a way to transport us elsewhere through the eyes and mind of an Other; and after a journey of any kind—a specific experience, a visit to a place—we rely on these images to remind us of that precise instant of its capture. We can remember happily, or sadly, but we need the one to have the other. Context is everything, and so is remembering.

My favorite station.

My favorite station.

Royal’s Proustian madeleines.

Royal’s Proustian madeleines.

Our final image the morning of our departure, which was supposed to be our first (Lloyd’s request)—Royal with baguette and croissant.

Our final image the morning of our departure, which was supposed to be our first (Lloyd’s request)—Royal with baguette and croissant.

Horizontal RuleLast month our family went to the “family” screening of Pixar’s newest release, Pete Docter’s Inside Out , premiering in Cannes today as I write this. We’d missed the actual company premiere weeks before. I had a salon dinner, so Royal was to accompany her dad, who was one of the master lighters/technical directors on the film. They never made it. They never made it because maybe Royal didn’t have the right shoes to go with the new royal blue dress I had bought her that morning; or maybe it was because her hair didn’t come out just perfectly right in her bun, or maybe she didn’t have the right earrings, the right jacket, or maybe she was angry at her father for having her clean up her bathroom, or maybe she was just scared, and she didn’t have Joy in her head (i.e., me) to rise over Sadness, and Fear. So Anger surfaced and paralyzed her, and the night passed. But we made it on Sunday, as a family, all together—and powerfully poignant and provocative it was. As mothers, we are cheerleader, fighter, protector, warrior. This look into Riley’s 11-year-old mind is not only eye-opening and touching, but just plain beautiful. It is the closest I’ve seen to transmitting an idea of true empathy not only towards your own children, but to others. This visual tug of war of the emotions exemplifies the games we play in our minds, the stories we tell ourselves, the voices we decide to listen to, or ignore.

This is the strength and charm of Inside Out — cultivating and maintaining the idea of “waku-doki.”

Still of the emotions, from Pixar’s Inside Out (2015).

Still of the emotions, from Pixar’s Inside Out (2015).

Still of the family, from Pixar’s Inside Out (2015).

Still of the family, from Pixar’s Inside Out (2015).

A couple weeks after our return from Paris, and right after the unfortunate bullying, Royal turned 12. It was her birthday, but it was also my “birth” day. I have three of these, all of which I celebrate with anticipation, excitement and thrill—waku-doki, encapsulated—and May 4th, Royal’s birthday and my day of giving birth to her 12 years ago, was no different. I spent my early morning at the cinema watching Lee Toland Krieger’s strangely captivating Age of Adeline , with Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively in a role that was touching and timeless. This solo-moviegoing ritual is a contrast to my pie-making adventure with Joyce Maynard, as in the pie she showed Josh Brolin how to make with Kate Winslet in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day , which I saw on Labor Day, in its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in 2013.

Royal making her first birthday pizza at Chez Panisse, Berkeley.

Royal making her first birthday pizza at Chez Panisse, Berkeley.

Joyce and I, with Royal’s mixed berry birthday pie.

Joyce and me, with Royal’s mixed berry birthday pie.

Horizontal RuleA week later Royal’s iPhone is stolen from her school, and with it her images of Paris, her memory. She’s back in her middle-school world filled with anxiety and pressure, where Fear, Sadness and Anger unfortunately trump Joy daily, and of Paris she only remembers the hours walking, the disgusting escargots, the friends missed, her heart broken.

Pont Des Art, with lovers’ locks.

Pont Des Art, with lovers’ locks.

Luckily I have my camera, images backed up, on Instagram, on Facebook. They serve as my journal when phones go missing, technology fails, memory fades. So I write this as a record about our trip before memory distorts more than it already has, actions get misread, images misinterpreted, fact and fiction blurred, perspective altered. She’ll look back at it one day and remember how seeing another culture’s way of living and being truly transformed her own way of coming into her self, her sense of style.

Still from Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954).

Still from Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954).

Royal and I, Red Cross Benefit, 2009. Credit: Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle.

Royal and I, Red Cross Benefit, 2009. Credit: Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle.

Royal, Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit, Grand Palais.

Royal, Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit, Grand Palais.

From her sophisticated tastes for Pierre Herme and Patrick Roger over Fauchon to her appreciation of watching Tango in the arcades of Paris, never tiring of the movements, the resonance of the music … This is what we are left with—the tastes, smells, and sounds; the experiences of a place; a moment in time transcribed; a core memory captured.

Still, of a core memory, from Pixar’s Inside Out (2105).

Still, of a core memory, from Pixar’s Inside Out (2105).

“Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?”

—Joy, Inside Out (2015)

Royal, at Musee Picasso.

Royal, at Musee Picasso.

CariBorjaHorizontal RuleCari Borja began her career as a clothing designer while earning her PhD in anthropology and film at UC Berkeley in 2001. Since then she has created collections inspired by film and food, and has become known for her salon dinners in her Berkeley atelier, where she weaves together people from different disciplines and professions. Cari is currently writing a book of interviews with dinner guests featured on her FashionFilmFood blog, and she also consults with start-ups and other companies curating dinners and connecting people. Click here and here to read about Cari’s salon dinners in Berkeley.

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