"...a city that was everything"
What importance can a city like Paris have in the life of someone? Is it worth staying in Paris as a nobody?
Mario Vargas Llosa, the famous latin american writer and nobel prize winner narrates in his autobiography “A Fish in the Water” about his desire to go to Paris. When as a young writer he came across the news of a literary contest of the prestigious “La Revue Francaise” in his native Peru which could win him a two weeks stay in Paris he notes:
“An opportunity like that catapulted me to my typewriter, as was the case with every living Peruvian who knew how to write…”
When he finally got the news that he had won and that it was him who was awarded the prize to go to Paris he was overwhelmed:
“I doubt whether, either before or since then, any piece of news has excited me as much as that one. I was going to set foot in the city I’d dreamed of, in the mythical country where the writers I most admired had been born. … I was so overexcited I must not have slept a wink all night, bouncing in the bed out of sheer joy.“
When in Paris, he was amazed by the city:
“On the morning after my arrival, almost the minute I woke up, around noon, I went out for a stroll along the Champs-Elysées. It was now crowded with people and vehicles and, behind the glass partitions, the terraces of the bistros were jam-packed with men and women, smoking, talking together. Everything looked beautiful, incomparable, dazzling to me. I was nothing but a métèque, a cheeky spie. I felt that this was my city: I would live here, write here, put down roots here and stay forever. “
The trip to Paris took place in 1958. Vargas Llosa returned after a month to Peru in order to finish his university studies. Later on he got a scholarship in Madrid and when that came to an end he went to Paris again, believing that he could get a scholarship there but this was not the case. Nonetheless he and his wife decided to stay in Paris despite financial difficulties. He writes comparing his first month in Paris he had won as a price with his second period in Paris without a scholarship of any kind:
“During that month in Paris I lived a life that was to have nothing to do with the one I would lead during my stay of almost seven years in France later on…”
Was it worth the effort to go and to live in Paris? Here is what he has to say about the why of living in that very city:
“Years later, settled now in France, I had a long conversation about Paris one night with Julio Cortázar, who also loved the city and who once declared that he had chosen it ‘because being nobody in a city that was everything was a thousand times preferable to having things the other way around.’ I told him of that precocious passions in my life for a mythical city, which I knew only through literary fantasies and gossip, and how by comparing it to the real version, in that month straight out of the Thousand and One Night, instead of my being disappointed by it, the spell had grown even greater. He too felt that Paris had given something profound to his life that could never be repaid: a perception of what was best in human experience; a certain tangible sense of beauty. “
— (ALL QUOTES: MARIO VARGAS LLOSA, “A FISH IN THE WATER. A MEMOIR”, CHAPTER 20 “THE TRIP TO PARIS”; KINDLE-EDITION