A few days ago, I started getting stuck back into writing a memoir about my time as an Australian in Paris in the Summer of ’92. I spent 6 weeks in Paris during a rogue backpacking trip after graduating from university.
The memoir revolves around a solo poetry reading I gave at the Shakespeare & Company Bookshop and spins out from there. It was a time of particularly deep thought and soul searching, not only for me but also most of the recent graduates we met. I’ll add that that there was also falling in love, being dumped and all the usual things that come with scraping up the entrails of your heart off the tarmac after taking a direct hit.
At the moment, I’m only at the early planning and dare I say research stage, although I’ve handwritten a few pages a day of actual text. (I usually find handwriting my work helps gets me into the flow).
I had been making great progress on “Paris” about a year ago, until a hail storm peppered holes through the office roof and brutally destroyed my flow. The entire office had to be evacuated and the mess wasn’t pretty.
Anyway, at the moment I’m seriously trying to immerse myself back into my Paris. Kick start all those near-dead neurons and getting the party started.
Unfortunately, I’ve hit a frustrating hitch. I can’t remember the name of the cafe we used to hang out and it is rather central to the plot. So, yesterday I started hitting the problem with every tool at my disposal…from the sledgehammer through to the magnifying glass, but I’m still not convinced that I’ve found it.
Finding the cafe isn’t only hampered by a lot of water under the bridge. I also have no sense of direction and struggle to find my feet, let alone retrace my steps from 24 years ago. Indeed, after all my meanderings yesterday, I was lucky to make it out of the labyrinth alive and am pleased to report that the Minotaur didn’t get me either.
My first step was to dig out my Paris photos for clues.
Immediately, I hit another hitch. The album was missing. I was pretty sure it was readily accessible but with so many photo albums, books, book cases, nooks and crannies, it was looking like mission impossible. Don’t you hate it when this happens!! As if the frustration isn’t bad enough, there’s also that self-righteous voice in your head saying you should be more organised. Declutter! (That’s where a fly swat comes in handy. Whack! That should do the job!)
I try to wing it online and try various Google searches.
Finally, I find the photo album but there’s only one shot of us sitting outside at the cafe. Even after scrutinizing the photo, I can’t find a name anywhere. What I do remember is cheap coffee, not having to pay extra to sit outside and a broad area of outdoor seating. Also, it was on a sweeping corner with plenty of space.
Yet, this physical description fits many cafes.
Fortunately, despite my abysmal sense of direction, I’ve been able to limit the search zone. The cafe is on the Left Bank in Quartier Latin somewhere near Rue Dauphine, the Luxembourg Gardens and St Michel. In retrospect, I’m thinking that was something of a “pedestrian passenger” blindly following my friends to the cafe without gouging the route into my neuropathways.
Yet, through the fog, there is a glimmer of light.I cross over Pont Neuf into Rue Dauphine in my head. I have a general direction but then the vision suddenly goes dead with no cafe in sight.I simply don’t remember. So, that leaves me playing detective trying to piece together foggy memories, Google searches, walking through the streets on Google maps. I even emailed a friend.
I must’ve been in one of my doggedly persistent moods because I wasn’t going to let it go until I found it. I Googled cafes and boulangeries around St Michel. I consulted Google maps and walked at street view round and around and around the streets of the Left Bank and crossed one by one off my list. Indeed, I was trawling through Google like a crazed stalker and I wasn’t giving up.
By this stage, I was starting to think writing memoir was seriously over-rated and that I should turn this thing into a novel and be done with it. Then, I can simply make everything up without all this arduous digging.
But I’m NOT GIVING UP!!
Instead, I’m off to Paris. Well, I’m off to Paris via Google maps. As much as I would sort of love to be in Paris and retracing my steps in reality, it doesn’t matter if I get lost in Google maps. Eventually, I’ll make it back to Pont Neuf without being exhausted.
Well, to read about my virtual cafe crawl through Paris, you’ll have to wait for the next installment.
Hey, if you have any idea where the cafe might be, please put me out of my misery!!
Have you spent much time writing memoir or non-fiction? How did it compare to writing fiction?
I’d love to hear from you!