Sunday, May 13, 2007


I just finished watching Time Regained, a French film based on a portion of Proust's behemoth novel I'll be trying to read this summer. In the spirit of a film/novel about the power of memory, I found myself transported as I watched, back to my first experience of French films and what I thought was culture.

I grew up in a shitty town called Smithfield, North Carolina and the closest thing we had in our town to culture was the annual Ham and Yam Festival. We were rural, boring and very mundane. Those of us who didn't fit in had to go elsewhere for our education and entertainment.

Raleigh was the closest big town and that's where we'd go. My friend Donor found out that the art museum in Raleigh was screening French films and he asked me if I wanted to go with him. I was seventeen, he was eighteen, and seeing a French film at the art museum seemed like the most highbrow thing we could do. We even dressed better than usual and took ourselves very seriously that night.

When we got there, the place was full of middle-aged white people who all looked like college professors and who regarded us kids warmly. I guess we seemed novel. There was a reception in the lobby and everyone inside was milling around, chatting, drinking wine. This was the first time I'd ever seen a table laid out with wine for the taking. Donor and I stood over in a corner under a potted tree and debated the merits of trying to get ourselves some wine. We decided against it. It seemed uncouth.

Soon, we were let into the auditorium. There were red velvet curtains and it smelled of wood polish. Once we were all in, a man gave a brief talk about the film we were about to see. I think the film that night was Rouge Baiser (The Red Kiss) -- about the communist underground in Paris in the 50s. I loved the whole thing, the museum, the feeling of the reception, the people who seemed so kind and intelligent, the talk, the film. I loved learning something new, I loved the atmosphere, I loved what I thought of as "culture."

That night gave me a glimpse of a kind of life I hadn't seen before. I tentatively aspired to it, but I lost track of that aspiration somewhere along the way. I'd like to meditate on that night and get back to that old aspiration. I think it still has some value in it, especially as I sit here feeling shiftless and uncertain at 32. Maybe I can still be steered by an inspiration from so long ago? We'll see.


Blogger stumptown dreamer said...

that is such a gorgeous story RPP, gorgeous in the sense of detail, the sense of study, the sense of unfolding and discovery.
i hope the film last night was good. interesting. inspiring.

i love your stories.
thanks for sharing

1:26 AM  
Blogger heather said...

great story, lovely imagery! i've had my time in small towns, with escapades to Big City Culture, so i totally get this.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone that relocated to Smithfield, I can understand that life is a journey that takes us many places. And that boring town of Smithfield, now has some small town culture with theatre, museums and more activities. But for me, raising my child in a safe environment was important, so I moved from big city crime riddled areas. And yes, many folks go to Raleigh for more entertainment options, but we come home to Smithfield. Just another perspective!

5:30 AM  
Blogger witchtrivets said...

oh boy, I remember those days. I can completely picture what you describe.

My dream while living on the rural east coast of NC (how lucky you were to grow up so close to the big city of Raleigh) was to someday live in the cultural mecca of Chapel Hill. Hanging out on Franklin St, going to the Cat's Cradle (when it was still in Chapel Hill and not Carrboro). When I finally made it to Raleigh for real, going to see french films was all I hoped for. Of course, it was always just me and the middle-aged high school french teachers. But still -- good times.

2:36 PM  
Blogger reasonably prudent poet said...

thanks for all your comments. :-)

anonymous: i hope, by "theatre," you don't mean the plays put on down on the neusse at the town commons. and by "museum," i hope you don't mean the ava gardner museum. although, i heard frank creech died recently, so maybe they've opened up a creech sculpture museum. if you're too new to smithfield to know who creech was, that's a shame. he did the statue in front of the library. anyway, sorry to sound combative, maybe i'm a little disappointed to learn the town waited until i was long gone to stop sucking. i guess, as raleigh gets closer and closer and as more and more people decide to commute from the safety of smithfield, it's character was bound to change eventually.

and to witchtrivets -- oh the cat's cradle!! tell me about it. i ended up working for ten months in carrboro (in '97) and spending a lot of time in that glorious mecca of chapel hill. good times. though i will always prefer raleigh. in addition to the french movies, we also had rocky horror picture show at the rialto on glenwood avenue. and, who could forget cup a joe on hillsborough street?

i'm getting misty just thinking about it all. :-)

2:45 PM  
Blogger witchtrivets said...

Wow, you worked at the Cradle? Hung out with Frank Heath? You are even cooler than I originally thought. I am so uncool, I never went to Rocky Horror at the Rialto -- I was afraid. And cup o'joe was always too smoky. The Third Place though was my favorite. That way I could watch the Rialto from afar. Those are some good times. But Portland has all that and more.

5:20 PM  
Blogger reasonably prudent poet said...

witchtrivets -- no, no! i didn't work at the cat's cradle, i worked for algonquin books, the publishing company. i just remember the cat's cradle fondly.

and yeah, cup a joe was too smokey. we called it cup a smoke.

5:43 PM  
Blogger witchtrivets said...

ah ok, reading blogs at work, not so good for the comprehension. Well, I still think you are cool.

10:34 AM  

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