Place or people? People or place?
I am going to disgust some of you today by revealing that it was only two days ago, in my life of thirty years, that I saw Casablanca. And before you scream at me, yes, I loved it. I loved the fact that I could already quote half the movie; that at those lines, I put my hands spread over my heart and gave a little yelp much to the amusement of Martín; that even something as vile as smoking seems quite beautiful if you're Humphrey Bogart; and that there is always a reason to move on.
It got me thinking about the choices in the movie, and the ones which were finally made. Rick chooses the perfect past, in the perfect place, rather than a non perfect future with the love of his life. Brave or stupid? Admirable or foolish? Stupidly admirable, perhaps.
I thought about the places in the world which meant something special because of the person I was with there. Did the love and passion grow because of the place, the person, or both? Would one have survived without the other?
I spent New Year 2005 in a small, lakeside town, overlooked by a beautiful volcano, in Chile. I had stayed on instead of continuing to travel because I had met a man on Christmas Day. While my fellow travellers moved on and explored Patagonia, I stayed in his house enjoying a carefree life of lake swimming, moon parties, dog walks along the beach, strawberries in bed and the buzz of instant attraction. My companions got further and further away and my heart got further and further involved. Nearly two weeks later, it was a wretch to leave, but I did.
And life/fate/curious circumstance took me back there almost a year later. Twice. The first trip back was a disaster: the water under the bridge in his life meant my return was not an extension of our romance from before. What, I had to ask myself, had I expected? I had to leave again anyway, and tried not to think about it. The second time, things had changed again, and we went straight back to the fun, passion and yearning we had found in each other some seventeen moths before.
At 5am he stood on the porch of a house in the middle of a field. It was pouring with rain. Huge puddles sat between me and the beeping taxi, its headlights reaching our feet, standing so close together as we said our goodbyes. His kiss said stay. Mine tried to reply I want to, but I can't.
And, sadly, I drove away, waving, blowing kisses at that man as he stood blowing kisses back in the first light of morning, alone in his boxer shorts. I packed up my un-slept-in tent in the rain and spent the day in a trance of What if?
Right person, right place, wrong moment? In the I miss you emails that followed, I would have liked to have thought so. But, no. Some months later there was another person, another place and another magic. And I had to leave again.
But now, in this moment, if my heart thinks back to those 'perfect' times: the sunshine, the love, the picturesque place, the trust, and I try to take any part of it away from there, I can't. That man belongs in that place at that time. I can't put him at my side in a supermarket in London, nor can I see him in a restaurant with me in Buenos Aires. He doesn't belong on a chairlift with me in France, nor on the beach in Hunstanton.
He is where he is for a reason. If we had taken it somewhere else it would not have been the same. And we would never, with wonderful feeling, be able to say right now, "We'll always have our Paris".