I watched Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love last night. The film was a few vignettes, or windows, into a handful of people’s lives. I am fascinated with vignettes—a word that originally meant “something that may be written on a grape-leaf”. I love that they focus on an insight, a particular moment in a person’s life, on a characteristic. Perhaps this is why I love to write short stories, little vignettes of truth, and can never write anything of more substantial length. I feel a vignette, a window into someone’s life—however small—holds an infinite depth of truth and beauty that can get lost between the pages in a novel or a longer piece… or in life, when people only see the bigger picture and not the little details that are the making up of things.
The vignette that stuck out to me was of a young man, who happens to meet his older self on a street corner in Rome. The young man lives in Rome with his girlfriend, Sally, but begins to fall in love with her neurotic best friend, Monica, who is visiting after a break-up. Monica seems ideal—adventurous, says the right things, knows one line of every poet, knows everything to say to get any man to fall in love with her. But this young man’s older self is there, berating his younger self for falling in love, for buying into the bullshit of this “ideal”. His older self says, “If it seems too good to be true, that is because it is.” But the man’s younger self remains foolishly enamored. Later the older self says, “Remember I know how this plays out”—but the younger self does not listen. Woody Allen is famous for his fascination with the entanglements and messiness of love, how it is not perfectly packaged—how ‘the heart wants what the heart wants’. But I found this vignette to be more potent, more wise, than all of that. Sure love is messy, people let their passions take hold and rule their more sensible nature—but there is regret. There is wisdom with age. What once seemed fodder for love in youth, in later years seems fodder for cows— now digested and defecated.
It made me think of William Carlos Williams’ “The Ivy Crown”—one of my favorite poems. I love the lines, “Children pick flowers, let them. Though having them in hand they have no further use for them but leave them crumpled at the curb’s edge”. Those words have always spoken to me. People pick hearts up like they are flowers, just to leave them crumpled at curb’s edge. What is messy, what people do not think of in the throes of love, is how their actions affect/effect their fellow human beings. At least with humans they can still grow and change after being picked—a flower, once picked, briefly changes, blooms into beauty, before withering and dying. But it is still careless. It still leaves its invisible bruises. It is still the hurting of other people—that lack of accountability as a decent human being because you are in love and you are incapable of making a conscious decision, because, hell—‘the heart wants what the heart wants’. I love you, Woody, but I am sorry—that is such a childish way to look at the world. Thus, you surprised me with this vignette. Perhaps you too are still getting wiser with age. What the heart wants and what it needs are not always the same thing. Write that on a grape-leaf and let it grow.