Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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APRIL 29, 2012 5:38PM

Open Call: Your ultimate love story

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The other night, the boyfriend and I came upon a documentary about a group of French high schoolers who were selected to put on a performance of "Romeo and Juliet" in one of Paris' most prestigious theaters.

Hearing the play performed in French, I realized once again how much Shakespeare's words enhance the experience. Though I've seen several movies based on the play, and at least one live performance, I've never found "Romeo and Juliet" to be particularly romantic.  Beautiful, yes, for the script. But the love story just never really grabbed me.

The boyfriend feels the same.  

When I asked him what he considered the most romantic play/movie - heck, let's just say love story in general - we both came up with Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac".

I first discovered this play on the PBS show "Wishbone" when I was a teenager (yes, that might be a little old to watch "Wishbone", but it involved literature and a costume-wearing dog, so there was no possible way I could resist).  


Animals in clothes make just about everything more delightful. (image source)

I was so intrigued by the tale of this brilliant, passionate, poetic soul whose physical appearance (namely, a surprisingly long nose) made it impossible for him to be considered worthy of romantic love - or at least, that's how it seemed to him - that I went out and bought a copy of the original play.  

cyrano book 

The Signet Classic edition. The image on the cover is from the first performance of the play, in 1897. (image source)  

In "Cyrano", not only did I find a beautifully written love story - I found one I could relate to.  Although I'd had boyfriends in high school, I also had an unrequited love story of my own: There was one boy who was a dear friend of mine, a fellow writer...  We could talk about anything, all of our strange common interests.  We collaborated on creative projects.  When we were in classes together, we sat near each other and whispered back and forth the entire time.  And he was handsome. If I was making a movie about the Greek gods, he'd be Apollo.  I, on the other hand, was short, chubby, and plain - not the sort of girl you'd find on the arm of a god.  The years went by, our friendship got deeper, but I was never asked to go to prom or on a date - that was a privilege reserved for some of the most beautiful girls in the school.

The boyfriend also had his flirtations and dates growing up, but shyness held him back from ever confessing his feelings to girls he really had feelings for.  Sometimes even if they not-so-subtly let him know they were interested.

I think one of the reasons we love "Cyrano de Bergerac" so much is because Monsieur de Bergerac represents a character we could relate to when we first forayed into love.  Not for us the woeful tale of two beautiful, star-crossed teenagers. Cyrano's story was - and is - much easier to identify with.   In fact, I find that the fictional romances that move me most tend to involve misfits: "Beauty and the Beast", Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, "Run Lola Run", "Edward Scissorhands". 

real cyrano

The real Cyrano de Bergerac, a writer who lived from 1619-1655 and did have a somewhat big nose, though nothing like what the play suggests - and his tragic love story wasn't exactly the same as what's portrayed in Edmond Rostand's  play, either. (image source

Do you have an ultimate, go-to fictional romantic story (in any format - movie, play, song, book, etc...)in your life?  What is it, and why?

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Eric Seegall's (sp) "LOVE STORY" Even as a guy, it gets me all messed up and unable to breath or think....but does "Brian's Song" about Brian Piccalo and Gale Sayers...and that is not a traditional love story...but agape love instead.
Darn it..gotta go wipe my nose...darn dust allergies...
"Lady and the Tramp." The spaghetti scene. R
"Arthur" with Dudley Moore. Love triumphs. And it was all kinds of love in that movie, not just romantic.
Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot.


Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings.
Alysa, I remember the "Wishbone" series very well as my sons used to watch it. We even have some tapes of the shows and an official plush, stuffed Wishbone Jack Russell Terrier here we bought at the toy store when the show was on the air.

One movie that comes to mind for me is "Breaking Away." There would be others once I gave it additional thought, too, but I'll start with "Breaking Away" because of its focus on high school and college days in Bloomington, Indiana.
The boy I had a crush on during our senior year in high school just published his sixth book: PROM NIGHT AND OTHER MAN-MADE DISASTERS. The final story in the book, "Prom Night" is about why we did not go to the prom together. It is not fiction, but as far as literature goes, it's my favorite!
How about The Parent Trap -- with Lindsay Lohan.

She was the cutest kid in America.

The key to any love story is to eliminate the day to day reality of a 'relationship' by killing them off or separating them. Love is only believable without the happily ever after.

Wish it wasn't so.
Not really a 'go to' movie, but I was channel surfing today and it was on and I watched it for 45 minutes. That's why I don't want to see Lindsay OD.
Gee, one of the top ones that comes to mind is a book, a move, AND a song. In Doctor Zhivago, I found both his wife Tanya and Lara to be equally deserving of the charms and attentions of the good Doctor (helped by the appeal of a young Omar Sharif whose eyes were soulful and dark and often wet). The scene where he sees Lara after all those years, from a bus, and stumbles after her and just falls short (literally) of reconnecting just gets me every time. As does "Lara's Theme." I also like the family love story "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (have only seen the film, countless times. I love Johnny Depp's love/exasperation relationship with his entire family, and also the chance he finally gives himself to follow his heart and start a new life with Juliette Lewis. Sweet.
Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in Dorothy L. Sayers' novels. Two very intelligent, loving people, haunted by dark pasts, from different social classes, who fall in love and spend years struggling for the courage to say yes to the relationship. When they finally do say yes, and, ultimately, get married, there's such joy. I also love that Sayers didn't just say "happily ever after" but wrote a couple of wonderful novels about Peter and Harriet after they got married and had children!
My current favorite romance story is the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset duo. Likeable characters, good script, highly believable depiction of how they get attracted and the chemistry is great.
I am with you on that one, Alysa. My heart always goes out to the misfits in literature (and in real life, since I consider myself one, tee hee). I think my ultimate perfect book/romance is Jane Eyre.
I enoyed your topic and your literary entry into your open call so much, Alysa, I'm lost for an instant reply. It may take some thinking, or I'll just come back to read more. But I hear you on Bergerac.
Abelard and Heloise
Tarzan and Jane. Now, there's a complicated relationship.
"Dolls," the Takeshi Kitano movie.

It's a mad film about madness, dealing with ultimates. The film's beautiful, but our lives shouldn't go near it.

German trailer for "Dolls"
It was a long time ago, but I loved the movie Crossing Delancey.
I'm right there with you on Cyrano and all the misfit love stories, but for me there is something about the ability to change - and to forgive - that I find especially romantic and indicative of true love. So it's Pride & Prejudice and North & South for me. The BBC mini-series adaptations of both are especially fine. They changed the ending of North & South and made it even better than Elizabeth Gaskell's book. (If you haven't seen it, you must!) As for love lost, I will have to go with Truly, Madly, Deeply.
Cyrano, of's all about the words. I could read the subtitles again and again and again! And most everything Bronte sisters, magically brought to life by Masterpiece Theatre! The dialogue is what gets me.
Oh, geez. Emily Brönte ruined it all for me with Heathcliff. After that dark, brooding, impassioned character, who could hold a candle?
well, being able to identify with Boyfriend, in that
"shyness held me back from ever confessing my feelings to girls he really had feelings for.
Sometimes even if they not-so-subtly let him know they were interested." A good man, a gentleman, has no real certain
knowledge of this stuff...much like the electron,
the woman is in a cloud, ha, of possibility...
needing an equation to pin her down to a
probability of a temporary position..

love stories?
i'd appreciate the true jesus/mary story someday, if i dont make it up
myself from anticipation...i like it when the chicks are
real smart and kinda stuck up and thinking
(due to indoctrination from the culture)
that males are idiots, then the guy
surprises them........

usually the guy does it unwittingly, as is tenderly shown
how bright he is by the gal. fuck that.
i like it where the guy plays a bit of
a , ah, game on the poor gal,
pretending dumbness
and incoherence
mentally &
surprises her at the exact right moment and makes her ass swoon.

I dunno...what movie is THAT?
i cant think of one...
one with johnny depp?
or mr russell crowe?

the chick,she's gotta be really uppity like, kinda
of the manor born..
the guy, rather manly in his knowledge of the boys
but still a gentleman..

this is getting unutterably complicated....
maybe gone with the wind?
something with gary cooper!
and that cool long drink of water, the ice princess
veronica lane..

mr. bogart...........

i will get back to you later.
Cyrano is the best, but I have my own ultimate love story which I'll be posting in a few months... her name was Julie Marie Valiancour and her mother was Suzanne, the woman who "takes you down by the river and feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China"... two degrees of separation from Leonard Cohen. All true.
i meant veronica lake.
a chick who needs this treatment is ms. keira knightley.
i say that cuz she is dealing with a fop
and mr. depp on my tv now in one of those pirate films...
how about
or crandk 2? haw.
sorry . in a mood...
well, A, you got a cast of male characters coming around.
this jmac, the old geezer/?
'"takes you down by the river and feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China".

say what,yo//?

the river is where the man takes the woman, i thought.

rivers, deltas, etc.

who knows what these ancient beards like jmac mean/?
i wonder if a word he writes is true.

but he embellishes. i never do. i am a straight arrow.

ok gnite.
I would have to think on this one. hmmmmm I really like, "Breakfast at TIffany's."
I read this and went out to a street stand for a sandwich to think about it. I am now going to sleep on it. Our taste in love stories evolves over time, you know.

I have now, nonetheless, given this piece my rating of approval.
Have to agree with dirndl skirt on Dr. Zhivago. In the movie version I fall in love with Julie Christie - over and over. This love affair has been reignited over and over for decades and never grows old. And then there's Wuthering Heights...
Mine is the story of Narcissus, the guy who fell in love with his own reflection.
Persuasion by Jane Austen.
The book and the newest movie version.
That Anne Elliot...phew...I just love her....
After thinking about it awhile, I realize this post has confirmed my suspicion that I don't really like reading love stories. And why are the classic love stories so depressing, usually with terrible, sad endings?
That said, the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp is pretty hard to beat.
You and Lefty have me busy this morning... You write, as you seem to live, with a sprinkling of romance over everything. Cyrano, one of the best "know thyself" love stories favorite I will post and send you.
Wow - I posted this last night and things were moving slowly - then I went to bed, and now having logged in this afternoon, I'm so thrilled so many people responded! And what variety! Many of these stories I know ("Truly, Madly, Deeply" is an amazing film, I agree, though I consider it the reality check of romantic; and "Persuasion" is indeed amazing and swoon-worthy...slightly more so to me, as well, than "Pride and Prejudice," which is still a very good example - I like "Emma" a lot for that, too.). Many of these stories I don't know - and now want to check out!

Thank you all for sharing your love stories - and James, for sharing your fascinating analysis of what makes a great love story for you. I thought this would be a fun question to ask - what a treat to read the responses today - and to have new love stories to discover!
ditto Truly Madly Deeply!!

Also Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Some of the best love song ever because of that relationship.
Alysa, have you read "Beastly," the YA novel by Alex Finn? It's a contemporary take on, you guessed it, Beauty and the Beast. A friend of my mine told me it's also being made into a movie. Finn does a whole series of YA novels that riff on fairy tales, and I have to confess, I adore them.
greenheron - I'll have to look into those songs.

Sally - I haven't read "Beastly" but I did see the movie. The concept was cool but the execution...yuck. I thought the book might be better and tried to read an wasn't my thing, which I was pretty bummed about.... The most recent "Beauty and the Beast" adaptation that I liked was a romance book called "To Beguile a Beast". It actually was pretty well-done and definitely transporting.
Wonderful idea, Aysa. It should generate a lot of interest. My own pick would be The Black Stallion. But, then, I'm a horse lover.
I weep that your impassioned desire for a story of love could not be held forth from a common peasant's heart; there for all the world to see for this hare of now and for that turtle of forever. Such a story of love you would have known. Cyrano
I almost cry every time I hear Joan Baez' Diamonds and Rust. Also, there's this Indian play called "Tumhari, Amrita," ("Yours, Amrita"), which is a series of letters written by two childhood sweethearts to one another, as their lives take them on completely different paths. That one makes me very sad.
I came back to report that because of this post, I had to watch the last 5 minutes of North & South (bookmarked for instant view on Netflix) again. (My middle son calls it "that kissing movie", even though the only kissing is in the last 3 minutes!) Thanks to Pensive Person for suggesting Persuasion. I could have sworn I wrote that along with P&P but apparently did not. I agree, the romance factor in Persuasion is a notch above Pride & Prejudice. My husband is forever quoting the insipid father in the movie, "You want to marry Anne?" Then he just grins like Captain Wentworth. So you can see why I love him. Thanks again for a great OC!
Shoot! I just remembered the book Cold Mountain (not so much the film).
Now I can't get "What's The Story, Wishbone" out of my head. Really good theme.

The Lord Peter Wimsey books were really good.

If you're going to choose The Parent Trap, I'm not sure whether to go with the Lindsay Lohan version or the original Hailey Mills version. What I like about the original is that Hailey Mills looked remarkably like Mick Jagger did early in his career. What I like about the Lindsay Lohan version is the late Natasha Richardson.

What's that movie with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine?

Actually, I think I'm torn between Hairspray and Roseanne.
I've mulling this over for days and finally settled on the screen-version of Nick and Nora. I love the sophisticated humor, but it's never cruel.

I also prefer Persuasion to Pride and Prejudice.

I'm kind of bummed I can't think of more. I need more romance in my life. You can find that on Craigslist, right?
There are lots to choose from but one of my favorite movie love stories is "A New Leaf" written by and starring Elaine May with Walter Matthau. He is a formerly rich and extremely fastidious playboy who has a few weeks to court and marry a rich woman whom he intends to kill and inherit her fortune. He meets a lady botany professor who is a walking mess--crumbs all over her clothes, spills her tea and wine everywhere but so sweet. They fall in love! Great dialogue here in this darling story.
For plays, I think of Rent, and it's portrayal of love as real devotion to friends and as connections during a pivotal time in life. The movie that comes to mind -- and only because I was surprised at how much I liked it since I went in expecting nothing good -- was "Love, Actually."
"Shakespeare in Love." Hands down the most satisfying love story on film. The Romeo/Juliet part - which always gets me - and the Shakespeare/muse part intertwined with some of the best dialogue of the past 20 years. Tom Stoppard at his best.

I love Cyrano too.
Linnnn's nominees are also mine especially if she was referring to the tragic Lancelot & Guinevere depictedin T. H. White's monumental "Once & Future King." (I'd add Arthur as well. The book is really about his tragedy.)

And Tarzan & Jane. That jungle couple were never more appealing or sexy than in "Tarzan and his Mate," starring Johnny Weismuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. There's even a nude swimming scene in it, ( used to know O'Sullivan's swimming stunt double) along with a band of murderous, boulder-throwing gorillas. As complicated (and sophisticated) a relationship as ever Hollywood delivered.