The most interesting man in the world doesn’t star in beer commercials. Rather, he is an unassuming man who sat next to my husband and me at our favorite Paris bistro, Chez Janou. Although dapper, I was certain he wasn’t a sugar daddy to the young woman at his table. He was far too genuine to be a Svengali. We learned over the course of our conversation, he was exactly as he appeared–an elderly gentleman having a pre-Christmas dinner with his visiting granddaughter who he clearly adored.
It’s hard to ignore the person at the next table in Chez Janou. Our elbows nearly touched. Throughout the course of our dinner, we talked periodically. This man was a charming conversationalist with a willing and easy banter. He made me feel like a special person as he questioned us about our new home in Bratislava, why we lived there, and what I did for work. At one point he laughed out loud as he exclaimed to his granddaughter “See, I told you there’s always someone interesting to meet in Paris”. He made me feel fascinating.
Over dinner, we learned he was married and widowed three times, had an 86 year old “girlfriend”, covered Paris during the Second World War, and worked as the picture editor at Life Magazine and the NY Times. He baited us into guessing his age before willingly sharing he was 95. I would have believed he was 75. He moved to Paris when he was 67 and has lived there happily for 28 years. He wears his politics proudly, running Obama’s 2008 election headquarters in Paris and committed to run it again next year.
Some weeks after dinner, we learned he is arguably the most noted man in his field–a renowned photo editor who calls some of the most important photographers of the twentieth century his friends. Google easily identified him from the few hints we brought home from dinner. We found a clip of his interview with Tom Brokaw on the internet as well as his own Wikipedia page. There I learned he was awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour in France. Only then did I realize it was I, not he, meeting someone interesting in Paris.
I have reflected on this man since our meeting. The most interesting man in the world imparted many life lessons during our brief dinner.
You can be old and interesting. Old people are boring because they let themselves become boring. He didn’t talk about rashes, heart pills, or dead friends (other than Robert Capa, but we brought him up). Unbelievably, he talked about me. Now, I wish we had spent the entire dinner talking about him.
You can walk the city streets when you are 95. No one dropped him at the door or parked in the handicap space out front. He lives in his apartment near the restaurant and dates a woman across town. He mentioned other restaurants he frequents around this neighborhood. He has stayed active and as a consequence he can stay active.
And you can make someone else seem interesting, even when you are the most interesting man in the world. Great conversationalists know this and do this.
I realize some of the limits of age are self-imposed. I can move to Paris when I am 67 and live there for 30 years. I can plan to run a presidential re-election campaign when I’m 96. I don’t need to stop living for fear I might stop living. I can plan as though life is infinite. My eyes can twinkle when I meet someone new. I can thirst for knowledge. It is my decision alone to live this way. No one will marginalize me if, I don’t marginalize myself.
This post is off topic. But when you meet the most interesting man in the world, you really must write about him.