05/25/2011 12:43 pm ET Updated Jul 25, 2011

"The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past." But Maybe It Should Be.

I thought of that famous quote by William Faulkner the other day as I cleaning my basement and found a t-shirt I wore in high school gym class at Cardinal Hayes -- as a freshman! The year was 1971 and, if memory serves, it wasn't washed all that often. (Luckily, it has been laundered since!)

I looked at it wistfully. Ah, to be back there now. If only I could relive that time. And then, suddenly, the video (or is it the film?) in my mind screeched to a quick stop -- I hated gym class when I was a high school freshman! No way would I like to be transported back to a time I was pretty much clueless about pretty much everything.

But that's the thing about nostalgia, isn't it? We mostly remember it through gauze-tinted glasses that remove the rough edges. We always think it's far better than the time we're living in now. At least that's me. Among my greatest wishes in life is to be transported back in time. There are so many eras I wish I could visit -- NYC in the '50s, Los Angeles in the '30s, Paris in the '20s.

Then I went to see Woody Allen's new movie, Midnight in Paris. I'm one of those people who still go to new Woody Allen movies even though I think his last really good one was Match Point. His films are not the events they were in his prime when he produced three great NYC films: Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and her Sisters. That last one is really a gem. How many other films feature the poetry of e.e. cummings?

Turns out Midnight in Paris is all about nostalgia and the main character -- Woody Allen as played by Owen Wilson -- has a thing for Paris in the '20s and, thanks to some film magic, he gets to go back there. It's everything he imagines and then some. He gets to meet Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Picasso. He even hooks up with a beautiful French woman, but it is her great wish to live in the Paris of the 1880s when Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas roamed the city.

The woman, played by Marion Cottilard, tells Owen Wilson that she really wishes she could live then, in "La Belle Epoque."

Wilson is incredulous. She must be joking. Can't she see that she is living in the Golden Era of Paris right then and there with all these creative geniuses running around?

But she is equally incredulous, and puts him in his place: "Surely you don't think this is the Golden Era?"

And that really says it all about nostalgia. We pine for what we don't have and can never relive, hardly ever thinking that, maybe, just maybe, these truly are the good old days.