The memory lens: a reflection about one Paris day, sixteen years after my first husband’s death

Gary photographing rooftops in Paris

My first husband, Gary, died 16 years ago today.

I’ve written about the night we met and how lucky I felt throughout our marriage; about the kind of person he was and the gifts he gave to the world; and about my tradition of scattering red rose petals in his memory.

Gary and I had both visited Paris before we met. Our first time there together occurred the year after we married.

One Paris Day

We began one day by taking the train to Chartres, so Gary could see the cathedral. I’d been fortunate to visit it once before.

On our walk from the Chartres station, we came upon a square which had a white van selling glaces (ice cream) and a grey one selling frites (French fries) and boissons (drinks).

The Chartres glaces van

The frites van was old then; now Clive says it looks like something out of Heartbeat, the TV series set in the 1960s. I can’t disagree. Nor can I remember exactly what Gary and I ordered — possibly glaces *and* frites.

Gary waiting for our order at the Chartres frites van

I only remember we were delighted to find this unexpected source of nourishment on our walk from the station. We happily parked ourselves on a bench and savoured our treats.

That afternoon, back in Paris, Gary took photographs from the external escalator platform of the Beaubourg (Pompidou Centre), as shown at the top of this post.

I watched him as he framed his shot. He moved, as always, with characteristic calm and steadiness. Unbeknownst to him, I snapped a photo with my point-and-shoot camera.

Later, we came by chance upon an Édouard Manet exhibition at the Grand Palais.

Manet in the afternoon, Grand Palais, Paris

Here I viewed for the first time Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, Luncheon on the Grass. The painting’s sumptuous sensuality astonished me then and continues to do so every time I see it at the Musée d’Orsay.

The Memory Lens

Memory’s a slippery little trickster. Sometimes you look through the memory lens and see big events blazing. Sometimes it’s the little images that flare and shimmer.

You remember the Chartres frites van more than the cathedral; a photographer composing a photo more than the photo itself; and an afternoon in Paris with no planned itinerary when you were awed by one of the world’s great paintings.

And you’re grateful for all of it, for the place and the time and the memories, and especially for the person who made them with you.

Gary on the Left Bank after a day at Chartres, the Beaubourg and the Grand Palais

Today I talked with my son and scattered red rose petals for Gary in the Felixstowe seafront gardens. As I also do each year, I came home to Clive and gave him a red rose for his desk. Red roses for love, for Gary and Clive.

Thank you for reading and may at least some of your memories, whatever size they may be, bestow comfort and light.

10 Responses

  1. Truly beautiful, Carolyn! Thanks for sharing your heart.

  2. Gary was such a special person, and I’m so glad to know you always honor him with the rose petals. Although I’m very fond of Clive, I still miss Gary’s friendship. XXOO

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your husband, Carolyn. (Actually, to both of them 🙂 ) Thank you for sharing these sweet memories with us.

  4. What a poignant lovely post, Carolyn. Thank you for sharing this part of your life. Memory is a slippery little fellow, isn’t it. I agree that it is nearly always the little moments, the ones we see no significance in at the time, that often come back to comfort or haunt us.

  5. Memory is definitely a slippery trickster, and I wish more people would remember that — instead of being so certain that their memory is infallible.

    That frites van is a Citroen H Van — an iconic vehicle, made from the end of the Second World War until the mid-80s I think. We have a not so secret hankering for one. Using one as a food truck when you saw it would have been super trendy and modern and required all sorts of jumping through hoops to get permission. It’s tricky enough now!

    • Susan, yes about memory — and thank you SO MUCH about the frites van! I love love LOVE your comment and am incredibly tickled to learn it’s a Citroen/iconic vehicle 🙂 I hope you find the one you desire (and should have said my photos are from 1983 … a while ago!).

      Cheers and thank you again.

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