Originally published April 11, 2008 and updated January 19, 2015
Since I originally penned this blog, Arnie discovered a video of a filmstrip that his cousin, Sheila Turner made with Cornell Capa and ICP of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
It has since been removed, because whoever posted it did not have permission from the authors. It did, however, serve as an introduction to Sheila’s daughter who is working with the filmstrips now.
Arnie was around at the time these film strips were made (only those with gray hair will recognize this term) and sat in on the editing of some of them at Cornell’s house over dinner and conversation. How lucky he was!
And as we look forward to returning yet again to Paris this summer, I thought it appropriate to update and add photos to this blog, some of them the types of scenes I walked past on this particular afternoon.
Some were made in fairer weather than I experience that day long ago.
Whatever the scenes, they all illustrate what I love about Paris. Sure, there are many more I could post, but …
It was some years ago, back in the 80s, when I took my girls and one of their friends to explore France for two weeks. I figured they would learn far more there than they would in school.
In Paris, we were based in a little, not-quite-flea-bitten hotel I found on Île de la Cité, right near Notre Dame with all its splendid gargoyles that fascinated the girls.
We walked, and we walked, and we walked some more. There were so many places I wanted to show them — le Louvre, la Place de la Concorde, l’Arc de Triomphe, la Tour Eiffel, Montmartre, la Rive Gauche — before we headed south to Provence and the coast.
Along la Rive Gauche, we saw the sidewalk artists, book bins, and cages of birds, rabbits, and other animals. Children played on the ancient, cobbled streets.
We sat in sidewalk cafés, watching the street scenes and sipping cups of chocolat, or in my case, wine, basking in the sun, sipping a glass of wine, and imagining what it must have been like when my English granny lived here with my dad.
There was the obligatory shopping, and we all bought maillots, perfect, as it was just too early to find bathing suits in the northern-US stores. They were inexpensive, and they lasted for years and years.
There were wonderful little presents and treasures discovered in bargain bins for family and friends back home.
It was April, and on cue, it rained the second day of our visit. That didn’t stop me from photographing.
Late afternoon saw us on Pont au Double. The kids were admiring the river view while I studied what I wanted to photograph, camera poised in my hand as I protected it as much as I could in the inclement weather.
“Madame,” I heard a voice say in French, “Your lens cap is still on.”
Also in French, I replied, “Yes, thank you, I know. I am a professional photographer. With the rain, I want to protect my lens until the last minute.”
“Ah, Madame, very good. Let me help you,” said he as he shaded my lens and I photographed.
“Merci, monsieur, vouz êtes si gentil,” I thanked him for his kindness.
“Venez, venez,” he said, beckoning, “Vite, vite!”
My girls looked at me and thought I had lost my senses.
Here we were, following a strange
man in a trench coat and beret to who knows where.
Quietly, I told them, “There are three of us and only one of him,” and that my gut instinct said this was going to be just fine.
The girls understood some French, so they were able to follow smatterings of the conversation between the two adults.
We talked about photography and art and philosophy and music.
We chatted about our two countries’ similar histories and revolutions.
He wondered where I had mastered my French (family history of being bilingual). I asked how long he had been photographing (all his life). I told him I got my first camera at age eight and that my grandmother had studied piano under the famous Madame Nadia Boulanger while living in Paris with my father. I had been to Paris before, but not since I was a teenager.
He shared his love of the city and acted as our tour guide as we passed this or that building.
“There is a special place you must see, but we must hurry, as they close soon,” he said.
We ended up at La Samaritaine, one of the oldest department stores in Paris.
We took the elevator about half way up and stood by the railing around the atrium.
“This is beautiful,” I remarked, “It could have been designed by Eiffel.”
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t, but it looks like something he might have designed. The railings have the same lacy quality as la Tour.”
“You are right,” our host said, “Now come quickly before they close the rest.
I have not been able to confirm any link between la Samaritaine and Eiffel, so perhaps our host was mistaken. Certainly, the architects could have taken their inspiration from Eiffel’s work.
We found ourselves on the roof of the building, the roof terrace. It was circular, rimmed with a parapet set at an angle, and decorated with a beautiful, 360-degree panorama of the city. You could look at a landmark, then straight down to the panorama with that same building or park and an ID.
“Look down there,” he showed the girls Notre Dame where we had been less than a half hour before. “Now look, see the picture of that same building here.”
He took out his Leica and photographed while I did the same until the rooftop was due to close. We reluctantly retraced our steps back down to the ground floor, through the city streets, and back over the bridge to where we had met.
“Where are you going to eat?” he asked.
“I don’t know, as we only arrived yesterday. With the girls, I hope to find some place not too expensive.”
“Ah, I know just the place. It is owned by a lovely Italian couple, but you’ll have to bring your own wine,” as he guided us into a little shop where I picked up a nice bottle of table wine he recommended.
Next door, he introduced us as an American Mother who was visiting with her girls to the owners who took us under their wings.
“Won’t you join us?” I asked, “We’d love to treat you to dinner.”
“I would love to, but I have another engagement. Now, you’ll be alright?” he asked.
We all thanked him profusely for his kindness and for treating us to such a lovely end to the day.
Off he went, and we enjoyed a lovely and inexpensive dinner accompanied by the very tasty wine. Music drifted in from a nearby building.
I never got his name — nor he mine. It was, after all, an afternoon shared by two photographers having a passion for photography, Paris, music, history, architecture, and life. It wasn’t until just a relatively few years ago when I saw a photograph of him that I realized who had been our host … none other than Henri Cartier-Bresson. I had long admired his work, and knew it well back then. My English granny would often send postcards with his photographs on them. But there are few photographs of him. He didn’t like being on the receiving end of the lens, preferring instead to work as incognito as possible.
The trench coat, the beret, the Leica were all his trademarks, but I didn’t know that back then. That said, the trench coat and beret were not an uncommon sight in Paris in those days.
It is a meeting I have never nor ever will forget. My meeting with Henri!
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