I was on the WWII tour of Europe with some of my daughter’s high school classmates, and a good friend of mine, Jan. Jan was making a point of visiting every cathedral we were near for a project she was doing. Otherwise I would have missed it.
We were in Paris, and had just visited, and been awestruck by the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Then Jan said, “My sister told me there is another cathedral close by that she loved and that we shouldn’t missed.” So Jan led the way, and sure enough, a few blocks from Notre Dame, we came across the Sainte-Chapelle. When we stepped into the upper chappel I thought I had been transported to a magical, spirital place.
I sat in one of the chairs that lined the walls, listened to very tinkling soft music that filled the space, and soaked in the light that shone through the colorful windows that gave the illusion of supporting the structure. “Supported by slender piers, the vaulted ceiling seems to float above magnificent stained-glass windows.” (http://www.discoverfrance.net/France/Cathedrals/Paris/Sainte-Chapelle.shtml)
I’ve never since experienced anything like it.
I was sitting at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, clicking through my dad’s slides of Europe on a projector that apparently cost a little over $16 the year my dad bought it according to the well-adhered price sticker inside the drop-down door. My dad sat beside me, saying very little. Since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in December of 2008, he has gradually stopped speaking more than a word or two or perhaps a sentence at a time.
Dad was drafted into the army shortly after high school in 1953 and spent two years in Baumholder, Germany in his early twenties while my mom was at home in Piqua, Ohio giving birth to their first daughter and my oldest sister Kathy.
While in Europe, he went on leave with a couple of buddies and did a whirl-wind trip through Switzerland, Paris, Venice and Rome via train and without little more than a general itinerary and his manual 35 mm camera hanging from a strap around his neck.
It was overcast and rainy the day my dad and his buddies toured Paris. At some point in the day they ascended the Eiffel Towel for a panoramic view of the city.
As they stood there in the drizzling rain, the sun broke through and a rainbow shot across the sky over Paris.
“I was out of exposures,” my dad said as we sat at the kitchen table flipping through his slides.
His comment gave me reassurance that he was paying attention and comprehending what we were doing at the moment. Alzheimer’s is like a tornado in the brain cutting a wide swath of destruction in some areas and hopping and skipping over others. The truly remarkable part was that my dad, who never remembers the day of the week, who often tells people that my sister Annie died a couple of weeks ago instead of 18 months ago, and who sometimes has difficulty remembering how to stand up out of a chair, remembered that he was out of film while standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower fifty-some years ago.
I suppose if I was on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris, standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower with a rainbow shooting across the sky and I realized I was out of film, or my memory card was full, or my camera battery was dead, I’d remember it too.
“I took the picture anyway,” Dad said.
If you know anything about manual 35mm cameras you realize that depending on how you put it into the camera, there may be a little extra space on the film at the end if you have a bit of luck.
Circa 1955—A rainbow over Paris taken from the Eiffel Tower—copyright © 2011 by Jerry A. Smith
Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote