Book Review: Recovered Memory by Frank Van Riper
“Why New York and Paris?” journalist and photographer Frank Van Riper asks. “New York is simple: It’s what I am. I was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx, just blocks from Yankee Stadium. New York is in my blood, along with egg creams, the Daily News, the subway pastrami, and cannoli. Paris came more slowly, after my friends Neil and Carol Offen moved to France in 1976 for what would be a nine-year stay, first in Paris and then in Provence, after which they wrote an amazing (though sadly unpublished) book about France and the French of their day. My frequent visits to these New York-born Francophiles helped form my appreciation — and ultimately my love — of Paris.”
The photos in this tome illustrate this love. They also lead to images that exist in my own memory of these two cities. The fact that they are all in black and white certainly contributes to the feelings of nostalgia that come over me when spending time with these heart-warming images. The fact that they were taken before “B.I.”, as Van Riper calls it, before the internet, that is, means that they bear testimony to people, places and things actually observed. Or differently put: “If you wanted to experience something back then, you had to be there. You went to the ballpark, the theater, the concert, the reading, the lecture.” And, the photos in this book convey this presence.
The photos come without elaborate captions but they come with stories, stories that conjure up images, and very touching ones at that. Frank Van Riper’s visit to a Parisian dental office, for instance — the above mentioned Carol Offen had a dentist’s appointment and simply took him along — where “the floral walls were hung with dozens of signed framed photos from prominent clients in show business and sports. Memory fails, so it’s possible that that was not a grateful Charles Aznavour hanging on the wall. But it was clear that Dr. Huth and Madame Huth, his wife and partner, were dentists to the stars.”
Although we know that the only permanent thing is change, there are clearly things that are more stubborn than others and refuse to easily give in. Attitudes, for instance.” … among many Parisians a formality — even a sometimes smug aloofness — that escapes most New Yorkers. An air of strictly formal courtesy that hinders casual friendship, much less intimacy.” This, I think, is also due to the fact that the French language is much more formal than English.
Frank Van Riper reminisces about the Champs-Élysées of the Bronx, bicycles and baseball, the Tunisian pastries at the Marché aux Enfants Rouges and the Little Italy that still had wise guys. And, he also recalls his first impressions — the magical light and the intelligence gathering (he mentions the amazing literacy of French presidents and the PhD of Woodrow Wilson as well as the Yale educated George H.W. Bush but fails to mention George W. Bush, who, despite being Yale and Harvard educated, probably nobody would consider an intellectual) that, in my view, seems to have rather unduly impressed him.
I thought this book “très sympa” (in the sense of lovable, heart-warming), it is the kind of book only a lover of these two cities can write. And, the photographs fill you with remembrances of things past. Moreover, Frank Van Riper doesn’t forget what words and pictures cannot convey — smells and aromas. “Just as the Bronx and Manhattan of my youth conjure the smell of great pastrami, so too does the heavenly aroma of fresh-baked baguettes bring me back to Paris.” Should you however decide not to go native, food-wise, that is, you can still opt, like Van Riper once did in the early 80s, for McDonalds (Paris’ first). “What the hell, I said to myself. The Big Mac was OK, but the French Fries were glorious.”
Recovered Memory is a truly great book!
Recovered Memory: New York & Paris 1960–1980
by Frank Van Riper
Foreword by Martin Walker
Daylight Books 2018
Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.