When I say 'romance', I don't mean ‘love’, the hard-working, hard-wearing, enduring emotion with which we make relationships work. I see it more as something spontaneous, light of touch and all too often ephemeral. I was lucky enough to experience it, long before I thought of settling down. It was fleeting, and ended with sadness, but it enriched my life and is not forgotten. It also left me with a collection of cartoons which I treasure, and I am posting here as a tribute to the young artist, who is now long gone.
I met Arsene when I visited my penfriend in France in July 1947. He was one of her group of friends in the small town where she lived, and because she had a 9 to 5 job during the week, she asked him to show me the sights of Paris, where he worked and had a studio flat. As far as I remember I stayed in a b&b or hotel. I was 19, and it was not a world in which anything else would have been considered.
He was a freelance political cartoonist and we used to start the day going round various newspapers to sell his drawings. Then we went sight-seeing, and in the evening went to the cinema or the theatre. It was a heatwave summer and we stopped for endless fruit juices at pavement cafes, and often he would cook us an omelette and salad for lunch in his flat. The visiting card is a souvenir of all we saw and did, which he handed to me in the train as I left Paris for England.
When we met he was already engaged, although his fiancee was abroad at that time, and I had already met and fallen in love with the man I was to marry nine years later. So we knew we were not going anywhere together; I recall a kiss and cuddle or two, but they were about as innocent as you can imagine.
Over the next five years we wrote to each other from time to time, and he was unashamedly sentimental about the days we spent together in Paris. He drew me many cartoons, and often illustrated his letters with the most charming designs.
And then came the ‘faire-part’ – the traditional French black-bordered notice of a death and funeral. He had died at the age of 32, a talented,
imaginative and sensitive young man, leaving a wife recovering from polio and two young daughters. I never knew why he died. I wrote to my penfriend but did not hear from her. It was hard to bear, although he was little to me by then but an occasional reminder of an enchanting interlude. I still grieve for his going.