“What better way to honor the weirdly wonderful and cosmically kitsch nature of Halloween from abroad than to go to a museum that specializes solely in antiquated ‘funfair’ objects?” thought Serena to herself as she booked her and her boyfriend, Sam, two sixteen-euro tickets for entry at the Musée des Arts Forains, which also just so happened to be conveniently located in the Bercy section of Paris where the Cinémathèque Française was doing a Martin Scorsese retrospective (the French still adored Brooklyn back in 2015–what a difference two years can make). Serena had a penchant for fairs of a bygone era, which seemed somehow rife with irony as she loathed impermanence, and fairs prided themselves on ephemerality, moving sooner or later to the next town–on to theoretically bigger and better things. This nomadic frame of mind, however, mirrored Sam’s nature, which is why Serena was somewhat surprised that he dug his heels in so much about going. But she was determined to celebrate her favorite American holiday while they were on vacation in the only close-to-eerie way she could think of. And eerie the Musée des Arts Forains was, a portal into a quaint past that came across as more haunting than charming.
At least, that’s the immediate impression Serena got upon entering Le Théâtre du Merveilleux, one of the five primary “salons” of the museum. In this one, the omnipresent ghoulish faces set the tone for something sinister that Serena couldn’t quite yet apprehend.
It had been Sam’s suggestion to come to Paris. He felt their “routine” back in Saint Paul was getting a bit “well-worn,” as he put it. But Serena didn’t see what was so wrong with reveling in one’s monotony. She liked their day-to-day existence, the comfortability of it. Sam often accused her contentment with their life as part of her feminineness. “All women want is comfort,” he would seethe when he got drunk enough on the Charles Shaw wine Serena bought from Trader Joe’s on the way home from her job as a furniture buyer for a luxury boutique near the Eden Prairie part of town. She chose to ignore the off-handed comments he made when in this state of inebriation, though it was hard to keep herself from worrying about how committed he was to the cause that was them. She was 28 years old now–a year older than Sam–and this was still considered approaching ancient territory by Midwestern standards. After being together for one year and living together for another, Serena would have liked to assume their path was taking a certain standard trajectory toward marriage. Thus, when Sam made reference to his dissatisfaction with staying in one place, she could intuit somewhere within her the appropriate fear that it wasn’t really going to last, that her love for him wouldn’t “conquer all,” like that bastard poet Virgil once said. Looking back on what happened to them in Paris, Serena knew it was truly just as the French poet Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian said: “Pleasure of love lasts but a moment, pain of love lasts a lifetime.”
Wanting to keep Sam from getting restless, she agreed to take time off work during one of the furniture store’s most lucrative seasons to accompany him on a “darkly romantic” trip to Paris just before it got too expensive to book a ticket. The second they had made the arrangements, Sam, a welder by day and a painter by night, seemed to incur a burst of inspiration that found him creating elaborate charcoal sketches of various unrecognizable (to Serena, anyway) Parisian tableaus. All Serena could discern from the ever-mounting pile was the Moulin Rouge. She was pleased with how happy he was to have this journey to look forward to, and even she herself began getting into the spirit of planning, adding, apart from the Musée des Arts Forains, the Père Lachaise cemetery to her list of must-visit places–cliche gloomy backgrounds be damned.
They arrived at Orly on October 27, 2015. The Airbnb they had secured was in the peak chic Canal St. Martin area. Along with Bushwick, Brera, Kreuzberg and Silver Lake, among others, Canal St. Martin had promptly been ruined in September of 2014, when Vogue released its Fifteen Coolest Street Style Neighborhoods photo editorial. Their married hosts, a Southern belle from Georgia and a Frenchman from Toulouse, seemed to share a passion for one another that Paris naturally brought out in people. And, for a few days there, it appeared to bring out the same passion in Serena and Sam. That is, until the novelty of being in a foreign country wore off for Sam, and he began to exhibit the usual signs of his chronic antsiness: irritability, lack of desire to have sex and a generally surly demeanor.
Still, regardless of his initial reluctance to go to the Musée des Arts Forains that crisp, clear October 31st, Sam’s spirits gradually lifted as the tour guide enthusiastically explained the history of funfairs and their accoutrements to their moderately sized group, taking them through the different themed rooms with the pace of an escargot. In the Arts Forains room, Sam gleefully hopped on the carousel when they were instructed to experience a ride for themselves. He was one of many amid the mixed bag crowd that consisted of a wide range of age groups from the infantile to the geriatric. Serena opted not to get on any of the carousel horses–German, French or otherwise (one of the museum’s favorite trivia questions was: how can you tell a German carousel horse from a French one? Primarily, the German ones have real hair for the tail, whereas French ones have tails made of painted wood). There was something underlying in her intuition that told her not to ride. Minutes later, she could at last discern why as the carousel screeched and grinded to an abrupt halt, sending Sam flying sideways and then forward to the ground, crashing with the exact sound you would expect to hear from a skull that had just cracked. Incidentally, no one else on the carousel was harmed.
She cursed herself now for memorexing that day on her Instagram, or any at all spent with Sam. A random like on a post from what was fast becoming the far off past of that vacation was all it took to re-trigger the trauma of the loss. And when the very establishment itself “liked” her photo from that day, almost two years to the date his death had occurred, she marveled once again at the accuracy of that Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian quote. On the plus side, she consoled herself, at least she would never have to know if it wouldn’t have worked out between her and Sam for any reason other than his untimely demise.