Jessica was still feeling ill from whatever cold I had contracted and passed along to her, so I let her stay guilt-free in the apartment. After the stresses and strains of the previous day — terrorism and finding her favorite bakery closed for the week — I suppose she deserved to rest up and gather her energy. I mean, the bakery thing really got to her. I think it was a buildup of emotion:
I was bound and determined to do something, so I dressed in my favorite pirate outfit and hit the town.
Ever since the first time I went to Paris, I have been meaning to visit the Crypte Archéologique at Notre Dame. This is a small, underground museum that is dedicated to the ancient remains of Lutetia, the original settlement of Paris. That’s why I have the Lutetia tattoo on my arm. Remember that?
It calls to both my love of this city and my passion for history. I thought they worked together perfectly, and they do! So, off I went.
Security, as expected, is everywhere. When I was in the station, there was an abandoned fast food bag that everybody was watching warily. What if it had one of those dirty bombs inside full of screws and broken glass? Nobody said a word, but we all watched it with alarm and gave it a wide berth. Finally a police officer in full riot gear came by and inspected. Nothing inside but chicken bones. I wanted to laugh. It was so ridiculous. But I couldn’t. It was too awful that we live in a moment where things like that have to happen.
Once on the island, I had to pass through a full, intimate pat-down to get access to the area of Notre Dame. I hated that it had to happen, yet I fully appreciated the effort France is doing to combat the nonsense that is happening to them. (And I haven’t been touched by a man like that in some time.) On the Parvis was a peace rally of young people. They were speaking in their native languages and then that was translated to French and English. They were from all over the Middle East and Europe and further away, speaking of the horrors they had seen and their desire to change the world. I didn’t even realize it as I sat there, but there were silent tears streaming down my cheek. When I noticed, I just thought how tired I was, how exhausted I am. The world has always been rough. There have always been wars and killing and idiocy. But right now, it just feels like hate and sadness are being compounded. It’s difficult to deal with from afar, but up close it’s almost too much. I hope there is some relief soon. Paris can’t handle much more. There will always be a Paris, don’t get me wrong, but it will never be the same.
I went through the Crypte in about an hour. It was hardly thrilling, even to somebody as passionate about archaeology as I am. They had marvelous interactive displays where you could digitally walk through what Paris looked like thousands of years ago. I particularly appreciated a big display dedicated to the Arènes de Lutèce, a site that has always fascinated me since I first stumbled onto it. It was magnificent in its prime. I was thoroughly captivated, and that made it well worth the admission.
I decided to walk to the Mosque for tea, so I took the long way through the area of the Sorbonne. I made a magnificent discovery whilst on the Left Bank, too. I have always proudly called myself, mainly to myself, a “right bank bitch.” I totally thought the Right Bank was the best bank and there was no competition. I was wrong! The Left Bank doesn’t feel quite as commercialized and gentrified as the Right does these days. In fact, it felt like the area around the Bastille did back in 2009. I was radiantly happy there, and then I stumbled upon a familiar face: Helena Blavatsky.
The woman’s aura, I swear, follows me. I find books about her in random piles, her name pops up in the strangest places, when I was in California visiting my cousin I found myself in a Theosophical village five minutes from her front door, and now here she was again, smirking down at me from a bookstore display. Of course I went in after I saw that it was an antiquarian bookstore devoted to the occult. It was most marvelous and I felt that I was Ms. Price in Bedknobs & Broomsticks when she goes to find the missing piece of her book of spells.
The man in charge was charming and he showed me a four volume publication on Egyptology from the early nineteenth century. It felt magical to flip through those pages. I was so in love, but I couldn’t afford them. I mean, I could, but that would have been half my funds for the rest of the trip, so I painfully said goodbye to those gorgeous books. Someday I will have them. Someday I’ll have money for things like that. I know I live all right, but I don’t live quite well enough to justify those books. I hate that.
The shop was special, and I will be back on every trip to Paris. Next time I’ll buy something. I’ll budget ahead of time, because that is a little slice of Paris that I’ll never forget. And I got to thinking about why I love Paris again. Those of us who visit have our own Paris. We have spots and moments and shops that become totally ours and belong to nobody else and that is why we love Paris so damn much. My Paris is this shop, the left corner of the left ramp of the Place de la Concorde, Miss Manon, the tomb of Madame Brochard, the Monoprix on Rue Saint Antoine, the Mosque, and more. My Paris is the sum of its parts. It’s not a city as a whole, and that’s why it’ll never go away, that’s why my love for Paris will never die. She’s always going to be there no matter what’s going on in the rest of the world. And that fills me with melancholy contentment.
Before I crossed the river, I noticed a large spire shooting up into the sky and decided to head in that direction. That’s how I found the shop, which had been absolutely marvelous, so I carried on with this goal. I soon lost sight of it, so I just went on, following every whim and each fancy. I came across the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. It looked lovely, so I went inside to think and peruse the art. I don’t consider myself religious, but I am appreciative of religion and what it can do for people, so I enjoy seeing places like this. I was almost overwhelmed by this one. It was gorgeous and calm, and I felt the urge to light a candle to Saint Geneviève, a patron saint of Paris, and sit in her altar beside the box that used to contain her relics.
And it was quite wonderful to sit there and let my mind go blank and not think about terrorists or multiple sclerosis or fatigue or anything.
Leaving the church even happier than I entered it, I turned back to take a picture. And my jaw fell open. Shooting up into the sky was that same spire that I had seen across the river.
I was drawn here by who-knows-what, and I found that much too strange. At once, Lady M’s face flashed into my brain — as it often does — and I remembered the conversation we had about coincidences. They do not exist. I know that to be true. My life has just been too bizarre to be random.
I was madly in love with the area, and I was also exhausted from walking, so I was relieved to find a shaded seat at the Mosque. I drank too much tea and read my guidebook to Egypt.
And everything was wonderful. And life had meaning. And I will never be over that courtyard at the mosque or my endless love for Paris and all the mysteries she has left for me.