A pilgrim in Paris – Flechas amarillas (yellow arrows)


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Adjusting to Paris was one thing, life without flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) was another. I missed them. The way they appeared just when I thought I’d taken a wrong turn on El Camino. Their bright, even urgent call on the darkest foggy morning. Their playfulness. How they’d wink, sometimes yell the way. The lessons they’d taught and secrets we shared. How would I know which way to go without them?

One of the last verses El Señor left me on El Camino comforted me.

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

I continued my yoga stretches in bed every morning even though there were no more mountains to climb, no great distances to cross. Movement had become a way of life for me. This lovely new daily habit found me giving gratitude to my body for the privilege of discovering new vistas and creating lasting friendships.

I’d have to leave quickly to avoid the coming storm. The 40-minute walk to The Louvre a perfect way to get to know La Ville Luminére (The City of Light). El Señor called me to Paris and I had faith in time I’d discover why. Perhaps the trip was simply a beautiful gift, like fathers love to give their children. I looked forward to what He’d say to me through the great works of art He’d inspired. El Señor took my hand and we hit the streets.

I longed for the outdoors in a way I never did before, embracing my pace, harder to maintain as Parisians and tourists rushed by. I no longer felt any need to rush.

A light raincoat didn’t hold up to the downpour so I sought refuge at the opera house, The Palais Garnier, in one of its grand entrances where an older couple from Argentina stood watching the scene on Avenue de l’Opéra. How lovely to speak Spanish in the rain in Paris, a warm blanket around my culture-shocked heart. Roberto and his wife huddled with me over my map. He pointed out the nearest metro station. Together we figured out the metro line I’d take. When they asked where I was from I found it easier to tell them where I’d been. Roberto’s wife asked if I’d made it to Finsterra. I pulled out my phone and clicked on photos of the sea and the faro (lighthouse). “At one time people thought Finsterra was the end of the world,” I said.

The line at The Louvre was biblical. I stood with everyone else who enjoyed the idea of spending a rainy day walking the halls of what became my new school. I breathed into the overwhelm. I had time. Lots of time. To discover, to wander, to explore. El Señor made sure of it.

I’d seen her twice before and had no memorable reaction. But that day, standing in the crowded stairwell, the glorious sculpture of a split-second in time, set in stone took my breath away.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace depicts the exact moment an angel landed on the prow of a victorious boat. Scholars place the victory in either the 1st or 2nd century. What beauty lay in the disciplined and passionate hands of the ancients. The angel’s breasts jolt upon landing. A ghostly wind ripples translucent robes across her headless body. The artistry a type of time machine. The experience ethereal, whole-hearted.

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After visiting the great masterpieces I’d seen before, I ventured into the unknown. A statue of Psyche and Cupid brought me to tears and inspired me to sculpt my stories, always with attention to the split-second in time I depict. I’d write with the same sense of urgency about moments. Write like the disciplined and passionate hands of ancient sculptors.

Over a glass of wine and crème brulee at a café at The Louvre I wrote in my journal.

“Before the couple and I said hasta luego this morning, they invited me to visit Argentina and see the end of the world there. I’d wanted to go to Patagonia for years and accepted, jokingly calling it my end-of-the-world tour. What they didn’t know was that I thought mine had ended not-so-long ago. But here and now a whole new world has opened up to me.”

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Apparently this new world included new clothes and shoes too. I wanted and intended to experience day 2 at The Louvre but the weather stopped me. I had to get warm. El Señor and I went shopping. His great sense of humor and playfulness surprised me. But it shouldn’t have, He invented them.

I heard a wonderful phrase while shopping at a great store called Spree http://spree.fr/en/ (if you’re ever freezing in Monmartre and looking like you just hiked into Paris from the Maseta––the great desert of Spain––they are the perfect people to hook you up). The women there helped me put outfits together. Every time I raised an eyebrow and asked if the patterns went together the clerk always said, ‘well…why not?’

Ok, Lord. I got you. ‘Why not?’

After shopping until we dropped El Señor and I sat at a café for wine and cheese and charcuterie––enjoying the great blessing of warmth.

Outside a man parked his van diagonally across the middle of the intersection of a tiny cobblestone street. He got out, put a foot on the fender and lit a cigarette. A heavy woman wearing lots of makeup, dressed in a short skirt stood at the corner with her small poodle, staring. The man and the woman both had perfected the Parisian stare, searching but not searching, caring and not caring. Too deep to notice casual things and not alert enough to do anything about them. The art of being.

School kids, their mothers and occasional tourists walked by. Off and on cars stopped. Confused drivers drove around the unfazed, smoking man. I couldn’t figure out what on earth he was doing. No one in America would tolerate blocked traffic for a cigarette break.

The woman with the small poodle crossed from one corner to another, and struck a pose. As she lit a cigarette, the man left his van, walked into the cafe and ordered an espresso. He took his time drinking it.

A lady walked up to the front door of the apartment building at the corner and the smoking, expresso-drinking driver left the café to pull a large bag of ice out of his van. He and the lady disappeared into the apartment building. There seemed to be something more to their story. I loved it all.

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I loved being not-quite a tourist in Paris. Everything was so much more fun when I put the words “in Paris” after them. Even buying toilet paper or watching the plumber fix the sink or making a shopping list or finding the circuit breaker.

Each morning the city screamed to explore her. One particular night I ‘d stayed out very late and my phone had died. Thinking I knew that part of the city, I confidently walked home and got horribly lost. Luckily one French word didn’t elude me, m’aidez (help me). I asked every monsieur at each outdoor market on my way if I was close to Rue Lamark. Some knew the street, some mistook it for another. As I wandered, a yellow arrow winked at me, painted on a street corner. I turned right and walked home.

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“And mind my dear fellow, Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be here and if it became worse and harder even––the fresh air clears up the brain and does one good––a world of good.” – Letter from Vincent Van Gough to Horace Mann Livens, Paris 1886

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