Responding recently to an invitation to dinner, my oldest brother proposed spending part of the evening at my apartment discussing a trip that he might make to Paris.
What my brother and my sister-in-law wanted to do was simply talk with someone who had already been to Paris more than once or twice. They wanted to hear what someone a little more familiar with Paris than they were might suggest.
What kind of memories do I have? What might I suggest?
Buildings in Paris can be centuries old. Unheated buildings that are centuries old settle each in their own way and each at their own pace. At some point custodians of those structures must have begun to shrug their Gallic shoulders. Where there might originally have been tight corners joining wall to wall, cracks developed. Up and down a wall, fissures snaked.
During the eighteenth century, Europe developed a taste for picturesque ruins. If you had that "Romantic" turn of mind, you might have pressed your face up to one of those cracks in a Paris wall and convinced yourself you were breathing air trapped since the Middle Ages. You could have imagined slipping something through that opening -- a message of some sort maybe -- and known that it would remain undisturbed behind that wall for centuries to come.
You had left your mark in a way.
One Paris visit I took a liking to the idea of leaving my mark in just that way. I packed in my bags a printed reply card left over from a celebration at home. When I came to a sight in Paris that moved me in some special way, I determined, I would look for a way to leave that card. I was intent on not making work for anyone else by my gesture; under no circumstances would I deface or litter.
Stopping by myself one afternoon in a neighborhood church in the Latin Quarter, I sat in a side chapel for several minutes of reflection. There was a statue of the nineteenth-century French saint Thérèse of Lisieux next to an altar that was in some disrepair. An unevenness in the floor had developed over the centuries, and the altar leaned forward, away from the niche in the wall into which it had been built. Into the opening created by that leaning, I slid the small card I had brought from home.
I am part of that church in Paris now. As long as that church stands, I imagine, I will be there.