A journey in the cold snows of winter, to the land of my forebears. A light snow fell as I walk to the cathedral my ancestors prayed in before they embarked on their journey to a new life in the New World. A day much like this; at the end of one year, before the birth of the new. Long ago when the world was lit only by fire.
I wonder what they would make of the lights of ours? Electric lamps and guards before the door to the house of God. They would recognize what was within; the joy at the birth of the hope of salvation. Even now, in the winter of such contentment, the song and the joy remains the same.
Such was the day on my arrival in the City of Light that Christmas Day. A chill wind and soft snow with just enough warmth to threaten a thaw. No throngs of gawking tourists; just a long, thin, line of worshipers moving ever forward past the barriers and the watchful eyes of the CRS. Few seats were vacant. Only a few were filled with visitors from distant lands. A sermon in French and in Latin. My ancestors would recognize the temper of our times.
Guards and tourists too at one end. At the other? No throngs at the door, no CRS, no guards visible at all. A few tourists, a few parishioners. Just we few, we happy few. Lost souls hearing the echo of the Word. The soft baa, baaing of the black sheep is heard within the cathedral, though most do not know their condition, nor how close damnation – or salvation, lies. For there at the edge of the Nave stood Mephistopheles with – a bag of cookies. His hand out stretched in temptation to his pupils. His eyes gleaming as he tempts in mockery of the communion.
How close to evil we come, so close, when an anger equal to that of pagan Achilles rises in our breast. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, so goes the prayer. A softer passion moved me. I took a few short steps when at the edge of the transept I was brought to a stop by what I beheld at a nativity display. Just beyond the velvet rope, stretched out full length, giving coins and prayers to the baby Jesus, a woman of middling age. Tears ran down her faces; and down the faces of the French women who stood in amazement, in compassion. They crossed themselves and spoke soft prayers to God. Life played out before me in all its sadness and hope and glory. The third calendar day from the one we mark as the birth of our savior. A trinity indeed.
It was a short walk, though one long in contemplation, toward the Cluny and the Medieval Age. How did Goethe put it? Das Ewig Weibliche zieht uns hinan? Long I stood in contemplation in front of her. “I’m with her” has such different meaning here.
Hours later a different longing, a secular one? A primal one? Growling out, from the stomach. A simple longing, for mothers cooking? Such a shift from food for thought, and the soul. I ventured out again, on a different road, one well paved, well traveled:
A few turns, a darkened street, a single lite. So much like that first night in France, in the century passed.
Here it lies, just beyond….an adventure.
This must be the place, for romance,
for, shall I say it, dinner?
Mmm, mm. A full day, a full belly, satiated I journeyed forth again, to find just how late the hour.
Even the night owls had ventured home to bed. An example I was looking forward to follow. Just a few steps more, a minute or two only from this very cafe. It was then, so unsuspectingly, at the very threshold of the Inn that I was set upon so suddenly – by a fierce beast with black hair and white fangs. I thought can it be, the hound, the Hound of the Baskervilles!? Why here is the scoundrel:
Well, he is a hound. More Puppy of Paris than diabolical beast. Lemon (pronounced the French way) the Puppy of Paris. Well there is only one thing to do after being set upon by such as he. Uphold the tradition – of Americans abroad. I took him (with the owners permission) into the courtyard for a round of fetch. It was then the urge struck me; and yes, I did the deed, just like so long ago with Lil' Yeller. I taught a young dog a new trick. There were some hastily concealed smiles, betrayed by flashing eyes, from the ladies behind the counter when they heard young Lemon sound forth the proper greeting to the master when he returns home: "Baarrrooooo!". I wonder how that greeting sounds in French? At least in the future no one will mistake him for a puppy. I know, it was, in a word, Deplorable.
Thus concluded the most important events in the tale of a winter journey.