Paris, 2012

In the cathedral of Notre Dame. The two of us and maybe two hundred other tourists--our voices flew against the walls and scooped around the high cupolas and we took photographs of each other in front of plaques, in front of statues. A German tour guide lead her group from alcove to alcove in a low steady staccato and every few feet there was another box with a coin slot, this one for Mary, that one for the pipe organ.

A man's voice at an unseen microphone said, "sssshhhhhh," and then he said something in French that sounded like "silence" and "prayer" and the cathedral quieted. We sat in the congregation for a while and Joe held my hand. On our way out he put a couple euros in a jar and lit a candle and after we walked out I asked him what he had wished for. He said I didn't understand Catholic candles and that he had tried not to ask for anything. He said he had felt something when the cathedral was silent and it had moved him.

Across the street there's an English language book store called Shakespeare and Company. It's about a hundred years old and was the intellectual home and sometimes actual home of many of the writers of "the lost generation" in the twenties and thirties. It was crowded and quiet. Upstairs they have a library and some chairs and a piano and two cots made up with scratchy wool blankets. There's a mirror covered in notes written on receipts and napkins, taped and glued and wedged in to cracks--tourists and other pilgrims hoping to become part of the history of the place.

I touched the books and the walls. A nail stuck out from a door jam and tore my sleeve and I was glad that I would carry some mark of the place with me for the rest of the day, and whenever I wore that jacket again.

I left a note but I didn't know what to say. I said that I was sorry for coming so late, that I hoped to come back one day.

I tried not to ask for anything.

I tucked my note into the corner of the mirror and went downstairs and bought two books and when we walked out I wanted to cry.