Thursday, October 11, 2007

Stop and smell the pipe smoke.

The strangest things can happen sometimes, if you are willing to let them.

In the space of time that it takes to see the dentist, or see a movie, or to see a friend for a cup of coffee, I was in fact doing none of these things yesterday. The air was bright and cool in-between the buildings, and my feet irresponsibly led me from one side of the narrow street to the other, dipping into blues and greys. I had to dodge a few people, but mainly my eyes were busy scanning and recording every angle and dip and hue, every golden wall that struck it rich in the late sun. After a while it became arduous to remember it all, so I tried to capture my found pleasures with a cheap pen and scrap paper. No luck. Note to self: buy a camera or art supplies. Or both.

Sometimes, within a such a space of time - separate somehow from the before and after - the heightened senses can pick up on something extraordinary that would, on any other day, slip through the ordinary cracks in the sidewalk. Tastes, sounds - especially smells.

Pipe smoke, for instance. It wasn't quite a week ago, when I found myself walking beside a portly gentleman with an impressive wonder of carved wood gracefully dipping in front of his equally-impressive wonder of a chin. I had to shake off my little fancy to follow him. That day - every minute pressed and squeezed for optimal performance - did not allow me to follow the delicious odour which trailed behind him in thin wisps.

Yesterday, however.

Yesterday, I had afforded myself the luxury of no particular aim for a couple of hours, and with all my senses acutely reminding me of this achingly beautiful world I live in, there and then I formed the conviction that I would like very much to visit a certain museum in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I was not sure of its location. It was precisely at this opportune moment of reflexion that I caught a whiff of it again.

Ceci was unmistakably une pipe.

I think if I hadn't been brought around, partaking of a repeated pleasure, the first pipe probably would have faded, been forgotten. But here it was again, in living colour, and enriching all the world around me with wonderment. The two experiences stood towering in my memory, like solid pillars of cloud. I simply had to follow. Parallel to my singular delight at this second chance, another fanciful thought flitted through my mind. Would these delicious threads pull me to my desired destination? In a moment, it seemed inevitable.

Now, please understand that I did not want to alarm this poor gentleman (who was not portly, by the way, nor did he have a chin that is worth writing about, but was a rather ordinary-looking person), but I do not believe that he suspected my odd proceedings, for he continued to whistle and puff through his sunny walk as blissfully unaware as any stalker could hope for.

With a start, I came to my senses - the sensible ones, that is. Following complete strangers around, and in broad daylight? I scolded myself for indulging in such irrational behaviour, and took my gaze off of the back of my poor Pied Piper's head. Several brisk steps later, I had brushed past and was heading, with businesslike resolve, for the Musee Cognacq-Jay before it closed. The spell was broken.

Exactly fifteen slow minutes later (I checked my watch), I stood fuming at the maze of dead ends, narrow passageways, and badly-positioned tourism signs that make up the 4th arrondissement. The wind had changed, and my sails hung limp. Dragging my feet, I turned an unfamiliar corner- only to pick up the scent of a familiar ghost. There he was, strolling in front of me as always, whistling and smoking by turns. He ducked left into a new street. What did I have to lose? Around the bend, he was squinting at a small stone plaque, pipe in hand. I approached - nonchalantly, of course- and read with great surprise the name of my long hoped-for harbor. The very doorstep. Though he could not say the same.

"Excusez- moi, est-ce que vous connaissez ou se trouve le Musee Picasso? Je ne suis pas de Paris."

I was half-surprised that this phantom - angel?- had removed its mouthpiece and was somehow addressing me directly in a very warm, human voice. It was certainly French - though "not from Paris," by its own cheerful admission. Did I know where to find the Picasso museum. Could I point it out to him. Flustered and shy from the sheer irony of it all, I finally offered the use of the map in my bag. * A few brief, cordial exchanges later, the smoldering herald was on its way, leaving a whisper of fragrant thanks behind.

Merci, indeed.

* Yes, I did know that I had a map. But what would I write about if I always relied on that?


Ludwig said...

I love this tale! Thanks AB!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking me on your winding, dreamy way. Beautiful images, sensory delight, love of God's lovely creation. I almost expected a white rabbit to pop up, but that's been done. From Austin, TX - Love, Dad.

Mel Arroz said...

Greetings from beautiful Idaho!

Always a pleasure to come back and be refreshed by your observations & comments. :-)

God's grace, strength, joy & wisdom are ours on the Journey....

Sasha said...


Stephanie said...

I love you Abbey. You should compile your writings into a book. And then give it to me. Cuddling up in a warm blanket with your mind would be a dream.