This week's mail brought a picture post card from Paris, a gargoyle's-eye view from the spires of Notre Dame. Though I have not been on the sloping roof of that grand cathedral, except in my imagination while reading Victor Hugo, I recognize the scene.
It is shot toward the Ile St. Louis, the small and elegant island in mid-Seine that floats like a graceful dinghy behind the boat-shaped Ile de la Cite.
The card said: "I arrived this morning from London and am at the Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli. I am now in the bus at Notre Dame awaiting our guide. Thanks again for the flowers that surprised me in Florence. . . ."
The message rang bells, but faint ones. I glanced at the date: July 27. This was March; I was puzzled. Then I saw a tiny message scribbled in a different pen:
"I wonder--in 1987--if this happened to me in 1967 or '68 or when?"
It is from a dear friend, a friend who was in Paris in the late 1960s and who, it turns out, did write me a card after all. She simply did not mail it. Now it has arrived in an envelope stuffed with old clippings and matchbook covers.
'Cleaning Out Desk'
"Just cleaning out my desk and wanted you to know I care," she wrote in a margin.
I understand. I buy post cards in my travels, and, sometimes, I mail them. If not, they make nice souvenirs or gift cards. In China they often come in slim packets tied with cord. Post cards from afar add zest to note writing, by making the recipient pause for a moment to savor where a friend is--or may have been.
In my drawer of post cards are three from a raid on the gift shop of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One is a 1967 serigraph of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol. I am mailing it to a friend in Chicago as a tribute to the artist.
There is a black-and-white photo of Schloss Sighartstein in Neumarkt near Salzburg, and two lavish Byzantine mosaics from the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, once capital of the Roman Empire. There are bristling color photos of the Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, of the turreted Hotel del Coronado, of the stately Diplomat in Stockholm.
A misty photo of the pagoda of Asoka is nestled with pale pictures of Chinese drip stones and cliff carvings. There are watercolors of the Stanford Court in San Francisco signed by artist Betty Guy.
I study each card and remember a dinner, or a chuckle, or a sunrise.
Except for Ravenna. I do not recall ever being there and, as that Italian city is said to have the finest collection of mosaics in Europe, I think I would know.
Maybe they were sent to me by the pal who was in Paris and Florence in 1967 . . . or 1968. I'll drop her a post card and ask.