We walked to the nearby Tuileries among the weekend pedestrians. Slowly the laughter and senseless chatter of children in the fountains and the cooing of eavesdropped foreign conversation transitioned us away from what had happened. I offered him a snack at the cafe in the park, and he ordered ice cream. We sat on a bench in the park and I, for whatever reason, explained that it was not his fault, it happened all the time, and there is nothing people can do about it. He had no control over what happened. Though they were children, they were professionals.
He interrupted to assure me that they were not children, but grown thieves, but otherwise he agreed that there was nothing he could do. He became softened when I said that fortunately, he was the kind of man that could afford to be pick-pocketed, that he would be fine, and above all, he had a true Parisian story to tell his friends when we returned. He even smiled slightly.
Soon, the subtle heat of the City took its toll on his ice cream, and my father’s shaky hands spilled his ice cream down his shirt. He brushed what he could of it off, though the dark stain was hopeless, and we ambled towards the Louvre, me, taking photos of the palace with a camera unwittingly empty of film, and he, silently fighting the last demons of regret and self-blame.
As if people dissolved with the Parisian sun, the museum was eerily empty. We walked straight to the paintings we had glanced the day before but wanted a more intimate experience with. I always passed up the Venus di Milo because it seemed to me a tourist trap, and the usual gawkers, invariably from Texas, diminished any value I could imagine in seeing it. But without people, the long hallway forced my eye down its perspective and there, naked and alone, under a heavenly halo of museum lighting was Venus.
My father and I must have stood for half-an-hour, circling her, tracing the lines of her unfolding torso, our imaginary hands doing what the faceless Roman’s hands had done millennia before our time. Her form started with some hope in the anonymous sculptor’s mind, fulfilled by faith in the agility of a sculptor’s chisel. And Venus before us, the Goddess of Love, was not unweathered. In fact, as with life, ideal smooth elegance was ruptured by reality. Her arms were missing, even part of her foot. But the middle remained. A subtly twisting torso — the bulk. The steadiness of being. This was not about a love that takes care of someone, comforting someone’s fears. This was about a love that thrushes you to make you naked, but also sifts you to free you from your husks. The solid core of love.
Just as the streets of my friend unfolded new surprises as I turned even the most familiar corner, the museum opened up pieces I was beholding for the first time. I would not know for years to come that this was the last time I would spend with my father. He would not sustain any such dependence on his self-absorbed children; he would buy it from his future wife. For the conventional and for the fearful, the steadiness and strength of love is elusive – maybe something of surface snapshots: my inheritance.
As if we were all made too vulnerable, the museum folded itself up, arm by arm, hallway by hallway, squeezing us out into the palatial, floodlit courtyard. And the men and women of the stone facade, doused in rich, orange light, waved us home.
Today’s Advice: “Even the empirical world in which we live, observing things and events coming into and going out of existence, becomes transformed before our eyes into a field, intangible and mysterious, in which things and events assume a tinge of yugen, losing the empirical solidity of self-subsistency [ego], wafting as it were in the air, thus pointing to the presence of the primordial, non-articulated reality underlying them.” Izutsu