Treasure

And maybe the greatness of a city lies only in the number of treasures it houses, locked away in its museums and bank vaults. Europe is crammed with treasure. Casks of emeralds and golden goose eggs. Chips from the femur bones of martyrs. The slightly bent crowns of long-dead kings.

Here, in this city, the treasure is a book, which is why I like this city. A book in a vault which is itself inside a vault, and you can only look at one or two pages at a time because the thing is so delicate and crumbling that any disturbance, a sneeze, will obliterate it to dust. The monks who who bent over its pages by candle light, ruining their eyes, used lapis lazuli for the blue. It could only be found, then, in one mine in the world, and that mine was across an ocean and then another ocean, and then a dessert.

Getting here, I swear, the plane banked for the entire flight and planes that bank and do nothing else are guaranteed to make me sick, to stir up every almost-dead fear that still lurks in my head about airplanes. About them falling out of the sky.

In Italian, that’s how they say “plane crash.” There is no crash. No notion of what actually happens on the ground. Just the long, airless journey there. In Italian, planes fall.

There are other treasures here that I won’t see. Another tiny Vermeer glinting on a wall. Stained glass. An axe handle smeared with the traces of a warrior’s blood.

I always try to leave some things unseen, so I have a reson to come back.

And still, as everywhere, there is a room upstairs with a couple fighting in a language I don’t understand. A soft little cake full of berries and sugar. Pan handlers. Waiters who smile once they get a good look at you. A guy playing a guitar.

I’ll be back in Paris on Sunday.

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