I have only shared this story of my time in Paris with a few people. Today, the weather was cold and crisp and reminded me of the spring that I was there, and so I have decided to tell you my story.
I was studying art and all week I had been visiting small galleries around the city to research how they organized their exhibits. I made sketches of displays and talked to the staff and saw many beautiful things, but I was tired from making my way around the city and went to the Louvre. I had the entire day to spend and wandered through every floor, I found, quickly losing my way and enjoying the dizzying number of halls. it was a quiet day and though the large sculpture galleries were populated, the floors upstairs were empty and silent.
Security guards roam the museum in great numbers, as well they should, to protect the treasures in that building. They were the most company I found as I wandered upstairs in among the decorative arts exhibits in the Richelieu wing. In the Renaissance section I saw portraits of Jesus and the Virgin Mary and thought about my grandmother. I took photographs to bring back to Canada and show her. There were rosaries in glass cases that reminded me of the ones I saw hanging from her mirror as a child.
The long room I entered into was empty, and the security guard post was vacant. I wondered where he had wandered off to, but was unconcerned as I was the only one in the room. I recall large glass doors at the entrance to this hall, but perhaps I misremember. I was tired and needed to add in the locations from recent sketches I had done, so as to recall where I found the sculptures. I found a bench by the window and sat down.
I was lost in my thoughts in the silence when I saw there were two feet standing before me. I looked up and they were connected to a man. I do not know when he entered the hall, for I heard no noise and never noticed his approach. He was a little older and average looking, with a short beard. I expected he spoke French and as mine was limited, glanced in a way that I hoped demanded what it was he wanted.
He spoke to me in Italian, which surprised me. I replied back in French that I only spoke English. He seemed to understand and said something else, but again I did not understand. He pointed to the pen in my hand, so I offered it. He took it and my map of the museum and wrote something down on it. He handed them back to me and tapped the words with enthusiasm. “Padre Pio,” he said, making sure I read the words.
I looked down at the name and drew a blank. I had no idea who it was, and thought perhaps he had something to do with the art around me — I tried to recall the pieces nearby, and formulate how to ask what it was supposed to mean. But there was no need, as when I looked back up, the man was gone without a trace. Not a soul moved near the entrance to the room, and I was utterly alone.
After a few minutes a group of ladies made their way into the gallery and I saw a security officer wander through. The world seemed to regain movement and I completed my notes, packed away the map with its message and continued my touring without too much concern for what had happened. It was not until that night, in my hotel with fellow students, that I thought to search on the internet for who it was that man insisted I know about.
I’m now familiar with Pio of Pietrelcina, and the things that happened in his lifetime. I’m not a religious person but I still consider the incident to be interesting. Perhaps the Italian man was just particularly swift and quiet, so I did not see his approach or departure in my confusion, being out of place in a foreign country. But I think of the moment with fondness. It was an unusual interaction, to be sure.
That is my story, and what you choose to make of it is up to you. I know that back in my sketchbooks from Paris there is a copy of the Louvre map taped inside with two words written in a foreign hand. As for who write them, I will never know.