A small one-week feature on what happens when we clean our houses. What bubbles to the surface. What reveals itself to be true. What our junk says about our current state and next steps. What the season does to us.
As I mentioned yesterday, in the box of palm-sized books that I’ve accumulated over the years, I stumbled upon my tiny book of the arrondissements of Paris. I bought this in Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon in 1995, two years before my move to Europe was even on the radar screen. It cost $7.50 and was missing several plates. In other words, it was utterly unsuitable as a “real” map.
I didn’t dream specifically of living in Paris, but I dreamed vaguely and achingly of living “more.” Of having some sort of experience that would give me license some day in the far-off future to lean back and say with my eyes closed in contentment, “Yes. Now I have lived, really lived!” Of course, that was folly. Contentment is an ebbing and flowing affair and has more to do with internal voyaging than external, I believe. But still, it was a dream. And there, in the heap of things that spring cleaning asks me to reconsider once a year, is the physical manifestation of it. And every year, I will see it, blow off the dust and save it again.
I was also drawn to this book, I know, because I love maps. I am one of those daft people that can entertain herself for a long, long time looking at a road map or an atlas. My mother is the same. Perhaps it’s an inherited trait. I’m interested in the real, raw physical information about a place, but I’m also drawn to the graphic laciness of maps. Either to the random intricacy which corresponds to a reality in a place I can’t see with my own eyes. Or to the studied geometry, radial or gridded, that inspires visions of people living with order, harmony and piped in Baroque music. But most of all, I love maps because I feel as if I can see the future in them. I have the idea that maps are actually “mapping” something else—”where to go” existentially speaking. I once drew a map: two lines making a perfect intersection. One was the road “Need,” and the other was the road “Desire.” I was hoping to stand where they crossed.
I think I must have seen my future, sort of, in these out-dated maps of Paris. If I bought the little book, if I owned it, maybe I would internalize where it was telling me to go. Some years later, in an antique store in Savannah, Georgia, I bought a handful of snapshots of Rome, taken in the 1950’s with a brownie camera. The work of a tourist with an adoring eye. They were—every one of them—beautiful tiny black and white images surrounded by those lacy edges photos used to have. They, too, were a sort of map for me. My spring cleaning this year hasn’t turned them up, but I need to find them. Who knows, maybe those photos and this map of Paris brought me to this life half in Italy, half in France, and punctuated by trips back home. Where need and desire don’t always intersect, but sometimes they do. And beautifully.