First in a series of posts about a Tauck river cruise on the Danube from Budapest to Bucharest and an after-trip to glorious Alsace.
In the gloom of the Strasbourg cathedral, a woman slipped her hand through the tracery of the staircase leading to the pulpit. Something about the movement arrested me. What was she reaching to touch? What was I missing with my photographic survey?
I realized she wasn’t reaching through at all. Her hand was cupping something I couldn’t see. Her body pulled inward. Though I could only see the edge of her face — a middle aged woman, like me — I sensed she was gathering something from her touch. Or perhaps releasing it.
I couldn’t look away.
I don’t know how long she stood there. I don’t know if I was actually holding my breath but I didn’t want her to be aware of my presence. I had been walking through the famous Notre Dame of Strasbourg, a character in my own virtual film, clicking on the statuary and windows, playing the role of dutiful tourist, when the projection stopped.
After a time — I don’t know how long — the woman dropped her hand and walked away. I moved closer to inspect.
She’d been communing with a small figure of a puppy carved into the stonework. The puppy’s torso protruded through the teardrop shaped opening. Its head rested between oversized paws, but it looked uncomfortable. Its brows bulged, and its eyes were partially open.
Then I noticed that the puppy was stained darker than the surrounding stone — as if touched by many hands.
Did people venerate the little dog? Was there a story associated with him? Or, small as he was, did he transform the Gothic edifice into something more familiar? Did he provide some succor than the giant saints and the soaring stained glass windows could not?
I am home now, writing in my kitchen and thinking about the trip I returned from two days ago. I saw wondrous things, famous things, and met fascinating people. But what I remember most, what I obsess about, are these moments I can’t explain. The stories I stumbled into, and now must finish on my own.
Next: Surrendering in Budapest