As a teen I had directional dyslexia. I always carried dimes for phone calls in case I lost my way. Moving ten times before I turned sixteen may have thrown off my compass. While others might have become more competent travelers due to frequent relocation, I was hardly a trailblazer.


In 1971, I stopped for an unexpected layover in Paris with a group of twenty exchange students heading to Barcelona. All public transportation was on strike the day we arrived, so my school hired a private bus to visit Napoleon’s tomb. My only day in Paris—and visiting a tomb! The Light wouldn’t let me waste this opportunity. I pleaded and cajoled until the Headmaster granted me permission to go to the Louvre alone, literally without a map.


As the bus pulled away, I set out for the palace of treasures. Whenever a passerby smiled at me, I’d ask, “Le Louvre?”  Some would shrug and turn away, others would point, or sketch a map on paper scraps. I wandered until the museum appeared before me, the first miracle of the day. Then there was the art. My dream come true!


Racing through the Louvre in the tow of youthful enthusiasm, I stopped so close to the Mona Lisa that my bated breath probably added crackles to her glaze. I marveled at a peak of paint curling from a Van Gogh poppy, as if the artist had just lifted his palette knife.  Too soon the afternoon ended and it was time find my way back. Anxiety arose.


It’s one thing to ask the way to the Louvre, but how does a foreigner ask her way to an obscure, unpronounceable hostel on a street just as unmemorable and unpronounceable?


Parisian pedestrians were less helpful now, impatient to get home to families and dinners.  Following the Light might have left me wandering the City of Light forever! But finally—atop a platform, his gloved hands orchestrating the tangle of traffic, stood an elegantly caped policeman.


“Ask him!” the Light commanded. I approached him and asked for the hundredth time, teary-eyed. “Can you help me? I’m lost.” He did not smile, but halted all four directions of traffic, and snatched my piece of paper, scowling at my scrawl. The entire intersection gridlocked as he tried to give me directions in French. Clueless, I shook my head. Like the other Parisians he then shrugged, saying,“Venez avec moi, jeune fille!” Assuming this meant, “Go away, kid, you bother me,” I shuffled back to the sidewalk, crestfallen.


Catching up with me, the policeman tapped my shoulder. He motioned for me to follow, leading me all the way to the hostel.  As he jogged away he called, “Bon chance, mademoiselle!” What became of all those commuter cars waiting for him, I do not know, but following the Light off the map provided a third miracle—a kindly navigator!

—Claire Nail