The Secret Language of Stones

"I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul." -Pablo Neruda

Every morning the pavement in front of our shop in the Palais Royal is washed clean by the tears of the mothers of dead soldiers, widowed wives and heartsick lovers.

Look to the right and left. There is grit and grime in front of Giselle's Glove Emporium and the family Thibaut's umbrella store, but at La Fantasie Russie, the walkway is sparkling like newly polished stones.

Here inside the mythic Palais Royal arcade, the stores are not all as busy as they were before the war except for ours. In fact, it's the war that's responsible for our steady stream of clients.

There is nothing to identify what we offer in advertisements.

Visitez Le Palais Royal invites the dark haired seductress in the pre-war poster painted by a friend of my mother's, who signs his work simply PAL. The posters, first printed more than a dozen years ago, have been reprinted often, and you can see them, a bit worn and faded, plastered onto kiosks on Rue de Rivoli.

Unlike the women who come to see me, the lady in the poster is untouched by war. Swathed in pearls around her neck and wrists and crowned with an elaborate bejeweled headdress, she smiles at potential shoppers. Her low cut, jewel-studded teal gown shows off her creamy skin and ample breasts. Her delicate fingers, decorated with the loveliest diamond rings, beckon and point to the arcade, showing clients the way.

Walk in through the main entrance, a stone archway stained with centuries of soot, down the pathway, past the fountain, through the Palais's gardens, halfway to the end...but wait...before you turn right towards the shops, stop and admire the magic of the garden first planted over two hundred years ago.

Some of the most glorious roses in all of Paris grow here, and even now, in the midst of all our strife and sadness, the air is fragrant with their perfume. The flowers don't care that their blood red petals and razor sharp thorns remind mothers and wives of loved ones' lives cut short, stolen by the war. The bees don't either. On some afternoons, their buzzing is the loudest noise you hear. On others, just an accompaniment to the drone of the air-raid sirens that frighten us all and send us running for shelter.

In PAL's advertisement, in the left corner, is a list of the shops in this oasis hidden away from the bustle of Paris.

Under Maisons Notables & Recommandées, jewelers are the first category. Our store is listed at the top. After all, Pavel Orloff trained with the famous Faberge, who is a legend even here in the land of Cartier, Foquet, Boucheron and Van Cleef and Arpels.

La Fantasie Russie is tucked in at number 130. There are a total of six jewelry stores in the arcades beneath what were once royal apartments built in the mid-1600s by Cardinal Richelieu so he could be close to the King. In the late 1700s, Philippe Egaliteé's theatre was built and elite stores moved into the arcades facing the glorious inner courtyard.

Royalty no longer resides here. Rather the bourgeoisie inhabit the apartments; including the well-to-do shopkeepers who live above their stores, famous writers and poets, established actors, dancers, directors, and choreographers. The theater in the east wing of the complex draws the creative here despite the darkness inhabiting this ancient square. For the Palais has not without its tragedy. Egaliteé himself was beheaded here and some say his ghost still roams his apartments late at night.

Monsieur Orloff's wife, Anna, whose amethyst eyes see more than most, has warned me about the spirits haunting this great and complicated warren of stores, residences, basements, and deep underground tunnels. But it's not just the dead who contribute to the mist of foreboding that sometimes falls on the Palais. The miasma of dread that seems to issue forth from the ancient stones themselves is perpetuated by the living as well.

Behind the closed doors and lowered window shades, in the shadowy stairwells, and dusty attic rooms, scandals are enacted and secrets told. Some of the elegant quarters are sullied by brothels and others by gambling dens. Rumors keep us up at night with worry that German spies crisscross under the Palais as they move around the tunnels and catacombs beneath the city's wide boulevards and grand architecture.

But for all its shadows, with so much tragedy in Paris, in France, in Europe, in all the world, our strange oasis is all the more precious. Physically untouched by the war, the Palais's fountain and gardens offer a respite from the day, from the year. Her stores a distraction. All of them, including number 130. The doorway to marvelous displays of precious gems and gleaming objects of adornment but also the unknown, the occult and the manifest. Number 130, the portal to the necromancer, to me.