In France I struck up with a guy in the plaza before the big church at Chartres. He lived half a mile to the east and worked a mile to the west so he was forever crossing that plaza, where I met him sitting on a bench.
It must be a big deal to see the Butter Tower and the carved doors every day. He said naw, every village in France has a church. You get used to it and can't see why people come a thousand miles to look at it.
At first I thought he was nuts. The grandest church in Christendom and to him it was just a village shrine. But then in Paris somebody pointed out what they said was the site of a strange romance, and I began to understand the man of Chartres and his relative indifference to the decorative glories of the place.
They said in Paris that's where Robert was hanged in the Middle Ages, for some petty crime, murder or something, and when he was cut down a maiden woman of mature years asked for the body. She didn't know him from Adam, but thought it sad a young man so handsome should die. She took the body home and put it to bed. To the surprise of all, the youth revived. She nursed him back to health. Then she married him.
From them, it was said, one of the respectable houses of France was descended. The mature maiden, they said, was ugly as a hatchet. The handsome Robert, however, had no problem with that.
Of course you never fully trust history picked up casually in Paris or anywhere else, but the story has the acid ring of truth to it, however unlikely.
They should put Robert and Louise (if those were indeed their names) on valentines. Their curious love, between the good-looking youth and the hatchet maiden, shows that sometimes love conquers death. Not to count on miracles, however, it shows something far more practical: Looks aren't as important as the world thinks.
How many ladies, you wonder, have turned down a man merely because he looked sort of dead? Remember Louise, who took a chance and lived happily ever after.
And remember the guy at Chartres, to whom the most gorgeous church of Europe seemed pretty routine. The fact is, you get used to anything, one way or another, and novelty quickly wears off. Ugly or beautiful, all cats are gray at night, as the French say. And this Robert could have done a lot worse. Like not having some crazy Louise on hand, with her dotty notion that she could bring him round, good as new.