The Mirror, Edward Steichen (1902)
When I graduated high school in Vancouver, my first love gave me a vintage silver compact mirror. It was engraved with a relief reminiscent of the Belle Époque, and closed with a delicious click.
He said when he came across it, he instantly saw me in it, and as I popped open the curlicued top, I saw the way I wanted to be seen –Old World, romantic, dramatic, beautiful – but never felt I could be. I carried the compact with me everywhere, long after we went our separate ways, not as a token of thoughtful love, but as a talisman of sorts against my self doubts.
In the summer of 2012, I carried it across the ocean to Italy. A pragmatic traveler, I left all my other valuables behind save this one.
At 5am, I was bent over the river Arno, washing the charcoal of a fire from my hands. The sun was tingeing the sky aperol, the bank soft, the river marbled with light; I paused, swirling my hands in the water. This was Old World, romantic, dramatic, beautiful. It was a self-indulgent out-of-body moment that embarrassed me quickly. My friends called from the street. I straightened, swinging my purse around. Something softly splashed in the water. I hurried to catch them.
We were halfway across the city when I discovered it was missing. I fell behind, I began to cry; I had dropped my prized possession in the river. I had heard it splash, I had assumed it was nothing, I could have checked, but wine-hazed and sleep deprived I had ignored it.
But I often think of it. Stuck in the riverbed, there is an engraved silver circle catching the silt-filtered sun. Some long-forgotten woman’s mirror, rebought as a first love’s gift from a world away, waiting to be found in the Arno. There is something about it that is Old World, romantic, dramatic. Beautiful.