I went to the Louvre some time ago, that fancy art museum in Paris. The details are sketchy now but I remember my wife Elizabeth (a.k.a. Elizé in a prior travelogue) and I walked along Les Tuileries past a giant Ferris wheel and a gold statue of Joan of Arc. Not to be all touristy, we went past the big glass pyramid at the Louvre and in the side street entrance.
I was on a mission to see just one painting: Jacque Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii. I’d seen it in a picture book and even did a sketch, but aside from that painting I didn’t care about anything else except avoiding crowds. I didn’t need to see Venus or Victory or Liberty—and certainly not the Mona Lisa. No maps, no guides, no headphones. And no Mona! That would be typical. I’d hate to be typical. I don’t run with the pack. I’m a contrarian.
Elizabeth had her own agenda that started with the gift shop so I took off to find David’s Oath. Sure, I saw some famous artworks on the way: Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, that desperate shipwreck of a painting, and Ingres’ Odalisque—she with the serpentine spine. I saw pictures of revolutionaries and aristocrats aplenty as I searched the galleries until, bam! There it was, the Oath of the Horatii—that big old Neo-classic masterpiece: a picture painted in 1784 after a story told in 0 AD about an event in 660 BC. It was big and manly, potent and heroic, a fraternity of brothers ready to fight the enemy. That was a favorite theme in Revolutionary France, and with their penchant for antiquated morals, this Roman scenario fit the bill. The painting shows Horatius handing out swords to his three sons who were all jacked up on a “let’s go get ‘em” trip against a clan from Alba while their women whined about the coming rumble. Me, I’m just thinking, like, “Careful, boys—or somebody’s gonna lose a finger.” So, yeah it’s a pretty awesome painting. Mission accomplished.
I was backpedaling away from that heavy scene when I stumbled blindly into another gallery where I was caught off guard—taken by surprise. I suddenly sensed a force field, a magnetic presence in the room. I turned and there she was, holding court over her subjects, presiding from her elevated position over a flock of adoring fans, onlookers all agog, buzzing like bees, snapping pictures and clicking devices as if she was giving a press conference. Calm and confident, she knew how to make a statement, how to win a popularity contest. All eyes were on her. Mona Lisa.
In spite of myself I was drawn by her countenance to the outer fringe and flux of her followers. She was radiant, well-modeled in form with hot and hazy contours—sfumato I guess they call it. Smoke got in my eyes. Then our eyes locked and she followed me as I inched through the crowd. She smiled at me. I wasn’t sure at first, but yeah—it was definitely aimed at me. Her beauty was way more than skin deep. It reached down to the very soul—mine. My heart raced. She tried acting all coy and demure and stuff, but we were having a moment. I nodded and she winked. She was beguiling and I was smitten. I drew closer and closer and finally confronted her and right then and there, with her back against the wall, we consummated our impulsive affair. We sublimated. That’s right—we had an aesthetic interlude, Mona and me, in front of a crowd of onlookers and security guards. What was I thinking? We parted just as suddenly as we had met.
I caught up with my wife. She’d been browsing, people watching, checking out her own cast of bronze and marble stud muffins. The next thing I know, we’re in a café dining on chateaubriand. I was feeling guilty and pondered the wisdom of telling her about my secret rendezvous with a woman not nearly as beautiful as she is. But how to tell her? “Hey honey, guess who I bumped into” or “You’ll never guess what happened in the Louvre.” What a putz I’d been—a typical tourist seduced by paint on a poplar panel! Now I’ll have to admit it to Elizabeth, ‘fess up to the whole psychic affair. It’ll be a hoot. But then, it’s not like Mona was going to be blabbing anything to her husband Francesco. What to do.
“Garcon” I said, “Bring us a bottle of La Gioconda—I mean Gigondas!”