Today I saw the Mona Lisa. But I didn’t actually see her. What I really mean to say is, today I was in the presence of the Mona Lisa. That’s all you can do really, be in the presence of it. There’s no such thing as actually seeing the Mona Lisa, not when there’s tourists involved-and in this city there always are. Let me describe what a trip to see that famous gal really entails.
I walked into the room where she is housed, by chance really, thank God I didn’t set aside time specifically to see her. It was a stunning room, not as lavish as some of the showstoppers in the Louvre but stunningly dressed with luxurious paintings by this and that famous painter (not that anyone in the room actually cared). I walked slowly around the room, stopping every now and then to admire the works that really caught my eye. I read a few plaques here and there while mentally preparing to dive into the obnoxious glob of tourists crowding Mona. After seeing basically everything else there was to see, I decided to finally play tourist.
One: good thing about going to see the Mona Lisa, you literally cannot miss her. Mona, she’s a petite little beauty, but the huge swarm of buzzing tourists crowding around her like a hoard of famished animals ready to pounce is kinda hard to miss. People are squeezed into this small roped off section, which just exacerbates the whole animalistic feel of the visit and makes you wonder if you’re at a world-renowned museum or a zoo. Tourists push, shove, and fight to make their way to the front as if Lisa could at any point materialize into a real person, grow some legs, and walk off somewhere less hellish. I honestly wouldn’t blame her.
Anyway, after being bumped, bruised and elbowed in the boobs a few times (being 5’3” has many disadvantages), I finally made my way up to the front. And for what?
Once I made my way up to “the front” -the front being the little crevice between the heads of two different Asian tourists taking various peace-signed selfies- I wasn’t anywhere near enough to actually appreciate this thing that everyone calls a masterpiece. Even if I had been at the front there would have been no way to appreciate the painting. Mona was barricaded behind a wooden barrier protecting her from peasant paws by keeping them a safe three feet away. A sad and murky sheet of bulletproof glass veiled the painting itself. This massive protective shield ironically made Mona seem insignificant. To tell you the truth, Mona looked like nothing but a blur, a little hiccup of history overshadowed by camera happy tourists, screaming unamused kids, and general chaos
After about two minutes, I had to get out.
I wondered how long it had actually been since someone had actually looked at the Mona Lisa, not snapped a selfie, not glanced for five seconds, not fought other people to get to the front of the line and claim the empty honor of having seen the Mona Lisa but actually looked at her and appreciated her for what she really is. I wondered when the last time was that someone had stood in front of her and had a thought other than “my friends will be so jealous” or “can’t wait to put this on Instagram.”
This inability to actually look at famous works of art is not new to me; it’s one of the struggles of living in a city with a lot of tourists and really important works. The inability to see the Mona Lisa in Paris is the same as the inability to see Van Gogh’s Starry night in New York. It’s sad that these works have such a celerity status that people who actually value art can’t look at what is considered to be some of the best art. I would like to go to The Louvre and have a good look at the Mona Lisa. I would like to have the ability to scrutinize her and decide for myself if I actually think this is a masterpiece rather than just believe it because people say it is so and because of all her groupies. I’m sure it’s been too long since any one could look at her and wonder about her ambiguous face and what she was thinking. But I think this is the sad fate that these bright stars have been condemned to, a superficial level of admiration. I doubt the barricades and bulletproof glass will ever disappear.