Nothing much to report from yesterday. We did more sightseeing: the
Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Left Bank. We spent much more time in the
Louvre than we intended, though of course much less that it deserves, so we
had to postpone a couple of attractions for another time.
I talked myself hoarse explaining to my kids the stories behind the pictures
in the Louvre – to my kids, and to a couple of sweet old Japanese ladies,
who began by eavesdropping discreetly from a few feet away on what I was
saying, but ended up elbowing my kids aside so they could stare up my
nostrils and ask me difficult questions about why the Medusa had sunk (I couldn’t remember), who Napoleon was about to crown (that one I knew), or
what happened to Horatius & his pals (luckily I’d been force-fed the poem at
school). Nice to know I’m not totally unemployable – I could get work as a
The kids naturally wanted to see Mona Lisa, so we did. The fuss about the thing is absurd, of course. It’s beautifully done – the guy was a grand
master – but so is everything else here. It’s the Louvre, for goodness’
sake. The Mona Lisa’s become a handy visual token for Art, like the Grand
Canyon for Nature, the Hindenberg on fire for Disaster, Marilyn Monroe on
the subway grille for Sex, and so on. (In Paris, you could add: Che
Guavara for Idealism. There are pictures of the thug on sale everywhere —
T-shirts, posters, postcards… Very peculiar.) The Mona Lisa being thus
established at a token, it’s no longer possible to see it as anything else,
so it has become boring.
I suppressed all this for the kids’ sakes – at their age, they NEED tokens
to get them started on knowledge, and there are few things more harmful to
kids than adult cynicism – so we all had a good look at the smiling gal.
Then we walked across the hall and had a much better look at Veronese’s huge
canvas of the wedding feast at Cana. I reminded them of the story, showed
them all the realistic touches – there’s a lady picking her teeth in one
corner – explained why none of the costumes, utensils, or musical
instruments bears the slightest resemblance to anything in 1st-century
Palestine, and added the few fragments I could remember about the artist.
My street cred with the kids is now at an all-time high. Not only can I ask
directions in pidgin Italian and French, I think I have also persuaded them
that there is some point in looking at big old pictures and sculptures.
Danny, who has the small boy’s fascination with horror and disaster, had to
be dragged away from the Raft of the Medusa and now wants to read it up,
dissatisfied with my crumbs of knowledge about the darn thing.
Not that I could altogether resist teasing the little angels. Looking at
the antique Roman statuary, they were impressed with how prolific the
sculptor named “Inconnu” had been. (The Louvre tags most exhibits in French
only.) Yes, I said: and not only was Inconnu a fine sculptor, he was also
a poet with a staggeringly large output! The kids are used to my style,
though, and know to get a cross check on stuff like that. I shall be
hearing from them about this.