The Corner

Euroderb (Cont.) in Paris

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

tour guide.

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.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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