I almost punched a man in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre

by Joanne Black / 16 October, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Mona Lisa Louvre

Crowds in front of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Louvre, France. Photo/Getty Images

It was hard to raise a smile at the Mona Lisa, but the rest of the Louvre more than made up for it.

The world-famous Louvre is the home of many amazing spectacles, and I nearly created one myself when we visited while on holiday. I am not a violent person, but I had to walk away from the Mona Lisa because if I did not, I feared I was going to be overcome by gallery rage and punch the man who pushed in front of me, wrestled himself in to an advantageous position, then turned his back on the painting, used one hand to raise his fingers in the peace sign and with the other hand started taking selfies.

He was older than me, which makes no difference – except that if you think of selfie-taking as a proclivity of the young, then you can hope they will grow out of it. It’s hard to hold onto that hope for people who look to be in their sixties. This guy seemed to be making up for his lost youth before taking photos of oneself became so easy and shameless.

The Mona Lisa herself did not move me at all. I so loathed the selfie-taking crowd that I barely spent 10 seconds in front of the masterpiece. And that was long enough to note that it was hung behind thick glass, which is perfectly understandable for security reasons but somewhat inhibits the gallery experience of peering at the brush strokes, then standing back in awe that an artist knew that by applying certain colour in a particular manner, he or she (in the Louvre, almost certainly “he”) would create an effect that would be perfect when viewed across a room.

I fled the crowds in favour of the porcelain, which was exquisite, but in some of the rooms of the Louvre, it was easy to see how the French Revolution came about. There was extreme inequality, and I would not have wanted to pay the taxes that supported the lifestyles of the 0.001%, even though I would have demurred at beheadings. Nevertheless, I am grateful that enough of their art, furniture and tableware collections survived so that peasants like me could enjoy the beauty and craftsmanship of it.

When we went to France, it was closed. People used to say this about visiting New Zealand at the weekends, but in France it was true. We were there only five days, and a combination of a weekend, August summer holidays and a public holiday for “The Assumption” meant almost every shop was shut. The Assumption – in which the Virgin Mary is thought to have ascended to Heaven – does not appear in the Bible, but marking it is certainly real in France.

I do not begin to understand how the country – beautiful as it is – has a functioning economy. Who does the work and when do they do it?

We visited World War I battlefields, including the Somme and Ypres where one of my grandfathers fought. It is a landscape of pity. The first New Zealand grave I saw was of a 22-year-old – the same age as my son, who is in New Zealand, working in his first full-time job, just as so many of the young New Zealand men interred in France and Belgium should have been 100 years ago.

Mine is probably the last generation with a personal connection to the soldiers of WWI, and it is interesting to ponder how future generations will view these cemeteries.

Listening to the debate in the US about Confederate monuments weeks ago reminds me that our view of history is anything but static. I hope future generations keep the cemeteries and ditch the selfies.

This article was first published in the September 2, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Why is there a massive table down at the Auckland Viaduct?
90168 2018-04-27 09:30:58Z Urbanism

Why is there a massive table down at the Auckland …

by Vomle Springford

If you’ve been along the waterfront lately, you may have noticed a rather large blue table at the Eastern Viaduct.

Read more
The Handmaid's Tale season two extends the novel in the #MeToo moment
90164 2018-04-27 09:02:44Z Television

The Handmaid's Tale season two extends the novel i…

by Linda Wight

The second season of Handmaid's Tale promises to continue to disturb - and inspire.

Read more
The dubious justice of jailhouse confessions
90153 2018-04-27 07:27:24Z Crime

The dubious justice of jailhouse confessions

by Mike White

Prison informants should be considered the most untrustworthy of all witnesses, but NZ police and prosecutors still resort to them when desperate.

Read more
Why young South Koreans are sceptical about reunification
90126 2018-04-27 00:00:00Z World

Why young South Koreans are sceptical about reunif…

by Francine Chen

Despite North Korea’s recent diplomatic overtures, young South Koreans believe reunification is an unlikely prospect in their lifetimes.

Read more
How Kimbra's Primal Heart was shaped by New York and Ethiopia
90120 2018-04-27 00:00:00Z Music

How Kimbra's Primal Heart was shaped by New York a…

by James Belfield

After visiting Ethiopia, I decided I needed to be around that energy where I could feel vitality all around me, says pop star Kimbra.

Read more
Why you crave junk food and how to make it stop
89472 2018-04-27 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Why you crave junk food and how to make it stop

by Jennifer Bowden

When it comes to eating junk food, unaddressed hunger and fatigue do come back to bite us.

Read more
Top wine picks from Nelson and Canterbury
90133 2018-04-27 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Nelson and Canterbury

by Michael Cooper

Nelson and Canterbury are far smaller in terms of their vinous output than Marlborough, but they certainly hold their own in terms of quality.

Read more
The Law Society's #MeToo (But Not Just Yet) moment
90144 2018-04-26 14:40:52Z Social issues

The Law Society's #MeToo (But Not Just Yet) moment…

by The Listener

The Law Society is investigating a female lawyer, but silent about how it’s dealing with sexual misconduct matters.

Read more