I decided to push myself into the crowd. To get closer to the feature at the front of the room which seemed to have such mystic and grand importance the term idol worship sprang to mind. There was a panicked sort of energy about the place. Perhaps even an anger residing below the surface like a river of lava under a volcano, getting ever hotter.
You’d think people would be excited, but I imagined this crowd had the potential – just the right amount of volatility – to turn itself into a violent mob like what I’d seen on stage in Les Miserables. We were in Paris after all … and I was at the Louvre.
Mona Lisa was watching us with that mischievous smirk on her face.
At first, the thick crowd in front of the famous Ms. Lisa repelled me - as though it couldn’t possibly consider adding another body to itself. Then suddenly and swiftly it swallowed me up. Whole. Then there was no getting out – only going in. I looked over to Mark, who decided to stay safe on the sideline, as slick and shiny arms pressed up against mine, sliding and sticking, our sweaty liquids mixing on the surface of my skin. Panic rose in my throat. I pictured myself from above as though I was one of those grocery bags swirling in the middle of the ocean, stuck in a spiralling vortex of floating plastic. Just an oil-based product lost at sea.
My own insignificance overwhelmed me as I felt even smaller than I usually do.
Then a push from behind. A hand shoved against my back. My left foot stepped forward to stop the imbalance. A stranger’s sandalled foot under my shoe. A yell “Hey!” A woman’s angry face swivelled back at me. A sharp glare from her followed by an “I’m sorry” from my own small apologetic Canadian voice. Now, I had a strong sense of fear. Injustice. Me, shrinking … regretting, suddenly certain I didn’t care at all about Mona Lisa. What I cared about was my safety. Also, I wanted to hose down my arms. It was time to abandon the famed art and seek the exit.
Now, safely from the sidelines, I watched Mona and all her fans as the guards actively repeated the same phrases over and over again “Step back, Ma’am” and “Move this way, Mister”. Each person at the front of the crowd pressed up against the security rope, ipads and smartphones and cameras were frantically held up like torches to capture the momentous event. No one wanted to be robbed of the opportunity to record their experience. Equality was at stake.
Selfies of “Me and Mona” were documented and posted instantly to social media.
Did anybody care? Seriously? Actually?
I mean, I don’t even think I cared. Which is hard to admit since I love and appreciate art to a great extent. But it’s the truth. Before I came to the Louvre I spent no time at all thinking about Mona Lisa. Sure, I’ve seen copies of her painting countless times. I’ve studied her in art class. But it would make no difference to me if I never saw the painting in my lifetime. Anyway, the closest you could get to her was twenty feet… and even then she was behind a barrier of glass. A photocopy would reveal more detail.
And then there’s that other nagging question. Is it a replica?
Real or not, Mona was pummeled with a million-billion eyeballs from an unending, unrelenting and very thick crowd. But was anybody looking at her? Like, really looking at her. Or were they merely documenting their Mona moment with the snap of a camera – in a clinical and factual manor. Would anyone look at that photo later on and say, “Yes, that’s when I saw Mona Lisa – what a magical moment that I will forever cherish”. I doubt it.
It all makes me wonder … what was being documented if there was no real experience?
And, if there’s no experience, emotion or connection - then why take a photo?
At another place in the museum I overheard one woman say to another “What are you taking a photo of?” She answered “I don’t know, but everyone else is taking photos so I thought I should too.”
That’s the nail on the head.
And exactly what hype is. Hype ensures that we continue to chase dreams that belong to other people. Hype keeps us attempting to relive the love scenes from Paris – ones we’ve seen in romantic movies. It makes us go places and do things, seek out moments … ever checking off the list.
But hype is empty.
Mona Lisa can only be viewed from 20 feet away and is probably a fake. The lineup to the famous cafe is two hours long. The Eiffel Tower is littered with pick-pocketers and guarded with machine guns. The quiet magical moment from the movie is now a cacophony of car horns, exhaust and tourists. The love-locks for the bridge are pushed by street vendors and a sense of cheapness has settled in. I commend the first romantic lovers that put a lock on the bridge. Great idea. Probably a really cool couple.
Graffiti on the bridge now says “Make Love, not Love Locks”. Unless making a love-lock means something to you, I guess.
The church pew in Notre Dame has become a refuge for exhausted tourists to rest their eyes in a “praying pose” after waiting in a skin-scorching, sunny lineup for several hours. Once inside the famed church, the interior of one’s own eyelids is more enticing than ancient stained glass, which is really unfortunate since the church is truly breathtaking, if you have the patience for it. For me, when I finally got to a pew, I wanted to take a nap. (that’s the sad truth)
Chasing hype is tiresome and therefore overrides the experience or any sense of “being in the moment”. The result is a grand series of underwhelming moments, few of which are meaningful. One can live a whole lifetime like that. In a sense, checking a list that the general public has hyped into existence.
It takes time, patience, curiosity and a great sense of risk-taking to discover ones own moments and to truly live in them. It also takes bravery to overlook the hype-list in favour of original discovery instead. In Paris, I was reminded to make my own memories and forgo the hype.
Here’s my moment:
It was the breeze, the way the sun was shining all dappled through the trees, the faint music in the distance, the fact that we were ready to take a break. It was the taste of the chocolate with that red wine. It was the mood we were in. The conversation. It was altogether nothing … and yet it was everything.
It was a moment to pause. One to remember. Maybe even take a photograph. Funny thing, though… usually when I find myself in such a moment, I forget to take a picture.
I won’t tell you where our moment was. Just that it was somewhere in Paris. And it wasn’t on “the list”. I won’t tell you because I don’t want you to go there. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any hype… and anyway, you should go and find your own moment.