It’s hard to avoid cultural life in Paris – unless you put your mind to it. And to my continual surprise, some people do precisely that.
As I was leaving my apartment today to say farewell to a few haunts in Paris, I heard a professional or quasi-professional choir on the streets below singing Christmas carols to an audience of passers-by. By the time I got to Colette Place next to the Louvre, I ran into Prélude de Paris playing Vivaldi for whoever would like to listen. (If you would like to listen to them, try here.)
Meanwhile, since Paris is the City of Love, I have to confess I fell hard while visiting the celebrated “Raphaël, les dernières années” at the Louvre, a historic collection exhibition in partnership with Prado (it continues till January 14). The Louvre itself lends itself to the sublime – and so does Jean-Baptiste, at right. He was skilfully set in a small passageway of great paintings, all making the same gesture. But he was … special.
Now here’s the thing: I was all alone in my passion. Everyone was swarming where they were told to swarm – the pack was thick around some of the bigger paintings, but Leonardo da Vinci‘s stunning work was all by its lonesome. It is believed to be Leonardo’s last painting, sometime between 1513-1516.
Different story a few floors above (no pun intended). In deference to Zbigniew Herbert‘s poem, I dutifully made the trek, following the prominent signs, to the Mona Lisa. I couldn’t get within 15 feet of it, the crowds waving cellphones at it, like masses of seaweed swaying on the ocean floor.
My friend Max Taylor said it’s the same old, same old: “I will never forget the first time I saw this painting, in July 1976, about a month before I turned fifteen. The Mona Lisa was behind glass a few paintings away on the same wall and was attracting all the attention, while everyone was ignoring this mysterious and fascinating painting.”
My friend and artist Susan Williamson told me I better enjoy it while it lasts. He will not always be “‘a light that shineth in the darkness.” Jean-Baptiste is about to vanish on me. Apparently Leonardo, who was always experimenting with pigments, mixed resin tar tar in one of the layers of paint. Susan has tried it herself, and said it gives a beautiful, honey-colored glow to her painting … at first. Then it keeps darkening and darkening over the years, to pitch black eventually. It’s not a fixable problem, because the resin and paint and tar are all mixed up together.
Enjoy him while he lasts. He’s worth it. Only another century or so to go … then pffffftttt!