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

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - JOANNE BLACK

Joanne Black

The world-fa­mous Lou­vre is the home of many amaz­ing spec­ta­cles, and I nearly cre­ated one my­self when we vis­ited while on our cur­rent 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 re­minds me that our view of his­tory is any­thing but static. I hope fu­ture gen­er­a­tions keep the ceme­ter­ies and ditch the self­ies.

When we went to France, it was closed. Peo­ple used to say this about vis­it­ing New Zealand at the week­ends.

“Have you given much thought to what kind

of job you want af­ter you re­tire?”

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