I bought a new book for my mom for Christmas. We are both voracious readers, with Mom devouring a book every couple of days, even at the age of 88. I am slower these days, because of the eye problems I developed after my spinal tumor. Nonetheless, I’m really excited about this one. It’s called The Stolen Lady, and it’s by Laura Morelli, an art historian. At the center of the story is the Mona Lisa, which I’ve felt a connection with ever since I found out about her. As a kid, I thought it was cool that she had part of my name (Lisa), and I set a goal that one day, I would see her in person.
Fast forward to my twenties. I was engaged, and we decided that we would take the trip of our lives — one that we probably couldn’t do once we had kids. After much discussion, we decided to spend three weeks in France. We had a lot of ideas of what we wanted to do whilst we were there, but at the top of my list was the Mona Lisa, followed by Versailles. I would finally get my chance to see the mysterious lady.
Our wedding happened, despite totalling my brand new car the day before, having to change the location and time the day before, my dress getting lost two days before, our passports getting lost in the mail two weeks before, and many other hints that God threw my way and that I promptly ignored. Off we flew to Paris.
I’ll save you the story of how I thought we were being kidnapped by a terrorist and how I thought we’d end up on CNN, and tell you that we finally made our way to the Louvre. My moment had arrived, after a lifetime of waiting. I was so excited to be at the Louvre. I can’t even begin to explain how I felt as we made our way into the museum. My elation didn’t last long, as my new husband began to have what I recognize now as a panic attack.
We were in an area that had a lot, as in dozens, of religious paintings. He began to question why there were no windows in there. Then he began to ask why all the paintings looked like. Then he began to complain. Then he decided that we needed to get out of there. NOW. I promptly responded that I was not going to leave until I saw the Mona Lisa, because I was in Paris and it was my life goal, and he was just going to have to deal with his complaints. And complain, he did. Over and over and over, as I followed the little signs with arrows that said Mona Lisa.
We finally entered a large room, having skipped everything that we had passed since that fateful room of religious paintings. The room was packed, mostly with women who appeared to be Italian, exclaiming loudly and pushing toward the front. I had no idea what was going on, but I was gonna make it to the front and see my girl. I pushed my way up front, and was standing there next to my husband, completely having a moment. You know, that kind of moment where the planets align, the clouds open up, angels sing and all is right with the world? Yes. That kind of moment. And then it happened.
“So,” says the husband, “what’s the big deal with this painting?”
I did one of those slow pivots, my mouth dropping open, staring at him incredulously, and wondering what the heck was wrong with him. “It’s the MONA LISA,” I said. I mean, what else did I need to say? We were standing in front of probably the most iconic painting in the history of paint, and my husband, a future (house) painter, said probably the stupidest thing I will ever hear in my lifetime. “SO?”, he said. “I don’t get it.”
And that, dear friends, is when my bubble burst. The magic disappeared. We left the Louvre without seeing anything else, and never went back. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say much to him the rest of the day. And Versailles? Well, he threw a little fit about wanting to stop to eat after we got off the train, and we missed the last tour of the day. I was NOT a happy camper. We agreed to go back to Paris for our twenty fifth anniversary, and I vowed to spend three days wandering the Louvre without him. He was fine with that.
Fast forward twenty four years. I was in the middle of a messy divorce from said husband (c’mon, you’re not really surprised, are you?), and our youngest got the opportunity to go to Europe with his high school class. He paid for the majority of the trip by working at Colts games, but I paid for the side trip to Versailles. I told him yes, I was living vicariously through him, but doggone it, I now had missed two opportunities to see the Louvre and Versailles, so he was gonna do it for me. “But what if I don’t want to go,” he joked (he’s a sweetheart. He really was joking.) I promptly responded that if he came home and hadn’t been to Versailles, I was cutting him out of my will.
He came home and told me that something had happened — I don’t remember what — and he hadn’t gotten to go to Versailles. It really wasn’t his fault. But he did see the Mona Lisa, and even though he himself didn’t really grasp that moment like I did, I at least knew I had done my part in trying to connect with her again.
One day, I will go back for my three days alone in the Louvre. I don’t know when, but it will happen, along with a side trip to Giverny, and the Dior Museum, and the beaches of Normandy, and a channel crossing to go to the V&A. Everyone has to have goals in life. But meantime, I will spend a nice winter night curled up under the blankets with my girl, via The Stolen Lady.
Purchase here. No, I don’t get any kickback. You just need the book.