Atop The Ramparts at Château Royal d’Amboise

Amidst all of the revelations brought about by my trip to the Loire Valley, there were some lovely scenes that simply stole my breath.

The grounds of Château Royal d’Amboise near the hunting lodge proved simple for the most part.

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It was, however, the ramparts which provoked majestic ooooos and ahhhhhhs.

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One of the most remarkable qualities of the royal residence is only about a fifth of what it once remains intact. Imagine what it must have been like, its towering presence over Amboise and the Loire River, five-hundred years ago.

I like to imagine that da Vinci and Melzi sat in a tower long the victim of time and treachery painting elegant women with the Loire in the background.

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Meanwhile, the tiny town of Amboise bustles below:

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Atop The World With Da Vinci

“Can’t you see it?” she asked me.

“I’ve been walking for like an hour and I’m exhausted. I’m going to sit on this bench over here for about two days,” I told my ephemeral guide.

“Perfect. Right over there. Nope, one more bench over. There, you got it.”

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I gasped.

There, at a tiny grove of trees just above the marked remains of where the Château Royal d’Amboise used to extend into a far greater complex than what remains today, I could see what she offered up.

A new whispering in my ears began to shift from mere chatter to a conversation overheard and a vision of an old man alongside two others stationed at wooden easels. Amongst the shady plane trees and Gary oak, he guided their hands to sketch and capture the scene in front of them.

I stepped forward to take a closer look, and a young woman stretched her neck around the closest easel to make sure I saw her.

A quiet wave.

A knowing, modest smile.

The old man waived a gentle finger at her and everyone returned to their work. Something pricking me on the shoulder forced me out of the vision and around staring back at the river.

An arched bridge.

A wild river.

Rugged hills and shifting light.

I caught a glimpse of the landscape they had been painting in the background.

By the time I turned back around, the group of painters had vanished from view, but not from my own knowing of who I’d had the chance to watch at work that day—Melzi, Salaí, and their Master.  Who was their muse? What else had they learned to paint on that hill in the magical light of Amboise?

Just beyond it on the trail, it would seem others may have a bit of a sense as I dd that something truly remarkable took place there.

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My guide pointed out that it is marked in plain sight, for those of us who know to use as a guide.

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I nodded and acknowledged her gift, then suddenly stood.

My attention redirected itself by force, and I moved toward what appeared to be the remains of a moat or battlement at the top of the castle where I was offered another vision.

This time men and women fled a burning castle, but it was too late. The bodies piled up, filling the space, the screams and panic swarming my senses until my mind snapped back and I stood in the sunshine shaking.

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It would take a week for me to understand the final message of that time at the top of the world with da Vinci.

My guide spoke in a solemn tone, offering up an explanation of what I’d seen.

“Not even his power could stop what came for us.”

La Gioconda

“Is this the line for the Mona Lisa?” the older woman behind me asked as her husband moved up and down the snaking procession of people asking anyone who looked like an official Louvre employee if they’d actually made it to their destination.

There we stood, eyes alighting upon the gorgeous glass Pyramide du Louvre that is the iconic “You are here” sign for the magnificent museum. It was 8:52 a.m. and the line tripled, then quadrupled, then trickled well past the initial security screen and out into the rainy morning.

We had arrived, nearly ten minutes early in fact, for our 9 a.m. appointment. We’d done everything in our power to ensure such a meeting took place—bought our tickets in advance, made reservations online, left nothing to chance.

However, I. M. Pei’s architectural wonder could not convince those of us who had another sort of iconic masterpiece in mind that we’d not screwed this all up and would be stuck in a line that led to, well, not what we came to see.

It turned out that EVERYONE was in line for a visit with La Gioconda, and we’d totally done the right thing. Those of us with advance tickets and reservations for the very first slot of the day trotted right through, up the stairs, up more stairs, and then some more, and one more flight just to make sure.

The museum docent that I stopped to talk to at the top of the stairs said that in half an hour those stairs would be packed with people waiting, waiting, waiting. Some might wait for three hours for a glimpse at the beauty beyond the doorway.

So, I stopped talking and scurried toward the magnificent Galerie Médicis where she stood, glassed-in, amongst some of the most spectacular paintings in the history of art.

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Dwarfed by the size and absolute divinity of the 24-panel Marie de’ Medici Cycle painted by Rubens 400 years ago, there she sat, roped off, barely visible. Visitors, fifty or so at a time, were let past the ropes that kept them penned back from her as well.

With that, the stopwatch began.

One minute.

That was all the time you had in her presence.

Time enough to click a selfie, take a picture or two, and then—poof—all the anticipation and work put in to stand even in her vicinity was over.

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It was the most magnificent moment of my life.

No woman on this Earth is more mysterious and sought-after than the Mona Lisa. From obscurity to utter obsession, the world has latched itself upon this simple portrait. Everyone seems willing to speculate on her identity and nobody really knows who she is.

I spent far more time with her in other places—hours and hours at Clos Lucé and in da Vinci’s gardens at Amboise.

However, that one minute proved one thing to me—that this glorious goddess with whom women crave a moment and men desire with the greatest of passion is a vessel for immeasurable power.

While men wage war on the Earth, she conquers the mind. Her territory, her imperialism, lies within.

And so, Woman On The Wall seeks to explore the true identity of La Gioconda, this woman who has inexplicably captured our hearts, as she watches over the world.

 

Lapidary of Sacred Stones & My Grandmother’s Amber

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I’m finishing up research on Medieval and Renaissance uses of stones of all kinds (even stones like gall stones and kidney stones) for the purpose of religious worship (including all Abrahamic religions), healing, and protection.

The stones you see in the picture are a string of raw amber my grandmother brought back for me from Częstochowa, Poland. She made a pilgrimage to see The Black Madonna of Częstochowa 30 years ago and returned a very different woman after that experience. They carried so much energy in them that I locked them away and lost track of them until recently.

According to the lapidary, amber or Cymbra as it was called is thought to be engendered from the breath of a whale, found at the bottom of the sea and the mouth of rivers. It guards the virtues of the body, sharpens the memory, and banishes sorrows.

In The Thousand and One Nights, all sorts of stones are pitched into the sea by a fountain, swallowed by fish and spit back out as amber.

Pliny offered us a fanciful creation story, stating that amber was produced by the sun’s rays that would leave it behind as they struck the ground at the end of the day.

In folk medicine, it is used to tranquilize the mind.

Amber plays a key role in The Woman On The Wall, As does the Cult of the Black Madonna.

More on that soon.

Did You Know The Mona Lisa Has A Twin?

It’s true, the Mona Lisa has a twin who lives in Spain.

The Prado in Madrid has been home to what many considered a knock-off for years.

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Until it came down for restoration a few years ago, no one even knew that there was scenery behind a layer of black paint.

Now, it turns out M.L. has a sister.

Or, is there something even more interesting going on?

Learn more about this twinning HERE

I have my theories about how it’s possible that two of these beauties exist. Time to go finish what may be like the twentieth book on the Mona Lisa that I have read since I started researching her for Woman On The Wall.

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My plan is to go hang out with her in person this Fall on a solo research trip—first stop, Paris. After that,  I’m headed for the bucolic hills of Amboise to hang with da Vinci himself and see if I can discover some of my own answers about our La Gioconda.

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