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.

 

A Canadian In France – This Week: Trains, Podcasts, & Private Tours

This past Tuesday marked 90 days until I leave for France.

“Three months!” most people say. “You must chill!”

“Only three months!” I tell them. “So much to do.”

Queue a wee bit of dramatic arc because, well . . .

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Our heroine continues to plan her solitary sojourn to France, and realizes quickly she cannot do it on her own.

She turns to her friends who, in their 40s and 50s, do not suffer from the I-have-not-been-to-Europe affliction. In fact, many of them went in their 30s and only return to North America out of professional and familial obligation.

They clue her into the modern world.

The big thing they helped me realize this week is that the phone is my friend. I’ve never been a HEAVY phone user. My apps are limited to voice dictation for when the muse strikes and I left my notebook in my other bag, Podcasts on archeology, and Moon because I am an astro nerd and like to check out the phases of celestial bodies.

I was having a TERRIBLE time resolving issues around a day trip from Amboise to Saumur when my pal Erin from Erin at Large  popped onto my Facebook feed and suggested Trainline

Boom. I’d found my solution to more than Saumur and downloaded the app to store the tickets. That’s when I realized I could app my way to storing a whole lot of things without paper ticketing. I’m the sort of person who will have copies of documents in multiple places (ease, emergency, back-up). So, this was a big, obvious win for me.

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A lovely friend of mine is traveling to France at the same time, and we’ve been trading bits and pieces on French life for the last little while.

Yesterday, she reminded me that one of our mutual loves – podcasts – would be a great way to brush up on traveling tips, learn more about the regions we are going to, and ignore people on transit during our daily commutes. 🙂

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I have totally fallen in love with The Join Us In France Travel podcast.

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Annie and Elyse are amazing guides, and now I’m plowing through far more than the handful of podcasts from them I “thought” pertained to my travels. Love them. Go check it out.

My first one was Episode 224 on traveling solo as a woman in Paris

Finally, I’ve been contemplating how to best manage my whirlwind 48 hours in Paris. I first considered going full-on tourist, but realized that defeated the purpose of my trip to research Renaissance France, da Vinci, and the sentiment surrounding that time period.

A friend from my early years as a newspaper journalist recommended a private tour, something I hadn’t considered since I don’t usually roll that way. The person she recommended never got back to me, but I am not easily defeated once I’ve decided to explore a certain avenue.

Then, a browse through the indomitable Messy Nessy Chic sent me to  City Unscripted out of the UK, where I began corresponding with a great crew about landing a guide who could show me more off-the-tourist-trail sites around Paris that pertain to my research goals.

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They’ve been wonderful, and while I haven’t booked my tour yet because we’re not done planning, I’m looking forward to a mix of tourist and the unusual as a result.

Ah, France.

Dreaming of France

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s birth. In the last half a millennia, there is hardly another human who has seen as much praise heaped upon him. To say his body of work is admirable is a mild statement.

So, when I set my sights on writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa, I knew I could not miss a chance to travel to France this year to take in all of the fanfare.

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For the last month, I’ve been cruising websites and consulting my lovely friend Celia who is a fabulous travel agent about this journey of a lifetime.

At first, I thought I might take my oldest daughter on the adventure. In the end, though, it looks like I will be traveling solo, and I’ve never been more excited.

I’ve busted out the Duolingo to make sure I can communicate with ease.  Phrasebooks and maps are starting to pile up as well.

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I’ve pulled out my Kate Mosse collection to re-read for inspiration.

 

IMG_1833-minOf course, I will be diving deep into the history, preservation, and stories surrounding Mona Lisa. A trip to the Louvre is definitely in the mix.

I’m most looking forward to a week in Amboise, France—especially Clos Lucé where da Vinci spent his final years.

Amboise is my kind of vacation town—a local open-air market for food, quaint house vacation rentals, the ability to walk everywhere, and evenings along the Loire River.

Of course, Chateau Amboise and the history of that magnificent place makes me swoon.

 

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Chateau Amboise