For me, the Mona Lisa is a disappointment.
I mean, we’ve seen that poor woman’s visage SO MUCH. We’ve thought about it to death, analyzed her smile, her clothes, and the backdrop. By the time we actually trek through the Louvre to see the original, we’re tired, the way we’re tired of a new acquaintance that all of our other friend have been telling us, for years, that WE’RE GONNA LOVE!
Don’t tell me whom I’m supposed to love. I’m ornery that way.
It didn’t help that we went to the Louvre on Christmas Eve morning, along with the rest of Europe. While we were still suffering from jet lag. Such that we wanted to be in bed sleeping at 9:30 a.m. Not at the Louvre. With the rest of Europe.
We had a great trip, but that morning was our one clusterfuck. I had tried to let my kiddos find their own way in Europe, not museum them to death, not tell them what they were supposed to feel or how grateful they were to be there. And there I was, approaching the Mona Lisa, with not one but two oncoming tantrums, shrieking: “The Mona Lisa is AMAZING! It was painted by Leonardo da Vinci! You are gonna LOVE IT!” My children do not like to be told who or what they are “supposed” to love. The apple does not far from the tree.
I was approaching Stonehenge the same way. I’ve seen too many pictures, I’ve researched it too much, and too many people love it so therefore I will not. Enough with the hype.
But something was different about that day. We drove out of London and onto the Salisbury Plain in frosty drifty air. We were leaving modernity behind. The countryside got more and more impossibly beautiful and still, I tempered my expectations. It’s not going to be as good as the pictures. Calm down, Amy. It’s just a bunch of rocks.
As it has for millennia, it exceeded and defied my expectations. In fact, it left my expectations sputtering in 2015 dust.
In the spirit of seeking darsan, Stonehenge delivered. There is a feeling there, as there has been since 5000 BC. In part it comes from the ingenuity and commitment of the builders (how the f did they…?) in part it comes from the rocks, in part if comes from the spot itself. You simply can’t help but be worshipful and bow down to whatever you call god.
After learning about all the eras and micro eras that comprise European history – the endless jockeying for power through bloodlines and war, –in which monarchs declared their reign by naming it for themselves, I was struck by the fact that it took (they think) 1500 years to build Stonehenge. 15 centuries. 300 generations. Millions of people decided that this place was worth committing to and that these stones were worth raising. Their collective commitment – beyond sects or bloodline or clan –infuses that spot with stone-age reverence. Beyond language, beyond cult of personality, beyond any one definition of religion. Beyond it all.
We learned that in the Mesolithic period – the Stone Age – folks were buried communally. But when bronze – metal – was discovered, everyone wanted to be buried individually, with his own personal bling. The beginning of velvet ropes at nightclubs, cordoning off those who can afford it. They don’t get to be on the communal dance floor anymore. They may not realize it, but something has been lost.
After the churches in Paris and England – so beautiful yet so politicized – I was grateful to be back at the Original Church, there on the Salisbury Plain. Thanks to my ancestors who raised those beloved rocks. May we modern folks strive to be as committed to the collective as you.