Mona Lisa Gives ZOZO the Hairy Eyeball

She stares at me like she sees me coming a mile away. Five centuries later. She gets me. She’s not into me at all.

She has no eyebrows.

An unremarkable nose, she may as well be masked. Without her famous lips her countenance is an unreadable codex whose eyes are indelibly underrated. She knows exactly what she’s seeing. She’s got a skin bleb by her nose near the corner of her left eye. She’s not hiding anything from anybody.

Bold forehead. Who wears a hairnet in real life?

She’s looking at me from a canister propped on the living room coffee table where I live. The canister contains a jigsaw puzzle of the whole painting, which I’m sure you’ve all seen — Wikipedia and other sources say it is the most recognized painting on the planet. The jigsaw puzzle was a gift from a well-meaning sister who understood how profoundly this portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci affected me, and still does as you can tell. Mona Lisa succinctly defines my epiphany at visiting France the first time — she and Eiffel Tower. I must have raved like a converted apostle because for years people gifted me with refrigerator magnets, trinkets, Christmas tree decorations and kitsch like the jigsaw puzzle, to go along with my own chosen prints and mementos I’ve collected to furnish my home with things to remind me of my life in ways that affirm my memories are based on meaningful experiences. My first ever trip to Europe — which my old friend Jim calls the Old Country — did not transpire until I was a ripe old man of 53. And all this while I acted as if I were a modestly cultured and educated man.

For an American living in the Midwest, as they used to call us in the northern flyover zone. Please do not misunderstand my criticism of my country and my culture as self-loathing of western decadence or anything like that because critical examination requires genuine quality questionings. Being American the last half of the 20th Century was indeed something exceptional, not to squander. Mark Twain might say something like, in America any dumbass bumpkin could wankle an education in just about anything you want to know. Such as how I learned about the world without stepping outside American borders. Somehow trusting the American story. Believing in things like the Great Society. Reading and watching movies. Trading music. Never say I hate America. Why would I hate America? I can be ashamed of mistakes. Slavery and aborigine genocide were not good ideas. For example. Trying to get society reconciled over things like this has preoccupied my lifetime and disaffected social progress at the same time it has made grand progressions which will benefit future generations in ways not yet measured. America is not as dysfunctional as some un-Americans and non-Americans might think.

After several years of hearing how broken and degenerate the country is and how only one man could make it great again, and now confronting what is really broken and degenerate and how it can be repaired and regenerated by multiple people, America emerges from the coronavirus pandemic woke to new paradigms. We think. Nobody kept score who really acted as if We were All in This Together. It’s been a year. Only one year. Mona Lisa on a puzzle canister reminds me of what I miss about this world and how lucky I am to have been where I have been before the borders closed down.

I’m guilty of living most of my life with — dare I say — an American chauvinistic view, and probably still do to the extent of my residing bumpkin-ness. I remind you, I am a Boomer. We left the Old Country — Europe — behind several generations ago and only looked back to write papers to earn degrees in romantic history. I attended American college. Took two years of French. Boodles of art history. Even worked at a world class art museum, the MIA. What need was there to study abroad when exhibitions, books, color plates, lectures and slides brought the seemingly ancient world to your immediate grasp — imagine what it’s like now with the internet? To borrow from Voltaire, I lived in the best of all possible worlds, and it just keeps getting better.

Of course I used to dream, or at least think about, actually going to Paris. Or Provence, as that guy wrote about being there a year. But why? At the same time I privately mocked Eiffel Tower as a cheezy French cliche. A tourist trap. Unwittingly I used to mock the Louvre. At some time in high school (probably in a British movie) I heard somebody refer to the bathroom as the loo. So, sophisticated a teenager as I was I began referring to a trip to the can — the whizzer, the john — as visiting the louvre, and kept doing so — not knowing the difference — until about twelve years ago when we visited Ireland.

I lived content to ignore the Old Country as a trip destination most of my adult life. It was expensive. Unnecessary. Even our heritage didn’t seem that enticing. Then in 2004 Roxanne got the opportunity to attend the international Plant and Animal Genome conference in Dijon, France, sponsored by her employer, the University of Minnesota. Her boss was a distinguished professor and she had been helping him map the genes of various legumes, notably medicago. She co-authored a paper with him which he would present in Dijon and he wanted her there. The university offered to fly them and their spouses and pick up the hotel tabs in Dijon. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. We already had passports from our habitual winter vacations to the tropics. Life as empty nesters seemed to offer Roxanne and me bonus opportunities to travel and mostly we favored the western States. Europe was never unthinkable. Our careers were at comfortable plateaus. This was a big deal for Roxanne and no question she would go, and I was no fool.

The genome conference was in June. We planned to fly in and out of Charles de Gaulle, Paris. We blocked out time before and after the conference in Dijon to explore Paris, Burgundy and Cotes du Rhone. We rented a car and drove around Burgundy in the Cote d’Or. We rode trains in and out of Paris and from Dijon to Lyon. We learned Dijon was once the mustard capital of the world, and the countryside was blazing yellow where it wasn’t red from poppies. Much of the yellow crop is not mustard but canola, locally called rapeseed. Not every farm in France grows wine. We stayed in the medieval town of Bonne. We made a picnic of wine, cheese and baggette.

Except for the day Roxanne and her boss presented their paper, when they snuck me in to watch, while Roxanne attended conference sessions at the civic center I roamed the streets of Dijon ville on foot. Found my way to the duke’s palace art museum and found myself wandering through a hallway gallery with an array of French-made Roman-style sculptures with their penises lopped off and emerged facing a masterpiece naked lady painting by James Tissot.

I found myself enchanted in a strange land not much different from my own where people talked in tongues everywhere. After work we dined with scientists Roxanne and her boss and his spouse met up with at the conference, people from elsewhere, nobody exclusively talking shop. It was cool seeing Roxanne mixing with big league scientists.

The enchantment started in Paris. I will try to keep it brief. Jet lag from the overnight flight dazzled our impressions transporting from the habitrail of the airport terminal, by bus to the train platform, train into the city, taxi from Gare du Nord to our hotel on the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne in the early afternoon sunshine practically blew our minds. How do you say wow in French and really mean it? The neighborhood around the hotel thrived with people with backpacks and scarves. The scent on the sidewalk smelled like no other urban mix of odors, aromas. The architecture was a complete city of intrinsic grandeur reserved back home for knockoff neighborhoods. It wasn’t Kansas. We witnessed by our trek from the airport the layered exoticism of Paris. To arrive at our Sorbonne hotel with rather gentle ease is testament to research and preparation in the Google Age and owes the rest to the intuitive accessibility of Paris to itself. Once checked in and secure in our room we took a nap to process our trust.

It’s a place you would rather not spend valuable time napping, so we found time our first day to meander the Champs Elysees around six, which in June is still very sunny, to the Arc de Triomphe. The scale of the Arc itself impressed me. I knew it was monumental, and it has been replicated repeatedly in other cities at affordable scale — knockoffs everywhere — but this one in Paris would be a fortress palace anywhere else. That day we could pay a toll and walk up the stairs to the roof, where we first saw Eiffel Tower in the distance, aglow in silhouette across the plain of city. Arc de Triomphe also stands at the center of the biggest and most dangerous traffic roundabout in the western world, so bad drivers need extra insurance to drive it, there are tunnels underneath it to cross for pedestrians and a train station underneath the middle to take you completely away under the Seine.

Seeing Eiffel Tower on the skyline from Arc de Triomphe scared me a little. From that distance it seemed bigger than I anticipated. Paris is not a high rise city. There are skyscrapers in the Pompidou district, but within the heart of Paris the monumental qualities of the dated buildings project a broad cultural character not a vertical one. Even a standout like the Pantheon projects a rounded girth. Like the white Sacre Coeur church the Pantheon stands on a hill. Eiffel Tower stands on a plain. Plain of Mars by name, translated. You used to be able to meander freely in an open plaza underneath its four legs. We took the train to the RER station along the Seine. Funny how the closer you get to Eiffel Tower the least you see it. From a distance in certain areas of Paris it pops up or pops out or even hangs with you like the moon. The closer you come the more the neighborhood buildings obscure it. Then you come to the plaza and voila!

There it was. The most beautiful human made object I had ever seen. Simple. Elegant. Structural. Abstract. Immense. Half made of air. The lattice work of iron girders all holding itself up like hips and shoulders into the sky dizzified me to behold from underneath. So big. Once upon a time the tallest building on the planet. I didn’t know that before.

Its design ridiculed as a cursed blight on the City of Light. Erected in 1887 for the Paris World’s Fair on a promise to tear it back down the way it went up after the Fair was overwith, Eiffel Tower made a hit and allowed to stay. I suddenly understood. It was a mind-blowing work of genius. Never mind how many times it’s been copied — Disney, Las Vegas, Prague — there is nothing so powerful to behold as the original. To ascend on one of the elevators up the legs or towers to rise up to the first of the three floors. To walk around the concourse, ascend the next elevators to mosey around the second deck, or climb stairs to the top for the ultimate view of Paris. At every level the latticework holding us together condensed into finer compacted strands like a steel net, half air.

It’s romantic to share a kiss with your true love at the top of Eiffel Tower. To look below and beyond, to the Seine, down river to the tiny island where a little Statue of Liberty stands. To find the other landmarks like Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, Pantheon, Louvre, Invalides, Sacre-Coeur, Arc de Triomphe and savor the view. I remember telling myself this may never happen again. As it turns out I’ve been back five or six times.

The Champ de Mars stretches for several blocks from Eiffel Tower away from the river. Flat and grassy it makes ideal picnic grounds — too ideal, they have to sequester stretches of it to allow grass to grow back. From the far end of Champ de Mars the full view of Eiffel Tower can be appreciated unobstructed and without straining your neck. It’s still difficult to appreciate how many people are always up there on the decks of the tower too tiny in scale to be perceived from the ground for all that steel. Too bad the plaza directly below the tower is closed off from arbitrary moseying. It used to be a melting pot, part bazaar and part carnival. Now they have landscaped the plaza area with shrubs, rocks and water and fenced it off so only people with tickets to the tower elevators can queue. It’s worth every euro.

So too a trip to the Louvre, if just to see Mona Lisa. When I first saw her she was installed at a cul de sac wing in the Italian Renaissance gallery, one way in and one way out. She’s a very small painting, 20 by 30 inches. Today they have her displayed alone in a wide gallery where crowds can sprawl past in an orderly way and maybe get a closer angle or linger without getting as crushed as in her old gallery.

At the time Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was tremendously popular. I’d read it and found it compelling. I was a fan of Mary Magdeleine and got a kick out of finding her small pyramid below the Louvre’s big outdoor pyramid at the modern entrance, her supposed resting place, the Holy Grail. The novel piqued my interest in Leonardo’s imagery, less for the Christian conspiracy theories than the precise pictography of his brush strokes.

The gentleness of his faces and gentility of his human forms in the geometry of physics virtually levitated his subjects among the dignity of the divine. Mona Lisa Gioncondo, bourgeois wife of a silk merchant, receives the treatment of a saint. She sits with us with hands in repose. Perhaps we are on her terrace in Tuscany. She is modestly dressed in what first appears to be drab threads but when examined closer have a subtly dyed fine quality and tapestry. She wears her hair combed long, straight and uncomplicated past her shoulders. She is not glamorous. We don’t see her ears. As I said, she has no eyebrows. She does possess a soul. Leonardo created her to emote a radiance transcending even womanhood beyond eons.

Most mavens attribute her mysterious allure to her smile. I credit Leonardo for his animated study of lips. In his Last Supper he catches apostles mid sentence. His John the Baptist might be on the verge of laughing. His foreboding picnic in the caves, Our Lady of the Rocks, both versions, depict the characters sharing a little holy mirth, holy fun. Mona Lisa’s lips definitely smile. Deliberately and freely.

In the days of the Old Masters, nobody smiled for portraits. They thought it made them look stupid. Foolish. Life was a bitch to be endured. Only serious people deserved recognition for posterity. Mona Lisa defies the rule of solemnity with a spontaneous spark of humanity ahead of her time.

For me, though, I am captured by her eyes. First of all, in the painting’s old gallery I first caught sight of her through and over a dense crowd which obscured her lower face. There she was, looking right at me across a crowded room. Looking at me with the gift of sight. Looking with the sense of seeing. Then came the smile as I crept closer. Her delicate hands. Those eyes would not let go. I jostled to the front of the rope line. Like Eiffel Tower she was too much to take in at a flash moment. The museum staff hustled those of us who lingered too long to move on and let others get a glimpse. I obliged and recirculated back into the flow for second and third approaches until a guard in uniform gave me a dirty look my fourth time, when I staggered out of the cul de sac with one look back at those eyes.

I’ve been back to the Louvre a few more times since, always to see Mona Lisa. And I always reconnoiter within the crowd to get at least three times at the front of the rope to get as close as I can to see Leonardo’s brush strokes to have created such an exquisite picture with paint. On a wood panel. It’s still such a tiny painting for such a big room but like a great singer she deserves an arena. Lost in the background the road winds through the valley and woodland over her shoulders, the landscape in soft focus. Depth of field. Mona Lisa’s eyes could be looking across that valley but instead she chooses to engage yours truly. To keep me honest.

At home we have never assembled her jigsaw puzzle. I’m not that obsessed. Not even curious how much time it might take. Not even during the covid lockdown. Never took it out of the canister. The canister resides on the coffee table. Mona Lisa’s eyes rise up like a periscope amid the sea shells, stones, books, magazines, tiny statuary and toddler toys. She faces me on the couch, where I read and daydream. I am self-conscious of being observed, being watched. Being judged. Absent her approving smile she’s the apotheosis of Cheshire Cat.

ZOZO is the name I give the year gone by. Was ZOZO a lost year?

Seventeen years ago I found myself in Paris. First time in Europe. Visiting the Old Country. My lost and found. My lo and behold.

A continent I’d written off as a jaded and jealous sepulcher of a culture as morbid as the Latin language, in not just two weeks of grudging exposure to mere France but from the first day, almost instantaneously I realized to my stunned surprise I was wrong.

I held too many false assumptions to enumerate but they essentially linked my mentality to an unforgiving notion that America came into being of its own accord as a sovereign idea displaced from the European world, as if the collective memory of human civilization were re-synthesized within a grand think tank called the United States of America. There was little allowance for the staggering accumulation of generations, of ages and epochs to seed and weave infrastructure to feed and frame human societies and guide them in the light of beauty.

I was awestruck by Paris and my epiphany inspired existential awareness of my surroundings motivated by the sense that I may never get another opportunity. Twice we visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame that trip. It stands on an island in the Seine called Ile de la Cite. Started in 1163, completed about two hundred years later it has stood more than 850 years. For its high arched vaulted ceiling, its prolific stained glass windows and flying external buttresses to ease stress on its walls, Notre Dame is the seminal example of Gothic architecture. Visitors amassed in a procession up the aisle on the right side of the immense nave, the central place of people’s pews, proceeded in a loop behind the altar and back along the left aisle to the exit at the main door. There was no sense of rush. Time seemed to stop. That undefined aroma of Paris I now associate with Europe was infused with scent of frankincense. The vaulted arches high above seemed to aim at eternity and I touched the massive stone pillars as if to steady my giddiness. The narrow, vertical stained glass windows above the aisles depicted no Bible figures but distinctly different geometric patterns as if to illustrate the universe as optical physics. The round rose windows glorified light by bursting with color. The acoustics resounded with hushed holiness, solemn whispers. Prayer. I lingered, even backtracked against the flow of the procession and cut across the transept, the t-section in the middle of the basilica floor plan, to see and feel the place from the middle and from side to side. I sat in a chair in the nave — in the old days there were no pews, the congregation stood and knelt on the stone floor — amid the rows of wooden folding chairs, just to take it in and absorb the whole endeavor, to contemplate its design and construction so many centuries ago. For all its intent and purpose it exalted the idea of a place of worship, of soul-searching epitome of human yearning for divine inspiration, the churchiest church I had ever seen.

A mosey around the exterior was always a nice catharsis to being inside. The buttresses come flying at you from the pinnacles over the windows and land in a grassy park surrounding the cathedral along the river. The grand old lady is not glamorous from the outside but she is distinct. The sculptured facade and twin bell towers render it irreproduceable, along with its famous gargoyles on the roof haunting our souls below. As it turned out I have made maybe ten more visits to Notre Dame since then, each time with loyal reverence, some times to just pop in to say hello to the shrine of Joan of Arc. Everyone knows about the fire in the oak timber attic that almost immolated the grande dame in the spring of 2019. April 15. Watched it on CNN. Wept thinking about the first time and how it made me pay attention as if I may never get to be there again. Roxanne and I passed through Paris in September that year and found ourselves shocked to see the cathedral standing whole to all appearances and the double bell tower facade clear of soot or scorch marks.

Of course a big part of Ile de la Cite was cordoned off, and access to the St Michel metro station congested, access to the other little island on the Seine Ile Saint-Louis was comromised, one of the famous Paris bridges across the Seine was closed, the plaza out front of the cathedral where you might once imagined busy with tourists and Esmeralda dancing to Gypsy jazz guitar is fenced off to the public. Needless to say we were unable to mosey around the perimeter. As close as we could get on the commercial side of the street, the chain link fence kept everybody off the sidewalk on the cathedral side of the street. Broken gargoyles collected in the margin along the walls. Plywood implied aftermath of disaster but it was clear, Notre Dame survived the fire and would be restored. In time.

Our fateful inability to make a proper visit inside the cathedral the year before last resonates the more when pondering the inability of anyone to go anywhere including Cathedral of Notre Dame Paris the year of ZOZO. Since I retired in 2014 my mantra response to get a life has been to use free time to live in a wide world. That first trip courtesy of my scientist wife Roxanne only lit up our want to visit Europe again. It’s one thing to see an image from a photo on a screen or in a book, and to read about its origins, but there is something very special in seeing an original painting and being close enough to see the brushstrokes. To walk the streets of a city celebrated by a time called the Belle Epoque and feel as if it still is. To stand on the Plain of Mars and view the whole Eiffel Tower and think, I been to the top. Let’s go again. We’ve kissed at the top. Why stop?

Takes getting around to it. Takes saving our money. A few years after France we went to Ireland, and that was a blast. We talked about maybe Italy or England. Then two years before I retired our daughter Michel’s family moved to Switzerland on assignment of her husband Sid’s work. Our daughter and grand daughters went from across town to a quarter of the globe away.

Not getting any younger and unwilling to surrender our grandchildren’s childhood Roxanne and I gave ourselves permission to visit them as often as possible. With their consent, of course. And whenever we went to Switzerland we extended our trips to explore more of Europe. Factoring the air fare and how may hours it took to fly it didn’t pay to merely spend a week. The next six years (not counting year ZOZO) we made nine trips. The Kysylyczyns, Michel, Sid and the kids, moved back home to Minneapolis after four years. After that Roxanne and I went two more times sans Switzerland.

We averaged a month each visit. We took family road trips with the Kysylyczyns to Germany, France and Italy. On our own we took trains, planes and boats from Madrid and London to Athens via Zurich. The kids taught us how to ride Swiss transit, and if you can ride Swiss rail you can ride trains everywhere (it’s not hard). I retired from my job about two years into the Kysylyczyns’ Swiss residency and had unlimited time to travel. Roxanne had enough accumulated vacation she could take off for weeks and weeks, and in two years after me she retired too. Roxanne told people we were on a senior backpacking tour, although we lugged suitcases on wheels and didn’t subscribe to any formally institutionalized fraternal itinerary. We are not wealthy but we could not afford at this place in our lives to not take every advantage of opportunities to mosey around Europe. It was worth every europenny. Worth every Swiss franc.

We have ascended Eiffel Tower with our grandchildren. Made visits and lit votives at Notre Dame, once while the choir sang a chant. With Clara and Tess, alias Sparkles and Kitty. We held hands so we wouldn’t get separated on our way to the rope in front of Mona Lisa together. They are both teenagers now. They’ve been in Minneapolis five years if you include ZOZO. While they lived in Europe they were little kids. Kitty left America at age four and came back nine. Clara left at seven and came back 12. No telling if time not spent with them those four years could ever have been made up later, it just seems much nicer to know them now and not have to compensate for lost years. Still, they have no idea how much fun they have given us or what it means to us to experience everyday life along with them.

The pandemic separation has been hard, but not as hard as depending on Skype once a week. As a family we’ve distanced, but we’ve pushed the boundaries to greet in person within limited intervals. If not due make up lost time we try to keep up, and it’s working. It helps when we as a family live in the same metro. We remain healthy. Above a certain age we are vaccinated. We wear masks in public. We plan ahead to vacation together in June in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for summer solstice. It’s not about Europe so much with Clara and Tess any more. Still, I owe them for enabling me and Roxanne to go where we went, some places more than once. Here we are in our advanced age doing everything to educate them and provide guidance and raise them right as they mature, when it was they as children who provided for me an exquisitely elegant education in my advanced age.

Looking back beyond ZOZO when the borders were open seems like a Golden Age. For a Lost Year so much was gained in spite of great sacrifice. To have survived says something. Never before in my life have I been sincerely glad to say it could have been worse. Surviving ZOZO without international catastrophe means something. Humanity took a beating and persevered. Somehow democracy at the ballot box defeated authoritarian thugs in the USA. Free enterprise and innovation teamed with liberal government to sustain the economy and maintain a formidable standard of living against a vicious pandemic. Events proved Black Lives Matter. Science developed safe and efficient anti-covid vaccines in the nick of time, not to mention developed life saving treatments along the way. All this happened on our watch. We all witnessed this.

Last September I had hoped we would be in Portugal, but it didn’t happen. My sad loss. At least you may have noticed I don’t use being-a-prisoner metaphors for the pandemic restrictions, and am careful not to whine about deprivation of constitutional rights. I’m a rich world victim of these circumstances and suffer minor inconveniences compared to a big gulp of the population. I haven’t had a job in seven years and thus suffered no loss of income nor the ignominy of loss of importance and purpose, I’m already there and it makes no difference to me, by choice. We skipped Mexico this winter, needless to say. We got cell service, wi fi, cable TV, newspaper and magazine delivery, postal service, retail deliveries and food and groceries for call ahead pick-up. Roxanne subscribes to digital books from the public library. I have books I got for Christmas I haven’t read yet. Pens and paper. Stamps. I have three stereo systems and umpteen records, CDs and digital songs. This is the 14th largest radio market in America, if that still counts for anything. Not to mention some world news events over the Lost Year took place just blocks from our house, you cannot say I’m isolated in an Ivy Tower, unaware and unwoken to what’s happening. I’m saying I’m not punished by the dynamics or suffering the consequences of society’s clash with covid-19. I live the Life o’ Riley compared to a lot of people. I can charge charitable contributions to my credit card for cash back points but that doesn’t compare to the fates of the people who may benefit from my left handed quasi-tithing. Being stuck at home throughout ZOZO wasn’t so bad. Could have been worse.

I had to skip Mexico and Portugal, and probably Basque Spain, Brittany and Paris too, and that’s my tra lee tra la. Forced to stay home at our urban cabin and edify ourselves. Roxanne overwhelmingly most often volunteered to go out into the world for supplies and I literally laid low like a fugitive. Not so much on the lam as more like on the goat. Roxanne used errands like groceries to get out and found every excuse to bring Caribou coffee drinks to the Kysylyczyn’s, whereas I didn’t relish even a drive along the creek parkway — keeping in mind I am not a winter animal. It never bothered me that they canceled the Minnesota State Fair. I hibernated. I daydreamed of walking along the river Seine from the Louvre to Eiffel Tower. That smell, that aroma of Europe, the je ne sais quoi. I look up from the couch and lock eyes with Mona Lisa, aka La Joconde.

Our first morning in Paris I went from our hotel down around the block to get two coffees at the Sorbonne MacDonald’s on Rue St Michel across from the Luxembourg Gardens. Roxanne was still asleep so I figured I had a little time, so I crossed at the light and peered into the park beyond the iron gate where we would eventually explore. I crossed back towards MacDonald’s and saw a tall, elegant woman coming the other way in the crosswalk striding towards me in a long black leather trenchcoat — Serena Williams. We made eye contact as we passed. It took me a few French seconds to realize who she was and why I knew her. The French Open was happening somewhere across town. When you meet Serena Williams crossing the boulevard of St Michel in Paris you know you are going to have a good day.

Another good omen that first morning was discovering a sidewalk cafe on St Michel facing Luxembourg Gardens called Rostand, namesake of Edmund Rostand, creator of Cyrano de Bergerac and his beloved Roxanne.

Woof woof baa. Cockatoo.

As we emerge from the pandemic caves and try to somehow go right back where we left off at normal, we’re left accounting for ZOZO the Lost Year as if we really missed opportunities and got screwed at the pump. I may never get another opportunity this big to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace cover to cover. Such is my persistent American bumpkin lack of classical education. In truth, I’ve evaded it this long, there’s always another beach vacation in the future, so long as there’s a future. We emerge with another chance at the good life. It’s springtime. Rebirth. Resurrection. Reconciliation. Rehab. Renaissance. The Summer of ’21 promises who knows what? It’s safe to say Portugal is out of the question this year, I hate to concede. The Louvre is locked tight. Maybe now is the right time to read a classic Russian novel. While exploring the American West. My existential time and attention span has been validated. From here on, as they say, it’s all gravy. So what if my daily moseying experiences evoke reminiscences of past travels and memories of other things in my life that went well. Someday perhaps I will mosey with Roxanne down La Rambla in Barcelona and run into Shakira, I should live so well.

For now the Old Country doesn’t want us back. It’s an odd way to practice national isolationism but even the Schengen Zone of the EU has imposed restrictions of cross border travel. Until it opens back up there’s consolation in souvenirs and memories. An exhibition of hyper-enlarged color photos of all the panels of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Mall of America will have to do for the time being, and two things bring joy to such a pedestrian occasion: the Mall is open to the public again, if at limited capacity, and Rox and I have toured the Vatican a couple times and have a feeling for what we were looking at up close in the exhibition.

It wasn’t the real thing, but when you visit the real chapel in the Vatican the ceiling paintings are high up and far away and have to be appreciated at a distance, Michelangelo’s intent, and be read as a whole. The MOA exhibition presented wall sized panels of very decent detail quality to give a look of getting a scaffold-eye view of brush strokes. Isn’t this a touristy cliche attraction to beat all? Now with the Vatican and a bunch more supermuseums closed for covid-19 these facsimile shows can deliver fine art from the Old Country to your virtual doorstep. Cheaper, of course.

ZOZO was a hard year but not as lost as people say. For some of us though we shall be struggling against another kind of long-hauler syndrome just adjusting back into society in our very own home town. To resist the indifference to seek approval or even acceptance among other people. It’s been proven this past year the world — the cosmos, the universe — the Old Country as well as America — gets along just the same without my meddling. Still I stand vigilant to meddle if nominated and elected. I’m a face in the crowd of my own home.

BK