In 1973 I went to boarding school in Switzerland, my parents had moved to Nigeria and the school options were limited. A friend of mine from grade school days was living in Paris so when our first long weekend break came up I headed to Paris. It was my first trip to Paris. It was November and snowed lightly the whole time I was there. My friend was in school and her mother insisted I take a bus tour of the city to get an overview. After that I was on my own. I was 16. There were two things I wanted to see, one was Notre Dame and the other was the Louvre. I found Notre Dame with no problem. I walked in to an empty building. It was dark and took me a while to get my eyes used to it. It was quite and peaceful. I made my way down towards the apse and as I reached it, light flooded in. I looked up and saw the most beautiful rosette stained glass windows I had ever seen. I sat down and meditated on them.
From there I headed to the Louvre. It took me a while to find it and the entrance didn’t seem to be very clearly marked but I did manage to buy a ticket and start my tour. I didn’t have much time so I decided to just see three things and then leave. I found the Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo right away but I could not find the Mona Lisa. I walked up and down an entire wing of paintings. I saw painters set up with their easels copying the famous artworks, something I had never seen before in a museum. Lots of great art, but no Mona Lisa. I wandered into a room that was full of old jewelry. No Mona Lisa there. I was just about to give up and leave when I happened upon a small room off to the side that had a lot of paintings all hung up together on one of the walls. I was looking at these various, random paintings when right in the middle of them, the Mona Lisa jumped out at me. I couldn’t believe it. I stood there transfixed.
It was a magical day. I have been back to Paris many times but Notre Dame has always been very crowded and stifling. The Louvre now has a grand entrance and signs all over the place directing you to the Mona Lisa which has such a big protective case that you can barely see it. I was very lucky.