THE MONA LISA OF COSTCO • by Jill Bronfman

The Louvre is not Costco but sometimes it is. Entering quickly through the Rue Rivoli Richelieu side entrance using my museum pass instead of buying a ticket was a source of infinite joy that would last me for days. Before I looked at any of the art, I spent an embarrassing amount of time watching the people without passes stand in a winding, rain-soaked train to enter via the pyramid. For every time someone had teased me about planning my spontaneity, I had this small story of triumph to tell.

I tried to reach out to most of my favorites that February day at the Louvre, and see the Mona Lisa just to say Hi, glad you’re still here. Hello to the Venus de Milo, too. But the Winged Victory stopped me in my tracks. In a failure of imagination, I longed for a reconstruction model to see what she once looked like. I stayed and looked at her for longer than I planned. And then I went back to see Mona again, but I did not take her picture. The image would have been small and too reflective, too reductive.

Schadenfreude was mine, and probably the Mona Lisa’s as well. You can tell she was smirking with some self-satisfaction. She was probably watching Leonardo struggle to capture her expression, in a loop of enjoyment. He would be mortal, and she would be here with me. We both liked to look at people through windows, and we both liked the frame of time.

I always look out of museum windows to see what the art can see, and to avoid Stendhal syndrome. Inside, there was too much beauty. It could give you a headache, or make you too confused to continue. There was some consistency, though, in the view out the window.  It was still raining on the people in the courtyard. February held court in Paris yet.

I only took one picture in the Louvre, and it was of a room full of giant white marble statutes wrapped in bubble-wrap plastic and waiting for transport or time travel. They looked like Costco merchandise, and I leaned through the bars and captured them in a group photo. They waited for me to squat down and lean forward, and seemed unconcerned about any difficulty I might be having getting them all within the tiny frame. One photo, they granted me, how could they not? They had all of the time in the world.

On the way out of the massive building, I traversed through the gift shop to laugh at the merchandise. Mona Lisa was laid flat on a shopping bag, a postcard, a coaster. Stuffed into a pillow. Trying vainly to comfort British tourists with a tea cozy. She was everywhere and on everything for sale. I lifted a framed poster of the Mona Lisa and looked her in the eyes by holding the frame a bit off center. She told me to leave now, leave now, she said, while there is still time. Before you, too, become an icon. Before you, too, are wrapped in so much beauty that there is not time. I followed her eyes to the exit door. I pushed the bar in the middle of the door and the building released me from its frame.

Jill Bronfman is a professor, lawyer, non-profit worker, and parent. In recent years, her work has been accepted for publication in several literary magazines and a variety of law and technical books and periodicals. She has performed her work in Poets in the Parks, The Basement Series, and LitQuake, and had her story about a middle-aged robot produced as a podcast.

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