All right, I read it. And I read it in one sitting—Dan Brown's mastery of the technique of short, cliff-hanging chapters, the pedestrian vocabulary and sentence structure make for a quick read. It's like chugging beer. And I'm guessing I'm not the only one embarrassed by my participation in this pop culture phenomenon. It's right up there with the time I did the "gator" on a sticky disco floor. All right, the times I did the gator.
And now my 13 year-old is reading The da Vinci Code. And he groans when I say, "Okay, but we're going to have to have a serious talk when you're done."
But now my 13 year-old—the one who rolled his eyes while Super-Cool Mom (yeah, that's me) gave a mini-lecture on Duchamp's "Fountain" in the Tate Modern: "Bathroom Humor as High Art", this same kid—now wants to go to the Louvre! I keep telling myself it's NOT Dan Brown's doing, it's my intelligent parenting finally reaping the reward of a cultured teenager.
You're laughing now, aren't you?
The tiny museum in Milan has always had a steady stream of visitors. But now it's "crazy" says the woman behind the desk. Tickets are sold out through mid-July and it's only because our host for the weekend knows the Mayor that we are squeezed in this afternoon—three groups of five—beside the Japanese tourists.
"Cenacolo Vinciano". I don't read Italian. And I'm not as cultured as I'd like my teenager to be. After a long Saturday of political lectures, I'm content this Sunday to be lead around by the nose and take what comes on the sight-seeing tour. So I don't even ask when we go through the glass doors into a glass room, then through another set of glass doors, to the cool, dim "cenacolo". To my right, is the fresco, the image I've seen reproduced so many times. It actually takes me several seconds to recognize it. This image provides the only context in which I can say the word "Supper" without feeling the painful aching in my redneck roots.
I remember the first time I saw a "real thing"—it was Van Gogh's "The Starry Night", on loan to a little museum in Louisville, Kentucky. Reproductions are never the same, no matter the quality of the coffee-table book, no matter the exactness of the scale of the poster. There is the third dimension, the textures, the layers of paint, the crumbling of the fresco. And it's more than that. Whether we want to admit it or not, the vast majority of us will never know real patina from a coat of egg white and ash. It is the celebrity factor. Van Gogh, the guy who cut off his ear, actually touched this bumpy canvas. Michelangelo lay on his back in this room for four years. (Pssst—Do you think he was really gay? Look at the gluts on that guy!) And Leonardo da Vinci stood right here and mixed his pigments.
I have absolutely no idea what it really is that is bringing tears to my eyes.
One of my companions comments on the view of the Italian countryside through the windows of the room where Jesus and the disciples are sitting. The Italian wall hangings. Another comments on the image of "Giovanni", he whispers conspiratorially and with ladled irony, "It does look like a woman".
And the woman we'd all thought so mild bursts, "There were no women at the last supper!"
"Well, none of us were there, now, were we?" asks the window-gazer. And I hurry off to mingle with the crowd of Japanese tourists who are being narrated from one side of the room to the other.
I don't understand a word. Mercifully.
I take it in—"The Last Supper", every faded and crumbling feature. And those unfiltered thirteen minutes make for an unforgettable experience. One I have no desire to Decode. Sometimes "art" has nothing to do with intellectual debates, art history appreciation or secret symbolism.
Dan Brown may be responsible for the influx of tourists and the gift shop filled with low-brow Code and Decode and cryptogram books, but he's not responsible for human nature. We are fascinated by our gods—religious, secular and personal. Intellectualizing our fascinations is nothing more than an attempt to justify that embarrassing fact.
So next time I take my 13 year-old to the Tate Modern, I'll keep my mouth shut. We'll see what 13 minutes of urinal-gazing inspires.
Or maybe I'll rethink my thesis. . .
If you are planning to see "The Last Supper", be sure to book your ticket in advance.