A few Sundays ago, having first spent the morning on the couch drinking coffee and reading the news on my laptop, and then the afternoon exhausting Facebook and Instagram and everything else on my phone—and basically hating myself for all of it, with the exception of the coffee, which is rich in antioxidants—I felt myself rise from my screens and with a building urgency speed walk the 15 minutes from my front door in the ninth arrondissement of Paris to the glass pyramids glowing in front of the Louvre. I went straight inside—something, I realize now, I haven’t done in more than a decade, though I couldn’t say why—or how—it’s been that long.
I bought my ticket with an hour left before closing, and—perhaps due to the lingering aftereffects of the November attacks, from which this city has yet to recover—there was virtually no one else with me, even in the typically thronged Italian wing. Aware of my good fortune, I hurried past the eerie-awesome Winged Victory, up the flights of marble steps, past the busts of Hadrian and his lover Antinous and down the long corridor directly to the Mona Lisa, always uncanny in its familiarity, always smaller than expected though still regal behind the curved wooden barrier installed to hold the masses at bay. Incredibly, no one else was in the cavernous gallery with me besides a pair of near-comatose security guards, seemingly oblivious to the splendor all around them. The whole thing was so easy—easier than getting a table at a mediocre restaurant. I stood there magnetized, a solitary witness to an almost unbearable instance of the sublime, until the call for closing roused the guards to their feet.