Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ghosts that we knew

The Mona Lisa smile is so mysterious, mischievous. She seems to mock us for working so many years to unravel her secret. Isn't it funny, I thought, as I wandered past hosts of other priceless works, and found a crowd of selfie-snapping Americans, buzzing around this famous portrait like ants on picnic crumbs, that certain pieces of art become valued above others. Why is this? I wondered. Perhaps, I thought, for their story.With a history as fabulous and fantastical as the story of the Mona Lisa, it is no wonder that this piece of artwork is invaluably precious.
And yet, although the United States' debt could not buy the Mona Lisa, it is nothing compared to the worth of a human life. And perhaps it is the human lives and their stories that are tied up in the Mona Lisa's story that gives it such value. The thefts, the intrigues, the drama of nations, the speculation on the passions and emotions that led to this portrait's creation, have all given this painting its value beyond measure. Beautiful, masterful, the Mona Lisa deserves to be remembered, although its composition is innovative, its style breaking out of older, staider portrait styles, it is not the first revolutionary portrait to do so. The humans of the Mona Lisa give its unassuming, mysterious subject value.

On a smaller, less magnificent scale, it is our stories that give value to the objects that we ourselves prize. For the things I own, I love because of the stories inside of them. I do not love things until they have become old and worn, until the paint has begun to peel with use, or the gilding to fade, the zippers to break. And then, I cannot let them go.

Ten years ago, I valued the gorgeous Bible my parents had given me for Christmas at naught. A Bible. Boring. Unused. Mostly unwanted. It's cover, boasting gilded etchings of Christ and His evangelists, was mostly untouched. The pages were immaculate, pristine, and still, for the most part, unread.
And now, how I wish, as I run my fingers over the cover, whose gold has faded under sweaty hands in Kolkata, worn from much travel, much use, being thrown in backpacks, pored over the night before a test, I wish that I could have that pristine golden cover back. As I squint to see the icons still etched into the cover, how I wish they could have their gold back, undervalued while it was there, irreplaceable now that it is gone.

My perfume, which smells like every date night I've ever been on--from picnics in the Minnesota parks to frozen dinners with fireworks. It smells like every formal dance--from senior prom, to Commencement Ball. It smells like every Easter Sunday, every morning I'm too lazy to shower, every night getting ready to Go Dancing in that sparkly, shiny way that only young college women can.

My computer, which now falls asleep or dies within ten minutes of being unplugged from a power source; that has scratches and dents from falling off of lofted beds, or being trundled all over Europe, from being stuffed into backpacks, from being carried through Rome, from too many writing assignments, and way too many tabs opened, is now one of my most treasured possessions. I love it like Miranda Priestly loves her assistants: without it, my work is futile.

My boots, which, whenever I put on, I feel the ache and tiredness from walking all over Europe. I feel the cobblestones of Rome, digging into the heels. As I slip my foot inside the boot, and zip up the well-worn zipper, I feel my leg encased in a swath of comfort, in a little faux-leather home in a strange land. I remember all the adventures I have been on in those boots, all the dust that has clung to the broken heels. To my surprise, I  have grown fond of these small little vehicles of wanderlust. I am not in the habit of loving things, but these particular things now have a special place in my heart, for the stories they have woven into their tread.

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