A few days ago I was at the Louvre, looking at some of the world’s most gorgeous art. The Museum’s magnificent collection includes a number of beautiful paintings by Leonardo da Vinci that are hung on a wall close the room where the Mona Lisa is displayed. It was a pleasure spending time with the other da Vinci’s—I could stand in front of them for as long as I wished and get as close as I wished without disturbing others or being disturbed by them; mostly because the others weren’t there. They were in the adjacent room where the small Mona Lisa is hung behind bulletproof glass and fifteen or so feet beyond where the closest viewers are allowed to stand. Eventually I walked into the room where the celebrity painting holds court to millions of viewers each year—roughly half of whom were there when I was. Each of them was pushing, shoving, clawing his way to the front of the crowd—digital cameras held high and flashing their forbidden bulbs. The crowd looked like paparazzi—I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear people shouting “Look this way, Mona.”
One of the things Alzheimer’s reinforces is the value of living in the moment, of experiencing what’s in front of us. Maybe some of the people in front of the famous painting were experiencing the moment they wanted to experience—maybe their pleasure came from taking a snapshot, plugging their readers into their computer, and experiencing Mona Lisa several times removed. I know that many museums, including MoMA, are now working with Alzheimer’s patients because they believe that looking at art soothes AD sufferers (and their caregivers). I like to think that people with Alzheimer’s really look at a work of art when it’s in front of them.
My daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren came with me to London for the opening reception of my photography exhibition at the Cork Street Gallery. We’re continuing to travel together—taking advantage of being in Europe and my grandchildrens’ spring break from school. We’ve been on the go—as you can imagine—but I want to take a few minutes from touring, eating, walking and (on rare occasions) sleeping, to thank everyone who has taken the time to write to me as a result of the wonderful story and slide show on BBC online.
It’s so clear how deeply families and individuals are affected by AD—the stories that have been shared with me via e-mails and comments have meant a great deal to me. I love the connections and the way we enter each others lives.
My daughter kept her Flip on during my brief talk at the Gallery—I’ll send a link once we’re back in the States.
The people I came across in Greece seemed very comfortable being photographed. Even the animal mascot in Mykonos, Petros the pink pelican, seemed comfortable in front of my camera. I love being asked to speak in venues as beautiful and friendly as Greece. And speaking of beautiful, the mountain village in the photograph below is real—although it’s so perfect it looks like a stage setting.
What was so exciting about speaking at the ADI conference in Greece (Alzheimer’s Disease International)—in addition to the programs and the vibrant city of Thessaloniki—was the opportunity to talk with other participants and hear about AD programs throughout the world. I spoke with people from Iran, the Netherlands, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Puerto Rico, Ireland, the UK and many other countries. The interactions were inspiring, particularly since there’s attention being paid globally to AD that we in the U.S. can emulate.
And, speaking of inspiring, there is a television commercial from the U.K. that has wowed me. It’s very simple—just a single dementia patient standing against a white background and talking about having—and living—with AD. The message is: don’t run away from me, or fear me, when I tell you I have dementia. I’m a real person, with thoughts and feelings, and here I am. Why don’t we have similar spots in the U.S.? I’m going to be asking that question of influential people in the field when I get back to the U.S.
I was thrilled with the response to my photographs and my book I Still Do: Loving and Living with Alzheimer’s. My presentation centered around my experiences caring for my husband, Ed, and the power of art to help people understand viscerally, and to relate to, those experiences and to connect with my husband’s story. By extension, viewers and readers understand better the layers of the AD journey.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the friendly people of Greece and will share some photographs when I get home.