You’ve had long enough

I loved the photograph chosen to head up this witty and insightful article by Jason Farago, art critic for The New York Times, about that Parisian “security hazard, educational obstacle and unsatisfying bucket-list item”.

It’s time to take down the Mona Lisa
Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy. Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out. …

In a poll of British tourists earlier this year, the Mona Lisa was voted the “world’s most disappointing attraction,” beating out Checkpoint Charlie, the Spanish Steps, and that urinating boy in Brussels. If curators think that they are inspiring the next generation of art lovers, they are in fact doing the opposite. People come out of obligation, and leave discouraged. …

The Louvre does not have an overcrowding problem per se. It has a Mona Lisa problem. No other iconic painting — not Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi in Florence, not Klimt’s “Kiss” at the Belvedere in Vienna, not “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — comes anywhere close to monopolizing its institution like she does. And if tourist numbers continue to rise, if last year’s 10 million visitors become next year’s 11 or 12, the place is going to crack.

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I love photos of people taking photos, and there are more in a previous Times article from when the painting was recently moved.

Want to see the Mona Lisa? Get in line
Once they get past the metal detectors, ticket holders are herded like sheep in a long, coiling line. They shuffle up escalators until they reach the Mona Lisa’s skylit new digs: the Medici Gallery, named after a striking series of wall-to-wall paintings by Rubens also on display there.

Not that anybody notices the Rubens works. As if in an airport check-in area, dozens of visitors rowdily wait their turn in another snaking line. Armed with smartphones, selfie sticks and cameras, they then rush into the final stretch — the Mona Lisa viewing pen. They have roughly one minute there before the guards shoo them away.

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Back inside the Mona Lisa viewing pen, Gregory Jimenez, 25, a college student from Chile, lifted his fancy camera above the heads of a row of people in front of him and took a shot. “You have to take a photo to be able to appreciate her,” he said as he walked out.

Photographs may be a solution, but they’re also part of the problem. People don’t just want to see the Mona Lisa: they want the picture for social media to prove it. Many don’t look at her at all; they focus on their smartphone screens. Some even turn their backs, beam their finest Mona Lisa smile, and take a selfie, as she grins right back.

Update 12/11/2019

News of a different approach from the Louvre.

The ‘Mona Lisa’ Experience: how the Louvre’s first VR project, a 7-minute immersive da Vinci odyssey, works
Visitors can strap themselves into the state-of-the-art headsets and learn snippets of information about Leonardo’s famous sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, as well as his artistic method and the history of the painting. It will immerse them in what could be the surroundings beyond the frame of what is depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece, and, at the end, invite them to climb aboard an imagined version of Leonardo’s visionary flying machine—a sketch of which is also included in the exhibition—and soar across the landscape surrounding Mona Lisa’s luxuriant loggia.

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Open for (more) business

News that Chernobyl is expanding its tourist offer.

Chernobyl control room now open to visitors — but only wearing a hazmat suit
The move is part of a government drive to encourage tourism in the area after President Volydymyr Zelensky signed a July decree designating Chernobyl an official tourist attraction.

“We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life,” Zelensky said at the time. “Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it.” …

“Most of the people say they decided to book after seeing this show,” says Victor Korol, director of SoloEast. “It’s almost as though they watch it and then jump on a plane over.”

Chernobyl’s infamous Reactor 4 control room is now open to tourists
As for what to expect, in 2011 the Guardian reported that the room had largely been stripped of its plastic instrumentation switches by “souvenir-hunters among the decommissioning staff,” though some things such as diagrams on the behavior of the reactor and aged wiring remained …

Sergiy Ivanchuk, director of SoloEast tours, told Reuters in June that his bookings for tours had risen 30 percent in May 2019 (when the HBO miniseries was released) compared to years prior, while bookings for the summer months had risen some 40 percent.

Take a look inside radioactive ruins of Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4

Interestingly, YouTube has added the line “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government” underneath that video, with a link to RT’s Wikipedia page. Make of that what you will.

Magnetic Chernobyl

Before 26 April 1986, Chernobyl was the name of a city in Ukraine. It was also the name of a nuclear power plant close by, near the city of Pripyat (population 49,000). I can’t imagine many people in the West would have heard of it. After 26 April 1986, that all changed, of course.

In 2014, Danny Cooke and a documentary crew spent some time there, and showed us around.

Eerie drone footage shows Chernobyl from above
“We spent the week together exploring Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat. There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place. Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.”

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl

Its radioactive magnetism keeps pulling us back.

Chernobyl’s horrifying realism merits its place as TV’s top show
It’s this combination of forensic attention to detail and chilling terror that has made Chernobyl, now IMDB’s highest-rated TV series of all time, so compelling. Creator Craig Mazin has captured why, 33 years after it occurred, Chernobyl continues to grip the public’s imagination, and why the event has become a metonym for grand-scale, human-induced suffering: the prospect of nuclear disaster still makes for the ultimate horror story.

HBO’s Chernobyl vs Reality – Footage Comparison

Pripyat may be a ghost town, but it’s not empty.

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl – the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community
After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Pripyat and the surrounding villages were abandoned, and residents were not allowed to take their pets to safety. Chernobyl Prayer, a devastating oral history of the period, tells of “dogs howling, trying to get on the buses. Mongrels, alsatians. The soldiers were pushing them out again, kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.” Heartbroken families pinned notes to their doors: “Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.” There was no mercy. Squads were sent in to shoot the animals. But some survived and it is mainly their descendants that populate the zone …

While the dogs get some food and play from the visitors, their health needs are met by Clean Futures Fund, a US non-profit organisation that helps communities affected by industrial accidents, which has set up three veterinary clinics in the area, including one inside the Chernobyl plant. The clinics treat emergencies and issue vaccinations against rabies, parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. They are also neutering the dogs. Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder, says: “I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.” This makes Chernobyl safer for the dogs, but also for the workers and visitors.

‘Visitors’. They’re not to be called tourists, that would be too- … crass?

As seen on TV: Fans of HBO series flock to Chernobyl, Geiger counters in hand
Fallout zones don’t usually make popular tourism attractions, but tour agencies are reporting as much as a 40 percent jump in daytrip bookings to the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the debut of the hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl, according to Reuters. More than six million people watched the series finale last Monday, so there’s every reason to expect the tourism boomlet will continue …

Scientists have estimated that it will not be safe for humans to live in the 770-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for up to several hundred years, given that contamination levels are not consistent in the surrounding area. Still, the Ukrainian government opened Chernobyl to tourists in 2011 and about 60,000 tourists visited Chernobyl last year, noted local tourism official Anton Taranenko at a recent press conference.

Milka Ivanova, from Bulgaria, and Dorina-Maria Buda, from Romania, were five years old in 1986. They’re now academics at Leeds Beckett University. Here, they share their perspective.

Chernobyl: we lived through its consequences – holidays in the fallout zone shouldn’t be a picnic
As I write this – decompressing my memories and digging up those of my family back in Romania – there’s still a heaviness in my chest. Milka and I channel our anxieties over Chernobyl and life in communist eastern Europe into our research. To overcome the restraints of those days, I have travelled, worked and studied in eight countries on four continents. My published work deals with psychoanalytic theories of the death instinct, trauma and nuclear tourism – the industry that monetises a fascination to visit places where nuclear accidents have laid waste to people and their communities. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 in Japan created the most recent entry in this list of tourist hotspots.

Interestingly, 2011 was also the year that Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction. The HBO miniseries has generated interest in nuclear tourism, but this fascination with our communist history is nothing new among western tourists.

Being there — or not

They say there’s nothing quite like being there in person, whether there is on top of a mountain or in front of a painting. I’m not so sure, though.

Louvre is ‘suffocating’ with high volume of visitors, striking workers sayThe Art Newspaper
Union officials say that Louvre management is failing to address the issue of overcrowding, and that they are “dismayed” by “the shameful image we give of our establishment”. Staff must deal with “angry visitors” unhappy with conditions while emergency evacuation procedures are inadequate, they say.

Why I won’t be joining the queue at the top of EverestThe Guardian
Everest has become largely detached from the rest of climbing and mountaineering. It has become a trophy experience, drawing too many otherwise without much interest in the sport, validated by media coverage that sees Everest as being endlessly “conquered” rather than passé.

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Game of Thrones is ‘game changer’ for NI tourismBBC
“I’m all for tourism in Northern Ireland but this sort of tourism – herding people in and out – they come to see one thing and that’s it,” she said. “For local residents it is frustrating – the constant buses never stop.” … There are also issues at the Dark Hedges outside Armoy, County Antrim. Just 10 seconds on Game of Thrones was enough to make it a tourist attraction. Congestion and damage to the trees led to traffic being banned but that is not always obeyed.