Mona Lisa Memories

Mona Lisa Memories

By Katacha Díaz, Oregon

During my childhood years of growing up in Peru, as the first-born grandchild in the family, I spent a great deal of time with my loving and nurturing paternal grandparents. Papapa and Mamama patiently indulged me with clever age-appropriate answers to my many questions. I was intrigued by my grandparents’ art collection—serene landscapes and stormy seascapes kept me entertained, but I was most fascinated by the formal portraits of our family members and predecessors. Little did I realize we had such illustrious relatives in our family tree, for the family to commission portraits from popular artists of the time.

My Mamama and Papapa on their Return Voyage from Europe, 1953

Recently I spent time organizing my own family memorabilia, collected over the years, and found myself transported back in time to childhood days at my grandparents’ sprawling house in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima, Peru (see below). The family had gathered at Sunday luncheon to celebrate my grandparents’ return home from Paris. Papapa had served four years as Peru’s ambassador to France.

The Author as a child at her Grandparents home in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. 1948.

This particular day is etched in my memory. Papapa stood beside me while I gazed wide-eyed at the painting of a smiling beautiful young woman. “Is she another of our famous relatives, I asked him?” Papapa shook his head and smiled. “This is a copy of the world famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa. Mamama and I saw the original painted on wood, at the Louvre Museum in France. We found our oil-on-canvas copy at an art gallery, during an evening stroll along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence (Italy).”

“Mona Lisa” Replica. Illustration by Daemion Lee. Oregon.

Papapa and Mamama showed me photo albums and art books collected during their European travels. These were filled with photographs of renowned paintings and illustrations with captions, along with artist biographies and exhibition notes. I learned the difference between an original piece of art and a reproduction, like the one in my grandparents’ house. Later, we stood by the floor globe in Papapa’s study and charted the voyage of the replica Mona Lisa. Our Mona Lisa had traveled inside a wooden crate from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Panama Canal to reach Peru!

Growing up in the exotic land of the Incas, I was impressed by my grandparents’ eclectic art and stamp collections, the leather-bound books, and encyclopedias lining the walls of the library where my grandfather spent hours reading and writing. Mamama and Papapa’s home opened a whole new world to explore and study during my sleep-over adventures. Five decades ago, following in my grandparents’ footsteps, I visited la bella Firenze, walking across the beloved 16th century Ponte Vecchio, peering into the windows of the art galleries, goldsmith shops, and souvenir sellers. And I imagined Papapa and Mamama enjoying a romantic afternoon stroll along the picturesque bridge, the only one in Florence that was spared from destruction during the Second World War. I was transported back in time and reconnecting with my dear Papapa and Mamama missing their presence in my life.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Illustration by Daemion Lee, Oregon.

All these years later, I am grateful for my childhood memories of Peru, and the way that a painting or a photograph can keep my grandparents in my life, even today. In my kitchen I keep a watercolor painting of sunflowers in a Tuscan (Italy) field, which I found along the Ponte Vecchio. It keeps the memories alive and is good for my soul. Who could ask for more?”

Katacha Díaz is a Peruvian American writer and author. Wanderlust and love of travel have taken her all over the world to gather material for her stories. She has been published in many outlets, including in several issues of Skipping Stones. Katacha lives in the Pacific Northwest, near the mouth of the Columbia River, USA. 

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