Who Shrunk the Mona Lisa?!

The Mona Lisa

I re-watched The Da Vinci Code the other night with my husband. I had picked up the special 2-disc set from the library – one disc was the movie and the other had all the special features. Since the movie was so long, we watched the 2nd disc all by itself on the 2nd night.

Wow! It was chock full of terrific information from Ron Howard, Dan Brown, and others. Really worth watching this batch of special features – it runs almost as long as the movie itself!

The thing that particularly interested me was all the discussion about seeing the Mona Lisa, up close and personal. In addition to relating their personal experiences of being in the Louvre, alone, and their surprising encounters with the Mona Lisa, they all commented on how small the painting was.

I had the same experience after seeing the Mona Lisa there in Paris several years ago. But my experience was a little bit different from theirs.

You see, one of my special childhood memories was of seeing the Mona Lisa in Washington, D.C., where I grew up. I remember the field trip my class took to the National Gallery of Art and seeing the famous painting.

(Now, since I had never considered that maybe I got this wrong and maybe I just thought I saw the actual Mona Lisa when I was a little girl, I checked. And sure enough, I DID! Read about the special loan here.)

I was still a teeny little person at the time, so, to me, the Mona Lisa was big! I remember her being displayed at the end of a room and me being able to walk right up to her, single file. She and I were about the same size.

Fast forward about 40 years, and I finally got to see her again in Paris. Imagine my utter shock when I saw that she had shrunk!

Instead of seeing that big painting that I had remembered, I saw a teensy little painting, on a faraway wall. To add insult to injury, I also had to peer over about a hundred heads to see her. Not at all what I had expected!

Later, when I saw the Billy Crystal movie “Forget Paris” (not the greatest movie, but worth seeing if only for the Doberman scene! And you’ll be singing the Toyota jingle in your head for days afterwards), I could totally relate.

There’s a scene where he goes to visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. He is in the back of the crowd, doing a popcorn imitation. All you can see is his head popping up out of the crowd to catch glimpses of the painting. Hilarious.

Probably everyone who sees the Mona Lisa wishes they were brave enough to do what he did. Read about how to avoid this predicament here.

Did you think the Mona Lisa would be bigger when you first saw her? Did you try the Billy Crystal bit? What’s your experience?


Sedona Vortex Experience at Bell Rock

I promised to write about my vortex experience at Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

Do you know the meaning of woo-woo (to my thinking, this means unexplainable and “out there”)?

Well, I had a woo-woo experience there last year, and I’m glad I had a witness for it. And not just any witness, a totally left-brained, scientific sort of witness – otherwise known as my husband.

I’m not sure where the story begins, but this might have started things in motion:

My husband and I decided to go for a morning hike and climbed up onto Bell Rock (one of the easier vortexes, or some say “vortices,” to climb up to in Sedona) in hopes of experiencing our first Vortex.

I saw a pile of rocks and decided to sit there and pretend I was meditating (I’ve never been able to sit and meditate in my life, so I was indeed pretending). I put my hands out like I’ve seen in pictures. My husband thought that was pretty funny and took some pictures of me.

Pretend Meditating on Bell Rock

Silly Egyptian Vortex Pose

Okay, enough silliness!

After that, unexplained things started happening to me.


After our silliness it was time to continue our hike. I got up and put my hands on my thighs to stretch…and my thighs started tingling. Not the muscles, but the skin. I’d never felt that before!

After we got back down to the trail, we saw a ranger and told her of my skin-tingling experience. She looked at me and, in a knowing way, said, “You’ve been Vortecized!”


That whole week, the room would spin whenever I bent down to blow-dry my hair – so much so that I had to get down on all fours to keep from tipping over! Lying down would have been even better.


Every night when my head hit the pillow, the room would start to spin out of control. I had to grab my head so that it wouldn’t fly off!

But here was the STRANGEST OF ALL EXPERIENCES – make this #4:

One night after dinner my husband and I went out on the deck for some star gazing, and we took our wines and ice creams.

After we were done and after we had seen our quota of meteorites, we decided to go back inside. We bent over to pick up our bowls, and…


We reached down in the dark and grabbed our empty bowls, in unison, and all of a sudden a blue glow started emanating from the handle of my spoon!!! It wasn’t sparks, it was just a glow. A beautiful blue glow, about an eighth of an inch wide, all the way around my spoon handle.

It lasted for several seconds, as we stared at it in awe and whispered to each other, “Do you see that?!”

And then it stopped.

You can bet we went out every night after that with wines and ice creams (any excuse, right?) and tried to duplicate our experience, but it never happened again…

Tell me a woo-woo experience that you’ve had.

Backseat Drivers Rock!

Only in Colorado…before I start this post I have to report on the current happenings. I just went out to shovel yesterday’s few inches of snow, still wearing my light pajamas and a light sweater – no gloves. It was only 5 degrees F, but the sun was out and I was never cold! Colorado is amazing.

Okay, now for the Best and Worst of my driving experience in Ireland — you decide which is which. (At the end of this post is a picture of the current painting I’m working on – horses from Ireland.)

It’s always best if my husband is the navigator/map person on our trips, so I became the designated driver (DD) for the week. Steve would have gladly spelled me from time to time, and Katy certainly was willing to drive, but we discovered that it would have doubled our already ridiculously expensive car-rental rate to add a second driver!!

It was so strange walking to the right side of the car to get in to drive:


I had to learn (fast) how to shift with my left hand. Not only that, but I had to look in all the wrong places now for my mirrors. My rear-view mirror was now to the left, and my side-view mirror was now on my right.

Driver Denise

The accident rate has dropped dramatically in Ireland, they say, ever since they added a little sticker to the windshield in front of the driver, telling us to “Drive on Left.”


Having never driven on the left side of the road before, I needed all the help I could get. Steve was my left-side eyes and was constantly telling me if I was too close to something, like a parked car (the roads were extremely narrow and were often shared with semis and RVs!). Many cars we saw were all scraped up on the left side, or their mirrors were broken off!

Sharing the Road

Katy was my rear-view eyes. She alerted me once (shrilly, thankfully) just before I backed into a castle!

But without my trusty Backseat Drivers to keep me awake during our many lo-0-0-0ng excursions, I could never have done it. (Except when they were BOTH asleep!)

Present: After snatching a few minutes here, a few minutes there to work on this painting, I have observed it for awhile now and know exactly where I want to end up after my next stint with it.

Copyright Denise Bellon West

Lately, I have been spending my time reworking many of my paintings. Hey, if they haven’t sold yet, then I can keep improving them whenever I get the urge. I have been getting the urge.

The Best (and Worst) of Ireland

Change of plans. I just can’t get interested in writing a travelogue (if you haven’t noticed) of the trip we took to Ireland a few months ago. But I have promised several people that I would, including myself.

So, I told friends in my Salon group that I was planning instead to do a “Best Of” sort of thing. One of the artists added, “And worst!” Now, that fits much better with my writing style! (Thanks, Pixie.) So here goes.

This is the closest I will get to a travelogue. Your geography lesson for the day: MAP OF IRELAND

Our itinerary was very easy:

We started in Dublin, on the east side of the island, and did a counter-clockwise loop around the island, ending back in Dublin. We did not make it to Northern Ireland or Donegal (where singer Enya is from) – just not enough time.

We stayed just outside of Dublin, in Howth (rhymes with “both”, but they say it more like “Hoat”).

Then west to Shannonbridge, where my husband’s ancestors are from.

Then the rest of the way west to Galway, Connemara, and the Aran Islands.

Then Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry.

We did not see nor kiss the Blarney Stone – it wasn’t high on our list, but especially not at 10 Euros (1 Euro=$1.365) per person!

Then over to Waterford to visit Curraghmore Castle and our painting friends.

1 night in Kilkenny, perfectly timed, unbeknownst to us, for their busiest weekend of the year.

Then back to Dublin/Howth.

I will start in tomorrow with pictures demonstrating the Best and the Worst of my Ireland trip!

Sedona the Beautiful

Hillary, Steve, Denise  

After a rejuvinating week in Sedona, Arizona, I’m as gung ho as ever about my new love interest – landscape painting. Who would’ve thought? Two months ago I would have said that you were crazy if you had even suggested that I would be painting, let alone liking, landscapes.

I have always laughed when people asked me what I paint, and their first offering is always “landscapes?” No, I do everything BUT landscapes.I decided to take the class at ACC for that very reason. But I never in a million, zillion, double quadrillion years would have guessed that I’d like it! It blows me away.

Well, my 2009 calendars are ready – before December this year! What a concept. Marketing it will have to be squeezed in between all of my homework assignments, painting, and getting caught up with my office work. Onward and upward…

Bye Bye Hawaii

The week went by much too quickly, but Julia Cameron would be proud of me. I definitely filled my artistic well. Big time!

Hawaiian Sunset

Flower Fodder

We finally went to the Hilo side of the island, and I got my palm tree fix.

The botanic gardens, just north of there, were amazing! We were offered umbrellas as we entered, but I declined. After all, we already had one umbrella and two rain ponchos. And I had looked up and had seen no threat of rain. Oh, that’s right, we were in a rain forest

About a half hour into our tour, the skies broke loose and dumped on us – really dumped! It was like standing in the shower for a half hour. The bottom part of my capris were drenched, and I had brought no extra clothes to change into. Luckily, my husband had brought his swim trunks, so he changed into those and gave me his shorts to wear back to the hotel.

The payoff was seeing all the gorgeous flowers:

Hawaiian flowers


“Filling the Well” with Pineapples

Have you ever seen a pineapple growing? Here’s a baby one – looks like a practical joke!

Baby Pineapple

Here’s a more grown-up pineapple:

Almost fully grown pineapple.

“Filling the Well” with Kona Coffee

If you’re on the Big Island, you have to go to the coffee plantations–this is Kona coffee-ville! I’ve been on this island twice before but have never visited a coffee plantation, so this third time was the charm. Here’s a coffee tree with berries.

Coffee Tree with Berries

Coffee Berries

When you squish the berries open, there’s a coffee bean inside. If the bean is in two pieces, that’s a normal coffee bean. If there’s only one bean inside it’s called a peaberry. That’s the most prized.

Inside the berries

One of the plantations, Mountain Thunder, was an organic coffee plantation. They use geese and sheep to control pests, and the happy byproduct is the animals’ generous contributions of natural fertilizer. This organic coffee is winning awards for taste, and the coffee tastes even better in their fabulous red coffee mugs!


“Filling the Well” with Seahorses

I went to a seahorse farm this morning. A seahorse farm! Seahorses are an endangered species for a couple of reasons. For one thing, people take them from the wild to keep as pets in their aquariums. Unfortunately, the little guys don’t adapt to that life very well and die soon after. And then there are the Chinese, who have a huge appetite for seahorses and use them for medicinal purposes. Seahorse farm to the rescue!

Seahorse Farm