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Paris to Birmingham

We had never really heard of a Coronavirus, Covid, much less variants of any kind when we boarded our plane for Paris.  We were on our way to the world-famous Louvre Museum to see an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s work on the occasion of his 500th birthday.  It did not disappoint.

The exhibit drew from museums around the world and featured a gathering of the old master’s works that had not occurred in hundreds of years and will probably never happen again. For four hours a private guide with an advanced degree in art took the two of us on an amazing journey, pointing out the smallest details of some of da Vinci’s greatest works.  

Before Mary Lou and I left Paris, shutdowns were beginning to occur.  Our trip was wonderful, but it was time to head home. You know the rest of the story.  We have all shared the challenges and heartbreak of this pandemic.  

We learned a lot during the past two years.  How to buy groceries for a week, for instance.  We became experts on restaurant delivery apps and which restaurants became good at adjusting to the changing dynamics of the restaurant industry.  There is a new normal and it will continue to evolve regardless of whether the virus retreats or not.

I became addicted to audio books and long walks.  I almost forgot how to tie a tie, especially a bow tie.  I undertook a construction project at our house and learned yet again the meaning of the word, patience.  

ML and I learned how to watch television series such as Longmire.  It was our first series to watch on Netflix.  Now there are more than we can keep up with on the guides.  We learned how to connect different apps to our tv, how to stream content, and how to relax on the front porch.

We took pleasure in re-landscaping our yard.  The object is to have something blooming or with color year-round.  We are almost there.  

Slowly the world relaxed a bit.  We dealt with the Delta variant, and now are watching the Omicron variant spread around the world.  We are more relaxed, more mature in our responses.  We have re-engaged our friends, gone to restaurants, and even attended sold out football games.

We try to be careful and prudent, but we are embracing life as we all must.  I give thanks to those that developed vaccines, masks, and tests.  All have made my world more normal.  Not a political statement; just a fact in my own personal life.

However, there are things that Mary Lou and I still miss.  First and foremost, is traveling around the world.  We have not flown since we returned from Paris, though we have cancelled several booked flights.  It is a record hiatus for us, going back to our first years of marriage.   

We both love art.  Mary Lou taught art history in high school.  Our daughter, Catherine, has an art history major.  They have both taught me a lot about art.  It is an expression, like poetry, or music.  Along the way, I have learned to appreciate great art, through their tutelage and my own visits to art museums around the world.  

We miss that part of our life.  We retired at the end of 2018 fully intending to travel the world, experiencing art treasures we had not seen or experienced along the way.  Covid put a stop on that which is one of our biggest regrets.  Until today.

Mary Lou and I are attending the Birmingham Bowl featuring Auburn and the University of Houston.  To be honest, you normally would not be excited about playing in a bowl game just down the road.  On the other hand, I am not sure we would have made the trip to many of the other bowls that might have been an option.

We traveled to Birmingham a day early to visit the art exhibition “Beyond Van Gogh” at the Convention Center.  It exceeded my expectations in several ways.

We have viewed Van Gogh masterpieces in museums around the world, particularly at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  I was not sure what a digital exhibition could offer beyond what I had already seen.  I was wrong.

Restaurants, travel and almost everything else in our life is evolving.  The representation of Van Gogh’s story and his long list of masterpieces was told in a way that expanded the experience beyond a museum visit.  Set to music, it showed his different techniques and groundbreaking use of color in ways that could never be told in a lecture.

I watched families with children, sitting mesmerized by the moving digital forms in a technological marvel.  Yet, the exhibit managed to capture the wonder of Van Gogh’s work of more than 150 years ago.  

The bookends of my almost two years of experiencing pandemic travel and art restrictions are Paris and Birmingham.  One was an extraordinary collection of works almost five centuries old.  One was a modern digital representation of works of the last part of the 19th century shown by technology not available just a few years ago.

Our personal road from Paris to Birmingham has been a bit rocky.  But the starting and finishing points both exceeded our expectations, encouraged us to pursue the dormant dreams of visiting art treasures around the world, and made us realize that art is evolving, even as we speak. 


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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