A very long time ago, two lives ago, the most famous paiting in the world was exhibited in Moscow. Mona Lisa of course. There were horror stories about queues, and it was in summer when my mother, who knew the ins and outs of Moscow museums, was away on holiday. We were a gang of friends eager to see one of the wonders of the world, so we got up very early one day and went to the museum to stand in line. There were about three million people who had the same idea; in fact, people would queue throughout the night. The ticket office opened at ten, by which time there were perhaps as many people behind us as in front of us, which is always inspiring. Queuing has its own rules, and with very long queues, peole have to take sanitary and nutritious breaks. I don't know how other people coped, but we would take turns to go home every now and then since we all lived close to the museum. There was no risk of missing the entrance since clever people had calculated how many metres of the queue would reasonably get through in an hour. However, by six in the evening, our area of the queue started getting nervous. The museum closed at eight. The line behind us began to disperse, except for the most persistent who determined to stay overnight. At a quarter to eight we had our coveted tickets, were admitted to the museum, run through narrow corridors like cattle, run past the painting hidden behind three layers of bullet-proof glass, and that was it.
Many years later, when I was in Paris, I considered going to the Louvre and see the lady properly, but in fact I didn't really feel like it. Besides, I had by then encountered my true love. Lady with an Ermine didn't cause half a much fuss in Moscow. There were reasonable queues, but once you were there, you were allowed to stay as much as you liked, which I did. And I came back. And came back again. Some years later I was in Krakow, the home of the Lady, and I even have a photo of me in front of it. Then it came to Stockholm.
It is now in London, and I was stupid enough to believe that I could go and see it whenever I wanted. But all advance tickets are sold, and the website warns that the queues may be three hours long. For someone who has queued twelve hours to run past Mona Lisa it doesn't sound too bad. My childhood friend is coming to visit next week, and I think we'll go to see Lady with an Ermine. We usually chat aroung the clock when we meet, so we can just as well chat while we queue.