90,000 Miles to Me

30,839 Miles • Da Vinci in Ontario

A couple hours directly west of Montréal, in the neighboring province of Ontario, lies Ottawa.

The main attraction for me was the Canadian Science and Technology Museum, which was hosting a special exhibit on the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci. I only had to walk two blocks for free street parking this time!

The museum was loud and crowded with kids, but I still found some exhibits interesting. They covered a wide range of technologies, as well as Canadian history and contributions in those fields.

The da Vinci exhibit was several rooms packed to the brim with high quality prints of his artwork, models and recreations of his inventions, and explanations of the times in which he lived.

This is one of my favorites of his works of art. A friend introduced me to it many years ago. I love the softness in the faces of Saint Anne and the Virgin, and the love in the faces of Christ and St. John the Baptist.

One of da Vinci’s notebooks. He wrote in code and backwards to protect intellectual property from hackers.

I’m not sure I would want to go underwater in this diving apparatus. I take that back. I am sure that I would not want to go underwater in this suit. Nevertheless, he invented the first diving suit, breathing equipment, life buoy, and swim flippers meant to be worn on the hands. The suit and breathing equipment were tested in 2002 by diver Jacquie Cozens—“with limited success.”

An entire section of the exhibit was dedicated to the Mona Lisa, a painting which rose to fame only after being stolen in 1911. Over 2 million people visited the Louvre that year to see the place where the painting was not. Now, over 9 million people visit the Louvre annually to see the Mona Lisa.

From a plaque in the exhibit: “Since Mona Lisa was painted, the materials da Vinci used to create her have suffered the effects not only of time, but repeated efforts at restoration…to the point where viewers would be forgiven for thinking she had been painted in brown and green tones.”

Pascal Cotte was granted the privilege of viewing and photographing the artwork out of its frame on a purpose-built, multispectral camera, taking images with an extraordinary resolution of 240 megapixels, in wavelengths both visible and undetectable to the human eye.

During more than two years of analysis of the photographs, Cotte discovered a number of secrets of the painting, including identifying the original pigments used for each of the colors, enabling his team to reconstruct the original colors intended by da Vinci.

Here is a comparison, with the Mona Lisa as we see her today on the left, and Cotte’s restored replica on the right.

The exhibit also highlighted a number of quotes from da Vinci’s notebooks. Here are a few of my favorites:

“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand… These questions and other strange phenomena engage my thought throughout my life.”

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned a skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

“Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places.”

“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

“Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.”

The da Vinci exhibit was interesting, but what I got out of it personally was a better appreciation that this legendary artist-scientist-inventor was also plagued by emotional insecurities, turbulent political times, unstable finances, and a sharp disconnect between the visions he could picture in his head and his ability to translate them into reality.

If he dealt with all of that, and is still admired 400 years later, then maybe, possibly, I could try out some of my ideas? And if they don’t work out, or aren’t finished, maybe it won’t be terrible thing? Most of da Vinci’s projects were either left unfinished or didn’t work out, and we still re-create them to tour the world in exhibits drawing huge crowds.

Leaving Ottawa that afternoon, the plan was to skirt the west side of Lake Ontario, continue around its southern bank and back east to Niagara Falls.

In the evening I stopped and had a snack at a roadside picnic area at the edge of Silver Lake, Ontario. It was about an hour before sunset and the sun reflecting off the water did indeed give the water a look of iridescent quicksilver.

The next day I had lunch on the edge of Lake Ontario in Mississauga, outside of Toronto, watching the ducks while eating PB&J on Ritz cracker sandwiches. 

I drove along the shoreline roads as much as possible from Toronto to Niagara Falls, and was rewarded with lots of glimpses of the lake. Stayed overnight with a Boondockers Welcome host about an hour from the Falls, which I will visit tomorrow and then head back to the US. I’ll leave you with this photo of Toronto from across Lake Ontario.

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