The Code of Genius
The brisk April air rushed through the open window of the Citroën ZX as it sped south, skimming past the Opera House and crossing Place Vendôme. Seated in the passenger seat, Robert Langdon felt the city blur by as he attempted to clear his thoughts. Although he had managed a quick shower and shave, his anxiety remained unabated. The disturbing image of the curator’s lifeless body was etched in his mind.
Jacques Saunière is dead.
A profound sense of loss gripped Langdon at the curator’s demise. Despite Saunière’s reputation for reclusiveness, his dedication to the arts had earned him the admiration of many. His books on the concealed codes in the paintings of Poussin and Teniers were among Langdon’s cherished teaching materials. Tonight’s meeting had held much anticipation, and Langdon was disappointed when the curator hadn’t appeared.
The image of Saunière’s body resurfaced—a bewildering scene. Did Jacques Saunière really do that to himself?
Langdon turned his gaze out of the window, determined to dispel the disturbing image. Beyond the glass, the city was winding down—street vendors packing up carts of candied almonds, waiters discarding bags of trash on the curbside, a couple huddled together against the chilly breeze, the air carrying the scent of jasmine blossoms. The Citroën maneuvered through the city’s nocturnal bustle, its discordant two-tone siren parting the traffic like a blade.
“The captain was relieved to discover that you were still in Paris tonight,” the agent said, speaking up for the first time since leaving the hotel. “A fortunate coincidence.”
Fortunate wasn’t exactly how Langdon felt, and the concept of coincidence was one he held warily. As a person who had dedicated his life to exploring the hidden connections among disparate symbols and ideologies, Langdon perceived the world as a tapestry of intricately linked histories and events. These connections might remain invisible, he often emphasized to his symbology students at Harvard, yet they were always present, just beneath the surface.
“I assume,” Langdon inquired, “that the American University of Paris informed you of my stay?”
The driver shook his head. “Interpol.”
Interpol, Langdon recalled. Naturally. He had overlooked the fact that the routine European practice of requiring passport checks at hotel check-ins was not just a quaint custom—it was a legal requirement. Across Europe, Interpol officials could instantaneously locate the whereabouts of anyone staying in a hotel. Locating Langdon at the Ritz likely took no more than a few seconds.
As the Citroën accelerated southward through the city, the illuminated silhouette of the Eiffel Tower emerged, soaring upward in the distance to the right. The sight of it stirred thoughts of Vittoria, a memory of their playful agreement a year ago to rendezvous every six months at a different romantic spot around the world. The Eiffel Tower, Langdon mused, would probably have made it onto their list. Sadly, he had last kissed Vittoria at a bustling airport in Rome over a year ago.
“Did you climb it?” the agent inquired, gesturing toward the tower as he glanced over.
Langdon looked at him, unsure if he had heard correctly. “Excuse me?”
“The tower. Did you ascend it?”
Langdon raised his eyebrows, somewhat bewildered. “No, I haven’t gone up the tower.”
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” The agent motioned toward the Eiffel Tower through the windshield. “Have you marveled at her?”
Langdon rolled his eyes. “No, I haven’t visited the tower.”
“She’s a symbol of France. Truly perfect.”
Langdon nodded absentmindedly. People often commented on how the French—a culture known for its romanticism, affairs, and diminutive rulers such as Napoleon and Pepin the Short—had aptly chosen a thousand-foot phallic symbol as their national emblem.
Upon reaching the junction at Rue de Rivoli, the traffic light was red, but the Citroën didn’t slow down. The agent accelerated across the intersection and onto a tree-lined stretch of Rue Castiglione, the northern entrance to the renowned Tuileries Gardens—a Parisian counterpart to Central Park. Though many visitors mistakenly believed that Jardins des Tuileries referred to the countless tulips that flourished here, the term actually alluded to something far less romantic. These gardens were once a colossal excavation site where Parisian contractors extracted clay for making the city’s famous red roofing tiles, known as tuiles.
As they entered the tranquil park, the agent reached below the dashboard and turned off the blaring siren. Langdon let out a breath, appreciating the sudden tranquility. Outside the car, the pale glint of halogen headlights swept over the crushed gravel path, the rhythmic hum of the tires creating a soothing cadence. The Tuileries Gardens had always held a sacred aura for Langdon. This was the place where Claude Monet had experimented with form and color, igniting the birth of the Impressionist movement. However, on this night, an eerie premonition seemed to hang in the air.
The Citroën veered left, tracing a path westward along the park’s central boulevard. Circumnavigating a circular pond, the driver turned onto a deserted street, entering a wide square beyond. Ahead, Langdon could see the termination of the Tuileries Gardens marked by a colossal stone archway.
Arc du Carrousel.
Despite its past associations with hedonistic ceremonies, the art world revered this site for an entirely different reason. From the esplanade at the end of the Tuileries, one could glimpse the facades of four of the world’s most esteemed art museums… one at each cardinal direction.
To the south, beyond the Seine and Quai Voltaire, Langdon could discern the illuminated exterior of the former train station—the esteemed Musée d’Orsay. Glancing to the left, he could just make out the upper levels of the ultramodern Pompidou Center, housing the Museum of Modern Art. Behind him, to the west, the ancient obelisk of Ramses was visible, marking the Musée du Jeu de Paume.
Yet, it was directly ahead, to the east, through the archway, that Langdon spotted the imposing Renaissance palace that had become the world’s most renowned art museum.
Musée du Louvre.
A sense of wonder welled up in Langdon as he attempted to encompass the sheer mass of the structure with his gaze. Across an astonishingly expansive square, the formidable facade of the Louvre loomed like a fortress against the Parisian sky. Formed in the shape of an immense horseshoe, the Louvre was the longest building in Europe, stretching farther than three Eiffel Towers placed end to end. Not even the vast expanse of open plaza between the museum’s wings could diminish the impact of the facade’s sheer width. Langdon had once walked the entire circumference of the Louvre, a staggering journey of three miles.
Despite the estimated five days one would need to fully appreciate the museum’s collection of 65,300 pieces of art, most visitors opted for an expedited experience Langdon referred to as “Louvre Lite”—a rapid dash through the museum
The Code of Genius
Native Language: English