I suppose it was unrealistic to think that going early to MoMA on Sunday would assure me a quick and crowd-free entry to the Chagall show. My hopes for anything of the sort were shattered when I crossed Mission and saw the lines splaying out from the museum.

After a time-killing trip to the museum store, and a short wait in the members' line, I did manage to make my way inside--and then into another line that snaked slowly to the fifth floor. Finally, some force propelled me into the exhibit.

It was not Nice.

That is, it was nothing like the Musee Chagall in Nice, which J and I sauntered into last summer, after dining among the Turks in our hotel's restaurant and wandering the streets for bad postcards and some much-needed eyedrops. In Nice, at least on a day like ours, you can see Chagall's huge murals, and several of his smaller works, with crowds so miniscule they can't really be called crowds. You can do as we did and take copious photos (sans flash, but the museum is so bright you don't need it), edging close enough to the paintings to see the finest detail on the smallest grinning cow. And then you can pop outside for a meander through the grounds, after which you can drive a few hours before stopping in some random seaside village to swim in the Mediterranean.

Which is not at all what you can do if you see Chagall's stuff at MoMA. There you'll do battle with a throng at least the size of the population of Andorra, with some of Luxemborg thrown in for good measure. You'll find yourself stuck in front of one work for a good 8 minutes, not necessarily because you love it, but rather because you are literally hemmed in by everyone around you. You will admire the works as best you can through the gaps between people in front of you. But most of all, you will wish you were in Nice.

I left the museum yesterday (the Diane Arbus show, though all but crowd-free, would have to wait for another day; I needed to regain my strength) glad I'd gone, but wishing that the experience hadn't raised my blood pressure so. I walked home through Yerba Buena Gardens, then down an unpleasantly sun-baked stretch of Market, wanting so much the lightness and glee I felt after the Musee Chagall.

There was a glimmer of it, but just barely. And there was no Mediterranean in sight.