It is morning, it is sunny, and we are in Paris! We decide to eat in the hotel breakfast room- a lovely subterranean cave with a dandy machine that makes lattes- to help us get an earlier start on the day. John has already been down to the front desk to assure that we are moving out of the light-less room. Getting ready for the day in the interior, no-window bathroom has been a challenge. Luckily the hotel hair dryer is hardwired in so that worked, however I am not quite sure if my make-up is on my face, at all. "Oui, oui. We will move you, just pack up your luggage and we will take care of it." Pack up. oh. The room is 10x10 with a European king bed; we have unpacked everything so we could stack and hide suitcases in order to move around. Luckily we have been using packing cubes and envelopes and the rest we just kind of throw in...We are on a mission to see the Louvre! The lady at the front desk (who is now beginning to show that she is not very fond of us) assures us that the Louvre is "very close.
It is a nice day--perhaps you should walk?" So we do.
The walk to the Louvre, we find out later, is 2 1/2 miles. Of course it is made easier because we are walking by the Seine, it is sunny and cool, and we are in Paris! Can you tell that this is a big deal for me? John has been before, although it was 50+ years ago, but for me, the Art Major, this is my first visit and it is a very, very big deal. We walk, learn to mumble "pardon" to get by and around groups of people and learn to watch constantly for uneven sidewalks, cobblestones, and brick sidewalks while I gawk at the gorgeousness around me. I am overwhelmed by the architectural beauty, the bridges crossing the Seine, the plane trees, and by how fast the elegantly dressed French women can march along in exceedingly high heels, while walking their dogs, smoking, and talking on their cell phones. That, my friends is the real secret to why French Women Don't Get Fat.
As we approach the Louvre we see a gang of teen-agers surrounding a very nice French man (you can tell he
is French because he is so elegantly and casually dressed.) He rebuffs the group, who are all dressed in long white clothing with black shawls and head dresses and are aggressively thrusting clip boards at him, "Do you speak English?" The nice man scatters them and then turns to warn us about these kids who, if they can get you to stop, will surround you and steal everything they can. I had already heard of these and other scams and know not to stop and not to talk, but to wave my hands aggressively around me. It is nice that he has, in perfect English, taken the time to give us this caution.
And then, we are at the Louvre. It is even bigger, grander, and more crowded than I ever thought possible. We have missed the entrance through the Carousel de Louvre but because we have Museum Passes, we are quickly into and out of the security line and into this massive museum - six miles if you can walk all of it-and faced with the challenge of seeing as much as we can before extreme exhaustion and aesthetic overload sets in.
The downstairs is crazy crowded,
Down for the count after only half an hour.
but we grab a map and head upstairs to the Flemish, German, French and Netherlands Schools which apparently are not on the tour groups map, so these rooms in the Richelieu Wing are quieter, cooler, and have air that is breathable. My advance research has told me that the crowds give way after lunch so we plan to visit the stars of the show: Mona, Venus, and Victory, later. I can't even begin to describe what it means to me to be here standing smack dab in front of all of those paintings and sculptures that filled my student years as an Art Major. In about 20 minutes I am so filled up that I feel that I am staggering. The Louvre allows non-flash photography, so I am in a reverie, feeling like my eyes are my entire self, while wordlessly pointing John to paintings which he must photograph for me...it must take me an hour before I can find the words to start talking to him and explaining the significance of the highpoints and to remember to translate the French titles and information the best that I can. As it turns out, we have missed a great many paintings
Vermeer's tiny treasure, tucked in a corner and mobbed.
that I wanted to see, but for now we are in need of rest.
John has been saying periodically, "You're in Paris, Baby," for the past 24 hours....and suddenly, outside on the balcony in the sun, eating a mediocre baguette and drinking a tiny bottle of bad wine, overlooking the interior courtyard of the Louvre, I realize--I'm in Paris! Whoa!
Now that we are rested, fed, and hydrated (we did get bottles of water,) we are back into the Louvre fray. First, Napoleon's apartments...yes, he lived like an emperor; then into beautiful and quiet ancient Greek sculptures below the pyramid; now, take a deep breath--we are going IN! First the Winged Victory--absolutely fabulous and how did they do that? Then take a deep breath and JUST TRY to see La Jaconde (Mona Lisa.) It is crazy. There are tour groups everywhere inhabited by people with sharp elbows quite willing to use them. We are trapped behind a man with a video camera right in our sight line. For ten minutes he records a video of The Mona Lisa. We wonder if he knows something that we don't? Well, we get close, and closer still to Michelangelo's magnificent "The
A simple lunch
Dying Slave" and "The Bound Slave" but meet sharp elbows at "The Venus de Milo," while John reminisces that 50 years ago he got to walk right up to her....oh, I don't need to hear that. Periodically, we break out of the madding crowd and stumble upon a David painting, or Psyche and Cupid, or the most glorious ceiling ever. It is all enough to make me weep. Unfortunately, the combination of walking perhaps 6 miles so far today and climbing up and down stairs is also enough to make my back and knees weep. It is time, for this visit, to leave the Louvre, travel across Les Jardins des Tuileries to Musee de L'Orangerie, the installation of Monet's fabulous and huge Water Lilies murals.
We are out of the tour-packed Louvre and out to the Tuileries--the grand park with the famous pools where little French children sail tiny sail boats, where people queue up for famous French sorbets and glacees, where plane trees line the paths and lovers entwine below them, and where groups of friends, families, and tourists mob the tiny open-air cafes. We plop down onto one of the green wood on metal benches to catch
View from the Balcony
Yep! We are sitting right there behind this gorgeousness.
our collective breath.
We head toward the corner diagonal from the Louvre and next to the Place de la Concorde--L'Orangerie. This museum was designed to house the eight huge Water Lilies murals in oval rooms lit by overhead natural and diffused light. However, before we enter this exhibit, we continue the time line of French art that left off in the Louvre--ancient to Pre-Impressionist-and enter the world of serious Impressionist and beyond collectors--the Guillaume-Walter collection of important works from Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, and Derain (I am falling head over heels in love with Derain, BTW.) But we are here for les pieces des resistance--Les Nympheas (The Water Lilies) and there are far too many Renoirs for my taste. On to Monet!
Information as we approach the two oval galleries tells us of Monet's difficulties in donating these major works to the government of France, with the desire that these monumental works will help to heal the sufferings of the French people endured during WWI. Monet also envisioned a tranquil room, surrounded by his murals, where one could find internal peace. It is true; that is what he has built--it is a place of internal peace. Visitors
Overlooking the Louvre
Sitting and eating lunch--oh, is that I.M Pei's famous pyramid? Gorgeous.
are quiet and courteous watching these huge murals that, as you gaze longer and longer you gaze, you see of light changing, the clouds passing overhead, and the depths of the water....
We walk back to the hotel, getting lost occasionally, but are rewarded for our 10 or so mile hike through Art Heaven in the lobby "Chocolate Bar" with a very, very large glass of Jameson's over the rocks (you gotta love a novice bar-tender) to assuage our aching feet. We are too tired to make elaborate dinner plans and reserve a table at yet another neighborhood café, Le Bosquet, and are delighted we do. The food is very good, the waiter is wonderful (he looks and has a shtick like Mr. Bean) and playful (he likes to try out my French,) and we meet a delightful couple who are seated next to us and end up with 3 hours of dinner and conversation.
We are now in a better room with a luscious view of the street, we have LIGHT, and we are deliriously happy. OH, Paris!
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