July 13, 2007


I had to face a bit of a crisis this morning. I was the first one up, which meant that I would be getting breakfast-six croissants and a baguette. But I needed to pick up a dozen croissants, because I needed to have enough for Saturday, which was 14 July, the Bastille Day, and it would be unlikely to get breakfast on this important state holiday.


However, I don't know how to count past six in French. I could no sooner have ordered twelve croissants than 47 of them. So I got the six we needed for that morning and went back home. I confessed my dilemma to the others. "What was I supposed to do, walk back in and get six more?"


We were electing to eschew our ham and cheese sandwiches because the Louvre had a food court, and we didn't want to have to check a bag and try to meet up in the same place. The sheer size of the Louvre is overwhelming to even experienced visitors who know what they want to see and what they don't. I knew none of these things.


Our first stop of the day would be the Musee Rodin, right next door to the Invalides in our neighborhood. Something about the house and gardens spoke to me, but in all the wrong ways. I'd been through the front courtyard and saw "The Thinker," which was extremely cool, and Dante's Gate, which was even more impressive (a work he struggled at for decades and never finished). But I was stunned by the gardens. Size wise, height wise, everything was just...perfect. The way that Julie talked about the Place des Vosges. I thought to myself if I ever lived in a place where I could have an insanely cool backyard (that would not require irrigation every ten seconds to stay alive but of course you realize that my primary residence will always and forever be the great state of Nevada, as long as they keep that nice no-income-tax thingy in place), it would have to be just like the one at the Rodin Museum. The house was set up well, too-just right for shooting clays off the balcony outside of my bedroom, a pursuit I plan to take up when I'm insanely wealthy, which is why it's probably best for all (particularly small woodland creatures) that I continue to toil in relative obscurity.




I got to see the process of how the sculptures could be reproduced, using plaster and wax carvings. I looked at it several times and realize that the issue with me doing sculpture wouldn't be reproducing it; it would be doing it in the first place. Get me a big enough piece of marble and a chisel and you'll have a sandbox by lunch, assuming you let me keep the box the piece of marble came in. Besides, given my occasional propensity to get mad enough to throw things, what if I had a good couple hours put into a semi-precious rock, then inadvertently carved in a pockmark or an extra bellybutton? The Venus de Milo was starting to make a lot more sense to me now.



And that was a good thing, because that's where we were headed next.


The Louvre. I couldn't believe that we were going to catch it on our third day of museum-hopping; it was like what Rafael Nadal had to go through to get to the final against Roger Federer. The days got harder and seemed to go on forever each day he showed up. It took him four days to finish a match, between the rain and the fact it went five sets.


Picasso museum was one of his houses. Pompidou Center was two floors. Musee D'Orsay was a train station in a past life, and while it was sizable, it's not the Louvre's 60,000 square meters of exhibition space, or 23 square miles. That's the size of Manhattan.



You can't see it all in one day. You won't see it all in one day. We decided our best move was to grab lunch first. There is, of all things, a mall at the Louvre. There was a Starbucks, loaded with Americans, and several cafes, which weren't. We were headed to the food court to fortify ourselves with lunch.


It felt odd to be in such an obviously American concept; bad food served quickly. There were, thank God, no franchises, but you could see they were attempting to come close. I grabbed a table while Julie and Ken picked some stuff up. When Julie returned, I started looking around.



There was a tapas place right in front of me, but they seemed to be leaning heavily towards seafood, which I won't risk in a food court. There were two delis, a Chinese food stand, and nothing interesting at either one. In the corner was a pizzeria and pasta stand. I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten a slice of pizza and figured it would be a good idea. As an American successfully ordering Italian food in French from what appeared to be a Moroccan cashier, I I wondered how many other cultures we could mash into the moment.


Ken grinned when I showed up. "You found Sbarro!" He pointed to his waffle with Nutella and bananas. "I found Cinnabon!"


After a few minutes, our batteries were recharged. We headed downstairs into the lobby beneath the pyramid. People streamed across the marble like picnic ants, and each of the wings beckoned us. One wing could take up as much space as any of the other museums we'd seen this week.



Thankfully, as always, Julie was able to point us in the right direction.


"You're going to want to go here...then here, then over to here." She circled the items she felt we would absolutely have to see. I could see a path through where I needed to be, so I was off to the Sully wing to see the Gotta Sees; the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Wake of the Medusa (a must for any Pogues fan) and the ranking Gotta See This of the Louvre for centuries, La Joconde, the Mona Lisa.


There isn't a single directional sign in the Sully wing that doesn't point to the Mona Lisa. As a result, you find yourself on the stairs with Winged Victory in front of you, and people trooping around it and making the right to get to the painting. It made to grab a spot on the stairs and just watch.



It seemed as if a lot of people didn't realize they were in an art museum, but were still back in that ridiculous mall. It was louder than I thought it would be. Nobody wanted to contemplate anything other than getting to wherever they were supposed to be next.

People of all ages didn't stop to look at anything for more than a few seconds. It was In The Way, and they were On A Mission.


I hung out on a stairwell approaching Winged Victory and achieved the same feeling I did when I was in the food court. No one was stopping to figure out how in the hell this statue, which had been in this exact spot for 123 years, was made. They looked up and kept marching towards the Mona Lisa.


I made my way up after taking a few moments and entered into the Italian artist's corridors. Lewis Black made a joke about, "Over in Italy, and I didn't know this, but Jesus is big there." Most of these paintings were commissioned by the Church and not intended to be seen outside of it. I saw at least six paintings that depicted the suffering of Christ prior to his crucifixion, and the way that they were represented made it seem like you were looking at an Associated Press newsfeed of a pool photographer. All of these gentlemen were depicting something that occurred 1400 years ago and nearly identical in terms of light and perspective to a handful of others.


And midway in I got to the room.


On the back wall, opposite from Mona, is the Feast of Cana, a galactically famous painting in its own right. Four people were looking at it while they waited for others who were caught up in the scrum.



And a scrum is exactly what it was. They have Tensabarriers set up in front of the painting. It's smaller than you think it is; probably 20 by 16, and behind a great big thick sheet of glass. And there were more cameras and digital recording devices taking pictures of it than you could count.



In the picture below, I counted 17 people taking pictures, mostly with cell phones.



I got a decent look at the painting from the right side near the front of the Tensabarrier, and the people kept jostling and pushing. Finally I realized that among the glass and the phones and the crowds, I wasn't going to see this painting. And then I saw the smile, more from my own memory than what was in front of my eyes, and I started laughing.


And then I knew what I wanted pictures of. I tucked myself in just to the right of the security guard and started snapping pictures of the tourists.





And still more.





I walked over to the other side and did the same. The guard smiled and looked at my camera.


"Excusez-moi, parlez-vous Anglais?"

"A little."

"This is hilarious. What are all of these people trying so hard to look at?"

"People come here and they cry, they pass out, we see all kinds of things."

I showed her my camera. "I'm taking pictures to see how many people are taking pictures that are going to be hard to see and from far away."

She smiled and grabbed the other security guard.

"I saw the painting, but I think this a lot funnier."

She nodded vigorously. "La Joconde never changes. The show is out here."


And I thought about it, and thought of all the crappy pictures that had been taken of this particular work of art; everything from Kodak Brownies and flash powder all the way up to Kodak Discs, Polaroids, and those silly little things that used 110 film that they sold in the back of comic books. Millions of people had taken these same pictures already. Because of the glass and the room, there's no way that any of those pictures would be as good as even one that was on the calendars in the gift shop in the hallway. In forty years we'd all be standing here in those neoprene space-type clothes, taking pictures with something the size of a pencil lead, and the pictures still won't be the same as standing in front of it.


I moved around back of the painting where I saw a barefoot child, about ten years old, strolling through the crowds. I no longer felt underdressed. I made my way back through the gigantic hall of Italian religious paintings and started to hear something on the speaker.



It sounded slightly like a siren.


I thought I heard something in muffled English, but the second I thought I could discern something, they were on to Italian. I ran into Ken and asked, "Are you hearing this?"


He looked up, and then it came across a little easier. It was a clear order to evacuate the wing. Not knowing why we were doing so-fire, terrorists, bombs-we moved quickly through the galleries and down the stairs.


By the time we finally stopped, there were no sirens, there was no commotion, there was just a normally functioning museum. We had wandered into classical sculpture and looked around. People were not filling the courtyard. There were no fire engines.


We approached a security guard, clearly looking harried and having no idea about any alarms anywhere, as we were the third people in line to say something. A preposterous-looking American woman who'd taken makeup tips from Raggedy Ann asked, "Where are the crown jewels?" (That's her, in the blue, on the right.)



(I snapped the picture the moment after her question was answered, by the couple on the left. They said, in a sunny British accent, "England.")


Ken and I split up and attempted to conquer the Louvre. I headed back toward the French painters, the next step once you cross over through the great hall with the Mona Lisa. And in just a few steps, there was Delacroix's The Wake of the Medusa.



Yes, it's famous, and for more than just being the cover of "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash." . The actual survivors resorted to cannibalism, but there's no allusion to that here. To give you an idea of the sheer size of paintings in this hall, I was standing nearly thirty feet away, and those wire barriers that you see below the painting come up to just below my knee.



I lost myself in somewhere beyond pictures, past mummies in the Egyptian art area, past miniature wristwatches and all manner of artistry since somewhere past the dawn of Man. The sheer size and scale of all of it overwhelms you, and the toll of no sleep and constant walking had beaten my feet into unrecognizability.


Look at the room in the picture above. That gallery consisted of Dutch painters. There are 14 paintings visible in the picture. They were the work of a lifetime for their respective artists. Their very presence in the Louvre guarantees them immortality. If I were an art history student interested in this particular time and place, I was in the right place, along with all the parallel times and places occurring all over the globe...and there were dozens of rooms just like this one.


By the end of three hours realizing how little I knew about medieval and Renaissance art, while marveling at the details and the scope of this place, I could certainly identify with the figure in this bas-relief:



I wanted to see the History of the Louvre presentation, but the sign informed me that that only ran on Mardi and Mercredi, which...wasn't today. I walked around the pyramid and got some interesting pictures of the scene, on one of the first pretty days we'd seen in two weeks.


I then strolled back to the Venus de Milo, which was undergoing a veritable barrage of tourists. This statue I took some time to watch, catching the different light on the angles. The people were the novelty, so I grabbed another picture or seven of them...



What I did like is how, at the opposite of that hallway, there is another statue from a similar time period that is not held in such notoriety. I'll show you the picture and then tell you my caption.


It was the position of the hands that gave it away for me. "Here I am, just as dressed, just as pretty, and there's nobody but this blond geek with a camera. I must be able to do better than this. Hundreds of years looking down the hallway. Don't they realize that bitch doesn't have any arms?


After meeting downstairs to make sure everyone was still conscious, I walked with Julie to the cafe overlooking the courtyard for the restorative power of coffee and dessert. We then saw Napoleon's apartments, and I knew I'd been reaching the end of the string for the day when I started mentally comparing what I'd seen there to the effects at Versailles and at Invalides.



The next stop was the Apollo Gallery and the crown jewels.


The Louvre also honors big-time patrons with plaques just outside of this gallery. Included among the donors was Picasso, Chagall, and Zola. I was having too much fun just looking at the names.


And, near this area, was the inevitable reminder of who can get lost in the shuffle:


On a cheerier perspective of the military, there were groups of soldiers all throughout the museum. The Bastille is a holiday or them as well, but imagine if our military marched through the streets of Washington on the Fourth of July. I saw these three posing in front of statues of Anubis in Egyptian Antiquities. I never got to find out which one of them actually said, "Hey, I've got an idea." My guess is it was not the shortest one.



We met up in the pyramid again and made our way out. There were entire wings of the museum we hadn't seen, but I don't think anyone was going to fault us for covering as much ground as we did.


We made our way to a small park across from the museum, where they were setting up for the Bastille festivities the next day. People sat and read books in the sun. There was an art installation consisting of pedestals, striped, across a square. I asked Ken if we jumped on the right one, would we launch the acoustic guitarist across the park? Ken jumped on a couple to check; we ultimately decided it couldn't happen. After a quick walk outside, we were back on the Metro and home, where we arrived in time to see the military helicopters performing maneuvers over our neighborhood. I asked the others if they'd gotten in any trouble at the museum and the Army had come to get us.


We ate dinner at Le Dome, near the Eiffel Tower, and I had the most fun with the language I'd have in the whole two weeks. A clot of twentysomething American women were clotting the entrance, wondering if they should actually head inside. I didn't know this on sight, so I started promptly with "Pardonnez moi, madame." They said several times in English, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."


I smirked and said, "Hey, don't worry about it."


Following dinner, we went to a carnival located alongside the Seine, where Ken attempted to explain "tilt-o-whirl" to the Orsoni family. You can get ripped off in about seven different languages here, but the colors were amazing.




I managed to buy too many tickets, so I had to find a way to punt the ones that I was still carrying. Using primarily English, I managed to resell them at cost to someone else in line. Ken and Julie weren't sure I'd be able to do it. Fortunately I think they were high school kids, so that had some facility with my English.


We took some pictures on the Champs Elysees, with the tricolor hanging from the Arc de Triomphe. Our feet torn to shreds, we headed back.


Previous - Next


Get free Dreamweaver templates and extensions at JustDreamweaver.com