Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tres Tres!

So this brings us to the morning of my 33rd birthday and only the 3rd birthday that Neal has celebrated with me in the 6 years that we've been together. The Army hates birthdays. And anniversaries.

Breakfast was a delightful spread of nutella crepes, nutella slathered on a croissant, nutella dripping from a baguette, and eggs. And a cappuccino to wash it all down. Also a healthy dose of water to bring my electrolytes back into balance from the evening before. Neal managed to keep all peanut gallery comments regarding my very non-caveman diet to himself. It was, after all, my birthday. I will make myself ill on hazelnut spread if I want to.

The weather in Paris on 8 September left a lot to be desired. Low hanging clouds and a mist that evolved into a drizzle only affirmed our initial plans of being inside all day.

To the Louvre!

I had been told by numerous people and had read in numerous guides that the only way to survive the Louvre is to pick your top 10 (15 if you're ambitious) pieces and save the rest for your next trip to Paris. Rick Steves has, of course, a podcast available on iTunes that will ensure you hit all of the museum's highlights (read: the art that even your hillbilly cousin saw when his John Deere convention came to Paris). But if you want to venture off of the main drag and away from the swarms of people who would like nothing better than to walk directly in front of your camera as you are firing off a quick picture of the Mona Lisa, then you better do a little research ahead of time.

The museum itself is simple enough with 3 wings, or spokes, leading off of it...the Richelieu wing (Oriental antiquities, French, Dutch, and Northern art), the Sully wing (French painting and ancient Egypt collections), and the Denon wing (the one you hit if you have 8 hours in Paris and an hour of that is dedicated to the Louvre). Here's a little tip about French art museums...they are constantly in flux. Paintings are moved, loaned out, being restored, etc, etc, etc. If you have not at this point in your life learned to roll with it, Paris is happy to give you a crash course. While allowing Rick to guide us through the Louvre, we were often in the wrong room, at the wrong end of the hallway, and the wrong wing. Sometimes we eventually stumbled upon the piece he was discussing, sometimes we had to admit defeat and walk away (I still don't know where the Musee d'Orsay is hiding Whistler's Mother).

 There is a possibility that after seeing The DaVinci Code 3 times while packing for Paris, I may have had a bit of a moment here.

The podcast started with Greek art, circa 500 BC, but we couldn't find it. He said "climb the stairs and make your first left"...which would have lead us straight into the restrooms...and while that is certainly considered art when you are at the Pompidou (Modern Art Museum), it hardly qualifies here.

Next up were the Parthenon friezes...actual stone fragments from the Parthenon (which is in Greece and not to be confused with the either Rome or Paris). This particular panel shows a centaur sexually harassing a woman at a party and, consequently, being thrown out...just as Greece conquered its barbarian neighbors and became civilized.

Don't you kind of wonder if centaurs are hung like a horse?

Many statues of famous Greeks filled the next 3 rooms. I got some stellar photos of Caesar and Tiberius...on the other camera. So...we'll just fast track it to Venus de Milo (I assure you that you're getting the best end of this you're reading this on your couch and not walking upstream against the hordes. Also, there is no good time to go to the Louvre. Just put on your comfy shoes and your game face and go). 

Oh Venus...with her 6 pack abs, perfectly even breasts, and...missing arms. Yes, girl can have it all. Great abs, no arms. Purposely sculpted to resemble no woman in particular, she represents every woman. Grace, style, beauty, and perfectly balanced from left to right. She is actually created from 2 pieces of stone, which were sealed at the hips. Although most Greek statues are simply copies of earlier Roman work, this one is a Greek original. She is exactly how the Greeks imagined Aphrodite would look in human form...the epitome of keep calm and carry on.

And if Venus is keeping calm and carrying on, Winged Victory is kicking ass and taking names. This winged and scantily clad woman once stood on a hilltop to commemorate a naval victory. She forges forward into a hurricane-force wind. She is a pillar of strength, standing firm even as everything whips around her. When she was first carved, her right arm stretched high, waving a "#1" finger. The finger was found in Turkey in 1950. Considering the number of treasures French had looted from Turkey in the past, they're lucky that all they got was the finger.

One quick look up at the sky, as we passed from room to room, showed us Icarus, falling out of the sky as his melted wings gave way to the sun's heat.

Shuffling along the last couple of rooms before emptying out onto The Grand Gallery, you begin to appreciate the Italian Renaissance and how vastly different it was from Medieval art. Although there are stories to be told about each of these paintings, as we walked, I just observed them with a larger lens...taking note of how perspective in painting came to be used and how the subject matter evolved from idyllic religious figures to the realistic fight for freedom.

St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata by Giotto
The Madonna of the Angels by Cimabue
La Belle Jardiniere  by Raphael

And this brings us to the mother load...the belle of the ball, the star of the show...Mona. If you aren't sure where it is in the Louvre, just follow the mass of tourists with Canon Rebels already aimed in anticipation. 20,000 extra bonus points to anyone who can take a picture without someone else's head in it.

See her? She's waaaaaay down at the end of the hallway and the only painting enclosed in bulletproof glass. What's really amusing about this room is that directly opposite of her, is a painting that takes up almost the entire wall, from floor to ceiling. Talk about an inferiority complex.

Yeah, she's least in comparison to most of the other work hanging in the Louvre. But she comes with a lifetime of questions, mystery, and myths. Should you want to achieve your own photo where the eyes follow you...just turn your head in one direction and your eyes in another. Works every time. The brain, like the heart, is so easily fooled.

We said au revoir to Madame Mona and pressed our way back out the door. I feel bad for the other paintings in there because after about 3 minutes with 100 tourists, the last thing you want to do is stand at look at other art. You really just want to get the hell out.

After exiting, Rick brought us around to French Neoclassicism (1750-1850) and then French Romanticism (1800-1850) before ending at Michelangelo's Slaves from the Italian Renaissance. I recognized almost every painting he brought us to, including Veronese's The Marriage at Cana

50,000 points to anyone who can spot Jesus in this orgy of wine, food, and beautiful people. Another 50,000 to anyone who can spot me.

The Coronation of Napoleon by David
If only that guy was 2" shorter...aghgh! 

David has my undying respect because he straight up painted himself into this portrait of Napoleon crowning himself just have to do it.

Last of the French Neoclassic stops was La Grande Odalisque, which I studied at length in my first college art history class, and was somewhat mocked later by Manet.

Onward and forward to the French Romantics, who were painting the heart and soul side of the 1800's while the Neoclassicists were playing it cool, calm, and balanced. Two of the best examples of the grit and passion of the romantics are The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault...

and Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix...

A far cry from cherub Jesus in the arms of the Virgin Mary and angels with pie plate orbs hanging over their heads, yes? I freaking love art. 

The noon hour had come and passed and all of that nutella had run its course. We had not yet made it to the Dutch painters, but we were starving. Our 2 options were to either leave the museum to eat at a cafe somewhere along rue de Rivoli and then return, or stay at the museum and eat at a cafe inside. And trust me, I am the last person to advocate dining at museum cafes. I'm still paying off a lunch we once had at the Chicago Art Institute. But standing in line for 20 minutes just to eat a cold sandwich and chips was, at the time, a better choice than leaving and then having to come back through security into the museum. The Louvre is not a "we'll come back this afternoon" kind of place. It's a process.

So, lunch was a chicken sandwich for each of us, which was not even disguised as handmade. It was served in the triangular box it came in...the same box you see in the marches and gas stations everywhere. A bag of chips and a plate came with the box, as well as a beer (for an extra 1.20). For 15 euros we were refueled and ready to go on.

The last of the day's sculptures, Michelangelo's Slaves, stood unassuming in a hallway and if I had not been on the lookout, we would have probably walked right by them.
The Rebellious Slave
The Dying Slave (or Sleeping Slave...whichever)
And one that has nothing to do with slaves but that I loved anyway.

Last stop before heading into Napoleon's lair apartment was The Code of Hammurabi. I am certain that this means nothing to anyone but me and the rest of Mr. Roach's History class...but here it is, boys and girls. I walked into the room expecting a palm-sized stone with hieroglyphics and instead got a 7' tall pillar of rock. 
I guess if you are going to establish a code of conduct for a new civilization, you need bigger stones.

It was tempting to skip Napoleon's apartments altogether because by this point, our eyes, brains, and feet were all aching simultaneously (which is probably how you feel right about now if you've made it this far...minus the feet, of course). It's just so much to take in. But we persevered and wound our way around (read: looked for the swarms of tourists and followed them).

We didn't get the audio guide for these rooms and Rick doesn't cover them so I will only say...Holy opulent wealth Batman.

Suddenly, I want a dining room table big enough for two chandeliers...

The final stop was at the Dutch painters because I had studied Vermeer and his pals in college. And...I had seen The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Our photos of the Dutch art are dark and blurry because, for whatever reason, the Louvre has seen fit to hang them in what amounts to a cave. I'm not sure if that was a specific artist request...citing they were meant to be seen that way, or they just don't deserve the lighting that Mona gets. Either way, without a tripod, it is practically impossible to take a clear photo. 

I have always loved this painting. It's playful in a way that only girls can be. In my mind, they are sisters who are up to no good, creating controversy for their poor mother who is slaving away at her sewing in the background. 

And, with a few exceptions I have chosen not to include merely out of sheer exhaustion, that was it. We sortie'd (the French word for "exit" is sortie and it is posted we were constantly making jokes every time we left a building, metro station, cafe, etc). The rain had stopped but the sun never quite broke through. So we paused for a couple of quick pyramid pics...

strolled under the arch marking the entrance to the Tuileries (or Louvre gardens)...
paused for a caffe and a flaky apricot snack...
indulged Neal as he toasted art and the good life...
 photographed the statues...

and then, seeking refuge from a day of self-absorbed tourists, we fled to the gardens behind the Palais Royal, where the rest of Paris goes to do the same thing. 

And here we sat until it got late and it was time to dress for a birthday dinner with Gil & Gabrielle. On the way back to the Hilton, Neal suggested we walk by La Duree, home of the mouthwatering, multi-flavored macaroons...just on the off chance that they would still be open at 6 PM on a Thursday evening. As luck would have it, they were! I purchased my tiny box of assorted macaroons (I believe my exact words, "a mix of whatever. How could you possibly go wrong?"), took about a dozen photos inside the shop (with the other camera), and climbed on the metro. It was somewhere between La Duree and the hotel that our Cybershot found a new home. Whether I laid it down in anxious anticipation of colorful, sugary goodness...
or it encountered someone with sticky fingers on the metro, we'll never know. And we didn't even realize it until 2 days later. 

Our dinner spot was handpicked by Gil & Gabrielle. They made the reservations and invited us up to the Executive Lounge for a pre-dinner drink. my case...four pre-dinner drinks. I accidentally inhaled 4 full glasses of French sparkling wine before putting anything on my stomach. As it usually happens, they were just going down so well. I stumbled with my entourage to Neva Cuisine, where I then proceeded to dump tampons on the sidewalk as I pulled the saucy red heels out of my purse and stick the ballet flats in, offend (I'm sure) the wait staff with my butchered and drunk French, and visit the bathroom at least once. The room spun, I could not bare to eat a single thing, except for a little of the chocolate dessert. Neal ate both of our entrees and maintained excellent table conversation with our guests while I sat in my chair and tried not to think about how miserably drunk I really was. Happy Birthday, dumbass. I will neither confirm nor deny that I eventually threw up an 80 euro dinner. Well, I only ate the chocolate and a tiny bit of beef so maybe it was closer to 10 euros. Neal managed to keep the other 70 euros down and enjoyed them immensely. 

I remember very little from the night, except that in my birthday celebration, I continued to announce that I was "tres tres!" Gil, being the gentleman that he is, let it go until the end of the evening when he finally turned to me and asked, "Why do you keep saying you're very very?" I stopped, thought and screamed, "I'm trois trois!"...3-3 in French. Because I'm classy like that. 

My wish for each of you is that you have a spouse like Neal and sweet friends like Gil & Gabrielle who will agree to dine with you later in the week so that you can prove you are not always as asshole. Just on your birthday. 

If you go...
  • There are multiple ways to gain access to the Louvre (legally, anyway). If you are going on a museum pass, I HIGHLY recommend coming in through the underground mall entrance, the Carrousel du Louvre. Get off at the metro stop, Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre and exit at the end of the platform, following the signs to Musee du Louvre-Le Carrousel du Louvre. We were second in line through security. The entire process took about 2 minutes. 
  • Large bags must be checked and they will not check coats unless they are stuffed into a bag. 
  • Photography without a flash is allowed (obviously). And there is always a museum staff member close by to remind you of this rule. 
  • Neva at 2 rue de Berne is, Neal tells me, an excellent place to dine. Just don't tell them I sent you.


  1. You are a hoot...I adored every minute of your Parisian birthday celebration! From our cocktail(s) hour, the walk to & from dinner & the amazingly fantastic food at Neva. Best meal I had all week...entertainment & food!

  2. HAHAHA!!!! Ally... honestly. Neal is a saint and his hat is both awesome and hilarious. (I know nothing of his style, but it seems to me that a man in uniform makes fun of guys in non military berets.) So, more pictures of the hat! :D

    Also, in my next life, I'll be requiring an "apartment" like that of your dear friend, Napoleon. OH! And the statue of the crazy upside down girl in my front yard. Please. And thanks.

  3. WOW! So titty tweeking goes back a LONG way, huh? LOL!
    Is it just something I would do or did you happen to spend a long time looking at anything naked? Cuz I would have stared at the nakey jakeys...even the babies. I'm a weird-o.

  4. Happy Birthday!!!!!

    WOW... what great photos!!!!

    I'm jealous!!!!


  5. It looks like you had a wonderful birthday (what you remember of it anyway)!
    I admire your perseverance at the Louvre - I would have crapped out after Icarus (and I wouldn't need to see Napoleon's apartment, I have that staircase in my house. HA!).
    Sorry about your camera, but those macarons just might have made me forget all about it.
    Your birthday dinner sounds eerily similar to my behaviour at my best friend's wedding. We aren't assholes we are "amusing"...aren't we?
    And you are tres tres, indeed.

  6. Aww, happy birthday. I loved this. It's been years since I visited the Louvre, but I remember that Mona was kind of a let-down. So many other pieces surprised and delighted me, though. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. I loved the Louvre! I wish I'd been more than 17 when I visited it, though, because I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it.

    Though my sister was the one who asked where the last supper was and was told (in a very French manner, "Italy, mademoiselle."

    And I think très très actually suits you perfectly. =)

  8. Those macaroons look mouth watering! Sounds like a lovely birthday, nothing wrong with drinking a little too much!

    I don't what it is about art, but when it's historical based I love it, when it's modern I just stare at it and say I don't get it.

  9. I don't even know where to start.

    That had to be the best freaking birthday ever. I can only hope to someday share in the magic of Paris, Texas with my potbellied, balding, one-leg-slightly-longer-than-the-other, Latvian husband.

    That's right. I'm dreaming big.

    Happy birthday, fancy pants!

  10. Happy birthday--you and your husband are my heroes--thank you =)

  11. And with this... if not everything else about you I know we would get a long swimmingly! What a funny story, I would have gotten myself in the same wedge had I been in your shoes and did two nights in a row while on my honeymoon... Happy Belated Birthday sweetheart!

    And the museum = amazing!!! You are blessed, loved and a lucky woman I'm so happy you and Neal were able to do all this... yes even the drunken birthday dinner! oxoxo


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