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 once...in 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 Pantheon..in 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.
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.
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.
Yeah, she's tiny...at 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
The Coronation of Napoleon by David
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.
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.
- 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.