Monday, 14 November 2011


Without doubt, that sleep was the best I'd had since arriving in France. I had found home, and my sleepy, weary body had decided finally to succumb to beautiful dreams. I woke at about 7am, just as the cool crispiness of dawn was playing with the curtains and I stretched langorously in our little white room thinking excitedly about the day ahead. I wanted to see the Louvre and had budgeted a whole day to wander as we saw fit amongst the great halls. I knew, as I always knew even before we'd jumped on a plane in the first place, that I would never have enough time to explore all that I wanted to see, but I had a whole day to do whatever I pleased in the Louvre. 

We ate breakfast at our kitchen table and never have I enjoyed plain yoghurt so much. I swung my legs like a little girl under the table and chattered on to the slower waking Bingley before packing up our things to go on the day's adventure. The sun was just hitting the rooftops and the sky was cornflower blue, the air chilly and sharp against my fingers as I tried to be Parisian and chic, but failed miserably as I danced down the street. 

As we approached the Seine the Louvre on the opposite bank glowed in the early morning sunshine. The gentle haze formed by the white gravel bathing the lot in some sort of mystical light as I continued to dance around like a sprite, demanding that Bingley look look at that lamp post  and giggled at the "photo shoot" taking place in front of one of the pyramids. Hilarious business while I looked in awe at the rainbows bouncing through the IM Pei pyramids juxtaposed against the stately elegance of the museum. 

There were no queues as we descended under the pyramid and found ourselves in the discombobulating grand central station beneath the pyramid. Having no real idea what we wanted to see or do first, we picked up audioguides and headed for the temporary exhibition contrasting the empires of France and China. It was fascinating, with correlations drawn between both imperial nations that I had never before considered, and renewed again my determination to study more Chinese history. 

After that exhibit I wanted to see the Egyptian antiquities, so we made our way through the massive collection while listening to the audioguides for explanation and extra history facts, truly confirming our nerdly status. But I loved it. It gave so much more dimension, and was immensely useful for Bingley, as most of the written information with exhibits was in French. 

After Egypt, we found ourselves face to face with a laminated poster pointing "this way to Mona Lisa" and figuring that she is the Louvre's most famous tenant, felt we ought to visit. They didn't need signs to point the way, it was like there was a black hole in the middle of the museum where bus loads of tourists were invariably sucked. We found her antechamber, and from across the room, we saw her small smile, but that was not what drew most attention. In a room filled with masterpieces of grand and elaborate style, this tiny painting (though larger actually than I thought) was protected by a velvet rope, around which a virtual paparazzi storm of pushing, flashing cameras ebbed and flowed. It was a curious site, all these people posing with their backs to her. Many who forced their way to the front of the assembled mob, took a photo and then left. It was surreal. Bingley did not want to go anywhere near the posing, posturing, flash happy mob, and walked the perimeter as I slowly made my way through the crowd. 

At the front of the velvet rope, I stood there for probably 10 minutes, trying to work out why she was so famous. Is she famous for just being famous? I think, in large part, this is true. I think of the hundred or so people standing with me, raucously vying for the impossible perfect photograph of an image that I can download in 2 seconds, that they were less interested in seeing her, than being seen to have been with her. I wanted to feel the sense of mystery that has caused her to reach this status, but can't help but feel that so much of her celebrity is through her story than any particular artistic merit. La Giaconda was not a particularly beautiful woman, but she is absolutely compelling. She looks intelligent, soft and yet strong at the same time. But I doubt many people noticed that, even though her face will be part of a happy snap album for millions. 

After this, and the gallery of masters, we needed a break and opted for the cafe at the top of the stairs. It was very average and served the worst coffee we had in France, but we sat in the window of a French palace and talked about art, so there were some saving graces. We also played a terribly politically incorrect game of guess the nationality of the tourist, which was wrongly fun. I mean seriously, who wears a too tight hot pink JUICY couture tracksuit to the Louvre? And then accessorises it with a perm? I swear some people ask to be a cliche. 

We wandered without much direction after lunch, and found ourselves in the Greek sculpture gallery which made my heart hurt from the loveliness. It was near empty, unlike the Mona Lisa room, and I was able to circle my favourite Canova sculptures reverently and alone. They are so beautiful, and as the light hit it from the window placed next to them, so luminous. I teared up a little at the sheer emotion and the beautiful detail. Marble is such a lovely medium, it made me want to learn so that I could capture pieces of soul in stone and let them glow in the light. 

Even the Venus de Milo, one of the most famous occupants of the Louvre was alone when we found her. Still draped beautifully, her soft curves glowing with health and the sunlight that streamed through the windows. My fingers itched desperately for a pencil as I circled her, wanted to capture her lines and the savage loveliness of the ragged edges of her missing limbs. The audio guide was informative and very interesting, giving information as to how to date carving and little details that I would never have noticed. If you have stumbled on this blog through the magic of google, and are wondering whether the 8E or whatever it was is worth it, then a thousand times yes. Unless you already know everything about the works contained within, it is a wonderful way to feel educated and enlightened while being humbled, amazed and inspired at the same time. 

Then, though it was early afternoon, we had reached loveliness saturation point. We could not appreciate any further, so wandered out, past the inverted pyramid into the dazzling sunshine. The light against the buildings was so beautiful that I simply stopped and gazed at it for some time, overcome by the light and shadow against the blue. We continued to walk, no fixed direction just ambling when we came across the book sellers on the Seine, opening up their green stalls and proudly displaying their contents. Much of it was gaudy or tacky or both, but somehow it also fit in without feeling cheap as we ignored the vast tracts of I HEART PARIS merchandise and I flicked instead through the antique postcards. I wish I had bought some, and am not entirely sure why I didn't. I read a handful and translated them as best I could to Bingley. Handwritten cards with fading ink, with little messages on the back. I wanted to find a love letter, but the ones that came closest I found I couldn't translate and did not want to, so I put them back in their box. 

As we stepped onto the ancient Pont Neuf, the breeze began to dance along the Seine, making ripples as she landed, ruffling my hair and bringing roses into cheeks. I wanted to see the Square du Vert Galant where Henri IV paraded his amours in the soft green light under the trees and we made our way through the gate to find that this legendary lover's lane is also now a pontoon for tourist boats that trip up and down the Seine. Being such a beautifully blue day and with the wind beseeching me to come play out on the water, we paid for our overpriced tickets and jumped on board - climbing to the roof and to the front seats so that nothing would obstruct our view. 

It was touristy, it was not very Parisian at all, and yet it was completely perfect. The view of the bridges as we sailed under them and made wishes was incomparable. We saw monuments in a completely different light and the air was different as well. It wasn't just the sunshine, or the festive feel on our boat as we listened to tidbits in English, French and Spanish. It was something about the river itself, alive and purring as it lapped against the prow. When we left the boat in the golden light of the afternoon I couldn't help a very unParisian smile from creasing my cheeks. We sat on the edge of the Seine in the tiny (tiny) square and watched the world go by, surrounded by uni students with their pants and skirts pulled up, sunning their legs in the warmth. 

Some time later we headed home, across the bridge that is covered with locks that glinted like the gilding on the more elaborate bridges and I wistfully looked at the messages engraved, written or implied by these cheap locks on an ugly bridge. I suggested to Bingley that we ought to lock one to the bridge and throw our key into the Seine never to be retrieved - and he reminded me that once a year they cut them all off anyway, and that we had no lock in any case. Metaphors lost, we continued on... he's not afflicted with whimsy, is Bingley. 

We intended to go out for dinner that evening, but had a feast instead curled up on the couch, with stinky cheese and wine and fresh fruit and bread that we bought from a boulanger on our trek home. And for dessert, two plump chocolate macarons that were crisp and chewy and rich and saucy and delightful, but I would have loved anyway, just for their very being macarons. 

Rue Las Cases

Louvre at dawn

Louvre lamps

Lamps in the light

Pyramids and Arches

Egyptian Antiquities

Beautiful ceilings, gilded

Madonna of the Rocks

Mistress of the Louvre, surveying the thronging masses skeptically

Canova's Cupid and Psyche

Pure, obstacle obliterating love


aka Venus de Milo

Steel and glass and light in symphony

The rainbow maker

Afternoon light on Rue Rivoli

Book sellers along the Seine

Gradient blue and hey look - a lamp post!!

Musee d'Orsay

Boats along the Seine

Pont Alexandre

The Grey Lady and the Carousel
Notre Dame

Green in the Square of Gallant Green

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I feel like crying again (Oh, I'm reading these backwards. I haven't been on any blogs in a week or more so I'm reading from most recent back...).

I confess, just like the Tower, the Mona Lisa appeals to me less. But I'd feel I *had* to look. HAD to stand in her presence, for the sake of history, for the allure and the mystery of her. I can think of so many paintings far more beautiful, that move me so much more. But to stand in the presence of a Da Vinci? I'd take any one of them. And I don't know that I'd remember to take photos (I'd be a terrible tourist in France). I'd just be kind of transfixed.

I swear, if I ever make it to the Greek Sculpture room, I will cry. I will have Joel backing away pretending not to know this woman who looks at Cupid and Psyche and just lets the tears fall.

I may be building it up too much, but if feels like it'd be almost life changing.


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