Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Le Louvre (France, Part Two)

Good evening!

Thanks for all your warm comments about the last blog post! I feel like I've been away from my daily posting ritual for a lifetime, and it's only been a little over a month. At any rate, back in the swing of things with a second missive about our week long, years overdue trip to the city of light. La France, vous me manquez!

I took this picture out of a window on the third floor-- again, do you see how ridiculously gorgeous everything is over there?
Preamble: when we put together the package at AAA, there were a myriad of packages and features you could add on to your trip, from bus tours of the city to guided walks to day trips to different regional attractions. I  was leery of getting an "americanized" version of the French experience, so we veto'd any extra "travel packages" outside of a day trip to the beaches at Normandy, and essentially told our travel agent how much money we wanted to spend for the two of us to fly to CDG, stay seven days, six nights in a clean, safe hotel, close to the metro and be able to get around town to whatever we wanted to see. One of the items I requested was a five day metro pass and a museum pass, the latter of which gives you two days from the time it's initially used to see as many museums as you can cram in. We really only used our pass for one day, but it was a MASSIVE DAY of dragging ourselves through the two main museums I wanted to see, the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay. But, for the present, let's talk Louvre.

The Louvre was about a hundred times bigger than I thought it was going to be. I know, it was on the cover of my 10th grade French textbook, it's a huge palace...but the wings and additions and floors of this palace go on for seemingly forever in sculpture after sculpture, painting after painting, cultural treasure after cultural treasure. Upstairs, downstairs, over stairs, down one wing, down another-- we spent I think actually a full six hours just walking. I found myself gawking and hissing, "Look, look!" at Matthew as each collection unfolded. Overall verdict? One of the most amazing things I've seen in my life. No joke, you could stay here for a year and not see everything. Oh, and the outside's not bad looking, either.

No photoshop, it really is just that gorgeous over there, everywhere you go.
While we were in hour five of our nine hour flight, somewhere over the Atlantic, I broke down halfway through the wretched in-flight screening of The Tourist (how was that movie made? WHY was that movie made?) and started reading the Rick Steves' guide to Paris I'd downloaded on my phone earlier in the week (thanks, Nashville Public Library Overdrive). I tried to internalize some of the big names so I'd be sure not miss anything stupid-amazing, but the trick to the Louvre is (and the thought continues to boggle my mind)-- everything is stupid-amazing. There are some jewels in the crown of the collection, but you know how if you were visiting a museum in the US (other than say the Art Institute in Chicago, or the Moma, or the Whitney, or the Smithsonian), there's ONE world class thing you need to make sure and see, and everything else is good-to-fair? At the Louvre, everything you laid eyes on would be that one amazing thing in an American museum. Their worst display beats some museum's entire collections. I know that sounds so naive, but it was my honest reaction.

Also, the physical building of the Louvre is a work of art unto itself. If you could catch your breath from looking down and around, you would look up, and see something like this in EVERY. ROOM. Louis XIV abandoned the Louvre as a royal residence in the late 17th century in favor of Versailles, but seriously? Seriously:

I'm not too grand to admit that Matthew and I were both impressed and left a little tittering about the number of nude male statues in the Roman division. I don't know if it was sleep deprivation or my baser natures taking over, but I had to go into a stairwell to try to stop laughing like a middle schooler about Bub's bon mots about the proliferation of genitalia on display (we're trying to keep this a family blog, but ask me in person sometime the things he said, they're still funny to me now). He's not wrong:

"And then Claudius was all...and I was all...and then HE was alllll..." Plus ça change...

Do you see the Romulus and Remus representation here, or are you too distracted by Lord Nude-i-tude?

He was like, "Take a closeup! Come on, I will never ask you for anything ever again." I demurred and we settled on this vacation snap. Ah, to show it to our kids some day.
On a more serious note, this gorgeous  statue was in its own alcove at the top of a stair. I'd seen Winged Victory before in some coffee table art survey book, but it was truly magnificent in real life. Why did I have to do a weird zoomy thing with my cell phone? You can tell the very important pieces of art because they are literally swarmed, from the time the place opens until it closes, by gaggles of tourists taking multiple pictures, videos, etc on their own phones. Even at six feet tall, this was the best vantage I could take from the ten deep crowd around the base of the sculpture. It sounds dumb, but I love this more for not having its head... the woman to which those wings belong could be anyone. More on how different a museum experience can be where photography is banned later.

Matthew continues to take the Louvre very seriously:

The Renaissance wing was much more my speed. I remember thinking ruefully as I took the picture below that however well the picture turned out, it wouldn't hold a candle to seeing an illuminated painting like this in real life. I thought about how I hate all those Michaels-y prints you see from time to time of "famous Renaissance works" because there's something so tired and flat to them, and whatever breath-of-life a truly great artist brings to the picture has been snuffed out. Everything I saw in this wing was just proof positive that that assumption was 100% correct. MAN ALIVE the gorgeous things there.

Lots of photos from this portion of the exhibition hall, I was a bit of a shutterbug:

There was a story in the little accompanying placard about this scorpion, but I can't remember what it was. Side note: it is metal as all get out to hang out with your ladies of the court and your pet scorpion. This is the story I am hoping is happening in this tableau. 
Baby Jesus in a proto-"boop"...the gilded crown on his head and Mary's lit up in the light like they were electric...
More of the stunning architecture inside and above. I couldn't stop craning my neck to see

This was part of a longer, rectangular portrait I think of four people...the black background made the images so stark it looked like they were looking back from behind a plate glass window.

Baby's first Boticelli...I kept having to remind myself that yes THE BOTTICELLI painted this, with his hands, hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

The head of John the Baptist, who is look surprisingly chill.
 And, of course, what you come to the Louvre to see. Voilà Lisa, devant le Mona Lisa

Because of a crush of people in line ahead of me, I didn't get to look eye-to-eye to La Giaconde, but I was impressed even at a distance at how mysterious the coloring makes the picture feel.

Another major league part of the collection was the impossibly (no, seriously, impossibly) long-lined Ingres nude, La Grande Odalisque. Another fabulous moment of "I know that picture!", which happened again and again in the museum.

As with this, Jacques-Louis David's depiction of the coronation of Napoleon and Josephine. Are you seeing how IMMENSELY LARGE this painting is. I mentioned in the last post my college trip to NYC-- while there, I was able to see Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avingnon and Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night, two super-star famous works of art that most people could do a dummy sketch of for you from memory, because goodness, they're that famous. The only thing being-- seeing these pictures in an art book or reproduced on someone's tote bag or in a poster bin at a college poster sale, doesn't communicate to the viewer the context of the SIZE of these pieces. Picasso's great work was as high as a billboard...Starry Night could fit in a shopper tote, with room for groceries. Similarly, this piece was like...."WAIT, WHAT.'s ALWAYS been that big?!" Sounds silly, but it's true. I think of how daunting that empty canvas must have appeared to him, and how amazing it would be to step back from it what would seem an interminable time later and know it's "done". Fun fact: David painted himself into the crowd in one of the viewing boxes, I think-- I wish I'd known that when I was there so I could have gotten a snap.

The artist himself, in a self portrait that was startling for how realistic it looked in real life.

More of the architecture:

A quick selfie ("Wanna take a selfie?" because Matthew's late-to-the-party catchphrase of this trip) :

Oh, right, recognize this? My dad, when looking over my travel snaps, related to me the story of his 1966 Christmas gift from his admittedly kooky/wonderful uncle George. "Oh yeah! The Venus di Milo! I used to have one of those, on my desk when I was kid." "Bit racy for a kid, right?" "Yep, and there was a David that went with it, too, about ten inches high, plastic. My uncle George gave them to me for Christmas!" "How old were you?!" " like that." "Isn't that kind of weird?!" Dad ((after some thought)): "Yeah, I guess it was kind of weird!" An early dose of culture or a strange tchochke for a grade schooler to be waking up to next to his school books in the LBJ adminstration? You be the judge. I was flabbergasted by how large the statue is, and, again, like Winged Victory, at the careless, shortsightedness of the sacking and bombing that went on during whatever sacking and bombing lost Venus her arms was. Can you imagine? "Ah, those filthy Romans can just sculpt another one when they rebuild their city...haha, like NEVER...!" To the victors the spoils of war, though...

Me: "Look, ma...ARMS!"
I asked three separate tour guides, in French, how to find this last treasure, and after the eighth windy turn and twelfth staircase and second reorienteering of the exhibit map, we finally found it-- the Cooooode of Hammmmuuuuraaaabi:

That's right, one of the earliest known "deciphered writings of significant length in the world". My ninth grade history textbook has some pretty hardcore excerpts from this in a little infographic box that still seems of interest to me, lo, these many years later. Lots of death and dismemberment, including the very famous:
Ex. Law #196. "If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man's bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one mana of silver. If one destroy the eye of a man's slave or break a bone of a man's slave he shall pay one-half his price."
Dude, eyes and bones flyin. People and Babylon weren't messing around. Honestly, though, seeing the little tiny inscriptions was extremely cool. Also, thinking about ancient Mesopotamians walking up to this thing and squinting, going "NO, SERIOUSLY, YOU OWE ME LIKE THREE COWS. CHECK IT OUT. RIGHT HERE."

After hours, and hours, and hours, of art and walking, walking and art, we finally broke down and asked one of museum docents where the cafeteria was (still in French! I was going to use as much French as possible during this trip!). He said he was actually about to go get something to eat, so he'd be happy to walk us over the the restaurant and cafeteria, and chatted amiably to us about the exhibits and the different foods at the restaurant until we parted company. "Enjoy your visit!" he essayed in English with a genuine smile and wave....because I told you! EVERYONE WAS SO NICE.

At the cafeteria, though there were tempting hot dishes of every kind, we just grabbed an Orangina, a Coke Zero, and a Chanrdonnay to quell our considerable thirst. Item one: the Cokes in France also have the same marketing as the ones in America, except in French. This label invites me to "Partagez un Coca-Cola avec Loïc", the French equivalent of "Share a Coke with Luke". So here's to you, Loïc. Also, the Coke was aaaabooout as expensive as the Chardonnay (I think 2 euros?). Think about that for a minute.

And last but not least, here's a photo of the "McDo's" (That's right, McDonalds IN Paris) in the mini shopping center attached to the Louvre. Can you see a Royal with cheese? I was way too tired to find out if it was listed, but here's a blurry picture of it anyway:

Anyway, there's part two of our Parisian adventures! What did you think? Do you have any bucket list art items to see in real life? Have you been to the Louvre? What's the last piece of art that really knocked your socks off? Do you tend more towards museums or more towards leisure or more towards oddities when you travel? I feel like our trip hit all three!

Next blog, I'll have to tell you about the catacombs, Père Lachaise cemetery, and the world class taxidermy museum/shop we visited (almost in time for Halloween, right?). Thanks again for reading! I'll check back in soon. Til then, à bientôt!


  1. In 2005, I was fortunate to be in France on three separate occasions during college... Spring Break, three weeks of a study assignment in the summer in the Loire valley, then a semester just outside of Paris. One of the benefits of being under age 25 was all of the DISCOUNTS! My 2nd trip to France, I got the Carte Jeune, which gave me "membership" to the Louvre for just 15 Euros... for a YEAR. You even got to access through the member door to avoid tourist lines. So during that semester I was in Paris, pretty much every time I was near the Louvre, I opted to walk through the Louvre, to see different things. I even remember when they moved the Mona Lisa. I will admit I think Musee d'Orsay rocks if you like Impressionists.

    Other favorite art museums of mine... The Getty Center in Los Angeles (the one in the hills), Crystal Bridges in Arkansas (100% American art, it's a hidden gem of sorts). Both very unique. Honorable mention, Victoria & Albert in London! Not exactly art, but sort of... I love seeing things that people used to use and wear back in the day. (As you do too!)

    This enthusiastic comment reads like a humblebrag of my travels, but it is not meant in that way.... I am gobbling up your France posts because it makes me incredibly nostalgic, and oh BY THE WAY I was a French major and speak French, and I want to practice with you to keep it up! :) xoxo

  2. I want it all - leisure, museums, and oddities - in my travels! Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking us along with you! I love every detail of these posts!

  3. Wow! So many great memories flooding back. I went to Paris in my twenties, my first trip off the continent. I expected to enjoy the Louvre but was feeling all cool until I spotted Liberty Leading the People. Inexplicably I teared up! I remembered seeing the image in a textbook and thinking, no wonder paintings could stir emotions like this! It was so hard to imagine until I saw the real thing.

  4. I love your posts of Paris! I have never been, we were going to go on our last trip to England, but were felled by food poisoning at the beginning of the trip (from the airplane food), and we lost a couple days of sightseeing.

    I am all about the museums, my favorites being the British Museum, V&A, the Art Institute and Field Museum in Chicago. I love them all though-even the little museums you can come across in your travels.



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