Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Lord Louvre a duck
We were in Paris so that Amynah could attend her religious New Year’s festival (Navroz). As we’ve managed to see an embarrassingly small amount of France in the time we’ve been living here (though, to be fair, it took me until I was almost thirty to make it out to BC) we decided to use the trip as an excuse to visit the Loire Valley.
We had high hopes – the weather here had been topping 17 degrees almost every day for a week prior to departure with sun nearly all day. Needless to say, the day we boarded the train for Paris the temperature plunged to just above zero.
We’d been to Paris a few times before. Amynah has a theory on the city: namely it is great on odd numbered visits, horrible on even numbered ones. Last time we went was an even numbered visit in the summer. I was tired, homesick and cranky and managed to ruin it for both of us. This time, by Amynah’s reckoning, we should have had an excellent visit.
The stars for a good visit were not auspicious – in fact, they were not visible, what with the clouds and the rains and the hail. Amynah pointed out that my perception of Paris while I’m there is mercurial at best: one moment, I want to live there forever and even the subway maps strike me as resembling nothing more than colourful spider’s webs covered with a scattered dew of stations. Then one gets on the subway and can’t breath for the overpowering odour of urine.
This time was no different. Most of the rest of our time there was spent picking up necessities – clothes for Amynah (and a new coat for me), eating what may well be the World’s Best Falafel in the Marais (where I also picked up something bagel like that was no substitute for Fairmount’s Sesame Covered Rings of Joy) and books. So, so many books. On the advice of Zack we went to The Abbey Bookstore, in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne. It’s a Canadian Bookstore, with new and second hand books piled up to the ceiling. The organizational system would send any self respecting librarian into paroxysms of rage – I saw copies Romeo Dallaire’s “Shake Hands With the Devil” filed in four different sections.
We came away with a pile of reading material, from which I am currently reading “Napoleon” by Paul Johnson. Unfortunately that was less the biography for which I was hoping (I understand had an impressive career at some point a few centuries ago)
and more an argument with all the people who had written biographies of the man. So, if anyone wants an argument on why Napoleon’s legacy was the totalitarianism of the twentieth century, I’m you’re man. If anyone wants to ask me about Austerlitz or Waterloo, hey isn’t that Tom Cruise?
The Pantheon Dome, me trying for artsy
Shopping aside, we had decided that this was going to be the visit where we finally visited the Louvre. Amynah had been before, but I had not. I’m not a huge fan of mega-museums: I like them small and specialized, like the Medieval art museum here.
The Louvre (or at least what I’d heard of it) is sort of a three-ring circus of a museum, attracting all sorts of the kinds of superlatives that normally get attached to Las Vegas Hotels: “Miles of galleries! It would take three whole days to see everything! We have the actual freakin’ Mona Lisa! Juggling monkeys!”
Not to mention, I’m more than a little bit crowd averse and the lines to the Louvre are, I have heard, not unlike those at Disneyland (I’ve never been to Disneyland either, or a Las Vegas Hotel. Can you people just give me a bye on all these metaphors and analogies I’m tossing around?) The fact that many of these crowds would contain people who were affected enough by The Da Vinci Code to make the journey to see the actual final resting place of Mary Magdalene didn’t help my enthusiasm at all.
Nonethless, we showed up at 9 in the morning. The weather was awful – we had been caught in a hailstorm coming from our train the evening before, and the wind was cutting rather efficiently through my spring-weight jacket.
Lord Louvre a duck
I was surprised that our crazy strategy of showing up early during crappy weather meant that the place was relatively empty. I won’t go into a detailed description of what we saw. The Louvre used to be the downtown pad for the French Royals until the Bourbons hightailed it out to Versailles, which though considerably less centrally located, benefited from being a much greater distance from the open sewer that was the Seine.
We made a beeline for the floor with the Mona Lisa. Everyone I know who has seen this painting has always said two tings: there’s always a huge crowd there, and it is much smaller than they thought.
Thus armed with low expectations, I am pleased to report that the painting is in fact bigger than I expected and the crowds were surprisingly thin. Nonetheless, I felt a little sympathy for the older American lady I overheard asking her husband “So, why is this so famous?”
She’s right: everyone knows what the Mona Lisa looks like: she is the Coke logo of Art. Yet somehow, seeing the actual painting is still supposed to be an authentic experience, even when guards and velvet ropes are keeping you a safe five metres away. With all the buildup, one almost expects a transformative experience, or at least a wink from the lady. In reality, the Mona Lisa’s importance is less on its aesthetic value (it’s pretty drab, after all) and more on the legends that have built up around it.
After seeing her, Amynah and I poked around the rest of that floor, seeing a whole lot of equally interesting art, including this one which I quite liked (note the menacing shadow of the horseman in the background).
All right, I’m done now. Tomorrow, the Loire! (or the day after, maybe).