Without caffeine I struggle out of my apartment, down the 6 floors of stairs barely wider than I am and steeper than any I’ve ever encountered, stumbling finally onto an empty Rue on a Sunday morning. Most of Les Halles is still sleeping, most of Paris is still sleeping. Even the market is still empty so without a wait, I say to the patisserie “Un croissant s’il vous plaît!” Then I head to my favorite cafe for my espresso. They aren’t open on Sunday? I’m desperate. I settle for the Starbucks, breaking a rule I made when I got off the plane at CDG five days ago. The street party kept me up till 3 am and it’s 8 am, I have to hoof it to the Louvre & fight a crowd of tourists. No way I’m doing so without drugs – read: caffeine. My Starbucks barista is overly friendly, somehow, this digs the knife in even deeper. At my favorite cafe my espresso comes with a side of “I’m too good to be serving you coffee.”
Nonetheless, double expresso avec sucre et crème with croissant in hand – I walk toward Rue de Rivoli and steel myself for the worst. Along the way, I take a dozen or so pictures of gorgeous architecture but it’s the one I capture of a near-empty street, morning light illuminating the only other two people up this early on Rue Saint-Honore … which I love best. It is truly Sunday morning in Paris.
Nearing Musee du Louvre, I finally see crowds. For only the second time this week, I also hear my own language. A Frenchman, in melodic English, tells the line of tourists and backpackers the wait will be one hour. I don’t mind – you’re letting me in your museum for free today? Oui, I will be patient for that! I will take pictures while I wait. I’ll enjoy the sound of a dozen different languages flowing around me. I’ll be grateful: I AM IN PARIS!!
Meanwhile, the smile that’s been on my face since I was handed my croissant will never go away.
Musee du Louvre
The line snakes around the pools and pyramid of glass in the center of the Louvre central courtyard. A brisk wind blows and I feel its chill, but the sun is shining brightly unhindered by the normal overcast conditions Paris has exhibited every other day I’ve been here. I’m aware that many say to skip the Louvre and for every person that says that there is another who says it can’t be missed. It’s this argument which fascinates me – I have to see for myself what all the fuss is for.
Eventually, I’m in! Winged Victory – here I come. Mona Lisa? Ok. But beware beautiful one – I’ve seen your face all my life, I doubt there is anything you have now that will greatly impress me. Venus de Milo? Same for you dear. I will gladly gaze upon your facade but don’t count on me to elbow past the masses that I might draw close to your glory.
As expected, the crowd around the greatest attractions – is simply funny. There are tourists snapping photographs, with flash, of the back of other tourists heads because at least somewhere in the background of that horribly exposed and composed image will be THE MONA LISA! I laugh, thankful for my lifetime history of art education. Truly. I’m happy to be here and able to say I’ve seen these great works at last with my own eyes. But it does not complete me to get up close and stare into Mona’s eyes to wonder at her thoughts.
As I walk the halls, I am most impressed with the spaces. The art collection is of course terrific, yet not curated well for the masses. This is a problem of too much, grouped too close together. A well curated collection of any kind exhibits restraint and the last word I would ever use to describe the hallowed halls of the Louvre … is restraint.In the end, it’s Napoleon’s apartment I am most fascinated by. Frankly, the physical beauty is staggering and runs toward the gaudy. The grandeur is almost hard to believe. I have this need to pinch myself – “People really lived like this?”, I think to myself. No wonder he thought himself a god among men. His very living space would support that theory well.
Eventually, I sense the need to move on. Paris is free today, after all. Leaving the Louvre I contemplate where to go next and I don’t have to think long. I’m tired from sensory overload. However, I cannot let this opportunity go to waste. As there is really only one museum which I cannot leave Paris without visiting, it’s where I head next, and that is Musée Rodin …
Next post, Part Two of Free Museum Day where I discuss the somewhat controversial sculptor Rodin as well as the museum and gardens dedicated to his work!