Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ah... Paris

I finally made it into Le Louvre. The first attempt was made on Sunday. The first Sunday of the month features free admission but it was raining hard so we thought we'd take a chance that others would decide to stay home. Wrong! The queue was at least a half-mile long. Arnaud and I returned on Monday and I used the free pass Annie had bestowed on me for my birthday to get in.

It's an amazing place in more ways than one. Yes it's loaded to the rafters with great and famous works of art. But the buildings (yep, it's more than one building and each has several levels) themselves, indeed their very "rafters" are also art. I spent more than 5 hours inside and barely scratched the surface. I've read about many of the paintings and have even seen copies in art books and on the Internet but how can one compare that to the actuality of the works themselves? The Louvre and its contents are simply beyond compare, would be impossible to replace, and are of incalculable value. What price could you plausibly set on such a treasure? And what if it had been destroyed during one of the great world wars that swept over France in the last century? I doubt there are crafts people alive today who could come close to recreating just the physical buildings let alone their contents. Rating ***** ***** (10 stars out of 10)

I've included a shot of the ceiling treatment in one part of the Denon wing so you can see what I mean when I say irreplaceable. The close-up of the woman's hand is from a painting that impressed me for its sense of realism. This is an oil painting done over a hundred years ago. Don't ask me who painted it -- these photos are not studies of art and/or artists but rather were made to remind me in years to come of what most impressed me during my all too brief time in front of them, with mouth agape at what I was seeing.

I was disappointed with the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world. But it is quite small, and subdued and, dare I say it, even dark, and one cannot get closer to it than about 15 feet due to a rope enclosure and the crowd pressing in from all sides. I took a cursory look and then quickly moved off into the other galleries.
The sculpture too was amazing. I have no background in art whatsoever but, thanks to some past girlfriends and colleagues, have at least a passing familiarity with the more well known art paintings. But these human forms carved out of stone were, well, simply mind blowing. Photographs cannot do them justice. And Le Louvre is packed with sculpture!
I eventually got tired and hungry so Arnaud and I left the museum and started walking. We walked through the Tuileries, we walked along the Champs-Elysees until we spotted the Eiffel Tower. We crossed the Seine and then we walked over to the tower enjoying the pleasant evening and the lights of Paris at night. Those of you who know me recall how much I fear heights so when I saw that the elevator was going to cost roughly $30 to ride to the top, a place that could only be uncomfortable for an acrophobic like me, I said to Arnaud, let's go have dinner. We walked through the Trocadero and down the Avenue Henri Martin to a nice place to eat. We took the Metro back to the Bastille district. (Note to Doug: 20,337 steps.) It had been a very busy and very rewarding day.

On Tuesday I decided to head out on my own for a visit to the Musee d'Orsay. I successfully negotiated for the first time by myself, the Paris Metro system. It's actually similar to the MBTA in Boston except it has 15 trains compared to Boston's 4. The key is knowing which direction to go (and hence which entrance to use), to get to your destination. As all stations service trains that go in two direction you need to know at the outset the name of the terminus that lies beyond the station you wish to go to. Anyway, long story short, I managed it. After a 45 minute wait in the rain and a nice talk with Warren (a man from, of all places, Albany, NY) and his French son-in-law, Jimmie, I paid my 9.50 euros and walked in.
Another stunning building. And filled with art of all descriptions. Sculpture, yes. Paintings, yes. But this museum seems to specialize in Impressionist school artists: Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Pissaro. There were paintings by Delacroix, Courbet, Corot, Moreau, Tissot, Bonnard, Hoddler. The list goes on and on. And this building too is, need I say it, a work of art in itself. It's a remodeled train station and so it's old but not as old as Le Louvre. Here's a few samples of what's inside.

I had a somewhat pricey lunch in the museum dining room. Take a look at this place, so typical of the decor one may encounter in these buildings. Lunch was a cup of split pea soup for 7 euros and a double espresso for 4.70, for a total of $17.40 USD. Yikes! The waiters wore full dress suits with neckties, the waitresses were foxy.

Time to finish this damn entry and head to the bunk. I chatted with Joe and Naroa on Facebook chat today and might get a chance to meet up with one or both of them later in my trip. They are the two dive instructors I met in Fiji last spring and with whom I did two very memorable scuba dives, my first. They're in between jobs now and are in Europe until probably January. Joe is in Plymouth, England, and Naroa is in Bilbao, Spain. Mayhaps, with some luck and good travel planning, our trails will cross again.