After a while, it is possible to walk through an exquisitely decorated room full of priceless works of art and be able to instantly pick out the one item you care about.
The exit sign.
A big day in Paris. We missed out on a couple of things yesterday because Tuesday is Shutday in several of the four star museums, but had a great time anyway, wearing out feet and eyes.
Today, we had a split breakfast. In the room, we snacked on dried fruit and nuts bought at a local supermarket (and I’ve got to say that a supermarket in the Latin Quarter took a bit of finding) and then we kitted up to go out.
“Starbucks,” Kerri said, “I want to be able to specify exactly what I’m getting.”
These French places, especially with my risible command of the language, you ask for coffee, you might get anything. You ask for a skinny latte, you’ll get a sharp glance fair in the eye and a river of unintelligible.
With the aid of cheap wifi and iPhone, we found a nearby Starbucks on the Boulevard St Michel, got our drinks, Moyen Ecremé for Kerri, Grand Frais for me, and sat outside on the footpath, watching the people and admiring the architecture.
Tourists are easy. They, like me, are dressed for comfort rather than style. The locals do both. Libertine101, you are a Parisian in Perth. You should move here. You’d slot in seamlessly.
Just walking down the street, the locals make an overwhelming display of panache. Usually, but not exclusively, clad in black, they manage to look colourful. Must be the accents.
Those fancy apartments, they are much the same. From the outside, all you can see is a wrought iron balcony and a few windows on a slender flat. Simple, yet exquisite. Get a whole street of these things stacked five high, and you’ve got me sighing with happiness. It just works.
I first came here directly from Osaka, where the population density is much the same, but the streetscapes are hideous. Cramped and ugly. The cherry blossoms were blooming, but they merely added a touch of pink to drab. I came to Paris, walked up and down a few boulevards, and was enchanted. Here was a spray of cherry blossoms outside the Musee du Moyen Age on the Boulevarde Saint Germain, and it was the icing on the cake, rather than the only beauty visible.
Kerri first came here on business, and she wanted to visit the museum, but didn’t have any free time. For four years she’s carried that desire within her, and now, after being thwarted yesterday, here we are.
It’s located in the former town house of the bishops of Cluny, who must have been very wealthy personages. Beside it is an excavated Roman bathhouse, frigidarium, caldarium etc. Together they make up a museum spanning 1500 years, more or less. Mostly devoted to artifacts of the Middle Ages, hence the name.
There’s a garden to walk around in, mediaeval herbs and vegetables, trees and wicket fences, then the musee proper. Themed rooms, devoted to (say) weapons, stained glass, ivory decoration, domestic items, tapestries etc. Audio guides for some rooms or pieces. Some absolutely stunning goldwork. Mostly devoted to Christian themes – I guess the wealthy people who could afford artwork wanted to build up brownie points with the almighty.
The private chapel had a vaulted roof. Not a big room, but visually exciting. Everyone gasped at the roof. I tried to capture it on camera, but not sure how well I got it.
Getting a bit worn out towards the end. Marvellous displays, but after a while the feet begin barking and yapping for a rest. I took a photo of RingBear on top of a model of the house and struck up a conversation with a lady from Chicago who was easily charmed. And charming, as so many people from Chicago are.
We’ve been spending a lot on food here, so we walked back to our hotel via the hospital cafeteria and got a couple of baguettes and coffee. Something about the bread here – it’s superb. Crusty, chewy and marvellous. It’s not uncommon to see people walking along the street with a breadstick hanging out of a bag, the end missing, the carrier chewing happily.
Best part about having a hotel in the centre of town is the ability to just head back in and crash when needed. We needed. About two in the afternoon, we groaned ourselves upright again and went off to Notre Dame. It’s not a long walk, maybe a colourful kilometre through the flower market and across the Pont Neuf, beside the booksellers on the Quai, but I was beginning to think we should have taken the Metro as we neared the Pyramid entrance to the Louvre.
Oh yeah. The windows on the Louvre are French doors, mainly. Some of them are huge. Tall. But never a louver in sight.
The pyramid works. To avoid having long crowds of people waiting in the cold or taking up space inside the building, there’s a need for a large enclosed space. Glassed in to use natural light, and below ground to reduce the visual impact. Underneath are autotickets, cafes, bookshops, information kiosks, seats, corridors radiating off. It works. And those who hate the pyramid could have had something a lot uglier to do the same job.
The building itself is magnificent. That word isn’t good enough, but will have to do. To begin with, it’s huge. Gigantic. Sprawling. Kilometres of corridors. Some rooms must be hundreds of metres long. Twenty foot ceilings in the meanest little galleries, others soaring away away up.
And elegant. The building reflects the scale. A little baroque in a French way, but not rococo. Not over the top. Le Petit Palais was over the top. The Louvre is in keeping.
Beautifully proportioned. The Square Court is immense, but perfect. Then there’s this long, wide “U” of masonry stretching off, seemingly endlessly towards the Arc de Triomphe on the horizon. There’s streets go through the thing, the wings crossing on archways.
You could just walk around the outside and marvel.
But inside, well. Huge galleries devoted to times and areas. The ancient Greek galleries caught my eye – some looted marbles from the Parthenon. Made me wonder whether the ones left behind had deteriorated in the acid rain, or maybe the French and British had taken the best. Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo.
Hard to take good photographs through the crowds. The place was buzzing. School groups, tour guides, tourists, French folk. Thousands of people. Mind, the place is so vast it wasn’t difficult to see things, but getting good photographs of the popular objects, you’d pretty well have to beat the doors down in the morning and sprint.
We explored up and down, sat still for a drink of water, rested here and there, cruised on for a bit. There’s one room full of British paintings, including a couple of Glovers who didn’t have his Australian-ness recognised on the labels. But pretty much everything else was forren. Lots of French stuff, and I didn’t get near the 9th century pictures. Dutch galleries, including one small painting that whipped my eye around in an instant. Pieter Janusz van Saenredam. Not one of his glorious best, but unmistakable.
We worked our way to the Italian galleries, and there she was. The Mona Lisa. A crowd of young folk snapping away on cellphones. Big crowd. She was behind armoured glass, and a rope kept everyone three or four metres away. Two guards.
Nice to look at from a distance, I guess, and I’ve ticked that box, but honestly, you get more out of a poster than going to see her in real life unless you are an art historian or something privileged to get a closer viewing.
Next room along took my breath away. I’d been muttering about forty foot ceilings, but this gallery was way taller than that. Glorious. Decorated ceiling, it was literally way over the top.
Kerri and I found a bench and took a rest. I got out my camera and zoomed in on a far doorway, where I could see people entering and repeating my reaction of open-mouthed awe whilst gazing way up.
Got a few people, but realistically the conditions were awful. The light wasn’t good for telephoto work and I ruined a few shots because they were blurred through the long exposure times.
One young lady came in and I snapped her as she paused. It wasn’t until I reviewed my shots some minutes later that I caught my breath in amazement. Possibly one of the best photographs I’ve ever taken. She’s standing, looking up, while around her the crowds stream past in blurred motion. A small sign arrows people to the Mona Lisa, but it’s pointing at this lady. And in the background, nore Italian art, high on the wall.
I couldn’t stop admiring my shot. Not anywhere near technically perfect in focus or composition, but I’ve caught the emotion beautifully, I think.
We looked through more Italian and Spanish stuff, including a couple of El Grecos, and found a restaurant for an early dinner. Soup for me and a club sandwich for Kerri. More coffee.
And a divine view everywhere we looked. Inside and out.
A last browse through the state apartments of Napoleon III, who really knew how to go way overboard in the home decoration game, and then we’d had enough. Time to look for those green exit signs.
It was a long hike outside, and then a bit of a walk to the Metro. But saving paces was the name of the game at this stage. We were near dropping.
Just two Metro stops, some stairs up, and round to the hospital entrance. We usually talke the stairs up, but this time it was the lift, the big wheeled hospital bed lift.
And crash out. Versailles in the morning!