Monthly Archives: August 2013

Paris, Day Three – The Louvre

Wednesday, May 8

Wednesday was the big day: our first trip to the Louvre. I’m glad we went but it wasn’t quite what I imagined.

We started out with another civilized, if early, Parisian breakfast at Café des Musées and walked to the Louvre to await the opening.

Armed with our Museum Pass, we headed to the basement entrance in the shopping mall below the Louvre which was supposed to be the best way to avoid waiting in line. The line was astonishingly long, easily 500 people three and four abreast from the entrance to the escalator and around the center section. The space was packed and hot. The primary entrance is in the courtyard at the glass pyramid, so we thought we’d give that a try. Even if that line was long, too, we’d at least be out in the fresh air.

That was one of our best decisions of the whole trip. There was indeed a long line at the pyramid but we saw a very short one off to the side – visitors were walking up, showing their Museum Pass and going right in! I’m sorry to say I felt just a little bit smug strolling past all those sad faces. I’d spent many hours researching our visit, though, and this was the pay off: five minutes and we were inside!

As with the Orsay, I had a list of must-see paintings. The Louvre owns five works by my favorite artist, Gerard ter Borch, four of which were on display. We headed straight for the Dutch section on the second floor of the Richelieu Wing. Happily it was nearly empty of visitors so I could take as much time as I wanted to peruse the lovely paintings.

Ter Borch had an amazing ability to paint satin dresses. My mother’s wedding dress is a pretty off-white satin, heavy and smooth. The dresses that ter Borch often painted appear to be the same type of fabric. He captured exactly the sheen and weight of the fabric.

Original photo from

Original photo of Le Duo from Wikimedia Commons.

After getting my fill of ter Borch, we strolled through the rest of the Dutch section and worked our way through the remaining Richelieu Wing (18th and 19th century French, Renaissance and Middle Ages). At the entrance to the French section was Portrait de Deux Hommes, attributed to Phillippe de Champaigne. Two handsome young men are portrayed, François Mansard (after whom the mansard roof was named) and Claude Perrault (one of the architects of the Louvre). The painting is cleverly placed so that Claude’s gesture directs visitors towards his countrymen’s paintings.

We took a break for lunch at Le Café Mollien, of one of the 15(!) cafés, restaurants and lunch counters in the Museum.

After resting and recharging a bit, we thought we’d see some European paintings. Along with several hundred thousand other tourists. The crowds around the Winged Victory of Samothrace is a fair representation of number of people in this popular area:

Winged, Crowded Victory

Winged, Crowded Victory

It was a lovely setting for Nike but best viewed from afar.

The Italians were high on my must-see list but we found the crowds too much to delve deeper (and we were planning to come back later in the week) so we headed in another direction – Greek, Roman, Etruscan and other ancient civilizations. We were able to see the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1775 BC), the Etruscan Sarcophagus of the Cenestian Couple (c. 500 BC) and the famous Venus de Milo (c. 100 BC).

Other, less famous but equally important pieces like Pallas of Valletri and Athena (Ingres Minerva), were more accessible than the crowd favorites like Venus. I don’t know a great deal about sculpture but love the contrast of the flowing drape of the fabric rendered in heavy marble. Had someone opened a window, I almost believed the fabric would have stirred in the breeze.

Original photo via.

Original photo of Ingres Minerva via the Louvre.

Overall, the Louvre was interesting but it took some work to see and process. I really am glad we went but I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to get back any time soon. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – I know how lucky I am to have had the chance to go – but I expected it to be a different experience.

I was more or less prepared for the crowds but not the assembly line mentality of so many visitors. They seemed to have a mental check off list of famous paintings and sculptures and artifacts but didn’t really seem to be affected by or even particularly interested in them. They were more like clerks performing inventory than fortunate visitors.

With technology as pervasive as it is, I suppose I also shouldn’t have been surprised by the numbers of those people just snapping photos and moving on. But I was appalled at the number of people using their flashes. They clearly thought the Louvre worth visiting but they had absolutely no regard for the damage they were doing to these amazing works of art.

The people lucky enough to work at the Louvre were not the art lovers I imagined either. The floor staff appeared to barely even be security guards – I didn’t see a single one admonish the people using their flashes. The negligence and apathy seems to extend beyond the visible staff to the upper levels of administration, too. They have the privilege and responsibility of safeguarding this incredible repository of thousands of years of history and culture and they are treating it like it’s nothing more than a rather burdensome tourist attraction. Undiffused natural light, poor ventilation in some areas and flash photography allowed? Shameful.

And even setting aside the actual lack of care for the art, many were not even displayed to their best advantage. In some areas where the rooms were two stories tall, there were double rows of paintings on the walls. I’m sure they have so many works in their inventory and want to have as many as possible on view but between the distance and the glare of reflected light, the paintings on the top were so hard to see, they might has well have been in storage.

Fortunately, our experience at the Louvre turned out to be atypical. Yes, there were plenty of tourists at the other museums and cultural centers but they weren’t quite as rabid and the staff tended to be more enthusiastic and more protective of their charges.

After our adventure at the Louvre, we walked back along the Seine towards home. Jim bought two watercolors to commemorate our visit.

Metro Stop Watercolor

Art Deco Metro Stop

Watercolor Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville

I can’t wait to get them framed and hung in a place of honor to remind us of our trip!

Paris, Day Two – The Orsay Museum and the Eiffel Tower

Tuesday, May 7

Due to jetlag (and a few extra naps), we woke up very early on Tuesday and decided to take advantage of the morning light for photography. We wanted to see Notre Dame again and thought we’d just walk over for a little while. Like many of our outings on this trip, we got caught up in the scenery and “let’s just see what’s up here a little ways” (sound familiar, Dad?), so we ended up walking all morning. It was overcast but the cathedral still looked amazing. As a bonus, the streets were deserted.

We walked all over the Île de la Cité and Île St Louis and ended up at Le Village St Paul, an area of little courtyards and alleys with dozens of antique and vintage shops. That was a happy accident since I’d read about it before our trip but had completely forgotten that I wanted to do a little shopping there. Since it was early, the shops were closed but we had fun window-shopping (called faire du leche-vitrines in French, or “licking the windows”) and had something else to add to our already huge Must See list.

One the way home, we found BHV, Bazaar de L’Hotel de Ville, an enormous department store with everything from hardware in the basement to art supplies, fine stationery, luggage and books on the upper floors, not to mention two separate restaurants.

BHV

The Parisian version of Home Depot, Macy’s and Barnes & Noble all rolled into one.

We brought a power converter and a power strip for our cameras, phones and various electronics but found out once we unpacked that the converter only accepted a two-pronged plug and virtually everything else was a three-pronged grounded plug. We figured if we could find it in Paris, it’d be at BHV. While we waited for the store to open at ten, we walked around the Hotel de Ville, the central administrative offices for Paris. (It isn’t quite the same as an American city hall. Paris is divided into eighteen districts, called arrondissements, each of which has a mayor.) Municipal offices have been on this site since 1357.

Hotel de Ville

A huge amount of public records from the time of the French Revolution were lost when the the building burned to the ground in 1871. It was rebuilt over the course of 19 years and the current incarnation was completed in 1892.

Hotel de Ville

Statues of famous (male) Parisians decorated the sides. I only found one woman who merited a place on the walls, Madame Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, a patron of philosophers and intellectuals of the French Enlightenment.

Madame Geoffrin

We spent an entertaining hour at BHV and bought a grounded adaptor (so we could at least charge my laptop), two fountain pens and postcards. Afterwards, we stopped at Stratto, a lunch counter staffed by more friendly Parisians. Like most locals we encountered, they spoke a fair amount of English but laughingly said they wouldn’t let us leave until we spoke at least a little French! They even taught us a new word, emporter, (food) to go.

On our way home, we saw one of the Art Deco style Métro stations with a pretty blooming tree as a backdrop.

Metro Station

I’d read that there were only a few of these stations left, most having been modernized. Happily, I was misinformed and we ended up seeing quite a few around the city.

After enjoying our tasty Stratto sandwiches and a nap, we headed to our first museum, Musée d’Orsay, dedicated to Impressionism.

As part of my pre-trip research, I’d looked at the catalogs of the museums we’d be visiting and made notes of all the paintings I wanted to see. While I love that museums make so much art and information available online, there’s really no substitute for seeing them in person. Jim was an art major and was a great source of information about techniques and schools. He pointed out the brush strokes and layers of paint and the way their textures add to the painting.

I took an Art History class in college and, of course, know the famous Impressionists like Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir but it was a treat to see the work of many other important artists in the genre and some unknown (to me) works by the big names.

La Pie (The Magpie), a landscape by Monet, was painted in Normandy but really reminded me of northern New Mexico.

Original file Wikimedia Commons.

Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

My favorite Impressionist is Vincent Van Gogh and the Orsay owns several of his works, including one of the Starry Night paintings. I learned on this trip that there is more than one Starry Night painting. The most well-known is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Orsay owns Starry Night Over the Rhone. I was a tiny bit disappointed when I realized it wasn’t the Starry Night but Over the Rhone was quite beautiful, too.

That completely dissipated though, when I saw Thatched Cottages at Cordeville.

Original photo at http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/vincent-van-gogh/houses-with-thatched-roofs-cordeville-1890#close

Public domain image via WikiPaintings

The room in which it was displayed was warm and crowded but I was able to work my way to the front after a few minutes. Standing there in the dimmed room with the light falling on the canvas, I got chills. The colors and the movement – so much energy in a static image. I could almost see the trees blowing in the wind, feel the sun on my skin, smell the grass and the dirt and the gardens. Incredible.

Cordeville is a small village near Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh moved in 1890 after leaving the aslyum at Saint-Remy. He was taken with the thatched roofs in the area and recognized that they were becoming rare even then. Thatched Cottages was completed just a few months before his death in July, 1890.

After a few hours at the Orsay (with many breaks to rest our feet), we headed back home for dinner. We then headed out to see that most famous Parisian landmark, La Tour Eiffel.

La Tour Eiffel.

La Tour Eiffel

People were sitting all over the park in front of the tower, chatting, picnicking and drinking wine. Enterprising young men were walking around selling trinkets, miniature Eiffel Towers, glow-in-the-dark bracelets and, of course, wine.

At the top of the hour, the Tower sparkles for about five minutes. We arrived just in time! You can see a bit of my iPhone video here: Sparkling Eiffel Tower.

To ride to the top requires a ticket and the lines can be quite long, apparently. We decided to just to walk around under the tower and skip the trip to the top. The engineering of the base is impressive (and was undergoing maintenance of some kind).

Maintenance on the Eiffel Tower

Next time on SLWS, A Rainy Day At The Louvre:

Rainy Paris from the Louvre