This will piss off the Art History majors of the world, but I was sort of dreading our Louvre visit. I knew the place was enormous, I knew it got crowded. But I think actually visiting the Louvre for the first time is akin to becoming a parent for the first time: You have no idea what you’re in for until you’re there.
First of all, it was the final day of Fashion Week, which happens at the Carrousel du Louvre, so as we crossed the Pont des Arts at 10 a.m. we saw loads of paparazzi, fleets of black Mercedes and painfully thin people dressed in elaborate costumes. This is haute couture, not street style. And we had blundered into the middle of it. Steve got some pictures.
When we finally got ’round to the entrance, we had walked about a mile and we were sweaty. It’s warm in Paris. We brought all the wrong clothes. Anyway, we duck under an arch, to the Museum Pass entrance, and there we are, in the immense square with the famed glass pyramid. And a huge line to get in. Unless you have a Museum Pass. Again, $50 for a four-day pass. So we sauntered right past the line, and into the Louvre, toute de suite. C’est magnifique.
But then, we’re in the Louvre, under the pyramid and it’s sweltering and there’s thousands of people swarming around like ants. Tour groups that will quite literally run you over if you’re not careful. And everyone’s headed, camera phones up and shooting, toward the Denon and Sully wings. It’s a giant, moving mob of list-checker-offers: Louvre? Done. Champs-Élysées? Done. It’s more like a scavenger hunt than a true vacation, where you’re paying attention and taking things in.
Look, we were there, so obviously we’re more a part of the problem than the solution. But I was really turned off by the crowds in the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa rooms. I felt sorry for the other, equally worthy art forced to share space with the “must-see” pieces. I don’t know how it can be done any differently, but I wish it could. I hate feeling like there’s something obligatory about seeing great art.
I told Steve I wanted to go to a little-visited part of the museum, so we checked out the new, Islamic art area of the Louvre. The room was opened just last year, and it had a much more modern feel. Also, it was nearly empty but no less impressive, in my opinion. There, I could read a succinct history of the Arab world, including the Sunni-Shia split in the 7th century, and see ancient art from places that still feature prominently in the news, like Iraq and Syria. It was really cool.
Other things: I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we ate lunch at the food court. But at least we had Moroccan food. Also: How gorgeous is the Tuileries Garden? Wow. There was a dog-walker there with 10 off-leash dogs and he managed to keep them all under control and marching along, despite throngs of people and lines of North African guys trying to sell gilded trinkets. I was impressed.
Then we went to the Musée l’Orangerie (what is an Orangerie, anyway?) and it was teeny tiny compared to the Louvre. Very calming. Water lilies by Claude Monet. It’s the perfect antidote to the madness that is the Louvre.
So, we had some time before our 4:15 FaceTime call with Bini, so we meandered through the Place de la Concorde, where lots of people (nearly 3,000) got their heads chopped off during the Reign of Terror. There, you’ll find the obelisk of Luxor, which was where Louis XVI was beheaded. Now, people do selfies next to it. According to Wikipedia, Act Up Paris unrolled a giant pink condom over the obelisk on World Aids Day in December 1993. I like that image, and that’s how I will envision it, heretofore.
Then, we headed toward shopping: Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré and Rue Tronchet, where I found my beloved Saint James store. Oddly, it seemed only to be patronized by Korean tourists and old people, so maybe I’m not quite as fashion-forward as I think. But yet, J. Crew sells Saint James, and calls it trendy, so there’s that.
Dear God, Boulevard Haussmann. When we turned the corner and saw Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in the distance, I got a little manic. I love to shop. Anyone who knows me knows that. But the grands magasins de Paris broke me. An entire city block in the basement, devoted to shoes? It’s too much. Jimmy Choo and Fendi and Chanel and Aldo and United Nude and Robert Clergerie and brands I’d never heard of. YES. BRANDS OF SHOES I’D NEVER HEARD OF. I’d pick up a pair, show Steve and he’d say, well, let’s keep going and we can circle back. Then, when we circled back, an hour later, we couldn’t find the damned shoes. I’m going to dream about these amazing black flats with studded toes. And the Geox smoking loafers that didn’t fit, but the imperious shopgirl insisted they did.
We had to leave. I was sweating and stressed and, ultimately, shoeless.