So today is the day we visit a landmark that isn’t just synonymous with Paris but is also perhaps the first name people come up with when they think art and museums – Musée du Louvre. The Louvre is about 60,000+ square metres large and while it actually is possible to walk through it in a day, it’s impossible to see everything. I was very clear that I wasn’t even going to try! I planned on hanging around with the Greeks, Romans and a few Renaissance artists. Unfortunately, the rest will have to be put off until a later trip.
Two important tips: Get there early and wear comfortable shoes.
After the wait at Musée d’Orsay, we decided to get to the Louvre earlier than we initially planned to. We got there a little after 9 am and there were no huge crowds to deal with. There are three entrances to Musée du Louvre – the main entrance directly through the glass Pyramid, one from the Carrousel du Louvre (the shopping mall underneath the Louvre that houses a McDonald’s…yes, I cringed too!) and from Porte des Lions (which was shut when we got there because of some work that was happening). If the crowds aren’t too intimidating, walk in through the Pyramid. I’ve heard many Parisians can’t stand it but I personally thought it’s a nice contrast to everything that surrounds it.
Musée du Louvre is huge and comprises 3 wings – Richelieu on the left, Sully in the centre and Denon on the right. Richelieu houses the Oriental Antiquities, Sully the French and Greek and Denon is Italian and French. Remember to check in stuff – if it’s winter and you’re wearing jackets, check them in near the Richelieu Wing, or if you have heavy baggage, check them in under the Pyramid to the right of the Denon Wing (if you can, stuff your jackets into your bag and check everything here). There’s quite a bit of walking to be done and you don’t need anything heavy on you (it’s also warm inside, so don’t worry about wearing jackets).
There were a few pieces we were sure we wanted to spend time with (surprisingly, the Mona Lisa wasn’t one of them!). As we walked through the Roman and Greek sections, we caught a glimpse of The Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Daru staircase but we were going to catch it later, so we continued on until we reached Venus de Milo. Ok, time for a little truth. It’s a beautiful piece but I just can’t honestly say it’s the best. Not even when compared to others from the same era. There, I’ve said it! But before I get slayed, let me quickly add that this is just the opinion of one who isn’t an art or history aficionado. This is just my regular everyday Joe take on Venus. I did give Venus her time, though. I stood around trying to genuinely understand why it’s such a talked about piece. From the slightly twisted stance, to the angle of the shoulders, to the view from the right…I just didn’t get it, pardon my ignorance. I kept wondering what would happen if Venus was replaced by one of the other pieces from the exhibit, would people still gush over it? What if there were decades of praise surrounding that piece instead of Venus? Would they appreciate that one more and leave Venus behind, along with one of the other pieces in a corner? I guess we’ll never know. But I’m going to give Venus another chance on my next Paris trip. I’m sure millions adore her for a reason.
The next ‘big ticket’ item was The Winged Victory of Samothrace. I can’t think of a better place than the Daru staircase for this piece. At first sight, I felt how I did when I first saw Venus de Milo. But this one grows on you. As you walk around you begin seeing more…the wind blowing against the contours of her body, the stance, the angle at which she leans forward, the detail on the wings. It seems like she might just flap those wings and take a little flight around the Museum for a while.
Next, da Vinci. Yes, I did see that famous one of the woman with the ‘enigmatic’ smile but there were two other pieces that I really loved. John the Baptist and Bachus. There’s something eerie about them. The mildly manic expressions, that weird smile, the finger. With the million da Vinci conspiracy theories going around, you’re tempted to look deeper and search for symbolism. I did that too for a while until I figured it’s pointless wasting time that’s much better spent enjoying the work.
From here, we finally walked into the room housing the Mona Lisa, possibly the most crowded room in the entire Museum. I was actually more interested in the gigantic Wedding Feast at Cana that hangs directly opposite the Mona Lisa. I didn’t imagine it would be so big. So as I kept walking backwards to see it from a distance, I encountered a bunch of Japanese tourists. They were a little intrigued why I was looking away from the Mona Lisa instead of at it. So a couple of them looked in my direction for a second, possibly told themselves I was mad and turned back, cameras held overhead, to Mona Lisa.
After walking through the rest of the Denon Wing, we decided to stop and head out of the Museum. We were getting what we call museum syndrome…there’s only so much you can absorb and after a while, you’re just looking at stuff without actually seeing it. We walked out through the Richelieu Wing, stopping only briefly to see a few displays. That was all we could take of the seriously overwhelming Musée du Louvre. We will be back to visit the Louvre on our next trip…primarily for the Richelieu Wing that’s also of special interest to me. But to try and cram it all in one visit just isn’t worth it.
We weren’t really tired, just a little numb from seeing so much. And Paris has a perfect antidote to numbness – walking. We took a walk along the river to Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank. Sylvia Beach’s bookstore was a haven for a few literary greats I’ve read. This was the birthplace of Ulysses. We lost ourselves for a while inside the bookstore, while a young girl practiced piano next to us.
That was the end of a packed day. This first trip to Paris is increasingly beginning to feel like a little wine tasting expedition. We’re just sampling a bit of what Paris has to offer, so we can come back for long leisurely glasses of what we like in the many visits that will surely follow.