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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Monday, October 30, 2006

Day 4, Le Louvre Before Sunset

12:30 p.m.

I labor back down the 284 steps and take the Métro to the Tuileries stop (close to the Louvre). They told us there was a super-secret entrance near here, where you can bypass all the lines and go right in. I walk right by the restaurant we visited during the bike tour and wave to the waiter who served us. He gives a little French smile that's hard to read. Further up, past the tourists, the tulips, and the tuileries, the green turns brown and the gravel pavement leads up to the Louvre Pyramid. The building itself probably covers as much ground as a stadium, shaped like a croquet wicket, with each leg several stories and very wide. The pyramid stands in the middle, looming over the crowd like an anachronism, and my opinion of it is not charitable. I don’t think it would be possible to have built something less appropriate to the surroundings, and it makes me even more sad that it cost more than a big “B” billion Euros to build.

As the building starts to wrap around me, a lithe young man, probably from the Middle East, asks me if I would sit for a caricature. “Your ponytail, I want to capture it". After some convincing, I agree, thinking it might be fun for me to suck it up and realize I’m pretty scary looking. When I agree, he goes and gets a much older gentleman, also Middle-Eastern-looking, squat and narrow-eyed. He talks to me for a few minutes as he draws me, switching from French to English indifferently. Some nearby French schoolgirls keep sneaking behind him and sneaking peeks. They grimace when they look at me. The man keeps talking about my hair and my American features, and I want more than anything to get out of here, into the museum, and to the antiquities that form this man’s heritage. I wonder if he knows anything about it.

He finishes and shows me a charcoal desert scene, with a triangular alien standing in the middle like Munch’s Scream. The alien has a ponytail. I want to pay for it just so I can destroy it. I look away and look at the French girls, and we exchange a shrug. I look back, hoping it will get better. It doesn’t. He lowers the price from 5E to 3E. I say no. He doesn’t look the least bit disappointed, so I guess this happens often. I’ve seen caricatures of me before, but that’s not what that was. That was an unfortunate man deluding himself about his skill level. But for the grace of some deity, there go I.

He walks off, and I say something that makes the French girls laugh. Behind the pyramid I see an enormous queue, and I look around. Just to my right is a statue of a man on a horse, and behind it is a small marble stairway leading underground. I go down, and immediately want to send the people at Fat Tire Bike Tours a thank-you note. There are people everywhere here, but a short way away is an entrance reserved for people with a Carte d’Orange, and nobody is there. I show them my card, and they wave me past, right into the Descartes wing of the Louvre. The line outside the Pyramid (the main entrance) looked like a good thirty minutes.
I'm heading to the Islamic Art section.
3:30 p.m.

After about three hours of cataloguing and study I leave the Islamic Art place to search for the Big Three.
  • In front of the Mona Lisa stands the longest queue I will wait in all week. I am not awe-struck by it, even after looking away and looking back. Mostly I’m stunned by the disco-strobe frequency of cameras popping off all around me.
  • Directly across from Mona Lisa is the Wedding Feast of Cana, as large as a badminton court. It’s much more impressive to me than la Joconde (the French name for the Mona Lisa), but you should enlist Sister Wendy to describe it for you.
  • The Venus de Milo was more impressive for its history than for its actuality. I did enjoy her curves.

It’s when I see the Winged Victory of Samothrace that I realize that I’m lost. The maps don’t seem to make sense. I walk up and down stairs, trying to find a sign that says “Sortie,” but can’t. I go back into the mall area below the museum, and something about this scene reminds me of what I heard about Sept. 11th, about the large mall below it and the subway station that was destroyed. That helps to motivate me beyond the fatigue. I circle around several times, trying to find the metro station. My eyes are still not accustomed to searching the little M with the circle around it. I pass a children’s shop, where they sell mobiles for far too much money (34E for one that looks a little like a Miro, but too small for the price). I see clothing boutiques, parfumeries, restaurants, and an upside-down pyramid that mirrors the one above (a village idiot once told me there's a Holy Grail down there!). At a bookshop I browse the section about Middle-Eastern art, hoping to find more detail about the craftsmanship, but I can’t find it. After searching through Spanish, French, and Arabic books, I settle on a small book of Arabic calligraphy examples. It’s too expensive (13E), but I buy it anyway.

I ask directions to the Métro station and get on board, after walking what feels like a mile underground.

4:30 p.m.

I take manage to get to the Varenne station, which is supposed to get me right outside the Rodin Museum. I should have time to stroll through the garden and drop by Napoleon’s tomb before 6.

I walk down the same street we passed on the bike tour (Bd. Des Invalides), but I can’t find the entrance to the Rodin garden. After making a full circle around it, I find what seems to be the least likely place for an entrance: it looks like a loading dock, and it’s under heavy construction. And the gate is closed. I look closely at the literature that came with my Carte d’Orange, and there it is in black & white (and English): the Musee Rodin is closed on Tuesdays.

Well, more time for Napoleon.

I cross the Boulevard and enter via the same side-gate Nima and I used the day before. The guard waves me in. to my right is the infirmary, and several young men sit outside, some in wheelchairs, some with crutches. One is smoking. They are sitting in the sun and staring, motionless, at the people in the garden. Injured or well, these French love to sit and act like statues.

I circle around to the front of the domed building and go up. My Carte d’Orange doesn’t list Napoleon’s tomb, but it still works.

Napoleon’s tomb is a coffin about twenty feet high, fifteen feet across, and about six feet wide. It’s made of a beautiful light-brown wood, polished to a mirror-like sheen. It’s not very ornate, but it has sleigh-bed like flourished on the ends and carved wreaths in the middle. To see it, you must stand against a railing on the floor above and look down. You bend at the waist and bow about 30 degrees, which was evidently Napoleon’s full intention, and all that that implies. Several other people are buried in this building, but none with this much grandeur. There’s probably nobody in Europe buried with more grandeur. Maybe the world.

Between trying to find the entrance to the Rodin museum and walking around les Invalides, it’s after 6:15. I was supposed to meet for dinner and the bike tour. I walk to the back of les Invalides to the garden, hoping to find a metro station. To get there I must walk through the war museum: battered tanks, 30mm guns on turrets, and bullet-pocked pith helmets lay about the corridors. I put my fingers in the bullet hole on a helmet and feel a little queasy.

The garden is full of people reading, strolling, and sitting in the grass. I hear French all around. The metro is to the left, la Tour Marbourg, conveniently on the Balard line. It’s only four stops to my old friend Felix Faure.



Blogger Jess said...

Re: Your Holy Grail link: welcome to the dark side!

I do read all your Paris posts, but I don't usually have anything specific to say. Just wanted you to know.

Mon Oct 30, 10:03:00 AM  

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