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Friday night at the Louvre

Yesterday I went to the piddly little Musee d’Orsay and thought I was stuffed with great art. Hah! That was a tiny hors d’oeuvre, a tidbit. Tonight, the giant 9-course feast – the Louvre, the most glorious art museum in the world. 

I’m proud to say, first, that I aced the entrance. Here’s another Great Tip for your next trip to Paris: find the alternate Carrousel du Louvre entrance on the Rue de Rivoli, which is under the Pyramid where lots of tourists stand and wait to get in. The thing is that lots of tourists have also heard about this alternate entrance; there was a huge line-up here as well. But when you first enter the Carrousel, there’s a machine selling entrance tickets, and there was no one there, not one single person. I think the problem is that many foreigners don’t have a credit card with a PIN number, as they do here; that’s needed, and I made sure to get one before I left. So in one minute I had my ticket and went right by the very, very long line-up.
Where to begin? So much magnificence. I entered through the Greek and Roman statuary, beautiful naked marble men and women, but mostly men, and headed for the Italians, like everyone else. It’s so strange that hundreds, literally, hundreds of people were standing in front of the Mona Lisa snapping pictures of her enigmatic face. And all around her are masterpieces equally stunning, including lots of Leonardo’s. His famous “Virgin and child with Ste. Anne” brought tears to my eyes; Mary knowing, wise, looking at her child with her loving friend behind her, makes you want to climb into the frame and be part of this family. No one was looking at this picture. On the wall on the other side of the Mona Lisa is a Titian portrait of a young man so alive, with such an interesting, beautiful face that you want to chat with him, though he died nearly 500 years ago. No one was looking.
There was a Fra Angelico that reminded me of the cover of Sargeant Pepper’s – a dense crowd, a host of interesting faces, but these ones had gold haloes. Bellini, Fra Lippo Lippi, Botticelli – omygod. The cult of the mother. Many Marys, each one more beautiful than the last. 
I escaped the crush of the Italians by asking directions of a handsome Titian-like museum guard – how to get to Vermeer? He advised me to take the elevator to the bottom floor entrance and start again, so I did, and entered in another direction, taking another elevator to the top floor. The place is so vast and confusing that taking the elevators is a good idea. So suddenly I was in the Dutch and Flemish world – no virgins, no naked men, no crowds.  I found the Vermeer wall and … oh no. “The Lacemaker” is in Tokyo, said the little notice above a faded rectangle on the wall. Next to the blank spot was “The Astrologer,” though, so I did get my fix of the perfect, private, glowing world of Vermeer, one of my favourite painters. 
At this point I was thinking of the Impressionists I’d seen yesterday as children playing, in comparison with the technical skill and depth of these masters. That’s not fair, but that’s what it felt like in the middle of the Louvre.
On we went – Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Lucas Cranach, Rubens – in those days, women were not thin, they were JUICY – and the Dutch liked to paint cows, lots of cows. Breughel, Hans Holbein, then on to Poussin – including some paintings I’d seen at a Poussin exhibit at the Met in New York, crowded by anxious New Yorkers, now in an almost empty room – 
As I went through room after room after room, I kept stopping at the windows to look at the view – there’s the Eiffel Tower, there’s the Pyramid and the whole gorgeous structure of the Louvre, so enormous – the building itself overwhelming, you have to remember, as you look at the art, to also look at the ornate painted ceilings of the room you’re in – 
By now I was almost ready to fall over, but no, I had paid for the special exhibit so went to see it – with artifacts from and explanations about Egyptian burial customs and beliefs. Upstairs I was moved to see portraits of faces hundreds of years old who looked like friends of mine – but here were faces thousands of years old. And beautiful things, sculpture, amulets, sarcophagi from thousands of years B.C. Here was another kind of nativity scene, only slightly different from the Italian ones upstairs: the goddess Isis in bronze, with a horned headdress, breastfeeding her son Horus. Here a statue of gods carved in pink granite, just like the rocks I climbed on last summer at Killarney Park in Ontario. The tag said the rock was from Memphis – Memphis, Egypt – and the sculpture dated from 425 B.C. 
There were other statues from 2350 B.C. A basket from 1550 B.C., looking like a First Nations basket I bought on Vancouver Island. A piece of bread, left in a tomb in 1480 B.C. I loved especially the papyrus burial scrolls – writers, busy as always, only with picture words. How did these survive thousands of years?
Three hours, my friends, and finally I could take no more. At 9 p.m., I took the escalator up into the pyramid. Now it was dark outside; as I rode up, I saw the Louvre through the pyramid glass, illuminated on all sides – breathtaking. Managed to stagger into the chilly wind with other staggering tourists and find the magic #27 bus home, blessing my style-less but comfortable running shoes all the way.
When I got in, I had a phone message from an old friend in London who’s coming to Paris next week. On my computer, various responses to the Facebook message I’d posted today, my first Facebook attempt, and an email message from an editor in Toronto – my article is coming out in More magazine on May 25, could I please check the proofs and get back to her? I poured a large glass of wine and settled in to write to you. 
Tonight may just be one of the great nights of my life. I am a citizen of Paris.  



5 Responses to “Friday night at the Louvre”

  1. Chuck says:

    I also didn’t get to see Vermeer when I was at the Louvre this summer… two years prior, Kelly saw 3 or 4 Vermeers in her European tours (all on loan from other museums, all quite a surprise to her).

  2. beth says:

    They should warn you when you book your ticket – come to Paris by all means, but “The Lacemaker” is in Tokyo. However, as you point out, sometimes you get to see wonderful stuff on loan from somewhere else. It’s great how art is travelling about, except when you want to see something that’s not there!

  3. Mary says:

    I’m loving reading all these details of your days in Paris. Not boring at all! Really helps to put me there, experiencing everything with you. I just make sure to check in when I’ve got the time to savor your words and photos. Thanks for sharing! Personally, I wouldn’t have the energy for blogging after walking around Paris all day. You rock!

  4. beth says:

    You know, in the absence of a companion, I think writing about my experiences so closely after having them helps me process everything. So having you there to read is helping me. Thanks, Mary! You rock too.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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