The Louvre

Paris: The Louvre & Montmartre

At the Louvre
​I dislike Paris again. I think I must have a sort of love-hate, off-again on-again relationship with this city. Or maybe it gives a bad first impression, then you warm up to it, but then when you delve deeper you realize it really is a dirty, unfriendly city.

​But let’s start with something more pleasant. On our way to The Louvre this morning there were two performers in the subway system. The first was playing “My Heart Will Go On” on the saxophone, and the second was playing a really beautiful violin solo that resonated really well in the hallways of the subway. There are lots of street performers around here. Later we actually saw one who hopped onto the subways and was playing saxophone, which was definitely interesting.

I was really excited for the Louvre. We got off and entered through the Carousel entrance, which is a lot less crowded than the main entrance. I didn’t realize there was a sort of upside-down pyramid there, but it was really cool and cast rainbows all over the floor as the sun came through it. I was a little disappointed that we only had two hours at the Louvre, since you can spend a week there and not see everything. My list of what I would have liked to see was fairly long, but with only two hours Mickey and I narrowed it down to six that we really wanted to see, and all of them happened to be labeled on the map, so it worked out well. Mickey’s number one was the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, my number one was Canova’s Psyche Revived by the Cupid’s Kiss (it has several names). We also both agreed on the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory (also called Nike) of Samothrace, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, and Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana, a very large and colorful painting depicting that event.

We found our way through a room of Roman sculptures and took a few pictures before re-routing ourselves to the room containing the works of Canova and Michelangelo on our list. Psyche Revived by the Cupid’s Kiss was the first sculpture I saw when I walked in, and it was just as beautiful as I’d imagined. I’d researched the Louvre before coming here, and I’d really really wanted to see that sculpture, because I’d loved all the pictures I’d seen of it. And of course it was even better in person. Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, which is also accompanied by the less-famous Rebellious Slave, was on the other end of the room, and in between were all sorts of beautiful sculptures from the Renaissance era. While not as old as those from ancient Greece or Rome of course, they do have the advantage that nearly all of them still have their heads and extremities attached.

We then went to see two famous sculptures of that sort, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo. I liked that the Winged Victory was made of a different kind of stone, not marble like nearly all of the sculptures in that section, and the detail in her wings and in the draping of her dress was amazing! Of course there was a bit of a crowd around the Venus de Milo, but we eventually got in to see her. While she is beautiful, I don’t know if I’d say she was really a whole lot better than the other sculptures we saw in that section, as you will see in one of my pictures. There were plenty of other very splendid sculptures in that section, and we took a little time looking around, since only about a half hour into our time we’d already checked four things off of our list.

One thing that is interesting about the Louvre is that it used to be a palace, and as such it is a work of beauty in architecture itself. Its ceilings are magnificent. In a few of the rooms I thought the ceiling was more beautiful than the art we were viewing! I’ve included a few pictures of the ceilings to demonstrate.

Since the last two items on our list were paintings, Mickey and I headed upstairs to the paintings wing. I have to say, I find sculptures a lot more interesting than paintings, especially for photographing. The other thing is that nothing in the Louvre is newer than 1850, so none of the painters I like (Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, etc.) are featured there. Paintings older than 1850 are also all very dark, making them a bit depressing, and of religious themes, making them (I’m sure I shouldn’t say this) a bit tiresome after you’ve seen two or three of Mary with baby Jesus. Nonetheless we followed the signs to La Jaconde (what they call the Mona Lisa in French). She was encased in glass so it was very hard to get a good picture, since the queue in front of her was reflected in it, but she was pretty and rather larger than I expected, having been told that the painting was quite small. Right across from her was The Wedding Feast at Cana, a very large painting taking up a whole wall of the room. It is painted in vivid colors and the people are life-size, so that was definitely a sight to behold.

Then, having crossed everything off our list in under an hour, we decided to continue walking down the corridor we’d been in, the one with all the paintings, and then go down a floor and walk back to where we were meeting our group. We saw a statue of Artemis that had been on my list (the one in the picture at the beginning of this post) in that room, which made me happy. It was also probably the best thing in the room, as Mickey and I weren’t big fans of the paintings. At the end of the long corridor was another room and we found an elevator and took it down to the lower floor. This took us to I guess what you would call the ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘not-European’ section of the Louvre, officially called “Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.” Some of the art in there was a bit creepy, but we did see one of the moai heads from Easter Island, another thing that had been on my longer list.

However, after going through this rather small section of the Louvre, we realized that we hadn’t found a way out. After consulting the map again, we realized there was no way out, as that part of the Louvre isn’t connected to anything on that floor, in fact only being connected to the rest of the Louvre by the elevator we’d taken down. We then took said elevator back up and had to walk halfway down the long corridor of paintings we hadn’t really cared for before heading back to the level where we were to meet our group. At this point we decided to just go to the gift shops and stores outside the Carousel entrance before the time to meet our group, in order to not get lost in the Louvre again. If we’d had more time, we probably would’ve gone to see the painting called Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, but we saw some very good prints of it in the gift shop and called that good enough.

After leaving the Louvre, my opinion of Paris went downhill again. We had a decent lunch and passed by the Palais Garnier (which said National Academy of Music on it),  and took a few pictures of the building and surrounding areas.

We then entered a very sketchy and dirty subway station to take us to Sacre Coeur. We did our best not to touch anything but ourselves in there, but when we emerged from the station nearest Sacre Coeur, things didn’t improve much. The street we walked up, which was full of tourist shops and a few restaurants, was also full of garbage, strewn along the street and piled up in corners. A few of the stores just had piles and piles of clothes which looked questionable for sale. There were many, many people along the steps up to the church, which are numerous and very steep. Some very aggressive guys try to put bracelet things on your wrist as you ascend and then demand money. We avoided having them put them on our wrists, but it didn’t stop them from grabbing at us. Once we reached the church, we didn’t go in as I had expected, but took a few snaps of Paris and then headed off to the left, where there is an artists’ market.

The artists’ market was actually pretty interesting. Different painters and sketchers had little booths set up with their work for sale. Nearly all the paintings were of the Eiffel Tower or other Paris landmarks, but we were told there are also a few original Picassos or Dalis thrown in. Down one section of it were a group of artists willing to sketch your portrait for a fee. These artists with established booths weren’t too pushy, but others walked around in the area with sketchpads, forcefully asking if you’d like your portrait taken. That’s one thing I’m very tired of in Paris–people constantly coming up to you and asking you things, and all of it is in an effort to extract money from you. These portrait artists probably really weren’t that bad, but after all of the hawkers and sort of ‘con artists’ I guess, I was tired of people constantly being in my face. Some of the art there was actually quite nice, though some of it got expensive–I saw a few for 200 euros or more. The cheapest ones you could get were very small and went for 10 euros.

On the way down we stopped by some souvenir shops. The ones on the hill beside Sacre Coeur were actually pretty nice, but by the time we’d walked back down the steps to what I’ll dub the Garbage Street, I wasn’t really in the mood for souvenir shopping. After a while all of the shops start to look exactly the same, and indeed they all sell about 95% of the same merchandise. I was also feeling a little sick at this point, as I have the last two days I’ve been here. It’s from all the smoke. It seems that a very large majority of the Parisians smoke, and unlike smokers in other places (the US, UK, etc.) they don’t go in a back alley or a corner to smoke, but stand around in the middle of crowds or walk through streets full of tourist shops, not considering that some people don’t react very well to secondhand smoke. At different times during my time in Paris, I’ve actually felt like I couldn’t breathe because there was so much, and when I got back to the hotel tonight I actually smelled like smoke myself.

After finishing our shopping on Garbage Street, we walked down to the Moulin Rouge to photograph it. This is in the Pigalle district of Paris, where soldiers during the war would go to…um, make lady friends. And people still do that there today at night…there are different…establishments…and adult stores along the way, even an ‘erotic museum’, and I was extremely grateful they didn’t decide to go down there and shoot the Moulin Rouge at night.

We then took a long subway ride back to the station near our hotel. Mickey and I, both feeling sick from all the smoke and crowds at this point, stopped by the grocery store to get supper again before heading back to the hotel. This turned out to be an ordeal, because Mickey bought some apples and apparently you have to weigh them yourself and put little stickers on them with the prices, but we didn’t know that, the scale machine was all in French, and the cashiers were very unhelpful and unfriendly. Basically, it was an ordeal. And after the last few hours we came back to the room strongly disliking Paris again, as we had the first night.

But it’s okay, because early tomorrow morning we will be returning to ‘home’, London, and in a few days more we’ll be going home home, back to the US. I will be extremely happy to be in a country where I understand the language, the people are friendly, there are fewer smokers, and people respect your personal space again.

My advice to anyone planning on going to Paris–don’t set your expectations too high. Expect it to be dirty, and don’t expect people to be friendly unless they want to sell you something. Go to the Louvre, and spend as much time as you need there, because it really is fantastic. Visit Notre Dame and the lovely area around it, and go see the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero, once at night and once during the day. Despite the hawkers, it really is worth it. (Also, if you’re planning it as a romantic trip, just don’t.) The three I recommended here were definitely the highlights of our time here, and I’m going to try to remember Paris as these points of interest, rather than as I am thinking of it now.

Early train tomorrow, so I think it’s time to get packing and head to bed. Au revoir!

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