For the flight to Paris, we had a few beers at the airport, and then more drinks on the plane, so we could sleep through the flight. I wish I’d had the forethought to bring more wine to the hotel, because my body was still running on Detroit time, and I only got two hours of sleep.
I was unwilling to let this phase me, and we got moving to see some sights today. We caught the train to the Louvre, and stopped for pain au chocolate, which is a flaky pastry filled with chocolate. We ate this in the statue garden outside the Louvre.
It was sunny but very cold that morning; the puddles had a skin of ice on them. We walked about looking at the statues. It’s an amazing thing about Paris; the city is so old with such a rich history, that it’s really easy to take for granted all of the amazing things you are seeing. That being said, it’s amazing what tourists find interesting; while we were looking at the statues, giving them names (Man hanging head in shame because he realized he forgot his pants today, Man sniffing his pits before a date, Man who has yet to realize that fighting in just a cloak is a bad idea), a throng of tourists were surrounding a pond with a fountain. What had them so riveted? They were watching the guys clean it! They were seriously watching these guys in waders drag a net through the pond, and they cheered when they pulled a piece of patio furniture out! For this they came all the way to Paris? Don’t they have ponds filled with patio furniture at the trailer park?
Nicole at the Louvre
Inside the Louvre
First of all, if you ever go to Paris, there are two things you should buy; one is a train pass, so you don’t need to worry about buying train tickets, the other is the Museum Pass. Not only does the Museum Pass grant you admission to about 20 museums, it gives you VIP status, and by that I mean you don’t have to wait in line!
So we cut to the front of the Louvre and prepped for our whirlwind tour. Don’t get me wrong, I love art and history, but we had a lot of ground to cover in just a few days, so we breezed through the pottery and artifacts, and went straight to the sculpture, our plan being to see the statues and paintings of the Louvre first, then pottery, artifacts and decorative French art as time allowed. It was a solid plan.
Another thing about the Louvre is that it was originally a palace, and not a museum. Because of this, the rooms themselves are covered with murals and garish decorative accents. You are often so overwhelmed that you’re not sure if you should be looking at the architecture of the room or the art in the room.
The Louvre is filled with halls of statuary, and it’s all amazing. One thing I often forget when I look at a statue is how long it must have taken the artist to complete. The artist may have even made mistakes on prior attempts, and had to start over with a new block of rock. I often forget that it is rock, and how much effort it must take to get the stone so smooth, with the appearance of it being soft to the touch.
In order for an artist to put the time into creating a statue, they have to be wholly committed to the idea that they want to create this piece.
Which brings us to the Hermaphrodite.
This is an honest-to-God statue of a hermaphrodite. I wish I had taken another picture of him/her from the other side. This is a very sensual statue. She/he is stretched out, his/her face has a come-hither look, and there is an ample amount of curves.
When you come around the statue, you see the boy plumbing.
Why did the sculptor create this? Was it someone he knew? Was he trying to document it for art or science? Was he attempting to play a practical joke on the viewer by creating two distinct views of the piece? Whatever his motive, it took him a long time to create this piece.
Another piece I liked was one I like to call Kid Choking a Duck.
The Louvre has a lot of classical paintings. A lot. And we saw them all. Let’s just leave it at that.
Or not. My favorites are with everyone else’s, I think. I loved Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, David’s The coronation of Emperor Napoléon and Empress Josephine, December 2, 1804 (which is the largest painting in the Louvre, and it’s frickin’ huuuge!), and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, as well as all of the pieces by names I knew from Art History: Giotto, Caravaggio, Fra Fillipo Lippi, and Fra Angelico.
The slides and art history books misrepresent two things; these paintings are massive, and the three-dimensional qualities the artists captured are amazing. You couldn’t take photos of the paintings, in any of the museums, but the work of these artists is all over the web. I am linking to them where I can, and swiping some images to show.
This is a good time to mention the small number and nature of my photos. Nicole is a professional photographer (which is why every photo I take shows her holding her camera). As a result, I don’t take a lot of photos (I did take about an hour of video), and they are mostly snapshots, so there will not be a lot of photos in my posts. Some of Nicole’s photos will most likely be part of an exhibition in February, but there will be more on that later…
Oh, we also saw La Joconde. We know her by a different name, though.
Full of art for the time being, we wrapped up with the Louvre. At this point, I will launch into my mini rant:
Frommer’s Sucks, aka Why Frommer’s Sucks, aka Frommer’s Sucks and This is Why
We traveled to France with a half-dozen books. These included French phrasebooks, guidebooks and brief histories. One of these books, Rick Steves’ Paris 2005, was essential and full of great information. Another was Frommer’s Paris from $90 a day; which was worthless. Here is the first time we decided it was worthless, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Looking for a place to eat, we referred to Frommer’s for a recommendation. They said that below the Louvre were shops and restaurants. While this was technically true, what they should had said was that, below the Louvre was museum gift shops and a freaking food court. We left and went to another café for sandwiches and wine.
I love art. I loved the Louvre. But if I were pressed to choose a favorite museum, it would be the Musee D’Orsay. This is one of my favorite periods in art, because this was artists were really starting to say something, to break out and explore expressing themselves. Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, and one of my absolute favorites, Toulouse-Lautrec, were all here.
The cool thing about the way France displays its art is necessitated by the fact that they have so much of it. Because there is no more room at the Louvre, D’Orsay starts where the Louvre left off. This means Realism, which is simply more contemporary artists painting and sculpting in the classical styles. Aside from some famous pieces, such as Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, and Millet’s The Gleaners, which was most famous for being a painting that dealt with a dreary occupation rather than the lofty themes most artists were doing, we rushed through Realism.
I can’t begin to put into words what these pieces did for, but because it would piss you off if I simply ended this right here, I will try.
It’s amazing to actually see a piece of art you know by an artist you love. It’s even more amazing to see a piece of art by an artist you love that you’ve not seen before.
We’ve seen it before, but we know it and love it, so it was amazing to see it in person, but I had never seen…
The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View from the Chevet
Which was also by Van Gogh, and blew me away. I had never seen this piece before and to see a Van Gogh, for the first time, in person, was unbelievable.
I loved Degas’ artwork of the dancers as well, but Toulouse Lautrec was again one of my absolute favorites. He was such an interesting, amazing character, who lead the kind of life I think I would have lived, and to see his work, the way he created stylized depictions of everyday events, and his subjects being the dancing girls he associated with, it was all very cool. One of my favorites:
It's like a candid moment with a person you know very well. It's not a grand pose, just a simple sketch of everyday life.
Wrapping up D’Orsay, it was decided we needed less culture, so we headed to Champs d'Elysee for some shopping. There was little here we could afford, it’s a very ritzy neighborhood, like 5th Avenue in New York, but we were in the mood for a bit of the lèche-vitrine, or window-shopping. (Note: it literally means “window licking”, but this is what the French call it.) Champs d'Elysee is all lit up for Christmas right now, and is very cool.
We stopped at the Virgin Records to scope out some French Music. While I found some interesting stuff, most notably by French rocker M (check him out when you have a chance, he’s a bit of a rocker with some sweet hair), CDs were €20-30, way out of my price range.
Scooping up some wine, and stopping at the Championn (a grocery store by our hotel) for a baguette and some cheese, we went back to the hotel for a snack before heading out for dinner in Latin Quarter…
More on why Frommer’s sucks
Using Frommer’s reccomendations for a restaurant, we went to the address. The restaurant was no longer there. So we wandered a bit, reading menus, as we passed one restaurant, the owner walked out a waved us in. Note to self: the next time someone is on the street begging you to come into their restaurant, don’t go.
The appetizers were excellent, raw oysters and shrimp cocktail (the shrimp still had their heads on!), but the entrees were very mediocre; my duck was a little tough, and Nicole’s scallops were not so good. The crème brulee was overtorched. That being said, it was still Paris, and we still had a great evening.
Thouroughly exhausted, and a little drunk, we made our way back to the hotel for some more wine, and a much-deserved sleep.
And that, kids, is how Nicole and I travel. Are you exhausted from reading it? Stay tuned for Day Three!