Friday – Off to the Metro, which is indeed a breeze to use for the Louvre. The entry corridors and halls are jammed – midday is prime time – but again, I am waved past the lines and today bound straight into the arms of the Dutch, German and Russian painters. I elect to go without an audio guide, and pay attention to where my eyes go and my fancy pulls me. The twin themes of the day are ladies reading – naked, elaborately dressed, and on sarcophagi – and shoes. Fops, knights, maidens and emperors all have the most astonishing footwear.
Around three I am limping, just a little. My feet ache, quelle surprise. Now I’m hungry and decide to set off in search Café Renard in the Tuilaries. Out I go and realize the Louvre is overwarm and stuffy because it’s glorious outside, cool and fresh. I am halfway through the garden at the round pool when I have the I’ve been here before, déjà vu feeling and realized I know this place from paintings, particularly the impressionists.
Trees are in pink blossom, violets and dandelions dot the grass, tulips and daffodils are still in flower. The gravel in the broad walkway has been ground into a fine powder by the feet of a million tourists, and gray dust coats my black jeans from the calf down. I find the café amidst the trees, have an indifferent mini-quiche Lorraine and a delicious cappuccino Viennese. I worry for two seconds about the advisability of caffeine so late in the day, but figure I need whatever it takes get to keep me upright until 9.
Back through the gardens to the Louvre, this time to listening to Jason Aldean’s Take A Little Ride’. On the way back noticed the original statue of the centaur carrying off the maiden. I’ve posted a photo of it on Facebook, captioned Robert and I leaving on our honeymoon, but didn’t know where it was from. I asked a passing Asian tourist to take my photo with it, and she obliged, but alas, the idea I wanted the statue in the frame didn’t translate.
By now my feet were numb and my calves and knees ached. I went straight to the grand hall of statues, sat on some handy steps and drew the front of one of the statues I sketched yesterday. After an hour I was joined by three small children, (maybe 4, 7 and 9) They asked questions – how long does this take to do? What’s the easiest part to draw? Where do you get this toned paper sketchbook? What part do you have left to do? The most curious and vocal was the middle child, a girl, who fielded the questions her little brother asked and told me they were from Dubai. The youngest one sat down and leaned against my side to watch me draw. They were fearless and fascinated. I told her to Google art supply stores in Paris, and bring a sketchbook with her tomorrow, recalling how much my son had enjoyed that when he was in Rome with me. They were clearly well to do and educated; her English was excellent and they were all well mannered and unafraid of even strange adults. They were with me maybe 20 minutes, while their caretakers watched them from a distance. I have all kinds of backstories for them in my head.
Eventually they left and I finished the drawing. It was only 7, so I decided to visit the Napoleon III apartments. Needless to say, he put the grand in grandeur, the decor version of shock and awe. The only thing that really got to me was the bed of Madame Recamier (violet and yellow silk, and Egyptian influences on the frame), and the chair throne. Just the initial B, but in truly extraordinary embroidery. You know your feet hurt when the strongest impression of the apartments are the wooden floors, so yielding after hours on unforgiving marble.
Somehow wandered into the medieval section and was limping through it when I realized I might run out of ability to walk before the Louvre closed, so made my way towards Denon wing where the masters of the Italian renaissance and Miss Mona reside.
The stairs were still swarming with people, but as many were leaving as were arriving, so that was a hopeful sign. Slowly made my way into the grand hall. Ah, no wonder its packed out. It’s not just Mona, it’s the grace and magnificence that Raphael and da Vinci and Titian and all their brethren possess in such abundance. It’s the greatest hits of the renaissance album. Everything’s excellent.
The best part was a surprise. There were young people stationed throughout, wearing orange and black teeshirts with ‘Les Jeunes ont la Parole’ printed on them. Orange is the new black even here. They were art history students and this turned out to be a part of their curriculum, to explain various works of art in depth. They spoke a charming if rudimentary English, better than my toddler French for sure.
There was a gawky, red-headed lad in front of Veronese’s ginourmas Wedding in Cana. He held an ipad in has hand while he walked me through the various elements – how it came to France as a spoil of Napoleonic war, transported from Italy by soldiers who cut it in half, the identity of some of the figures, the way Mary looks as if she is holding an invisible wine cup, a hint to her son to get cracking with the miracle. Talking with someone as interested as I am is rare, you know? A young woman discussed Correggio’s Mystical Marriage of Catherine and St. Stephen all sublime tenderness and repose in the faces with brutal scenes of their martyrdoms in the background. One older woman student and I talked about finding our bliss in art after our children were launched,, as well as some fascinating details about Raphael’s portrait of the perfect gentleman Baldassare Clastiglione. On my way to the exit, I said hey to Mona, who seems to be mostly used as a selfie photo op. She said to tell y’all hi.
Barely able to walk by now, in pain up to my hips, I limped to the street, found the correct Metro in the dark, stumbled to my apartment and collapsed. Ate an éclair and a cup of tea at 10:30 for dinner. More anon.