Up early and under the pyramid of the Louvre as it opens. This time I do get an audio guide. It’s free for Des Ami des Louvre, declares the attendant at the Denon entrance. I have a strategy: gallop down the Denon wing to the farthest room, work my way back through le salles rouge, then along the famous Italian corridor, stopping at whatever catches my eye and listening to anything with an audio guide number. Discover no matter how jammed the central hall becomes, and it does get slammed, the side galleries are deserted, and I have all the time I want alone with remarkable works by virtuoso painters like Velasquez.
By noon I am ready for food and a break from the crowd that has attained horde status. During prime time, the major halls of the Louvre are a cross between a carnival midway and a religious procession, with a side of Times Square on New Year’s Eve crowded. I go back to the Le Café Marly, and sit inside this time, still within sight of the pyramid, but away from smoke. Shortly after I sit down a cat streaks through the door to the kitchen, and stretches out beneath the chair across from me. He’s the kitchen cat and his name is Richelieu. His imperious and self-satisfied expression seems exactly right.
I’m quite hungry and have been living on pastry, so I opt for a chunk of protein and order the cheeseburger. It arrives half as tall as my head, well, okay, taller than my mouth opens, unless I unhinge my jaw. I demolish it with a knife and fork. I draw postcards until my order arrives, and read my Nook propped up on the table while I eat. I am less self-conscious about entertaining myself. I order a Viennese espresso, which comes with a little bar of bittersweet dark chocolate on the side. I slip it into the cup and stir vigorously. Voilà, DIY mochaccino.
Digression – some of the places I’m eating, I’m paying as much for ambiance and histoire as the food, and that’s fine with me. My other rationalization is this: when the only restaurant meal is at midday, for one person who doesn’t drink wine, no bill is that steep. My bill was 30E for my lunch at Le Cafe Marly. The ingredients were top of the line, the room decor Napoleon III decadent, the pyramid in view, the waiters dashing, and the le chat de cuisine, Richelieu, added value. As the waiter shrugged, ‘of course it is not permitted, but where there is a kitchen cat, there are no mice.’ Oh and when he brought hot chocolate with whipped cream by mistake, he took it back to the kitchen and replaced it immediately, with a bow of apology. I was left in peace to read for while after my meal, no hurrying me along. And the supreme advantage – it was steps away from where I was walking seven miles a day.
Back to the Louvre and this time I follow the Still life Louvre trail I’d printed out and brought with me. The first painting is AWOL. I ask one of the guards, who is amiable, but can’t locate it either. I offer to just move on, but somehow it becomes a mini cause célèbre. ‘No, we must find this for you’, he insists. ‘This is why we are here.’ Three guards confer, phone calls are made, notebooks that kept under lock and key are examined. It remains lost and they seem genuinely distressed. Once the French exert themselves on your behalf, no effort is too difficult, though occasionally a task may prove impossible. Perhaps someone looking for an artwork is a welcome change from inquires about the direction of the toilets or the exits.
I soldier on and find most of the rest of the listed works. Though they are all in the same wing, there’s a lot of backtracking and retracing of rooms that makes it more tiring than necessary. Just sayin,’ Mr Louvre. Along the routes I also stop at anything with a white numbered ticket and hear what the curators have to say. The way it’s translated throws a distinctly French light on the works. Turns of phrase are both evocative and precise. By 4pm I am knackered and sit on the bench of a window seat next to the Holbein room. I do a bit of reading on my Nook, and rest. Afterwards, I return to the sculpture courtyard and draw Eurydice.
When I left at 6pm to Metro home, a woman was playing Pachelbel’s canon in D Major on a violin in the Louvre carousel corridor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Af372EQLck My feet kept walking but I suddenly remembered how I played that music over and over when I lived in my fifth floor walk-up garret on Rue de Bac in 1971. I turned around and put two Euros in her violin case.
Back in the Marais, I bought three large ripe figs, reverently selected for me by the greengrocer, a small quarter of triple cream brie, and a ficelle. That, plus some prosciutto from the other day, make up my dinner, followed by peppermint tea, which I am hoarding as a panacea against homesickness, and my remaining Ladurée salted caramel macaroon.
I have a short conversation with the concierge about how he used to haunt the halls of the Louvre when he was a lad at the Sorbonne. It’s free entry for the students and a hangout of sorts. He recommends I visit Monet at L’Orangerie, and advised me on where to go when I visit the flea market tomorrow, which is still maybe, maybe not.