So, as it turns out, all museums seem to be free to under 25 residents of the European Union! I got to the Louvre this morning and went up to the pyramid to look at the prices and to find out about the museum pass and was pleasantly surprised to find a little sign somewhat like the one at Notre Dame telling me that I could get in free! Apparently, this year was a good year to come to Paris. I joined the queue to have my bag checked and was soon descending into the depths under the enormous glass pyramid that became the entrance to the museum in 1989. As a bit of information for anybody else planning to visit who is under 25, you don't need to queue for a ticket. All you have to do is show your passport to the ticket checking people when you go through into one of the wings of the museum and you're home free!
I headed off in search of the Greek sculptures, conveniently forgetting that the Venus De Milo is housed in that area. After admiring some Caryatids at the entrance, which were built to hold up the musician's gallery above, I moved into the room that turned out to contain Venus. There was the expected throng of people around her and as I observed from a distance I noticed something disturbing. Of the hundred or so people taking pictures of and with the statue not one that I could see was actually looking at her except through a lens. There was a strange parallel, I thought, to be drawn with celebrity culture. These people want to be able to say they've seen it, and to prove it to their friends with a picture, to tick it off their list, but none of them seem to want to know the sculpture. I, on the other hand, was much more interested in looking at its make up and working out what her arms might have done as well as noting the broken-looking shoulders and slightly manly figure that I had been taught about in art lessons at school. Of course, I couldn't do any of this, because of the aforementioned throng. I decided to go to the other end of the gallery via a remarkable vase that was being completely ignored by passers-by (it was enormous and relatively intact, which I thought was pretty impressive considering its age). I ended up right at the opposite end of the gallery where I found a statue of Athena. I've long held a fondness for Athena, possibly because she is a much-revered woman in mythology, possibly because she seems like somewhat of an ancient feminist icon and, probably least importantly, she is often seen with an owl, a favourite bird of mine (which does also show her wisdom so its not just an ornathological advantage). I sat on a conveniently placed seat to one side and sketched the statue enjoying the communion with it that this afforded me. I may not feel religious experiences in churches like many people but something about the longevity of art strikes a spiritual chord with me.
After I finished my sketch, I set off in search of Winged Victory, a headless statue given pride of place at the top of some stairs. It was impressive and I spent a few minutes observing it from the top of a staircase before moving off to the long gallery.
You can guess what comes next, and given my previous rant about throngs of people you can probably guess my feelings too. I went into the room containing the Mona Lisa, because really it did seem a little perverse not to since I was there. What I really wanted to see was the colours of the piece, because reproductions and photographs can never really do justice to the original. Once again, it wasn't worth trying. People, 7 or 8 deep, holding up their video cameras and SLRs and iPhones trying to capture a smile (or not...) that has been mystifying people for centuries. So observing the true colour of things was not to be and I slinked off to find some French paintings on the upper floor.
One thing that I should perhaps mention that the Louvre are now doing is audio guides on Nintendo 3DS. I have to admit it seemed like introducing technology where it wasn't really needed but it seemed like some of the children being dragged around the museum were enjoying it a little more because of it. I didn't take one in the end, although I did consider it to see what it was like. I concluded that I would rather have my own considerations about a given painting and have never felt the need for an audio guide in a gallery. I do not mean to pass judgement on those that do, of course, if it enhances your experience, who am I to judge? If you pick up a 3DS the next time you're in the Louvre and find it to be of great use please feel to tell me off.
I have to admit, that, beautiful though the museum was, I infinitely preferred my second museum of the day (also free!): the Musee D'Orsay on the left bank. I returned to the left bank, which felt much more like home than the bustling, expensive right bank after a stroll through the Tuilleries garden.
(N.B. As a slight tangent, I am insane: remember yesterday's stairs? My feet and legs do, I can tell you but instead of searching out escalators and taking metros I WALKED everywhere (including up at least 500 more stairs...yes I'm counting, yes I'm a masochist) and even walked back to the hotel at the end of the day...crazy...absolutely certifiable...anyway...)
The Musee D'Orsay is an old railway station, converted and refurbished which reopened as a museum in 1986 aiming to showcase art and design from 1848 to 1914. And very well it does it too! The space itself is breath-taking and when I turned around and saw the huge golden railway clock on the wall behind me I surprised myself by sighing at the beauty of the place. Although it was still busy, it was a more considerate crowd, for the most part, than in the Louvre which made the whole experience much more enjoyable. The style of art displayed is much more the sort of thing I like to look at, as well, so really it was bound to go well for my afternoon with the Musee D'Orsay.
I began by looking at some of Toulouse Lautrec's paintings of Parisian life from the Belle Epoque period. They were very evocative, mainly of the everyday lives of the people frequenting the streets of Montmartre. There are paintings of dancers unceremoniously tying corsets, of a woman brushing her hair and one of the tops of two peoples heads as they lie facing each other asleep in bed.
The thing I was most excited to see in the museum was its collection of Van Gogh pictures. Van Gogh has been my favourite painter since I was about 7 years old when I first saw the Sunflowers in a book. My fascination grew when I visited Montmartre for the first time in the same year and recognised the streets, or at least the ideas given by the streets, from his paintings. I moved upstairs to the room where the paintings are housed and stood in front of a starry night on the sea that took my breath away. I stood looking at it for a good five minutes, completely lost in the scene: I imagined the wind against my cheek and the smell of the sea air, I saw the stars above my head and watched the lights dance in the water. Being in this room had allowed me a glimpse, however small, into the mind of the artist and I felt utterly privileged to have experienced it, leaving the room with a smile on my face which lasted most of the rest of the afternoon.
This museum's collections are well displayed in a light and airy space and is small enough that you can look around the whole thing, if you so chose, in an afternoon. One other room I must mention is in the back left corner on the ground level and contains paintings by Courbet. I don't mention it so much for the paintings themselves, which are lovely, but to congratulate whoever it was that chose the colour for the walls. The paintings themselves are all incredibly large, spanning almost a whole wall each and are made up of muted colours such as browns and greens. They are displayed, however, on a background of deep midnight purpley-blue that makes the paintings jump off the wall in a way that they wouldn't have done on a different background. Well done whoever chose that colour.
After my walk back to the hotel (crazy, masochist...I know, we've done that bit...) I took a nap to rest my poor aching feet before thinking about dinner. I had noticed, on the rue Moufftard nearby to the hotel, that there was a shop called Maison du Tartes and quite fancied sampling their wares (before you start too, Nick has spent the ENTIRE evening since I suggested getting some tarts making bad puns and innuendos...Trust me, I have heard them all). We settled on four pieces of tart: a chocolate and pear; a frangipane and pear; a fruits of the forest and a citron. We finished off the onion soup from the other night with some cheese and bread from the local Boulangerie (I'm going to miss being able to visit a baker everyday when we go home...) and ate the tarts with a glass or two of wine. A perfect end to a very nice, if once again tiring, day.