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Day Three (Louvre is in the Air)

My first note for this day reads simply: "squeezebox on subway." I don't remember the incident anymore, but I presumably wrote it down because street performers with accordions somehow seems so French, and in keeping with the whole experience. I do generally recall plenty of incidents of musicians inhabiting the subway system. I have a vivid recollection of a mariachi band, and let me tell you, the acoustics down in the subway are awful for a multiple performers like that.

One subway-related picture that I no longer have is of one of the more fanciful entrances. I found another picture on The Paris Pages (www.paris.org; I've been linking to it throughout for more background on various landmarks).

A subway entrance
from The Paris Pages: (http://www.paris.org/Metro/gifs/abbesses.html)

If you click on the image, you'll be taken to the original page it comes from, and you can see it full size. I thought these subway entrances were extremely cool and funky.

One general comment on the subway system: it's well-designed and extensive. We bought a passel of tokens for use during the week, and had no trouble (even speaking no French) navigating Paris quickly and easily using the subway system. (In fact, many vendors and service staff in Paris speak English, which meant it was fairly easy even for an uncultured lout like myself to get around with great success in the town. Let's hear it for the tourist industry!)

* * *

My main sightseeing for day three was the Louvre. I mean, how can you go to Paris, and not go see the Louvre? The building used to be a fortress, which was later converted into a museum. (If you're interested, here's a page with more detailed information about the Louvre, as well as pictures). One of the many intriguing branches of the building is the "Louvre Medieval" -- some of the original fortress has been excavated/restored, and can be seen and walked around in. How post-modern is that? Here's a museum which exhibits itself!

The entry to the Louvre

The entry to the Louvre is very cool. As you can see, the ornate architecture is sharply contrasted against the clean twentieth century lines of the courtyard pyramid. Perhaps fittingly, the pyramid covers escalators that lead down into a pronouncedly modern mall which lurks beneath the museum.

The most famous work exhibited at the Louvre is undoubtedly the Mona Lisa. It is so famous that it's one of the few works which is actually enclosed in glass, and roped off. All other works simply hang on the wall, and you can get up close and personal with them, to see the way the paint is applied, and the textures, and shadings of color. The Mona Lisa maintains a haughty (or perhaps terrified) distance. And she needs to -- she's permanently besieged. The work draws an incredible crowd, making it impossible to get anywhere near the painting. This is especially bemusing, since the same room also contains an immense and dominating painting hung on the opposite wall, which gets virtually no attention. For more thoughts on this topic, I direct you to a great essay by Dan Bricklin: "Our photos as an edited record of our lives." Mr. Bricklin is a smart and astute man, and his weblog is well worth reading (and served as partial inspiration for my own weblog, especially in the way he integrates photos from his daily experience).

One more thought: like the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa is so famous that it defies reality. I wasn't seeing an actual thing; I was looking at a placeholder icon. It's compelling to think that these actual physical placeholders are no longer the relevant manifestations of these monuments. These artifacts have slipped into some kind of collective consciousness, and seeing the "real thing" is a slight letdown, a lead balloon that drags us back to the world of reality.

One of the things which struck me were the many hedonistic nudes. These works very voluptuous; these are strong, fleshy women -- a nice contrast to our current stick figure models of femininity. This was also true at the Rodin museum. Of course, I'm generally in favor of hedonism, which is no doubt why this stood out.

I also wrote down "Japanese sculpture," which implies that was an exhibit of the same which I thought was particularly interesting; sadly, any memory of this has since been lost.

My personal favorite (beating out even the medieval excavation) is a sculpture that stands on the landing of one of the major stairs: La Victoire de Samothrace (or, The Winged Victory of Samothrace). The picture I have linked to here does not do justice to the sculpture; here's another page which is slightly better. None of the pictures I found online really capture the terrible majesty and sweeping grace of the work.

Next: Lions at High Speeds

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