Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 15, Continued

The day redeemed itself, thanks to my parents' willingness to babysit the kids, handfuls of medicine, and some luck. A lot of luck, actually.

A combination of cold medicine and advil made my cold bearable, and the primal urge to sightsee overtook any lingering miserableness, so at about 6:15 I left Darcey, Zack, and Noah with my parents and headed for the Louvre. On Friday nights it is open late, until 9:45, so I thought I could hit that, get a quick glimpse of Mona Lisa, then stroll down Rue de Rivoli in search of Angelina's (a cafe recommended by a friend in the ward who used to live in Paris) and possibly do a nighttime boat cruise. Oh, and find Ryan and Brad, who were spending the day at the Louvre.

To give you an idea of what a crazy idea trying to find someone at the Louvre is, there are 8 miles of hallways in the building, which is divided into three wings. There are so many pieces of artwork that if you spent one minute looking at each one and didn't stop to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, or walk between each piece, it would still take you 300 days to see all of it.

But was I daunted? No. I consider myself a lucky person, and even though finding two people in such a massive place was a ridiculous idea, I hoped I could do it. And I brought a cell phone as a backup plan - if Ryan had left already (or I missed him) and he got home, he could call me and I could make plans to meet him for the boat cruise. But while I was sitting alone on the train into the city, I felt a little sad to be alone. I really wanted to be experiencing this with someone. Even though I like being alone, this felt a little empty.

I started my trip through the Louvre at the Sully Wing, walking through an Egyptian artifacts exhibit. It was cool but all the captions were in french and I wanted to know more about the things I was looking at. I stopped and read a long english description (two pages) about a burial chamber that was on display, and I enjoyed that so much that I decided to rent the audioguide from the information desk.

And when I was at the desk outside the Denon Wing, handing over my credit card to pay for the audioguide, guess who walks out of the exit - Ryan and Brad! They literally walk right next to where I'm standing! I couldn't believe it! I called out to them and they were happy to see me, even happier to see that I was without kids. They were all Louvred out, so I left them sitting for an hour while I did an audio tour of the three masterpieces of the Louvre - the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Mona Lisa.

Seeing these things in real life is an interesting experience. I'm not an art person, generally - I like pretty art, Ryan's taught me to look for quality in the light and shadows, so I know how to pick out art that I like. But there was no way I could spend a day at a museum unless there is someone telling me interesting facts about the things I'm seeing. My friend Eva says that if a pictures worth a thousand words, I'd rather have the thousand words. (I'm so lucky to be friends with such wise people.) That is one of the truest descriptions of me I've ever heard. I look at a picture or a sculpture and I immediately look for the little card next to the piece hoping to be able to decipher the meaning of the picture through the title or something. Ryan can just appreciate the art for the skill and feelings it evokes and the details - I'm looking for what it means, what the story is, and I'm usually in need of more information than I can get from the little card. Especially in french.

So the audioguide is the best thing I've spent money on in a long time, and I think I could have spent hours at the Louvre with that thing telling me the best stuff to see (and why). My 45 minute tour of the three masterpieces taught me the following interesting facts:

1-Venus de Milo was recognized as a masterpiece the minute it was discovered in the 1800's. It was sculpted between 130-100 BC and no one knows who the sculptor is.
2-Winged Victory was not considered a masterpiece until the Louvre put it on display by itself in a beautiful gallery at the top of a staircase. It's prominent placement started its rise in fame. They were going to put in under the giant pyramid at the entrance because it is now a symbol of the Louvre, but they didn't end up doing that. It was sculpted around 200 BC and no one knows who sculpted it.
3-Mona Lisa - there was pretty much nothing said about this that I didn't already know, not because I'm so knowledgeable, just because this is such a well known story. It was one of only 7 portraits painted by Leonardo da Vinci, of Lisa del Giacondo. It's beautiful, to be sure, but it seems like more of a manufactured fame, a good p.r. person doing his job than one of the real masterpieces. That being said, it's still awesome to look at. It was my last stop of the evening, at about 9 pm, and there was no crowd around it at all, maybe 20 people in front of me, so within a minute I was able to walk right up to the crowd-control bar and look unobstructed. Always go to the Louvre at night, on one of it's late nights - there were no crowds at all, it was completely manageable.

My favorite part (other than the audio tour) was when I got kind of lost and ended up in the Salle Rouge (red room) that was the home to the large-format french paintings. These things were massive ! No kidding, like the size of a whole wall, except that the room is so massive that the paintings looked normal sized. I saw the Raft of the Medusa there, and Liberty Leading the People, I think that's what it's called. It's fun to see the paintings you studied in Art Appreciation in real life.

I found Ryan and Brad and we headed to the Pont Neuf bridge to do our boat cruise. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, and it was just as beautiful as the pictures. Supposedly the Louvre and other buildings are lit up too, but I didn't see much else that really struck me. Okay, Notre Dame was nice too. But other than that, it was just a lovely cruise for an hour down the Seine. There were tons of people on the streets, hanging out and partying, which I wasn't expecting. I suppose I don't live in a town with a lot of nightlife, so I liked seeing so many people outside, just hanging out and watching the boats and the lights. At one point, there were crowds of people taking dance lessons, right on the water. Very cool.

We disembarked at 11:30 and made our hour-long trek home. The Eurocamp information is quite disingenuous about how far out of Paris the camp is. It's great for families, and certainly it's been a fantastic deal for us, but from most of the attractions we've been to it's at least an hour to get home, including the 15 minute walk at the end. I wish they had been more forthcoming about that, instead of saying "Only a 10 minute train ride into the city!" Which means ten minutes to get to the border of the city, plus another 15 and one or two connections to get to the thing you want to see, plus the walk to the station to begin with. I still would have stayed, just for financial purposes, but it would have been nice if they were honest about that.

Poor Brad was so tired on the way home that he said, "Maybe I'm too young for New Year's Eve." And Noah so desperately wanted to come with me, but I didn't let him because I knew he couldn't handle staying up that late. So now I've got to come up with a suitable just-Noah-and-me alternative for the last two days of our trip. I'm hoping such a late night isn't the end of my health altogether - I plan on pushing as hard as I can these last couple of days, since I can always collapse as soon as I get home. I'd much rather be collapsed in Orem than in Paris!

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