Thursday, May 25, 2023

Walking to the Louvre

It has been thirty-eight years since I had visited Paris. My return was going to be different than my first trip. I am a much older, but wiser traveler. So this time, I found and apartment in the 18th arrondissement, just north of Montmartre. After settling in, I walked around my new neighborhood, grabbing an early dinner at a nearby restaurant, La Halte.
My home in Paris

A street in Montmartre

Another street view

The next morning I decided to get an early start. I planned to be at Louvre when it opened at 9AM, but I wanted to see some of Paris. So, I left my apartment at 7AM and walked the 3.4 Km (2.1 mi). This walk let me explore the city as it was waking up. I passed through the 18th arr. and the 9th arr. These are both neighborhoods filled with Parisians, not tourists, so on my way I passed local patisseries, boulangeries and cafes filled with people grabbing a bite to eat on their way to work. Parents rushed by, taking their kids to school. Every Metro station acted a funnel, with commuters washing down the steps.

Cafe Cat

Halfway through my walk, I crossed Rue de Faubourg Montmartre. Here the neighborhood changed from residential to commercial. I arrived at the beautiful covered arcades of the district - the Passages Verdeau, Panoramas and Jouffroy. They were built in the mid-1800’s and are home to antique shops, book sellers and art/photography galleries.

Leaving the Arcades, I was firmly in the old business district of Paris. I passed the Palais Brongniart, which was home to the French stock exchange from 1826 through the 1980’s. Today, this grand building serves as a convention and exhibition space. Passing many other old shops, I finally arrived at my destination - The Louvre.

Palais Brongniart

Visiting the Louvre really does require a plan. Some people attack it head on, spending an entire day, and seeing every gallery. My plan was to pick out the highlights that were important to me, and then fill in with anything else that caught my eye. I also wanted to avoid the huge crowds that certain works attract, so I joined the Friends of the Louvre before I left home. It is a pricey choice (€80), but it afforded me certain advantages. Members can visit the museum as many times as they like during their membership, so there is no pressure to see everything in one visit. Membership also provides discounts to dozens of other museums in Paris and the surrounding area. Finally, members do not have to wait in the long lines that non-members have to use. There is separate entrance for members and holders of the Paris CityCard. I arrived at the Louvre about 15 minutes before it opened, and there were about a dozen people on the cardholder’s line. I was inside, through the coat-check and on my way upstairs by 9:10, headed to my first stop - The Mona Lisa.

Many people feel that it is not worth spending the time to see da Vinci’s masterpiece. It is so “well known,” it is small and hard to see, and the crowds are so large. However, to me this painting is so beautiful that an in-person visit is significantly different and more impressive than any reproductions. In 2019, the Louvre renovated the gallery that houses the Mona Lisa. Gone is the free-for-all of everyone jostling to get near it. There are now two long serpentine lines that feed up to the painting. This gives everyone the chance to have a few minutes to observe it, and take the obligatory selfie, before moving on. Being able to get relatively close reminded me that it is not small as I remembered, and it was worth the time I spent in line.

The Mona Lisa line early in the day.

There are three other pieces that I consider “must see.” One is Winged Victory. This Hellenic statue of the god Nike, and its base, dates from around 200 BCE. It is from the Samothrace, where it was part of the temple complex. This statue is easy to find, as just about every visitor passes by is as they climb the grand staircase to the museum’s 2nd floor.

My next highlight is “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix. This allegory celebrates the French Revolution of 1830.

My final highlight is The Slaves. These two statues by Michaelangelo, were created in the early 16th century. They are a part of a larger series, some of which are unfinished.

Of course, these were not the only artwork in the Louvre, and here are some more pieces that caught my eye.

The Apollo Room

Stigmata of Saint Francis by Giotto di Condone

Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Portrait of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta by Pieroella Francesca

Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese

Battle of David and Goliath by Daniele de Volterra

Madonna of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci

The Young Begger by Bartomela Esteban Murillo

And so, the plan for my first European trip since the pandemic unfolded, a morning walk followed by a museum visit. It was off to a great start.