Famous ladies stuck in artwork

I woke up to an empty apartment. Anais was on her way to NYC, and the apartment was all mine. She had been so excited the night before to go to America. It did make me appreciate my familiarity with it a bit more, but then I felt silly about all my gushing about Paris, which was so familiar to her.

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One of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, Cluny Museum, Paris

To start the day I walked to the Left Bank and stopped for a tartine in a cafe. I love French breakfasts in cafe – typically with a cafe creme, orange juice, and croissant or tartine. If you’re feeling really luxurious, a soft boiled egg. Absolutely my kind of meal. Energized, I spent the morning at the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages. The monastery it was housed in was so old it even had ancient roman baths in the basements. It’s full of all sorts of medieval relics, including the original stone heads to the kings on Notre Dame, hidden away during the 1789 Revolution when any symbol of monarchy was fair game. Up in one of the higher rooms were the mysterious Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. There is a tapestry for each of the five senses, plus one more that baffles art historians to this day. No one knows exactly what that sixth tapestry symbolizes, and part of me is glad of that. We need a little more mystery in our lives.

Next, I took the RER/Metro up to Les Halles and explored St. Eustache. The cathedral became my favorite of those I’d seen so far. The pillars, walls, and ceilings were immaculately decorated with bursts of color. I walked up Rue Monterguil and had lunch at La Grappe d’Or – familiarity can be comfortable. The October air was chilly. I relished walking by each cafe since they had heating elements in their awnings. No matter what the temperature it seems that the French will sit outside. I suppose it’s because many of them smoke, but it can also be for the people watching and simply just being out of doors.

I hadn’t planned on visiting the Louvre museum. I’ve not into super touristy things, and as much a I’d love to see some of the pieces of art I studied in Art History in high school, it just seemed like it was so large a beast it wouldn’t be worth it. But, since the discovery that my ID card would get in my in for free and skipping the line, and Shani and Jeremy recommending Rick Steves’ walking tours, I gave in. I arrived at 2pm to one of the biggest museums in the world. I knew it was big, but I was absolutely not prepared for the size of it from the outside. What could it be like to live there? It was a palace – people actually did.There is really no equivalent in the United States.

I got through the line and into the lobby beneath the pyramid fairly quickly. There is something to be said for visiting in the off-season. First impression? Even the lobby was huge. I plugged in my Rick Steves’ audio guide and got going. Rick talked me through rooms of Greek statues, Roman statues, Italian and French paintings…it was almost overwhelming, and I’m glad I had the guided tour in my ear. Not only were the works of art impressive, but the rooms themselves were astonishing, with their vaulted ceilings and gilded walls. I saw the crown jewels of France in one of the more imposing halls, along with some of the “everyday “ objects of the royalty, easily worth more than all my belongings put together several times over. It was wealth and glamour physically manifested in front of me. I wish I could have seen them all in use, and been in that long ball room when it was truly at it’s height.

 

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A glimpse of Mona Lisa through a veritable mass of rather pungent humanity

I saw the famous pieces of art of course, including Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory, and the Mona Lisa. It was surreal to see so many of the paintings I’d studied right there in front of me. The coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, Madonna of the Rocks… There were some French school groups on a field trip and I hovered near them, listening to their teacher explain the art to them. The press of humanity at the Mona Lisa was astounding. Nothing like a mass of tired tourists all crushed together. I think part of the art experience of seeing the painting is the aroma that surrounds it. There was no way I could see everything in the museum, or even in the halls I managed to find myself in, but once the tour was over I wandered about a bit. I found myself down in the Medieval foundations of the palace, the base of the original fortress the Louvre once was. That’s the thing about Paris – history comes in layers. There’s just too much of it, it can’t be spread out.

I managed a brief visit in the Ancient Egyptian wing as an homage to my little third grade self that was convinced she’d be an Egyptologist, but I knew the sun was setting and I wasn’t comfortable enough in the city yet to find my way back to my AirBNB in the full dark of night. I emerged into the rapidly failing daylight, near the Jardin de Tuilieries. As enticing as the gardens were, at that point I just wanted to be back in the apartment. The closest metro station was still some distance yet, and I passed by some abysmal Paris rush hour traffic. I will never envy anyone that has to drive in Paris, and I never plan to after seeing the zipper effect as cars drive every which way through intersections.

I stopped in Monoprix for some sleepytime tea, and walked back to my apartment with a cheese and meat baguette for dinner, falling asleep to the comforting sounds of Ice Age 3 in French on the television and heat emanating from the radiators.

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