Monday, October 15, 2012

Paris, Day 5: The Louvre, Islamic Art and a night in the city.

The Louvre
As I left Saint Germaine for Paris late in the morning for the hotel, it was cloudy and cool. As usual, Monica drove me to the Metro and we bid a fond farewell. I arrived at my hotel in the Marais area of Paris about noon, was able to check in and stash my luggage, and headed back out for the Louvre. I wanted to get there in time to sign up for a 90-minute guided tour in English that would cover the Masterpieces of the Louvre, which are spread out in several areas of the expansive museum. 

Metro entertainment of a different kind
On the Metro that morning, instead of an accordion player, commuters were entertained by a quartet of rap musicians on one line, and a brass duo on another. I enjoyed the novelty, but most Parisians seem to take little interest.                                                                   

Venus di Milo
On the short guided tour, we learned about the history of the museum and its beginnings as a fortress to protect Paris against Viking raids in the 1200’s. We then made the rounds to see, among other items, Venus di Milo, Winged Victory, and of course, the Mona Lisa. Women seemed to be featured in many of the world's masterpieces.
Winged Victory
Da Vinci's most famous work is a small painting, under glass, and the room is continually swamped with visitors. It's impossible to get close to it.

Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci
In a nearby room there are other, less famous paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, but few people were paying attention to them. One of them had recently been restored and returned to public view in March of this year. Surprisingly, taking photos without a flash is allowed in the Louvre, whereas taking photos in most of the other art museums I went to in Paris was strictly forbidden.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne,  by Leonardo da Vinci
An article about the painting's controversial restoration can be viewed here:

There were several sculptures by Michelangelo on display at the Louvre.

Dying Slave, Michelangelo, Louvre

Once the tour was over, I headed down to the new exhibit, Islamic Art, which just opened a few weeks ago. This is where I spent most of the afternoon. Instead of paintings, there were ceramics, tiles, carved wooden doors, and woven rugs: a wonderland of art that has rarely been seen in the Western world.

Islamic Art, painted tiles
Islamic Art, ceramics
Next, I headed back to the exhibit of Italian paintings, which are featured in a long hall of the Denon wing of the museum, where I spent most of my time. By late afternoon, I was weary from walking and viewing, but I still wanted to see the work of Vermeer and other northern European painters. They were located in another wing, up three flights of escalators, and when I arrived, it was practically empty. I wandered around, but didn’t find what I was looking for, and realized that I was too worn out to look any further.

The Marais on a rainy day
I headed back to the hotel, and after a short rest, went out to check out the Marais neighborhood where I was staying, a working class area of Paris. Oddly enough, I found an Italian restaurant down the street and decided to have dinner there. It was dark, cold and rainy, and I was tired: something familiar felt comforting. I ordered spaghetti al pesto and a glass of red wine from Montepulciano. The pasta was fine, but much too plentiful, and I ate less than half of it, to the dismay of the waitress.

Gare de Lyon
The hotel was fine, a bit pricey for me, but cheap for Paris. Its main asset was being near Gare de Lyon, the train station where I’d catch my train to Torino in the morning. All in all, my time in Paris was well spent. I saw everything that I’d hoped to see, and had a wonderful stay with my friends as well.

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