The title says it all. The plan was that today was my day at the Louvre. The Louvre with its glass Pyramids was the pivot that drew me to Paris (inspired like everybody else by the ‘Da Vinci Code’) and anything less than a whole day admiring the nuances of the exquisite sculptures and paintings would be infamy. I knew I wasn’t classy enough or artsy enough to actually do that successfully, so I practiced my knowledgeable-art-admirer-face before the mirror for a month before the trip.
Having slept unhealthily early the previous day, I woke up to rise and shine at 4:30 in the morning to a dorm with shut curtains and minimal light. Nonetheless, Shine I must. After half hour of tossing (and trying to not squeak my squeaky bed), trying to plan my day more meticulously, I gave up. The Louvre was to open at 9 that day. I had three awesome hours in this glorious city that I couldn’t afford to while away waiting for the doors to open. Could I? So I decided to visit the Arch De Triomphe and walk down the Champs-Elysses before I made it to the Louvre and admired Rodin.
Having settled on the plan, I only had to rise and shine. But has anyone ever told you how tricky it really is to tiptoe on a wooden floor, find your locker, lug out a heavy baggage and find your day clothes – All the while trying to not wake up your too-exhausted-to-be-nice dormmates. Did I mention with nothing but a mobile flash light?
I was ready by seven in the morning and after a nice quick breakfast at the Hostel, I walked out to shine my light upon the city. It was quite cold, but nothing I couldn’t manage. By the time I reached the closest Metro, I realized two things 1) 12 degree Celsius was pretty damn cold 2) My denim Jacket was not designed for warmth.
I marched on however and took the train to the Arch De Triomphe. Surprise Surprise! The train had to stop two stations away for some unknown reason. That’s cool. I get more time walking in the city, I had hours I had to while away anyway. Nice try, Fate! I walked out of the metro and walked into a magical square at the Place De la Concorde. This square in the early light of the day is hands-down the most beautiful man-made place on earth. I am not a nature person and I was exceptionally eager to be pleased, so pray treat my overtures with caution and less condescension if you can. That this was also the place where over a thousand people were guillotined during the revolution I only later learned.
So after fifteen minutes of walking around the square, I proceeded to walk down the Champs-Elysses to the Arch De Triomphe and found way too many policemen and barricades than actual people. Didn’t the train stop two stations before the destination? I was brown and I hate stereotypes but that doesn’t really stop from being stereotyped. Does it? Paranoia struck but I decided to keep a straight face and keep walking however because – Priorities!
Like every other time I got carried away with my baseless imaginary horrors, this turned out to be nothing as well. The French had elected their new sexy banker-turned-Politician president the previous day and according to custom, Monsieur Emmanuel Macron had to pay his respects to the fallen soldiers at the Arch the next day – which was today. Awesome! I like most sane people around the world had been rooting for him or rather rooting against his opponent – Crazy lady Le Pen. Perfect! I would get to see a Parade and the cops with their berets weren’t a bad sight either. So I decided to stay and watch.
The crowd in such non-causal parades comprises mostly of grumpy grandpas and drunken assholes apart from over-enthusiastic tourists I noticed. Normal people have things to do on a Tuesday morning. Salsa-dancing drunk guys desperate for attention weren’t really great company. So, I started chatting up some of the seniors whose English was only slightly better than my French with a very limited vocabulary and dumb charades.
From what I understood, the parade was supposed to be at 8:30. Barely half an hour to go, I got my camera ready and focused on every car that zoomed by. An hour passed. I was not going to be at the gates when the Louvre opened. There was only sporadic marches and some cars with other country flags (Ambassadors or Diplomats probably) so far. Either the President was late to his first day at work or my information-gathering skills weren’t good. Having waited for 1.5 hrs doing nothing but looking at passing cars, like any logical person would, I waited for more. I had waited for yet another hour before the French president sashayed in, fancy car and all, waving at the crowds through the half-open windows. Meh, I was unimpressed! To be fair, after all that waiting the only thing that could have made it worthwhile was if he got on the hood of his car and did an Irish jiggle.
By the time I reached the Louvre, my stomach was grumbling for lunch. I was late for my dream tour of the Louvre. How was I to ever make up for all the lost time if I gave in to such peasant needs? Got to power through. Bad decision alert! After another 20 minutes in the queue for the security checks and concluding with another Pakistani tourist stuck in the line with me on how politicians on either side of the border were playing emotions, I finally got in. I was breathing art, history and the perfumes of the thousand other people along with the other less pleasant smells that comes with exhausted crowds.
It was 12 in the afternoon and I had five more hours before closing time. I took an audio guide and did an unintentionally long tour of the middle eastern antiquities, Egyptian artifacts, and French royal home decor through the ages before I actually found the Greek and Roman Antiquities section. After about an hour of open mouthed wonder, I went back to being ‘Meh! It’s okay, I guess!’. Would have been way better if the plaque descriptions next to these pieces had been in English as well. It is such an obvious idea, I still wonder why it was never done. Part of my mission now accomplished, My next target was to find the Italian and French paintings. After quite a few wrong turns and turn backs (Audio guide – Good. Maps in Audio Guide – Pathetic), I finally reached the section with the French paintings and after another hour and thirty loitering around trying to be impressed with technique and perspective, I was tired and hungry.
The final goal was to see the Mona Lisa. Overrated – Sure! But wouldn’t you judge me if I told you that I went to the Louvre and didn’t see the sly smile of the La Joconda. After another hour of struggle in spite of a dead battery powered audio guide, I found her condescendingly look upon the crowds that clamored around her for photos wondering if she was smiling. It was closing time. Mission Accomplished. Sort of.
I was exhausted and my legs were shaking by the time I came out of the Louvre. So, I grabbed a hot dog from the nearest vendor I saw and dropped down on a low garden chair at the Tuileries garden right outside. True happiness is achieved with the simplest of things – a tasteless hot dog and an uncomfortable chair. After 20 minutes when boredom trumped tiredness, I finally stood and started towards the next big structure I saw. The Roue De Paris – just another Giant Ferris wheel blessed with a great location.
After a ride in the Paris Wheel and after a couple of assorted macarons at the base, it was time to get back to the safety of my hostel before it got dark or before I lost my way again. I didn’t lose my way and the sun doesn’t set for another three hours in May in Paris. So when I finally hit the sack that day (early again), I was strangely exhausted, happy and frustrated.