Wednesday, April 22, 2009

While the old saying claims that a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m not sure that mine are quite so verbose. As you can see from yesterday’s slide show, I come from the « I Put My Kids in Front of Every Major World Monument » school of photography. While it is an old and respected one, it has not created a lot of great art.
On the other hand, JP and I will have lots of photos of the four of them to enjoy eventually when we are empty-nesters, pathetically asking each other every fifteen minutes « Why don’t the kids ever call? »

At any rate, you’ve seen all the photographic evidence, so now I can get on with recounting the details.

On Day Two of our adventure, we woke up early. Our first morning in Paris! Our goal was the Louvre and with the daughter of our hosts added to our little tour group, we ventured out. This time we did NOT take the Metro. I figured I’d try to keep Mallory aboveground for the day. So, we headed over to the bus stop.

Walking down the street, we passed a public pool (very nice and indoors), a little bakery, a news stand…all the great stuff that is so NOT within walking distance of our own little house in the French countryside.
On the other hand, when we take a walk back home, it smells like pine-trees and fresh mountain air. This little street, on the other hand, smelled like vomit. And urine.
But mostly vomit.
I love Paris. I adore Paris. But what’s up with all the vomit?
I imagine it’s either due to : a. a huge number of restaurants serving bad seafood or b. lots of people binge drinking. Sadly, I suppose the latter is more likely.

We navigated around the scary puddles and got on the bus. We were at the Louvre in about 45 minutes. The Louvre, I am happy to report, does NOT smell like vomit. Or urine.

One goes to the Louvre, of course, to see the major art treasures of the Western world. But unless you are a bit tall, what you mostly see is …tourists. The Japanese, in particular are mad for the Louvre and the place overflows with groups of Japanese art-lovers being led through the corridors by diminutive Japanese guides. The guides always carry a thin stick with a silk flower, a big feather or a sparkly pompom attached to the top.
The twins thought this was great, but strange.
« Is that…some kind of Louvre souvenir? » Alexa asked me, looking enviously at a tour guide waving around a particularly large and lovely purple marabou feather on a stick.
The answer is, of course, no. The sticks are devices that allow the short tourists and short guides to keep track of each other in the huge crowds. To gather up her group in a big gallery, the guide waves her blue rose (or whatever) on a stick and all the followers of the blue rose on a stick come running, ready to move on to the next area.

I kind of wanted a fancy « stick of summoning » myself, but figured it would be overkill. I only had five people to keep track of and two of them were much taller than the average tourist.

And being tall was a huge advantage (pun intended, in case you’re wondering). The two older kids and I had no trouble looking right over the heads of most people to have a good look at the paintings. This was especially important while trying to see Da Vinci’s most famous work. There is ALWAYS an enormous crowd around the Mona Lisa. As far as I can tell, anyway. This was my sixth visit to the Louvre and every time I go, it’s always the same: an ocean of tourists surrounding a smallish, shadowy portrait.
The twins and their friend were small and thin enough to easily slip between all the adults, find places at the front of the crowd and have a good look at the thing.

Everyone’s general reaction? « Meh. » sums it up, I think.

I did my best to explain that, while it’s a very fine portrait, it’s mainly famous for…being so famous. And it’s fame is a pretty late phenomenon. It was people in the Symbolist movement of the mid 19th century that sort of "reinvented" the painting as some kind of symbol of « eternal femininity » (See ? I did pay attention to that Art History course back in University). And then, adding to the glamour and mystique of the painting , it was stolen in 1911 and not found for two years. In 1956, the poor thing was doused with acid and then at the end of that same year it was gouged by a rock-tossing Bolivian.

Now it hangs behind a glass barrier and « Madonna Lisa » smiles at about 6 million people a year.

Just across from her is a huge painting by Veronese that the kids enjoyed much more and we spent quite along time looking at it:
This was another one where my scraps of art history training came in handy. For example, I asked the children to figure out what was unusual about all the people in The Wedding at Cana. (Nobody is talking! It was painted for a monastery that had a rule of silence during meals.)
Then I asked why meat was being cut up right over the head of Jesus. (It’s a sacrificial lamb. A bit of a tough question for kids, I‘ll admit. )
Then we checked out at all the different animals in the painting (dogs, a parrot and a monkey). Mallory thought is was a great idea to have animals at a wedding and regretted the complete absence of goats.

We saw many, many more paintings that day. The huge amount of naked flesh featured in many of them did not even phase us. It seemed all quite tame and innocent, compared to yesterday’s x-rated experience in the Buttes Chaumont Park.

What didn’t impress the kids: The Winged Victory of Samothrace. I guess I could see their point. Not head. No arms. She’s even worse off than the Venus de Milo.

What Valentine loved: Botticelli’s Venus and the Three Graces » fresco. All color, line and sheer prettiness:

What Mallory loved: Delacroix’s wild-eyed horses. That man could paint a horse, I’m telling you.
What Alexa loved: Being able to show the other kids around. This was her third visit!

What Severin loved: I think Severin loved LEAVING the Louvre and going home to FINALLY get something to eat. He’s a good sport, but not very sensitive to Art.


TeacherMommy said...

Having pictures of the kidlets posed in fromt of the monuments is more satisfying in the long run than just pictures of the monuments, I think. At least you have a clue about the identity of SOMETHING in the photo years later. I have about three hundred or so photos from a road trip my husband and I took out East through many Civil War battlegrounds, and I now have no clue why I took most of them. I KNOW there's some significance to this field versus that field, but do I remember just by looking at pretty but fairly generically pastoral photos? No. They'd be better if there was at least a face I recognized, like my husband's.

oreneta said...

Eldest counted 78 big fat juicy haorks on the streets of Paris. maybe it was cold season and you're there for stomach flu season?????

strudel said...

My dear Queen of Africa, you forgot to mention an irrelevant detail. Napoleon Bonaparte and his army brought us, the Italians, Libertè Egalité Fraternitè, and we were so grateful that gave him as a present our best paintings and sculptures (apart from money and minor things). That's why Paris has the Louvre and you could visit it. Regards, G

Beth said...

TM- I know you are right and I will always treasure these photos. I'm just always a little embarrassed to let others look at them!

Rocky- Ick! Paris definitely has it's downsides.

S- I am, of course, aware that the vast majority of the Louvre came from other places.
And much of it was NOT presents. Napoleon certainly looted Egypt of many ancient treasures.
That whole aspect of the collection of the Louvre (and most museums) is very awkward. I find it most upsetting in the case of museums featuring art from the third world...African masks, for example. In short, there are many things sitting in these museums that were stolen and do NOT belong in any country but that of their origin.
But trying to set all that right...

babzee said...

I remember seeing the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian in 1971 and having the same "eh, whoop" reaction that you gave Mona L. Television may have spoiled us to the wonders of visual impact, but Rowan Atkinson's treatment of the painting in "Bean" remains the first and last word on the subject!

babzee said...

And PS: Happy Earth Day. France is on Earth, i'nt it?