Paris, like all French cities I have had the pleasure of visiting, is a city which makes you envy the people who have cooking equipment and kitchens to use it in. Markets selling fresh produce, meats, fish, cheese and everything else you might want to eat are frequent, numerous and extremely well-appointed. In Bastille, the district in which our hotel was situated, a vast market is held every Thursday and Saturday morning selling all of these things and more. Unfortunately, the majority of their fabulous items are forbidden to tourists by circumstance – raw meat is useless, cheese is sold in quantities too great to consume in time and many of the non-edible items are forbidden by the zealotry of border control in Australia. However, the markets are still well worth a visit, if for no other reason than to enjoy the atmosphere. Besides, some things are allowed into Australia – we bought some delicious honey and beeswax candles from an apiarist selling the wares of his beloved queen bee, after whom his brand is named. I love the markets. Visiting them here makes me want to go to the markets back home more often.
The remainder of the day was nominally dedicated to rest. In practice, this typically means that we rest extremely briefly before becoming frustrated and bored and setting out again, but without a concrete plan so that we don’t have to rush anywhere. As predicted, we reposed only briefly in the hotel before catching the excellent Paris metro to Madeleine to visit the Maille mustard store.
Although Maille mustard is available all over the world, their stores – which are located in Paris and Dijon – sell many varieties of mustard which can only be found in France. The variety available is staggering – apparently mustard is made with every fruit, vegetable and spice ever discovered on Earth, and all of it can be found in this store. They also have mustards on tap, of which tastings can be had. Fortunately for tourists, selections of small pots are also available. It’s very hard to choose just one.
On Friday we rose in darkness and prepared ourselves like commandos – that is, with diligence and grim resolve, not without underpants. At long last, the day had come for us to visit the much-famed Louvre museum. Although we were both also excited, many horror stories are circulated about this beloved tourist site – pickpockets, endless lines, expensive amenities. The list of holiday horrors associated with the museum is endless. In an appalling anti-climax, we entered the museum from the metro concourse and waited only around ten minutes. Our pockets remained unpicked, and the amenities were not particularly pricey by Australian standards.
The advantage of entering by the metro concourse – aside from the comparably small lines – is that the areas of the museum dedicated to antiquities begin in the lower floors. While the Louvre is primarily known for its art collections, it also boasts an enormous and comprehensive collection of artefacts from the ancient world. Since the museum is so large, we decided to prioritise the Ancient Egyptian collection, which was a good choice, on balance. The exhibits are (unsurprisingly) very impressive – particularly the papyrus layouts. It’s stunning that paper has survived so long and remains so legible.
From the antiquities galleries, we made our way through to the collections of sculptures. This gallery is the one where two of the most famous pieces of the museum are found – the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory. While we did see both of these, the general opinion that they aren’t ‘all that’ was one we agreed with. They’re both lovely and very impressive, but somewhat diminished by the lightning storm of camera flashes that constantly bathes them in light and the garland of tourists they wear. Some of the other sculptures – particularly some of the Greek nudes – were breathtakingly lovely and were paid virtually no attention by most of the tourists rushing for the Venus. This happens a lot in the Louvre, we discovered.
Once we entered the main areas of the museum, we found ourselves in the gallery of Italian masters. Unfortunately, we discovered that the majority of these painters enjoyed a lifelong love affair with Jesus Christ and all his works. Accordingly, the variety in this gallery is quite impressive – one can see Jesus alone, or with Mary, or with Mary and Joseph, or with his colleagues the apostles, or healing the sick. Sometimes, one can even see Jesus on the cross, or badly injured. But if that doesn’t please you, one can see muscular Jesus, hale and healthy, dispensing wisdom. Still seeking something different? Why not a depiction of Jesus casting out devils, or walking in the wilderness, or eating a simple dinner alone. I am not exaggerating when I say that probably eighty percent of the paintings were religious. For a man as uninterested in religion as I am, this was somewhat disappointing – I admire the skill of the painters, but I cannot even feign interest in the religious symbolism of most of them.
This gallery, naturally, also includes the Mona Lisa. I haven’t got a great deal to say about it – everyone has seen pictures of it at this point. It’s an impressive portrait surrounded by surly guards and salivating tourists. No negativity meant – it’s worth seeing.
Seeking some variety, we then set off to the main gallery of French painters. In a pleasant change, we found that the French seem to concern themselves mainly with battle scenes, portraits, landscapes and nude women. If given the choice between a naked woman and Jesus Christ, my preference is generally the former, and it would appear that French artists agree with my reasoning. We spent a long time admiring the works in this gallery and left feeling pleasantly surprised. Neither of us are particularly well-informed or attached to art – but this gallery is easy to enjoy thanks to the variety of subjects and the skill with which they’re rendered. I feel like we got a lot out of it.
The duration of our visit ended up being an impressive seven hours – very little of which was spent resting. However, the museum really is a mammoth endeavour, and in that time we only managed to see about two thirds. We ended our day with a relaxing walk in the Tuileries gardens and an evening spent doing washing. Il faut ce qu’il faut.