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Adventuring, Europe

The Louvre is for Selfies

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Okay this is the only one I took. But that does not diminish the astonishing number of selfies I witnessed over the course of 6 hours on Saturday at Europe’s grandest art museum.

Trusting Serendipity

The security and ticket line moved surprisingly quickly, and I headed for the Denon Wing. The Denon Wing houses many of the “greatest hits” of the collection, such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus Des Melos. The Louvre is huge, so I barely cracked the surface of this one wing.

For the first few hours, I decided just to wander on my own and see where my feet led me. I opted out of the audio guide (which played on Nintendo DS) and hoped to find English language placards, or at least French I could muddle through. (A post about my *attempted* French speaking adventures is forthcoming.)

My first stop was the 7th-19th century Islamic art. I took Near Eastern history for my pre-modern requirement at UC Berkeley, so it was interesting to see relevant artifacts in motion.

One of the first displays pertained to the creation, destruction and restoration of the Great Mosque of Damascus. Built in the 7th century, the holy place featured incredible mosaics that were later painted over with whitewash or destroyed by fire. Many were repaired over the years, and when the French colonized Damascus, they similarly participated in preserving the mosaics. According to the exhibit, a French scholar led the charge, overseeing three Syrian artists who created drawings that replicated the mosaics. Perhaps the French were taking a bit more credit than due, but the multimedia presentation about this process was pretty neat.

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Downstairs, they had more artifacts from the Islamic world, in addition to a short film in multiple languages that gave a quick overview of the early history of Islam, from Mohammed’s first visions through the assassination of Ali. There were extensive displays on the administration of the empire and the standardization of weights, measures and language, which gave me a severe flashback to History 3!

After that I tried wandering around the Italian paintings exhibit on my own. The result was overwhelming. Painting after painting filled the walls, Virgin Marys staring at you from all ends. The temperature was palpably higher due to the sheer number of people in the gallery, making the air sticky and gross, while tour group after tour group pushed you along. Still a bit tired from a late night before, it was almost too much to take in, and I wandered from end to end until I eventually found the side room housing the Mona Lisa. Here is my obligatory picture:

So many selfies

So many selfies

By this point I was super hungry. I contemplated eating the Nutella sandwich I packed that morning, but the Mona Lisa room led straight to the souvenir stand and cafe, and I had saved some Euros by not buying the audio guide, so I decided to treat myself to something heartier.

Pro Tip: Don’t Get the Sandwich at the Louvre Cafe

This is what it looked like:

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That is all.

Rick Steves Guide to the Louvre

At this point I decided I needed some direction. As I said, I cheaped out and didn’t rent an audio guide. I did, however, download the Rick Steves podcast guide to the Louvre, so I whipped out the iPhone and ear buds and proceeded to visit the greatest hits.

The Rick Steves tour was pretty good. It covered all the major highlights of the collection, starting with the oldest pieces – ancient statues of women that predated the pyramids – through the Greek and Roman era to the Renaissance and 19th century France.

Thematically, the tour focused on thee Greco-Roman legacy in Western culture. He looks at the conventions of Greek sculpture, such as balance and idealism, and would often refer to these conventions while discussing later Italian and French works. The result is predictably Eurocentric: A lot of this “Italians rediscovered the ancient Greeks” without acknowledging that this rediscovery was made possible by the Islamic scholars who had maintained the artistic and intellectual tradition while Europe plunged itself into the “Dark Ages.” (“Dark Ages” being a problematic term in it of itself, hence the quotations.) Still, I enjoyed the podcast despite this oversight. It was entertaining, informative and free, and I highly recommend it.

Another great consequence of taking the podcast tour was it facilitated exploring areas not on the actual itinerary. I paused it at every room it led me to and got to experience areas I might not have otherwise. The directions were sometimes confusing, and whenever I got off track I would discover something else new. (I wandered around Ancient Greece for quite a quite a while before I found the Roman room.) It was nice to be able to wander at my own pace, but still have some sort of direction.

Now, I initially planned to take a picture of every major piece of work Rick brought me to so I could illustrate this post appropriately, but my camera began flashing the red low battery sign at me. My travel phone is a 3GS, so the quality isn’t great, and it was also running low on power so I opted to use its camera sparingly as well. It was kind of fortunate actually: I got to focus less on documenting the tour and more on actually processing it for myself. Additionally, it forced me to be super picky about any pieces I did want to photograph, so I know everything I did photograph was somehow especially compelling to me. Or Rick said something weirdly amusing. Here are the ones that made the cut:

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Around the World

At this point I was absolutely exhausted and my feet were killing me – turns out my black flats have no arch support and that is a problem – but as I heading up the escalator to leave, I remembered that there was a relatively new exhibit on African, Asian and American art. After some severe internal debate that pitted my intellectual curiosity against my feet I decided to force myself to go there. And boy am I glad that I did.

The African, Asian and American art exhibit is confoundingly difficult to locate. There is no direct path to gallery: You have to go through room after room and up several set of stairs and down several more to get to it. Along the way, I stumbled upon the Spanish painting room, which only made me think that Renaissance-era Spain looked like a devastatingly miserable place to live. (A lot of pained faces praying.) But journey I did, and eventually I found the correct room.

Of course I would come to the center of Western artistic expression and discover that I preferred non-Western art. I took pictures of a few that I found particularly compelling; check em out:

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By this point, my feet called it quits. So I did the only logical thing and took an hour long walk to the Arc de Triomphe.]I look forward to a future day when I can explore the museum some more.

And by the way, I lied. There was one more selfie in the pack.

A true masterpiece

A true masterpiece

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