I. Paris: The Ne Plus Ultra of Elegance
No matter how charming you think Paris is, it still manages to exceed your expectations. In a city where art is at home, where culture found some of its most prominent pamphleteers worldwide and where elegance is the norm (from fashion and all the way to the UNESCO-listed cuisine), one can hardly ask for more…maybe only ask for more days there, and more money to enjoy the city even more (no one said it was cheap).
There are the obvious attractions that no typical ‘itinerary’ would leave out, like Tour Eiffel, the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe, but then there are literally hundreds of surprises, all pleasant, as you explore the city on your own. In my case, the list included such little ‘pleasures’ as standing next to the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ high up the Cathedral’s tower, coming face to face with Dalí’s ‘Persistence of Memory’ at an exhibition in Centre Pompidou, contemplating Renoir’s ‘Bathers’ at Musée de l’Orangerie, coming across countless ‘love locks’ along the Pont des Arts, having a luxury breakfast at Place des Voges or a hearty cheese platter with my wonderful students at the Île Saint-Louis. And, it was sunny every day! Paris was literally bathed in sunlight during the day, and shimmering with a thousand colorful lights around the Seine at night.
Still, as if all the above was not enough, just roaming the streets of Quartier Latin, Montmartre or Le Marais offers a rich mosaic of experiences that range from old book shops and culture cafes to rabbis in full suit in Rue des Rosiers and bohemian artists at Place du Tertre. Styles that range from Rayonnant and Flamboyant Gothic and all the way to postmodern can all be enjoyed in the streets of Paris, and walking around is –in itself- an almost romantic experience.
One can write forever about Paris, but I’ll sum it up in one phrase: this city is –to my taste, the ne plus ultra of elegance. As if you didn’t know that already!
II. The Louvre: Aesthetic Anxiety Syndrome
I don’t know if there is any such thing, but this is how I felt during my three visits to the Louvre. Spending the day inside the Louvre is one of the most artistically intensive experiences that I ever had in my life. I say ‘artistically’ rather than ‘aesthetically’ because, aesthetically, it was closer to…an assault! Let me explain.
There is so much beauty that I felt dizzy and out of breath at times, but it is a Stendhal Syndrome that is almost neutralized by the banalization effect of the tourist herds clustering around the masterpieces that they were told not to miss: The Mona Lisa is the obvious magnet, but the Venus of Milo, Michelangelo’s Slaves and David’s Oath of the Horatii get their fair share too. The bright side? You get to enjoy the treasures of Ancient Civilizations and other parts of the world (and periods of history) almost hassle free.
Then Louvre is an architectural treat both on the inside and from outside. The neoclassical facades are dazzling and the scale, almost scary. But then there is the right dose of modernity to break the formal rigidity: I.M. Pei’s daring pyramid. What a clever geometrical reference that makes the hefty wings of the Louvre seem as if dependent on it for their own spatial arrangement!
Back to the inside, I was both artistically overwhelmed and culturally disturbed under one and the same roof, another paradox that the Louvre can provoke. For one thing, it offers a tour-de-force of art history that no art lover can afford to miss, being one of the greatest temples of art on the planet. Nevertheless, a fleeting though threatened to spoil the whole experience: Why are all these artworks here? ‘Colonialism’ was one of many words that came to my mind, but it took me exactly five minutes to drop all my defenses and give in to the wonders of the Louvre. Having spent a month preparing for this visit, I was quickly making my way across the labyrinth of halls and rooms of the Richelieu, the Denon and the Sully Wings, trying my best to avoid the temptation of trying to see everything because we are talking about 35,000 pieces!
I end it here and leave you with the photos (click on any photo to see a higher resolution).