Wednesday, November 2, 2011



In terms of museums, this is the big one. I had to plan meticulously, because as previous musee tours have proved, the day can fall apart very quickly if you're not on your toes!

Example of a near disaster: Musee D'Orsay.

This was by far my favourite museum. The roof of the converted railway station is a blanket of huge sculptured flowers and sunlight, which feels warm and not so austere as some museums. The day was marred however by a few logistical complications.

Firstly, there was the usual queue issue. Thought I'd just wander along casually mid morning and stroll through the door. No deal. An hour standing in the cold. I forgot about it very quickly though when I hit a Van Gogh. From there on, I was oblivious to any activity outside my audio tour and the art. I moved from room to room saying things like

'Oh my god. I can't believe I'm standing here in front of this! WTF!'

But as the the day slid by, the big sculptured roof flowers started to spin in circles above my head and my legs turned to jelly.

'Is it a stroke? Am I having a stroke? WTF!'

I sit down and think through the predicament. Thank god I said yes to the medical insurance! Does it cover stroke though? I don't remember. Too weak to struggle with the details now anyway. Maybe I have a concussion? I don't remember hitting my head, but then I'm still struggling with the birthdays of my immediate family, so that's neither here nor there. I concentrate on breathing deeply and after holding back the tears for a bit, I recognise a familiar sensation... hunger.

Condition confirmed when I discover that it has covertly become 3pm. I cannot continue to be the walking machine, the appreciator of fine art, the lone adventurer, without food, so I go in search of the knife and fork symbol.

The restaurant is easy enough to find but as I peer through the glass into the busy marble and chandelier clad dining room, I feel utterly deflated. All these people are sitting at tables set for at least four. The queue of waif like tourists is long, so taking a whole table for myself is not an option as it would certainly cause a riot. I stalk one lady who appears to be alone, in the hope that I will muster the courage to ask her if she'd like to share a table, but it doesn't come. I can't eat here.

Dilemma. I haven't finished looking at the beautiful things in the museum that I will probably never get the chance to see again. My ticket doesn't allow for me to leave the building and then come back in but if I stay I will probably pass out on the floor, in which case I won't be seeing much more anyway.

Am I being punished for travelling alone? Is death by starvation my sentence for not having a life long partner that I kiss passionately on every cobblestone bridge? And what's with that anyway? Is it necessary? No! No! No! and no, it's not necessary! I will look at every painting, every sculpture, every piece of Art Nouveu furniture on display if it kills me!

I get up and continue through the maze of rooms, stopping every now and then for a rest and to check myself with a series of questions,

'What day is it? Do you know where you are? Who's the president?' That last one's a trick question, which I recognised every time.

I push on like this for another hour and then without even a thought, I walk as if possessed, out the door and over the road to the first cafe I see where I eat so much food I feel ill and have to go directly home to bed.

The Louvre is a hundred times bigger than the Orsay, so you will understand why the planning for this tour had to be almost military.

Wake in the dark, coffee and out into the street. First stop, boulangerie for the hugest baguette in town with thirty two fillings. Eat while walking, being careful not to share even a crumb with the pigeons.

The Louvre has about a thousand entrance points but I head directly to the Pyramid entrance. My detailed study of the building map has shown me that this offers a direct route to the Mona Lisa, so minimum contact with other incoming troops.

I do audio tour equipment 101 and then proceed quickly towards my chosen target. I soon discover that they have hung a few centuries of the largest Italian and French paintings in the world en route to ML. These paintings are obviously planted as a distraction, so I do my best to avoid looking at them and focus solely on the task at hand.

My strategy is a success! I overtake many many people. (What time did they get up?!) By the time I reach ML's room, I am so excited I have lost track of how fast I'm moving. I slide across the floor towards the painting as if she is third base. Thank god for the little metal fence around the front of her, or I might have caused a lot more damage than just a couple of bruised shins! I take 68 self portraits of me copying the cheeky smile before the crowd arrives and tries to do the same. Victory!

My meticulous planning got me through everything I wanted to see in eight hours. There were a couple of floors that I may have seen twice but I think they were probably very good paintings and well worth another look.

I was also happy to discover that the Louvre has many eating places within the complex. I'm not sure that french fries were a well thought out lunch option but I cannot eat anything else that resembles a long sandwich.

Of course, like any museum operation of this kind, there were moments of disorientation where things got a bit touch and go, but once I ditched the stupid incomprehensible map and threw my fate into the hands of google sat nav, everything became clear.

Mission accomplished, I sat outside the museum, exhausted but feeling heroic. that it then? Is my work here done? Is this how Paris and I part?

It does seem so. I feel a little sad as I take in this most awesome of buildings and the thousands of people who have come here, like me, to be excited by everything it contains.

Actually, it's not just this building that's making me sad to leave, it's Paris. It's the history in every building, the attitude in every waiter, the lights, the steps, the bread, the river, the strip club, the dogs, the French onion soup, pastries for breakfast, champagne for supper, the lack of room anywhere, long walks, chocolate shops, metro buskers, the markets, the art, the artists, the man playing chopin on a real piano on a street corner, crab roulade, snails that taste like dirt, butter, cream, that most beautiful of languages, the most comfortable apartment and my most generous new friends.

Paris, I love you. I have always loved you. It was a fine romance!

Peut-etre qu'on se reverra bientot un de ces jours!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It's official. I have literally walked my arse off. My legs are now connected directly to my back.


European Centre for Photography. An inspiring exhibition that I had to drag myself away from as I had been invited to lunch with friends of friends of a friend. Soon forget all about exhibition, thanks to lovely conversation, a plate of duck, a great glass of red and an invite to a private tour of Versailles tomorrow afternoon. Back to photography exhibition. Buy baguette and eggs on the way home. Omelette for dinner followed by a very disturbing film about a guy who gets his hand caught under a rock in some canyon and has to saw off his own arm with a blunt pocket knife to save himself from certain death caused by dehydration and probably a bit of shock I would imagine. Bad dreams about small homeless puppies and being in unbearable pain.


Coffee, baguette and then hit the streets in intolerably cold, semi darkness. This is my great plan to avoid getting caught in the queue at the much anticipated Pompidou. Stand in intolerably cold and long queue at Pompidou for 45 minutes. Stand in front of a Picasso. Stand in front of a Dali. Stand in front of a pair of trousers pegged to a little clothes line with ivy growing out of the pockets and then this,

'...the work seems to contain a latent violence, yet a violence transfigured by the beauty of the materials.' I am done here.

I have left just enough time to reach the Versailles connection. Unfortunately, I don't factor in the time it takes to get me out of this industrial maze of a building. Every direction I take sends me back up the same escalators I just got off. Around and around I go, playing the clueless tourist, shamelessly. There is much exasperation expressed through eye rolling, audible sighs and eventually a loud WTF. I squash my face up hard against the massive wall of glass. I can see the chalk artist on the street below where I need to be, I can smell the pastries, I just...can't...get...out...

Versailles. It is absolutely no wonder that the people living in poverty around this outrageously opulent residence rose up and trashed the place. A most extraordinary display of the most extraordinary wealth. Also, a most extraordinary preservation of history.

I stood in Marie Antoinette's bedroom, trying hard to grasp that all of the furniture here was original, I was struck speechless by MA's own private theatre, complete with balcony seating.

My new friends, Marie and Emmanuelle, tell me that MA loved the theatre and often popped herself in a play or two. She also loved old farms so she had one built just across the pond from her residence. None of the quaint little houses on this farm ever served a purpose though, they are all empty. The stairs were purposely knocked down to give the farm that worn, romantic feel and the sheep that she had brought in were combed every morning by her sheep people, who also used to tie ribbons in their wool and around their ears.

It is truly gruesome that they cut off her head but I just don't think you can behave like that and not expect some sort of reaction.

I walked with Marie and Emmanuelle for hours about the massive manicured gardens and through the marble clad, gold guilt buildings. Their commentary was by far the best audio tour in Paris, and I should know, I've heard most of them.

On the way back to Paris, we talked about some of the gruesome acts committed during the Revolution, the French version of superannuation, contemporary art, what is it?, why people in Paris don't eat and walk at the same time and some of the gruesome acts committed by the early pearlers of Broome.

We stop in at Anne's apartment, an old friend of Marie's and a new friend for me. We drink champagne and eat sausage. Then when I think I cannot feel anymore saturated in French-ness for the day, I am whipped off to a little cafe and fed snails.

Just for the record, they do not taste like chicken. I was told they are farmed especially for eating, however I absolutely stand by my assertion at the time, they do taste a little bit like a garden.

Oh! And did I mention that the waiter asked for my number? No?... The waiter asked for my number.

When I eventually curl up under my 5kg doona, I decide that this has been my favourite Paris day so far. I dream about the exciting adventure I have planned for tomorrow, the last day.