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!

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