I could have spent a month in The Louvre. Well, the reality is I could have decided to move in and no-one would be the wiser. Sitting on almost 100 acres, the Louvre was a whopping 650,000 feet and housed three wings worth of paintings, sculptures, and other one-of-a-kind pieces. I’m pretty sure you could play hide and seek in the Sully wing never to be found again.
According to the Louvre’s official website, it was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century, only to later become the home of royalty such as King Louis XIV. For as monumental and breathtaking as the buildings were, what was more mind-boggling was that the museum also housed precious artifacts deep underground.
My Parisian friend and hostess, Clarisse, had brought me to the Louvre on my first day in the city. We were doing the Reader’s Digest tour and according to her, this was the best way for me to determine what I wanted to see. We spent most of the day on the subway racing from one historical landmark to another. I hadn’t decided much after my Paris-in-a-Day experience except that I was dying to go back to the Louvre.
It was an undeniable urge; I had to see the art in person that I had studied in books for years. It would be on a drizzly Sunday morning when I would begin my art expedition.
I still wasn’t adept at navigating my way through Paris’s subways so Clarisse offered to accompany me to the palace. As we walked through the archways to the courtyard, I had flashbulb memories of sitting in a theater, watching The DaVinci Code, mesmerized by the pyramids of the Louvre. I remembered pondering over my popcorn what it would be like to walk the halls of this infamous museum and if I would ever get to see it in person.
Revisiting these feelings, I couldn’t help but break into a trot as we neared the entrance. I was a kid at the gates of Disneyland, anxious to experience the happiest place on earth. Clarisse laughed at my enthusiasm and said her goodbyes after directing me to the line.
I waited impatiently to have my bag searched and to take my turn through the metal detector. After the formalities, I joined a congregation of art lovers. People whispered about some of the famous pieces housed within the walls such as The Mona Lisa. While this was on my list of must-see artwork, I was more concerned with devising a game plan to see all of the exhibits. I had heard it was impossible, but was going to try my darndest to make it happen.
As I descended down the escalator, I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer size and architectural design of the museum. I felt like I was looking into a layout for one of the Las Vegas hotel shopping centers; it was a piece of artwork in itself. High vaulted ceilings and skylights framed the two-story bookstore and numerous cafes and restaurants that surrounded the escalators. Three passageways standing four stories tall led you to your choice of exhibition wings, each holding a different era of history to view. The Louvre presented a larger than life labyrinth to navigate through, allowing the patron pick their own path of enlightenment. And while there was great freedom in being able to choose one’s journey, the pressure lay in deciding where to start.
I decided to begin my viewing pleasure in the Denon exhibit. This was the wing that housed Winged Victory, The Mona Lisa, and Venus De Milo. I had a map to guide me to their individual chambers but I soon stuffed it in my purse. There was so much beauty surrounding me I didn’t have enough breath to be taken away.
While there were so many types of artwork to take in, I was drawn to the marble statues strewn throughout the hallways. I had spent many years studying the intricacy of these pieces and knew all about their history. What hadn’t been added to the footnotes was the emotions evoked from standing before these masterpieces, especially when they were hit by natural light. Their features became so lifelike, I expected Diana to draw her bow any moment and chase after her glittery prize stag.
After waiting in a long line to view the Venus de Milo in the basement, it became very evident to me that as beautiful as she was, she was meant to be viewed in a much different setting. I felt bad for the infamous woman. She was trapped in a world of flashbulb photography and loud, pushy tourists. People were more interested in getting a photo of themselves posing in front of her than they were marveling at her beauty. Any onlooker attempting to drink in her majestic frame was soon pushed aside by another looking for their Kodak moment. As grateful as I was to have seen her in person, I was more interested in spending time in the quiet atrium exhibits.
At some point in the process of trying to get to The Mona Lisa, I made a wrong turn and pattered up a series of stairs. I didn’t mind getting lost, but it was unnerving to have no idea where in the exhibit I was. I turned myself around in circles, searching for a sign or directory. Then I saw her.
I don’t know why I expected Winged Victory to be tucked away in a corner of the museum much like her sister statue, Venus, but there she lay at the base of the stairwell. Poised proudly high above the onlookers, her wings glistened. I’d often driven past the remake of her sitting outside of Ceaser’s Palace, but the reality was much more powerful than any copy ever could be.
I stood at the top of the staircase, staring uncontrollably. If I looked at her long enough, the fabric shrouding her body seemed to rustle in a non-existent breeze. I surveyed the other museum-goers hoping someone else saw what I saw. Was this what art was all about? Creating a magical moment that brought the unmoving to life? Or had I been here too long? I walked around her to the adjacent archway, wondering if Night at the Museum was based on more than fiction.
Before long the intercom buzzed with announcements. The museum was closing and it was time for all patrons to make their way to the nearest exit. I was saddened and surprised by this news. I hadn’t realized time has passed so quickly. I unfolded the previously disregarded map to see how much I had achieved that day: only a third of the Denon exhibit. Clearly I had underestimated the lure of each individual painting. I looked around to see which direction the sea of people were headed in without receiving much indication of an exit. I now had to navigate my way out of here. Heading in the opposite direction of the other tourists, I slowly folded the map and stuffed it to the bottom of my bag. No-one had clarified how long I had to get out of here. I decided to play dumb and enjoy the walk.
I picked another archway and moseyed down to the corridor. I had no idea if I was actually headed in the right direction but I didn’t particularly care. I could hear the artwork beckoning to me, asking me to peer into their world. I was more than happy to play the dumb American if necessary. Anytime I spotted a security guard I ducked into a different hallway, falling deeper down the rabbit hole and delighted by my findings. This tactic kept me in the museum an additional half-hour wandering about. It wasn’t until Clarisse called me that I resolved to make my way out.
She met me outside at the main pyramid entrance, once again amused by the spectacle I made of myself. “So Hilary,” she asked as I hopped down from the fountain ledge, “how was your day?”
I smiled at her as we walked to the subway. “As it turns out, Clarisse, one day is not enough. I will have to come back tomorrow.” She nodded in agreement, filling me in on her day. As much as I tried to focus on what she was saying, my mind was lost back in the corridors of the Denon exhibit.
As we made our way out of the courtyard, I glanced behind me once more. What beautiful things would I see tomorrow? Would I finally manage to make it to Mona Lisa’s hall? Would I even get to any of the other wings of the museum? I couldn’t wait to find out.