Homesickness and the Louvre

June 14, 2010

I’m feeling a little homesick today. I am exhausted from dealing with a language I cannot speak.  When I traveled in Spain I could speak, if not particularly well.  In Paris I have no words for things beyond bread and coffee.  I cannot strike up conversations and I find myself limited to smiles and pointing.  Most waiters, museum staff, hotel staff and anyone else who works in the tourist industry speaks English but I feel embarrassed to not have even a bit of token French to offer them.  I will use the phrase book to study and learn more basic things.  Anna’s French is good enough to handle most situations.

My time traveling in Spain last summer gave me an inflated image of my ability as a traveler because my Spanish was good enough to get by.  I wasn’t very articulate but I never felt the weight of wordlessness.  I could slip through the world and culture with the awkward charm of my mediocre Spanish.  I could talk to people, ask questions and have conversations.

My time in England was made easier because there was no question of language beyond a few varied bits of slang.  London was not much more foreign to me then any other large English speaking city.

Every city has it’s own feel and rhythm and in a way they are all similar.  Paris’s architecture is prettier then that of London but lacks the wealth of green parks that London has.  The streets vary between beautiful old architecture, to charming modern buildings, to rather ugly new shops.

It is a more expensive city then London and has a more languid pace.  London is full of sandwich shops and coffee shops with everything to go for a few pounds.  In Paris there really isn’t such a thing as a quick cheap meal.  The good restaurants are more then Anna and I can afford and the cheap sandwich places are overpriced and now very good.  Even the corner grocers are expensive, grouchy, and poorly stocked; at least in the area of Paris we have been staying.  We’ve found a super market where the groceries are affordable and bought some basics ones there.  We plan to save money by brining our own lunches. There’s no point wasting money on a bad pre-made sandwich.  I am sad  that I am not getting to try as much French food as I hoped to but the restaurants are just too expensive for students. At least espressos and croissants are affordable when you have them standing up at the bar.  The coffee here is incredible.

This morning we got up early this morning and had breakfast at the only open cafe nearby standing up at the bar.  We walked to the Louvre and arrived about twenty minutes before it opened.  We got in right when it opened and went to the ticket booths. Anna got her ticket for free because she was a citizen of a EU country and between the ages of 18-25.  I got mine free too because I’d been a resident student of a EU country for six months.

Going in the morning was a good idea.  We got to the Mona Lisa before the crowds.  There were so many barriers between us and it, a cord of ropes, a table, and a glass case it was a little hard to see.  I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be.  I enjoyed a few of the other Leonardo Da Vinchi paintings a little more since I could get close to them and see the details.  I liked St. Sebastian.  All of Leonardo’s people have such peaceful faces.

I burned out early as we cut through nearby galleries to see the Raft of the Medusa.  It was a painting worth seeing although I found it very unnerving that dying men could be painted in such a sensual way.  In art death and desire seem to be alarmingly similar.

We went to see the early pre-roman artifacts then we found a café.  The café in the museum was damn expensive for very little but the view was incredible.  A coffee made it all bearable and we went on.  We saw a room full of Leighton paintings.  He did a whole series in honor of a queen and her life.  It was impressive but very clearly a commission and political propaganda.

We saw the Venus De Milo, she was as lovely as the pictures would have you believe.  We saw the Etruscan, the Greek and Roman sculptures.  I was able to really appreciate that from the class on roman art I took last year.

We left after four hours when we were exhausted and the museum was starting to become crowded.  We had half decent sandwiches from a little stand connected to a shop and ate them in the park.  All morning it had threatened to rain and it began as we were walking back.  There is no smell in the world quite like warm rain on dry earth.

We pass countless tourists sheltering in doorways as we walked along huddling under our solitary umbrella.  We reached the Sainte Chapelle only to discover there was a long wait.  When we finally got in I realized the wait was solely to go through security.  The chapel is on the grounds of the Palace of Justice.  Actually buying our chapel tickets only took a moment.  Anna’s ticket was free but mine cost five euros.  Whatever got me into the Louvre free didn’t seem to apply there.

An English tour was staring just as we arrived so we joined it.  A very perky French girl led it with interesting English.   The chapel was once the private chapel o f a French king.  He had it set up so he could walk on a bridge from his rooms in the palace to the chapel.  The real reason to visit the chapel was the window.   They were on the top floor of the chapel and filled the entire room with an incredible colored light.  The chapel was also supposed to have once held a lot of holy relics, including the “crow of thorns.”  Most were lost in the revolution although Notre Dame has the crown now and a piece of the “true cross.”  I doubt anyone thinks the relics are real but they show them once a year anyway.

The tour was long and my feet hurt by the time it ended.  We walked partway back and paused at a cafe for drinks, and then we finished our limp home.  We got an electric kettle on the way because the hotel didn’t have one and we missed being able to make our own tea.

We got in, rested, walked briefly by the river, had a dinner in the room and collapsed after a good, if exhausting, day.

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About Policy Chick

I'm a first year Global Policies Masters student at the Lyndon B. Johnson LBJ School of Public Affairs
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