Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 24 - Musee de l'Orangerie; Les Arts Decoratifs; Musee du Louvre; Dinner at Le Jules Verne

Thursday 19th April 2012
Right. We’re quite determined not to let today drift away like yesterday.  We’re up bright and early and out the door at 10:20 or thereabouts;  Another walk across the Seine to pick up the no 24 bus and alight further along at Pont du Caroussel.  The Louvre is right in front of us, an imposing and elaborate façade. We stop to play tourist extracting the camera from “our” manbag.  Yes, hubby has found the manbag sufficiently useful for it to graduate from being my bag that he is carrying, to being “our manbag”.  I’m waiting for the day when he’s prepared to say it is his.
As we approach the gateway into the Louvre forecourt, we are approached by dark young women bearing clipboards.  As we have been forewarned about the various scams going on the streets of the city, now that we see these predictable villains it is actually quite amusing.  Just another of the city sights of Paris.  After a few moments I realize I’m wearing a beaming smile and this is not an appropriate Parisian attitude. I try to adopt the appropriately discouraging scowl but am not actually successful and am just getting more amused by the second.  Not to worry. My amused and scornful expression seems to have served just as well as anger and resentment.  We pass through the first wave assault unscathed and pass through the huge gateway arches into the central courtyard where the entrance is located.
Here we find a new wave of greeters.  Africans. At least this is what they have been referred to as at the show last night.  These enterprising fellows congregate in flocks who greet you enthusiastically as you enter the square, hawking little Eiffel tower souvenirs which they carry like musical instruments strung onto loops of wire. The loops of souvenirs are jingle jangled to get your attention: three of the smaller size for a euro. If you prefer to look not quite so much of a cheapskate to the recipients at home, you could opt for the bigger ones that are three for 5 euros.  Visiting the Louvre is getting more amusing by the minute.  Beyond the percussion section there’s a couple of guys with a bucket full of bottles of water. One euro each.  Pretty good deal really.  There’s the hat trick.  I have to say I was disappointed not to have someone try the ring trick, but three of the predicted scam traps in a small area was a reasonable average for the morning’s Parisian experiences :o)
There is a moderate queue standing outside the Louvre but it’s a fine day at last and we and we suspect other people are more in the mood to do the outdoor stuff while the weather is good. We decide to walk down through the Tuileries to the Musee de L’Orangerie and see what is doing there.
The start of the gardens is marked by another large entrance archway where some horses and stray gold leaf have been employed artfully.
The Tuileries is a formal garden in a French style.. well I think of it as French anyway.  Basically long rows of heavily hedged trees and a central path of coarse sand.  It’s not a flower garden though there are sections where there flower beds. Short trees covered in pinky-purple flowers attract our attention.  Judas Trees?  We had a baby one in our garden until our redevelopment project. These specimens in the Tuileries are looking beautiful and I point out what they are to hubby. The only other place I've seen large specimens is in far western NSW. Judas Trees are very drought tolerant.

The major feature of the Tuileries is a long avenue for strolling, the sensual grind of course sand beneath your feet. clipped horse chestnut trees line your way, with a beautiful spring display of flower candelabras
Here and there are found statues.  I particularly liked the fat chick in the buff hiding discretely in a nearby green room. Her hips and bottom are large. Her breasts are large, are arms quite muscular. Her head is small.  Too small.  Perhaps simply exposing the sculptors biases.
There are several cafes in the Tuileries tucked away behind a large expanse of tables under flowering horse chestnut trees.  On a warmer day they would be a lovely spot to sit and people watch.  For those on the go there are a couple other vendors also. At this time of the day we fall into the latter category.  We’ve skipped brekkie so we stop at Paul’s to sample. Ever health conscious, this is achieved by the selection of a Pain au chocolate and an apple turnover.  Of course the apple turnover was named some fancy French terminology, but it was an apple turnover.  A very good apple turnover with not too sweet apple and delicate flaky pastry.
We arrive down at the Musee de L’Orangerie. From here in the gardens we cannot see a queue.  We wander up the stairs past the Reclinging Figure by Henry Moore and around the building looking for the entrance. Past a man who has put a chair in a small sun trap at the end of the building and is soaking up the warmth of the rays… and another who has a chair in a quiet spot and is intent on the phone.   There’s a small queue, nothing alarming. There’s also a priority entrance line with no queue where we can use our museum pass so that is all going very well. The first attraction is the Nymphae series by Monet the entrance to which is in front of you.  We’ve seen some examples of Monet’s waterlilies in Galleries at home. Pppffff!! I say in my best Parisian.  The ones at home must be the rejects.  Here at the L’Orangerie are two oval rooms both seemingly purpose built to house these particular masterpieces.  MASTERPIECES. We walk through a doorway and into the centre of a pond.  It is quieter here than in the sacred spaces of Sainte Chapelle. Noone speaks. They mostly sit in the centre of the pond where a bespoke oval bank sits inviting you to ponder. Golden reflections; dark shadows; clouds in a blue sky; lily pads and flowers.
Through a doorway we breathe deep as we step into a larger pond.  Pendulus leaves dangle to water caressing clouds; A frond passes over the clouds to tickle lily pads. I can almost see the tendrils swaying ever so slightly in a gentle zephyr.  The silence deepens. We join in reverent contemplation with the congregation.  We emerge and only then can we turn to each other at first speechless.  It needs no words, but I exclaim them in any case.  Oh my god. So THAT is Monet’s waterlilies!  Dear reader: disregard what you may have seen in travelling exhibitions or local collections. If you haven’t been to the Musee de L’Orangerie you have not seen Monet’s waterlilies!
Having started with a high we wander downstairs to check out what else is displayed here.  There’s nothing else than can compete, though I note a couple of artists to look up later… Maurice Utrillo and Henri-Edmond Cross… and I rather enjoyed a pastel by Henri Fantin-Latour called Les Filles du Rhin and another by Degas.  We wander into a darkened area that is a temporary exhibition about Debussy.  As I enter I over hear a nasal twang: “I thought Debussy was a composer.”  Filled with a thousand overwhelming sites over the past weeks, and finding that searching for English versions of the information displayed is rather tedious, my brain rebels at the suggestion of any really detailed consideration of what the exhibition is trying to convey. I walk out with some sort of vague feeling that Debussy was some how or other in the picture in terms of the evolution of art nouveau…we’re nearly in the clear when I notice that the exhibition includes one of, or should that be “the” Japanese wave. If you put me on a rack in the tower I would not be able to tell you the artist or the name, but it’s a very famous wave image.. I go back in to have a closer look.  I peer closely.  There seems to be a strange checked pattern all over everything.  What the?  The artifacts in this area of the exhibition, focusing on the art nouveau side of things apparently, have been positioned on a raised dias which curves and flows around the wall.  An angular display would just be wrong of course. However to provide an economical means of protecting the pieces from the hoards they have strung a tight mesh from floor to ceiling so you can’t really see the object as you would like.  We’re in and out of Musee de Orangerie in 40 minutes.
A brief consultation on strategy results in a decision to head to greener pastures: specifically we shall pay a visit to celebrate the birthday of that nattily green clad pachyderm – Babar.   Le Arts Decoratifs is located somewhere along Rue de Rivoli, so we will head across there, and wander down the rue towards the Louvre and see how we go. As we leave the Tuileries we need to climb up a flight of stairs which provides a lovely angle on the gardens nearby and views across to the Eiffel Tower.
Rue de Rivoli had escaped my consciousness in terms of visitor sights but they mentioned it at the show the other night as some sort of shopping avenue.  We find that it is quite upmarket with a swanky hotel, eateries, fashion outlets and the occasional souvenir store. Hubby cracks up as we pass one of the eateries.  “haha did you see that waiter?  He’s exactly as described in the show.. haha”.  How to Become Parisian in One Hour has provided an additional prism through which to interpret our experiences.  We continue along and note that up one of the side streets we look up towards the Place Vendome is a column much like the roman columns that we saw plaster versions of in the V &A. The resemblance is not surprising as the Vendome column is a victory column erected by Napolean and modeled after the Trajan victory column in Rome.
In due course we come to the entrance to Les Arts Decoratifs, wave our Museum Pass and wander in armed with the leaflet on the Babar exhibition and a map.  The museum is located in a section of the Louvre and can be accessed from the Rue de Rivoli or from the large forecourt area where you also gain access to the Musee du Louvre. It appears to be a French version of the V&A. From the brief exploration we did other than the Babar exhibition, it also appears to be not very accessible to the non-French speaker for purposes other than to wander about and look at a range of high quality objects.  We find our way to the Babar exhibition and watch an interesting little video of an interview with the author/illustrator or rather, one of the author illustrators.  Babar was conceived by this elderly man’s mother, and then his father, who was an artist, picked Babar up and ran with him, passing the book to his brothers. Happily the family were publishers and of course Babar has been loved the world over ever since, including by me, obviously. The original author died very young. TB was the villain and it’s victim in this case only 37 years old. Fast forward and in his early adulthood one of the little boys whose parents had conceived the books decided to become an artist himself. Where better to start than with Babar.  He has been documenting the adventures of Babar and his family ever since.
Besides the video there are Babar artifacts. Toys (including an awesome Babar railway set that would be great for the kids about 6 years or under), original art works and design pages for the various books. Most information is in French.  There’s a little information in English on the leaflet. I have enjoyed learning a bit more about Babar, but the exhibition doesn’t take long at all and we’re emerging back into the Tuileries after half an hour forgetting to go by the gift shop and see what Babar merchandise they might have on sale.  Oops. Perhaps just as well as there is limited space remaining in our luggage for souvenirs and what is left is reserved for some specific things we need to look for back in England.
It’s 1.20 when we emerge back into the Tuileries where there are a lot of children playing.  Time for a quick look at the Musee du Louvre.  There is only a fairly short queue lining up but again we can use the priority queue and skip ahead to the front of the line. At this point you need to merge with the queue to go through security. This is just a bag search and a screening thingy you walk through. A young Asian girl is taking photographs of the glass pyramid and the view across to the façade of the palace.  Down a couple of flights of escalator and we’re in the hub of the museum examining our map deciding what to see.  Hubby expresses a view that I rather suspect is shared by most visitors.  You can’t visit the Musee du Louvre without seeing the Mona Lisa.  It would be hard to get less interested in the Mona Lisa than I am but I am rather curious to see the crowds of people who assemble to worship at this small, but infinitely famous painting. 
A bit of a false start as we head to the wrong escalator, but in due course we find our way up a marble staircase of imposing proportions, filled with light and minimal decoration into the Denon wing. I make a spectacle of myself as alone among visitors I stop to capture the scene. Here we find wall after wall of masterpieces that I do not recognize but which are clearly magnificently executed.  We miss having a human guide. We’ve been spoiled by our London Walks tours of the London instutions.  We have opted not to get the audio guide as we are just not in the mood for it. We both struggle with audio guides everything seems tedious when presented in that format.
Looking at the map, we have to do a reasonable tour of the galleries in this wing to get to where we are going.  There is one stand out painting for me in our Louvre wanderings. I stop dead in front of magnificent painting of a young girl clearly about to be executed.  The emotion captured in her expression and posture and the luster of her beautiful complexion and hair convey better than anything else I’ve seen or heard, the youth and tragedy of the event. Towards the edge of the painting a woman is prostrate in grief; the axeman awaits.  I look for a label:  The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. This painting was formerly in the National Gallery in London, but was apparently at one stage declared destroyed.  Clearly someone has managed to restore it.  No explanation is provided for what it is doing in the Louvre today. I add an underline to my existing mental note that we must visit the National Gallery next time we’re in London.. and take the London walk to do so.
Fine as the multitude of art works are, they are easily matched by the space in which they are displayed.  Fine corridors and large rooms with elaborately decorated ceilings.  It’s hard to conceive of the skill that must be required to achieve such effects.  Stucco statues abound.  Beautifully painted ceilings which to my eye seem more technically proficient than the Verrio ceilings we’ve seen elsewhere.  The setting is truly a star of the show in it’s own right.  
We have been following signage to the Mona Lisa.  Distracted by the sights around us we overshoot a turn.. Double back and finally there is a steady stream of people coming in the opposite direction.  We must be getting close.  Our last sign indicates that the Mona Lisa and the… hmm.. the feast of something or other… (I guess that betrays my level of interest in that one).. are in the same room.  Just into this doorway.  And there it is. There is the pack.  We stand to the back and can see a good deal of the painting.. if we could be bothered.  Hubby makes the predictable comment about how small the painting seems.  It is dwarfed by the setting.  I move away to get an overall shot of the room.  Is there a prohibition on photographs?  You certainly wouldn’t think so in the Mona Lisa room.  We have a little chuckle at the mania on display before us.  A mania I don’t expect I will ever understand. 
OK.  That’s done. What next?  How about a comfort stop and remove some thermals. I’ve dressed for the weather yesterday and today is warmer. I’m dying in this get up.  I locate the ladie’s toilets and woah.. There’s a bigger queue here than to get in to the musee!  I’ll just have to suffer.
Lets go to the medieval section and see the remains of the original fortifications.  We need to return to the hub and head across to the other wing. Map is hard to interpret. We ask for directions when we’ve clearly gone the wrong way.  Entering this other section away from the hub we come to more bathroom facilities.  Maybe here.. woah.. even longer queues here than in the hub.  No, I don’t think I need to queue.
The ramparts. For some of the way there is a steady stream of visitors.  It’s pretty awesome. We’re amazed that it survives in such an intact state.  The further we go into the medieval section the fewer people follow and eventually we find ourselves alone in a dark corner.  Right she says.  Hold this. I’m going to just duck behind this thick column and remove a layer.  This is just completed and we’re organized when a new group of people enter.  Phew. But I’m much more comfortable now. Thank goodness.
We’ve really enjoyed the medieval section and it inspires me to have a brief look at the history of the Louvre galleries that we passed on our way in.  This is well worth a look and contains a series of topographical wall mounted models showing how the Louvre and the Tuileries looked at various key points in history.
We’re done with the Louvre for a first reccie. It’s 2.55 when we emerge so about an hour and a half has been spent exploring in the Louvre. We need some lunch and we have a late dinner reservation tonight that we want to be fresh for, so we head home via the Ble Sucre boulangerie/patisserie for a rest and journaling.
It is 8:20 when we re-emerge and head for the no 87 bus to Champ du Mars from the bus stop up on Rue de Lyon near Bastille. Night is falling as we arrive at the Tour Eiffel bang on 9 oclock and admire the show as the tower “goes off”.  On the hour for 5 minutes the golden lit tower sparkles with an additional layer of white lights. It is simply spectacular.  The bus stop is close by the tower. Much closer than I expected.  The walk feels even closer as all the way we marvel at the marvelous landmark that has come to symbolize the city of love and lights.
The entry to Le Jules Verne is at clearly marked.  As we climb the few stairs we are greeted by a team of friendly, English speaking staff who are clearly expecting us and know who we are.  We are escorted up to the restaurant in the lift and again greeted by a team of friendly and courteous people.  We booked a fair while ago and have been allocated a window seat.  Fantastic!   
The structure of the tower passes across the window enough to really feel where you are, but not such that it significantly blocks our view.  The tower really feels like a presence in our dining.  The view across Paris to the Trocadero and the Arc de Triomphe twinkles.  I suggest that this would be an awesome place to propose to someone.  “yeah. If you want them to ignore you all night to stare at the view.”  He’s right. We both can’t take our eyes of the view. Off the steel beams that make up the tower.
Our maitre d is brilliant. He’s friendly and shares a joke with us. We feel perfectly comfortable.  Our first tasty delicacy is a little bowl of warm cheese puffs. Tender and delectable. We order or meals and drinks.  Disappoint the sommelier. Hubby will have a beer thanks 1664.  He enjoys it. Of course. He hasn’t had a dud beer in the whole trip.  I order.. you ‘ll never guess what I choose.  Still water?  Of course.
You are not deprived of food at Le Jules Verne.  Next delivery is a basket of crusty bread. Too crusty for my taste, but hubby enjoys it.  An appetizer follows.  The description is rattled off more quickly than my ability to retain it, but it was something or other marmalade.  Basically it was like a sort of avocado mousse, with fresh green peas, sitting on a layer of orange puree and topped with some sort of foam and sprinkled with nuts and tiny, perfectly cubed croutons. Delicious.
I have an uncanny knack of choosing the most expensive things and it does not fail me now in my choice of Entrée.  Roasted Dublin Bay prawns (ie Langoustines / Scampi), truffled macedoine and coral dressing. Perfect. These little crustaceans are usually ruined. These were perfectly cooked. Perfectly. Tender, tasty and delicious. Good choice. They tasted even better because I had not noticed they cost 88 Euros!  Hubby started with Crab claws and gold caviar, marinated crunchy turnips.  So far we are even.
At 10pm the tower “goes off” and the lights flicker and sparkle creating fantastic light and shadow show on the walls of the restaurant.  Le Jules Verne is a special place to dine at night. Very special.
What am I up against in the main course?  Hubby has opted for Pan-seared beef tournedos, fresh duck fois gras, souffleed potatoes, Perigueux sauce.  He loves it. It comes with potatoes that have been made to bubble out into little potato balloons.
I have tried to steal hubby’s usual strategy by ordering the duck.  This time it’s Duckling fricassee, buttered cabbage reduction with cider. It’s delicious but very very rich and a very large serving.  More than I can eat all at once, which provides a windfall for hubby.
We’re obliged to play the decider.  Hubby’s choice blows me out of the water.  He’s trying a new approach too and has choses Wild strawberry and mango contemporary vacherin.  I have to say it’s what I wanted to order but I figured someone had to try the Fully chocolate soufflé.  The soufflé was very chocolately. Very light. Very nice.  Hubby’s contemporary vacherin was superb. A clear winner.
It’s beyond 11 oclock when we tear ourselves away, claim our checked coats and offer a sincere merci for the complimentary pack of madeleines and a fabulous evening out.  We have a laugh in the lift with a group of North American’s who have invited us to hop in their already crowded lift.  A couple of us don’t like heights.  We give mutual exclamations of satisfaction that the number of people is great because we can’t see that we’re up in the air.  The lift has a set up where you can see all around and below you very well.  Not my style. Makes my skin crawl. I don’t like heights.
We are out on the street.  How to get home. Too late for the bus back the way we came. We wander around and along the streets looking for a taxi.  Cabs showing a red, not for hire, light are plentiful.  We reach a taxi rank and decide perhaps we should wait there.  Cab drivers in red cabs passing by peer at us intently as they pass, but no sight of a cab turning up.  Green cabs. We come to a little neighbourhood bistro which has patrons gradually filtering out. A couple of them have green cabs pull up and they hop in.  Hmm. We really need to ring for a cab.  Hubby wanders over to ask at the bistrot about it and they tell him to in their best Parisian to wait at the taxi rank.  A cab will see them and stop there.  We wait a while. Our heads full of the impossibility of getting a cab in Paris (from the tutorial in the show the other night as to how to behave like a Parisian when the 5th cab doesn’t stop)… we’re not feeling very smug or well prepared just at the moment.  After a while we decide we will start to walk.  We've not gone far when hubby crosses the road to check out the routes on another bus stop.  I begin to suspect he’s becoming obsessed with bus travel.  And then a miracle.  A green light cab.  Hubby calls me over from the other side of the road.  At 1 AM and thirteen euros later we’re walking in through a total of four locked doors on a bit of a high.  That was a lucky escape from a long walk.  As we travelled past the Tuileries we see one of the couples we’d been joking with in the lift.  The woman is in high heels. She looks very foot sore and is limping slightly. They’ve walked a long way. Ouch.  Of course we realize now that we should have had the restaurant call us a cab.  Hubby saw the signs in the restaurant but being the eternal optimist hadn’t accepted that we couldn’t necessarily just pick up a cab when we’d finished enjoying a walk around.  We just weren’t thinking when we were leaving.  Despite the issues getting home we had a great night.  Dining at Le Jules Verne was a wonderful way to experience the Eiffel Tower.. but it is pricey. Our bill including a couple of beers and me on water was slightly more than 400 Euros.
Getting home so late has a distinct advantage when I realise that it is now the 20th April in Sydney and a civilised time in the morning.  I spend about an hour talking to mum and wishing her a happy birthday. 76 today. Lights out at 2.20 for me 2.40 for Hubby.

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