It’s not been long enough, I hear you cry. And yet 72 hours is ample time when you’re old enough know what you want and what you don’t want from life. Okay – so you might blur the edges a little on occasion, but there comes an age when you’re quick enough to recognise what you like and what you don’t.
And so it was with Paris. The distaste I’ve been carrying around for years has been replaced by a healthy respect. And while I doubt very much if I could live there, there are elements of the city that are wonderful. The huge expanses of green areas such as Jardin des Tuileries where you can borrow a sun chair (for free) and sit next to the fountain contemplating the meaning of life or simply debating whether or not to have an ice-cream. Paris seems to be in a constant state of thought. There’s a seriousness about the place that implies lots of deep thinking. It’s not pessimistic. It’s not depressive. It’s not moody. It’s more like a sobriety that speaks of sombre intent. As if the weight of the world rests on its shoulders. And given such responsibility (quite possibly a figment of my imagination) Jardin des Tuileries is a welcome respite. It’s a heady place where life-changing decisions might come easy and the mania of city living is kept at bay. I was particularly impressed with the sculptures, the lily ponds, and the carousel and would highly recommend it as a place to pass an hour or three for some excellent people watching.
I was less impressed with the queues, long lines of people snaking towards the entrance to anywhere that is listed in the guidebooks. I’ve long since lost what patience is needed to wait in line for anything other than something that’s on my bucket list. But I braved the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. I’d been told that it was distinctly underwhelming, and I needed to see for myself. The glass pyramid that is now an entryway and billed as one of the city’s best-loved modern landmarks, didn’t quite do it for me. (Mind you, it is impressive how it inverts.) The juxtaposition of new and old is something I’ve never quite got my head around, which is strange for someone who counts teens and nonagenarians amongst her friends.
Anyway, the queue moved quickly and in about 30 minutes we were inside, alongside thousands of others. And in sharp contrast to the orderly lines outside, the Mona Lisa herself looked calmly down on sheer bedlam. It was a free for all. A mêlée, as the French might say. Jostling, pushing, heaving, elbowing, the most improper behaviour imaginable – it was all visible. And what was everyone doing? Taking selfies. I ask you. I don’t think I saw one person, other than an intense 12-year-old stop and actually look at the painting itself.
Lisa Gherardini Giocondo (did you know that was her real name?) was about 25 when she posed for Leonardo, at the bequest (and expense) of her husband. The painting began its life as My Lady Lisa (Mia Donna Lisa) and was soon abridged to Monna Lisa before the typo was introduced making it the Mona Lisa that six million or so people visit every year. The painting is priceless so it’s not insured! It was stolen back in 1911, when Vincenzo Peruggia, a museum employee, smuggled it out under his smock. She turned up two years later when he tried to sell the painting in Florence. She’s sweet. I’m glad I got to see her up close and personal. But my living room can live without the gal.
I was more impressed with The Winged Victory of Samothrace as viewing was a sight more comfortable. And I was very taken with the ceilings. But truth be told, there were far too many people in the building for it to be enjoyable. Perhaps if I had a background in art history, or was an artist or a sculptor myself, I might have been able to quell the rising panic that such crowds induce. But I haven’t and I’m not. I am glad I went though. Now I no longer have to wonder and as I had no great expectations to begin with, I wasn’t disappointed. Just a tad underwhelmed.