Monday, 11 July 2005

Usually on these journal pages I have said that "we" did this or that; today there was no "we", as we had the entire day free to explore Paris on our own, and I didn't see anybody else in our group except when I briefly encountered Mike Costello as I was heading into the Louvre and he was heading out. So this page may not be representative of what everybody in the group did today; however, I suspect many of us covered some of the same ground in the last few days!

The Louvre

Like many of us, I suspect, I slept in this morning; then, as I mentioned, I headed to the Louvre, the national art museum housed in a former royal palace. The entrance is under the largest of the glass pyramids in the middle of the courtyard, designed by I. M. Pei and built, I think, as part of a collection of public works to celebrate the bicentennial of the Revolution in 1989. From the spacious entrance hall, three main wings branch out, with three or four levels on each accessible to the public.

Grand Galerie

It is difficult to convey a sense of the scale of this museum, which is one of the largest in the world. There are many large galleries, each full of paintings, sculptures, or artifacts; this is the Grande Galerie, the longest uninterrupted stretch, filled with Italian paintings from the 13th to 17th centuries. The long dimension of the palace is half a mile long; if you walked through each of the galleries on each of the floors on each of the wings, it would probably add up to five or six miles. By way of comparison, it "felt" about as big as the Deutsches Museum in Munich; when I was on loan to the Max Planck Institut for three months in 1994, I calculated that, adding up evenings and weekends, I probably spent the equivalent of a full 40-hour work week in that museum during my stay, and I might at least have glanced at all its galleries. I only had a few hours in the Louvre, so my visit was necessarily very cursory.

Facade of palace of Sargon II

The collection includes works as late as 1848, I think, and as old as 4500 BC or thereabouts, in the ancient Egyptian section. This is a small part of a set of pieces from the facade of the palace of Sargon II in Mesopotamia, dating to 700 BC.

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Even on a quickie unguided tour like mine, you can't help running into many famous works of art that you've probably seen numerous times in book and magazine illustrations; I'll just show pictures of a few of them here. This is the Winged Victory statue (about 200 BC) from the temple at Samothrace, where a syncretic mystery cult blended Greek mythology with local deities to invent a unique pantheon.

Venus de Milo

This is the Venus de Milo, from the late 2nd century BC. It is not completely certain that the statue represents Aphrodite, or Venus, though several lines of reasoning point to that identification; it was found on the Greek island of Melos, or Milo, whence the name.

Giotto's St. Francis

This is Giotto's late 13th century painting of St. Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata. Certain saints, including St. Francis, were said to have had marks on their bodies that corresponded to the wounds Christ received on the cross, whence the lines drawn from Jesus' hands, feet, and side to those of St. Francis. These "stigmata" were the sign of an especially close identification with Christ.

Liberty Leading the People

The section of French paintings includes some that are part of the particular cultural patrimony of France. In the foreground is Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People," a salute to the uprising of July 28, 1830. Think of our own "Spirit of 1776."

Coronation of Napoleon I

Here is David's painting of the imperial coronation of Napoleon in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, in the presence of Pope Pius VII. Note that Napoleon has taken the crown from the Pope's hands and is placing it on his own head, signifying that his power as Emperor was from his own conquests, not from the church.

Mona Lisa room

Of course the "crown jewel" of the Louvre's collections, as far as many visitors are concerned, is the Mona Lisa, or as the French say "La Joconde." This painting was in Leonardo da Vinci's luggage when he came to live in Amboise (which we visited last Thursday) at the end of his life, which is why it is in a French museum rather than an Italian one! I didn't even try to fight my way through this crowd to get closer to the painting; you can see it alone on the wall to the right of this photo. I wonder if there would have been a crush like this around the holy relics at some of the sites we've visited, during the heyday of religious pilgrimages...

Place de la Concorde

After leaving the Louvre, I ended the day by walking down the Avenue des Champs Élysées. You'll note that this webpage is much more terse than the previous ones; mainly that's because I didn't have a guide today. Some of our folks felt that guided tours were too much of a "data dump," with dates and names (Henry II this, 1748 that) coming in a steady rain; but a good guide can tell lots of interesting stories about a place, and I have tried to relay these to you on these pages. One question that I asked one of our guides in Paris at some point was, exactly what does the name of this street mean? Well, "champ" is "field" in French, like Italian "campo," so this is the Avenue of the Elysian Fields, which was a name for Paradise in Greek mythology. I've wondered about that for years... The Avenue stretches from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. Here is the former, with barriers and a reviewing stand set up near the Egyptian obelisk for the Bastille Day festivities that will occur on Thursday (July 14). The Place was created in 1748 for a statue of Louis XV; during the Revolution the royal statue was taken down, and over a thousand heads, royal and otherwise, were taken down by the guillotine here as well.

Le Lido de Paris

As I walked west along the Champs Élysées, I passed the Lido cabaret, where a bunch of our group went to see a show a couple of nights ago. It's one of the two major cabaret theaters in Paris; the Moulin Rouge ("Red Windmill") is probably more famous, but its neighborhood, the Place Pigalle, is a rather rattier location--think Times Square before it was Disneyfied--so they chose the Lido. (It's named after a beach islet we visited in Venice during the first tour six years ago, by the way.) Tonight many of us are going back to the Opéra Garnier, which we toured yesterday, for a ballet; that's show folk for you!

Arc de Triomphe

At the other end of the Champs Élysées is Place Charles de Gaulle, also referred to as Place de l'Etoile; "etoile" means "star," and the name refers to twelve streets that radiate from here in a colossal roundabout. In the center is the Arc de Triomphe, which celebrates Napoleon's military victories; the names of places where he won battles are inscribed on the inside of the legs of the arch.

As I reached the end of my walk, the sun was heading down in the west, where we will be going tomorrow as we fly home (except for the significant number who are extending their vacations after the tour!). If you asked different people in our group what their favorite stops were, you'd probably get a lot of different answers. One person to whom I spoke mentioned our brief informal concert at the cloister of Les Jacobins in Toulouse; there wasn't a large audience, but the acoustics were marvelous. (Note to the MBCC Master Plan committee: we'd like to talk to you after we return about ripping out all the carpet in the sanctuary.) For most of us, though, our favorite memories during this tour will be due to the people we encountered, whether it was the warm welcomes we received in the small towns of Le Bugue and Onzain, or the faith of the pilgrims in Montserrat, or the sense of continuity across dozens of generations in Notre Dame de Paris. Yesterday at Notre Dame, Father Perry told us that the French have a peculiar expression to describe the relationship between France and the U.S.; it translates literally to "cow love," and he was at a loss to explain why that phrase was used, but it refers to the simultaneous affection and exasperation that people in each country often feel toward the other, and I suspect that it might also be applied to the relationship between Spain and the U.S. lately. There will always be people, on both sides of the Atlantic, who look for an excuse to have a grievance against the other nation, and my neighbor down the street is unlikely to peel the "Boycott France" bumper sticker off his SUV anytime soon; but I didn't encounter a dime's worth of that kind of attitude in any of the places we visited on this trip, and I have to conclude that good faith and shared values (Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood sound pretty good in any language) knit us together more tightly than any of the forces that push us apart. Sharing music across the Atlantic, or across the Catholic/Protestant divide, or across any other boundary, can only confirm that unity. And isn't that the motto of the United Church of Christ, our denomination: "That they may all be one"?

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new 11 July 2005