07 July, 2008

The Musée du Louvre. Grand, ostentatious, overwhelming – it was everything I had expected it to be from my last visit (which must have been 10 years ago) and of course from what I had read. I knew I couldn’t “do” the whole museum in one go and even trying that would be a big mistake.

The first thing I saw was the same old pyramids and other Egyptian ruins. You see them in the Metropolitan in New York, you see them in London… you see them in Paris. I didn’t want to linger there one moment. I don’t contest their immense beauty and significance, but I don’t like the idea of seeing Egypt when I came to see Paris. For me, seeing it here is a reminder of an oppressive, colonial world. Just like the great palace was opened to the masses and turned into a museum for all to see, maybe some day these treasures will be available to a larger audience in a more egalitarian way.

So I was interested in the paintings primarily because I wanted a comparison with the contemporary art I had seen earlier. I also knew that one needs to be a little detached and ruthless about what to see and what not to see, otherwise it can be very tiring. I spent five hours there, pretending to be an expert art critic, picking out paintings I loved, paintings I would want if I could buy them. These were paintings that spoke to me, and that I could relate to – sometimes because of the subject and plot, sometimes because of the excellent technique. I stood looking at some of them for several minutes.

In the end I was exhausted, but I was full of awe at how much great art there was under this roof.

I left and went to the Michel neighborhood, to get a sandwich. Then I went back to my room. I should mention here that earlier in the day I was looking up the locations of Le Corbusier’s architecture in Paris and found, to my amazement, that the Ozenfant studio was a two-minute walk from here. I immediately set out with great excitement (this was before I visited the Louvre). It was delightful to see it, and yet there was a disappointment. For one, there was a sign that said “Private Property” and so I didn’t dare enter. Secondly, even though the famous corner window was spectacular, that and the rest of the architecture seemed fairly common and it didn’t seem like I was looking at something significant. I suppose that is what modern architecture is going for – for Corbu, the house is a “machine for living.” Also, its significance lies in the fact that it was innovative when first built.

In the evening I discovered online an itinerary prepared by an art school that brings students to paint in Paris. It gave me some new ideas of what all I could do, but above all it made me really want to visit the Montmartre hill, and see the artist community there, as well as the Basilique du Sacré Coeur.

The sun was setting on Paris and the lights were coming on. The area is a popular tourist spot, partly due to its religious significance. It is of course popular also because it has the Moulin Rouge and a street lined with sex shops. I was almost happy to note that photography was not allowed inside the Sacré Coeur – there are things I don’t like to photograph because photography might understate the effect they have on me, and thus be dishonest. In this case it would be hard to represent the peace and serenity in the atmosphere inside.

I spent the late evening in the Marais, sitting at a bar and writing (and sketching) in my journal. People from Paris go these places and start conversations with everyone present. There are introductions and questions. They were curious about what I was writing, and it always impresses people that I can speak English. I see a growing trend that it’s cool and sophisticated to know English, which is strange. I talked with a woman who had left her job and wanted to go and work in America, because the French are “very rigid in their standards and there are few opportunities to grow.” I spoke to a man Ismael and his sister Amina, and I commented that those were Muslim names, and they said that, yes, their parents are Muslim.

I missed the last Metro at 1am and had to take a taxi back home. But before I did that I walked in the deserted streets of Paris, and it seemed like it was all mine for that moment, and I got to know it intimately.

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