Wednesday 26th June
day twenty-six: 1.45pm – mesmerised by Raft of the Medusa
Up before seven for breakfast again (the hotel wouldn’t let us have a lie-in today) but went straight back to bed afterwards as we weren’t leaving until ten. Woke up to a wonderful text from Dad regarding where we were visiting today:
The Louvre. Where begin? Winged Victory of Samothrace, set wonderfully at top of staircase designed for it. Gericault’s sombre Raft of Medusa, a condemnation of how ruling class abandon the poor. Spot sail they wave at. Note black people on raft. See splashes of red in the gloom. Vermeer’s The Astronomer. The Rembrandts. The Mesopotamian Seals and Stele (engraved columns), Bosch’s Ship of Fools ie us and our society, and the Mona Lisa if you can get close. It is a robbers’ cave and a treasure chest. Wander and be amazed.
Shower. Bus. Was a bit disorientated having gone back to sleep and didn’t talk much – instead, I watched. Our bus drivers handed out macaroons on the way to the Louvre.
Street workers de-weeded beneath the plane trees. A girl stretched by the park fence after running. Posters for classical concerts were plastered over the walls: Vivaldi and Mozart, Rachmaninov and Rossini. An old man in a wheelchair played an accordion by the side of the road; I was a little sad and confused following some news I heard yesterday, but the sight of him brought a smile to my lips.
Blue skies. Don’t waste it. Sirens – a police boat glided down the river and an undercover care blared past; there are even police buses here. This is a loud city. One shop had dressed all of its window mannequins in the same outfit – are they so popular that they don’t even need to showcase their stock? There were adverts for the Tour de France going up too. A piece of graffiti on a wall read ‘Your luxury is our misery’. This world is changing.
We arrived at the Louvre and found our meeting point. Amy, Eleanor, Rosie, Alicia, Will and I decided to head into the museum, but were swiftly split up from each other. Amy and I had no idea where the others were, so decided to make our own way. She is an art student – primarily a portrait painter so we decided to head for the paintings.
We spent an hour or two in the Richelieu wing. I was reminded of excited days out to the national Gallery and the Tate with Dad, and talked about symbolism and intent to Amy, whilst she spoke of technique and brush strokes. As we ate lunch (which took a long time to find, but we both spoke a bit of French) I marvelled at the fact I’d never spoken to her four days previously.
More paintings in the Denon wing. We spied the Mona Lisa but didn’t bother pushing through to get to the front, instead focusing our attention on the enormous work opposite it. Found the Raft of Medusa which Dad mentioned in his text and stood, mesmerised, for longer than at any other painting. Wondered if that was because of its sheer brilliance, or because Dad had expressly mentioned it. Remembered the first time I saw Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm. Felt the same.
We found the Winged Victory of Samothrace and its staircase.
I didn’t realise until later that the photo I took of the crowd travelling down the staircase included a second Winged Victory, when you look at the woman’s pose.
We spent forty-five minutes studying as many works as possible in the largest and most beautiful room I’ve ever seen, and still felt there was more to view there. We had to remind ourselves to look at the ceilings as well as the walls. I kept studying the people.
One gallery told the story of the Queen of Florence, I think. The paintings all had Roman numerals next to them and I wondered aloud whether there was a specific order we were supposed to view them in. An older man answered me, “Oui.” He looked at me and said, “Parlez-vous francais?” I answered hesitantly, “Uh, un petit peu,” not sure where it would take me. He then proceeded to explain the room and the paintings within it – how they documented the entire life of the queen in chronological order – all in French. I started to tune in after a minute or so and, when i got a chance, translated back to Amy. He offered to tell us about the first painting in more detail. It was stunning, and so interesting, and amazing how much I found myself understanding. He asked us a little about where we were from and then bid us “Bonne journée.” We left in awe. I wish now I’d taken his photograph.
Spent some time outside in the square. Kept forgetting the famous pyramids behind us as we ate delicious pastries.
Went back in to meet the others but shopped a little first; bought a print for Mum, a photojournalistic book of Paris for Rosa and a poster for myself. Were told off for sitting down in the shopping centre. Found the others. To the bus.
A woman in purple heels and a silk scarf whooshed past us on a motorbike on the Champs-Élysées, and a guy on a road bike passes us wearing a Team Sky outfit. Excited for the Tour.
The workers at the Eiffel Tower were on strike: we had tickets to go up this evening, but it was still shut up. Disappointed as I was, I couldn’t help but be on their side. Instead, we headed up the Arc de Triomphe to take in first the view, and then the unbelievable sunset.
Cue lots of group photos with people I didn’t know less than a year ago. Amy earned the quote of the day award with the question, “Where’s the Arc de Triomphe?” – whilst she was standing on top of it! Alice photo-bombed our group shot. Laughed – so happy.
We went back down the countless steps – going up was genuinely painful – and made our way back to the bus, and then the hotel. I caught up with Harriet, which was lovely, and then we settled down for our last night in our cramped room.