The changeable Paris skies were blue when we boarded the metro to the Louvre. We’d been told that if we only spent thirty seconds looking at each object in this renowned art museum, it would take us nine months. We didn’t have nine months, but we were determined to do our best.
Built 800 years ago as a fortress against invading barbarians, the Louvre is now enormous. In it are housed the world’s finest paintings, sculpture, and treasures from every country and every time period. Walls are covered with iconic works… the Mona Lisa being only one… and with bronze and marble sculpture of breathtaking beauty. There was so much to see and absorb, but what most caught my attention was an alabaster bust carved by Fillipini. Displayed in a glass case, the young woman looked serenely at the world, a delicate lace ruff carved about her throat, her head slightly tilted, her lips half curved in a smile. Other statues were all around me but their beauty was a cold elegance whereas she seemed alive. Any moment, I thought, this alabaster would change to flesh and bone. Any moment now she would open her eyes and speak to me. What would she say, this fair young creature of a far away time? I never would know…
What would she be like?
Could we have walked together
On warm, summer days?
After lunch our group headed in different directions, and Mike and I made our way toward Notre Dame. The clouds scudded above bringing drops of rain, but the sun was bright again when we reached the great cathedral with its gargoyles and its many statues. How different, I thought, was this from Gaudi’s vision. The interior of Notre Dame was dark, silent, old. Listening, I could almost hear the ghosts whispering to each other: We were alive, once, like you… we loved and strove with life. Who are you, strange people who disturb our sleep? Here was a place where the imagination surely could take wing. Perhaps, I thought, even the spirit of Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo still leaps from gargoyle to gargoyle as he rings the bells!
We emerged from Notre Dame in need of nourishment and found refuge in a crowded café. There we were served by a friendly young waiter who told us he had been married only two years (“ What is this you say? You have been married fifty years? Mais, c’est magnifique, ca!”) and had a baby boy one year old. Refreshed, we wondered along the Seine, checking out the booksellers on the bridge and the souvenir shops, until we reached the Musee de L’Orangerie. Here Monet’s water lilies are immortalized in two circular rooms. On the walls of these rooms, the master’s great canvases were placed in such a way that visitors could sit and enjoy the changing of the light, the sweep of willow branches on the water, the delicacy of those water lilies and experience the pa
Outside, we asked directions from a guard and, on impulse, wondered if he could tell us the catalyst that had brought on the storming of the Bastille. He asked us to wait a moment and fetched an older man who explained that the arrest of many popular leaders had caused the journalists (the fourth estate) to incite a riot amongst the people. On to the Bastille! Raise the bloody flag, citizens! Allons, enfants de la patrie…
The guard, whose name was Dani, stayed to chat. He asked us how we liked Paris and glowed at our praise. He then told us that he had visited Venice and Florence and loved Italy, too. Learning that Mike had lived in that country as a boy, he cried, “Amici!” and joyfully shook hands all around.
Tired after hours of walking, we descended into the metro station and heard—was that Albioni’s adagio wafting up toward us? But yes! As we turned the corner, we saw that a nine piece orchestra was performing. Five violins, two cellos and a bass were playing in beautiful harmony, playing so skillfully that we joined a small crowd to listen. The crowd melted, but we stayed through Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi and Bizet. “Ah, but they are struggling, these young musicians,” their manager whispered, thanking us as we bought their CD. We wished them well. With their technique, their heart and their talent, they deserved to be in the finest of concert halls!
She plays with eyes closed,
Heart-joined to her violin
In this cool subway.
We were late getting back to the hotel, and the children had eaten an early dinner before we returned, so Mike and I found an Italian trattoria and were bade welcome in French, English and Italian by the owner, a Parisian who had lived in Italy for forty years. The little place was full of happy people— regular clients, we realized since everyone was talking and laughing and hugging each other. Swept up in this convivial atmosphere, we enjoyed a native wine and excellent food and though we were not exactly hugged, the owner did kiss my hand on parting.
Thus it came— well, it had to— our last day in Paris, a rainy, chilly morning. A great discussion took place amongst the family: maps and metro schedules were studied and debated. In the end it was decided that some of us would go shopping while the more courageous would go on an outing. Mike and I, not in the least bit courageous, opted to shop and wound our way to the grand galleries of the Lafayette department store where July sales had enticed half of Paris to shop. Mobbed? For sure, but never mind! Between mini beignets and high fashion, we spent many delightful hours.
In the evening under still rainy skies we all boarded a boat that rode us down the Seine to view the sights of the city. Though we had heard that the late night Bateaux Mouche trip was something not to be missed, it was thought too late for the youngsters amongst us, thus the daylight ride. Floating along the Seine, I reflected on all that we had seen in the four short days we had had in this legendary city. Versailles, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Eiffel, the Musee de L’Orangerie… all of these had been elegant or magnificent or impressive, but the one thing that I would remember most were the people we had met. The elderly gentleman who made crepes for us each night in his hole-in-the-wall kitchen, and who called, “A demain!”—till tomorrow—to me each time we said good night. Dani, the guard at the Musee L’Orangerie; the lady in the metro who insisted on leading us to our ‘line’; the metro musicians; the bus driver who left his bus idling so that he could get down and point the right way to the Place de Concord; and, of course, the little alabaster lady in the Louvre.
As we rode the metro home at ten thirty that night, a guitarist began to play. Mike dropped a coin into his purse and he bowed and cheerily dedicated a tune to us. And as he strummed his guitar, we passed the Eiffel Tower, brightly lit and in all its glory against the dark sky.
Au revoir, Paris, truly the city of light!