An Afternoon in Paris

By Katharine Tyllo

You wake up from your unbalanced futon bed. Delicately arranging the sheets, you slowly put the futon back into place. This creates a minimalist black couch. You put on your tight-fitting blue jeans and your peach-colored v-neck. Both garments smell slightly burnt from the odd washer/dryer in the apartment. Unlike those in the states, this hybrid combines both units in a single innovative machine that takes about six hours to complete a cycle. You slip on your Birkenstocks, grab your grungy green Baggallini purse, the apartment keys and your iPhone. You fumble with the gigantic European door that does not have a doorknob, but rather a small knob/lever device that you pull to the right.

Leaving the apartment, you enter a small hallway with an oriental rug. Padding gently on it, you reach the stairs which elegantly wrap around an old elevator. The apartment building has a musty, but pleasant smell. It’s inviting, like an old bookstore. Just before you reach the ground floor, you pass a dentist’s office. When you reach the first floor (or floor 0 as they like to say in Europe), you reach a glass door in which you push a small button to open. Finally, you reach the massive door which grants entry to this ornate apartment building. Pulling the lever aside, you step out and are on Rue St. Honoré.

As soon as you are on the sidewalk, you are hit with a variety of sensations. First, you feel the stifling heat. The tightly packed Haussmann buildings seem to radiate it. Next, you inhale the unique aroma that has come to define Paris for you: cigarette smoke and a sweet, urine-like smell. You are willing to overlook these scents simply because you are enchanted with Paris and its culture.

The first thing that you see is Saint-Roch, an ornate church across the street with several homeless people on its steps. One man, aged prematurely by his life on the streets, sits on these steps with his mutt and several suitcases. You had a brief conversation with the man a couple of days ago and, even though he can barely speak English, you learned that his dog’s name is “Lou.”

Looking left and right down the street, you see a variety of shops: first a haberdashery to your right that sells alligator scale shoes. This initially shocks you because you have never seen anything like it in the United States. Across the street, you see a women’s boutique atop a pharmacy. The pharmacy has a cross that features mesmerizing green lights that flash in various patterns.

After taking this scene in, you head right on Rue St. Honoré and turn right at the first intersection, Rue des Pyramides. On this street, you see a perfume shop, a bakery, and a restaurant that has small tables on the sidewalk in the Parisian fashion. On these tables are decoupage reprints of famous paintings that either depict Paris or can be found in the art museums of Paris.

At the end of Rue des Pyramides, you cross Rue de Rivoli, the busiest street that you’ve encountered in Paris. There is a plethora of businesses along this street, hoping to capitalize on the tourists in the city. One that particularly stands out to you is Häagen-Das. Visible across the street is the Eiffel Tower, its top peeking through the trees of Tuileries. As you cross Rue de Rivoli, you are now adjacent to Tuileries Gardens. You walk on gravel and admire the ornately groomed gardens. Steps to your right lead to this beautiful space. You walk along them, noting the sculptures in the park. Once you reach an intersection of paths, you turn left and head to the Louvre.

Along this path leading to the Louvre are many immigrants attempting to sell various souvenirs such as selfie sticks, umbrella hats and Eiffel Tower key chains to gullible tourists. One man tries to sell to you, saying that you need “bling bling.” You smile at him and keep walking toward the museum.

The pyramid that has come to be a landmark of the Louvre looms before you. Instead of its usual glass facade, the pyramid’s front panel is covered in a black and white film installation of the building immediately behind it. At first you are irritated that this will be on the pyramid for the entirety of your trip, but then it grows on you because you discover the artist’s purpose: to make the pyramid completely disappear. That is, if you stand in the exact spot, the photograph on the pyramid blends into the building. This creates an amazing optical illusion.

Instead of entering through the pyramid, you decide to take the Tuileries entrance just before the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel which is a miniature version of the real monument. As you open the doors to the museum, you enter another world. You descend stairs, reach a mezzanine level with the stairs, and continue into the basement of the Louvre. To your right is evidence of Louvre’s medieval past: stones from its original moat. After descending these main stairs, you go down about three more to the left and are in a mall. You chuckle at the sight of an Apple Store. Continuing straight ahead, you are next to the inverted pyramid. You then flash your Paris Museum Pass to the security and you are in the world’s most famous museum.

The atrium of awesome proportions is a constant flood of tourists. Directly above you is the glass pyramid that has become a hallmark of the Louvre. Elegantly descending from the pyramid are stairs designed in an aesthetic fashion that you’ve come to expect from art museums. You continue straight ahead and take the escalator up to the Denon Wing. Again, you need to show your pass and go through another metal detector, but once you make it through this, you can finally see the Louvre’s collection.

The first section that you enter is Islamic art. It is not very busy and because of this, it is very comfortable in here compared to the humidity of the more popular rooms. You pause to look at a portrait of a girl from the sixth century and realize that she doesn’t look that different from a person of today. You leave her, and continue forward up the stairs. Here, you enter a sculpture wing. You’re not sure what period the sculptures are from, but they look incredible… simply because they are housed in the Louvre. The floor has a red and white checkered pattern that has certainly seen generations of visitors flow through the museum. Continuing forward, you enter an intersection of several rooms. You turn left and enter a room full of Italian sculptures. Most notably are Michelangelo’s slave sculptures. You briefly admire the fluidity that he could capture in marble. Moving on, you head for your true goal.

There is a large staircase behind the Michelangelo sculptures. You take it and go straight ahead. Finally, you arrive at your destination: the large-scale French paintings.

Nearly everyone in the room is surrounded around Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, and rightly so. You take a moment to look at it. Then you head left to The Raft of the Medusa, painted by Théodore Géricault, an individual who desperately desired that his painting be on display in the Louvre but never lived to see this. Near Géricault’s painting of incredible depth and emotion is a painting that features a God-like Napoleon. You can’t remember the name of this painting, but you appreciate it because it is right next to an air vent. In a museum with tens of thousands of daily guests, certain rooms can get quite sticky. This cool breeze initially drew you to the painting, but you come to like it. Behind you is The Death of Sardanapalus, a painting that intrigues you because of its sheer tragedy and fascinating subject matter. Delacroix brings to life an emotional scene and executes this impeccably.

Leaving the large-scale French paintings through the only exit, you enter a main room that has a second level with wrap-around railings. You think that it’d be cool to go up there. You turn right and enter in the back of the room that holds the world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa or, La Joconde. It is a small painting that has heightened security. You look at it, but you truly can’t get close enough to fully appreciate it. Behind it is the museum’s largest painting, The Wedding at Cana. You look at it and exit through the door to the right. You now enter the largest wing of the Louvre. Throughout here are many famous Renaissance paintings, including another da Vinci which doesn’t garner the amount of attention that the Mona Lisa does. You walk along the wooden floor, marveling at the collective human knowledge on display and thinking how lucky you are to be alive right now at this moment. These artists all had their golden periods and you are living yours right now. Eventually this will pass, but it will become a chapter in the shared book we call life.