A month or two ago, my best friend told me to listen to an episode of NPR's "This American Life" podcast called "Americans in Paris." She said it was about how some Americans find a real connection with Paris while others don't. I have found this to be true; everyone I know who has visited Paris either loves it or hates it. There is no in-between.
I, of course, love it, and I want to think about it all the time, so I downloaded the podcast, the first and longest portion of which are the highlights of host Ira Glass's stay with David Sedaris while the latter was living in Paris. Full disclaimer here: I don't really love David Sedaris like everyone else does. I started one of his books and was so bored I couldn't finish it. I don't really think he is terribly funny. It's kind of like how everyone loves Will Ferrell movies and "The Hangover," and I am the ONLY ONE who just doesn't get it. But anyway, I don't.
And this podcast did nothing to change my mind. Sedaris falls decidedly on the side of not loving Paris despite having moved there. Why did he move there? Unclear. It seems like he moved there just because he could and the States was no longer challenging to him. And by this I mean he was comfortable living here in the U.S. But he found extreme discomfort living in Paris. In other words, his shit language skills gave him debilitating social anxiety which he paradoxically appeared to get off on. So yeah, I don't really get him at all. I prefer meds over foreign languages to treat social anxiety.
I was particularly turned off by the fact that he said that even though he was living a few blocks from the Louvre, he refused to go there because the only reason people go there is "because someone told them they had to." Um. OK, maybe this is true in some cases, but certainly not in mine, and I would venture to say that it is not in fact true in most cases. Part of the reason Paris was at the top of my list of places to visit was the Louvre itself.
There are a lot of reasons to visit the Louvre aside from the fact that someone told you you should (and by the way, you SHOULD, especially if you think a trip to Paris is a once-in-a-lifetime deal for you). Like I don't know. Maybe you love art. Maybe you appreciate the historical and straight-up physical prominence of the building itself. Maybe you want to see what it feels like to be in the presence of pieces of art with staggering historical and cultural value. MAYBE, unlike Sedaris, you don't want to spend your time in taxidermy and hardware shops just because the people who work there are nice to you.
I mean, come on David. We're not all lemurs. (Although I did have a museology professor in college who once told us to touch the art in any museum when the staff wasn't looking, and I may have done this once or twice.)
All this is a roundabout way of saying that maybe museuming isn't for you when you travel, but if it is, you've come to the right post.
FIRST, SOME TIPS
Paris is full of museums, and I've told you this before, but I highly recommend that if you can avoid it, try to spread out your museuming throughout the course of your trip. Jen's planning was on point, but because of our timing, we weren't able to spread out our museum trips and ended up doing three museums in one day (beginning with the Louvre), and let's just say we maxed out hard. I've also told you this before -- when I took the museology course in college, I learned that the average museum goer lasts about two hours before they get hungry, physically exhausted (wear comfy shoes), or just flat out bored. So keep that in mind before you get cranky, lose your shit, and go HAM on an Asian tour group.
Secondly, even if you're not the type to plan your days out, it's worth noting that most museums throughout the world are closed on Mondays, notoriously slow days, so you'll have to plan around that if you want certain museums to be part of your trip. And for sure, if a museum is open on Mondays, as Paris's Centre Pompidou is, then it's usually a good day to visit.
Thirdly, if you're going to a city that's a major tourist destination, see if they have a museum pass. You can usually get them beforehand. Paris did for around 86 bucks, and it's totally worth it. This saves you money if you visit enough museums, you can skip the line, and it also doubles as a guidebook since you can see what other sights are covered by it (since a lot of times, including in the case of the Paris Museum Pass, it also gets you into a bunch of non-museum sights as well). Jen and I already got our London Pass, and back when I was studying abroad, my friends and I went to Amsterdam for a long weekend, started at the tourism center, and got ourselves the I Amsterdam Card that got us into like 11 different museums.
And finally, DON'T TAKE PHOTOS WITH YOUR IPAD. I mean, really. CAN YOU NOT?! This is truly the world's dumbest thing, and we love our readers, but I'm not gonna lie to you. If you do this, I actually hate you. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??! Holding that ginormous thing up to snap a photo means you're blocking everyone's view, AND you're stupid because carrying your iPad around to take photos has GOT to be a giant pain in the ass, especially when your tiny smartphone probably takes equally decent photos. You're an idiot.
Now, onto the Paris museums themselves.
Good lord. In college I spent a good chunk of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art because a) I love art, and b) it's pay-as-you-wish, and I was a broke-ass ho in college. Additionally, it's massive, and you just can't do it in one day. I mean it's so big that even though it has essentially become one of my favorite places in the world, I don't think I've been a single time without getting lost. Part of that is because the layout is, shall we say, less than intuitive, but also it's just fucking big, and no matter what, every time I try to get out, I end up in the medieval section. And you would think that from there I'd be able to find my way out, but no, I inevitably get lost in a maze of suits of armor and creepy bleeding Jesuses.
As big as the Met is, the Louvre is 10 times bigger. OK, that is a guestimate, and as I am obviously geographically challenged, if I were you, I wouldn't rely on my spatial visualization skills to tell you anything, but believe me when I tell you it is ginormous. It is definitely one of the biggest museums in the world, if not THE biggest. It comprises three wings, which are really buildings in and of themselves -- the Sully, Richelieu, and Denon wings. And it's confusing as fuck. For some reason in Paris, there's a lot of walking down steps in order to walk back up steps, and you repeat this process so often while getting where you are going that you can't remember what your end goal was in the first place.
I don't remember the exact numbers, but I read somewhere that if you spend 30 seconds looking at each piece of art in the Louvre, you'll spend something ridiculous like a full year there. So obviously you have to pick and choose what you want to see, and if you've never been before, you're going to want to hit the big guns. Grab a museum map, and wing by wing find the Venus de Milo, Liberty Leading the People, Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and of course, the overwhelmingly underwhelming and anticlimactic Mona Lisa. She may be tiny and dull, but she is the most famous painting in the world, and if you have even a thimble-sized amount of appreciation for art (I'm looking at you, Sedaris), you won't want to miss this.
Pro tips (cuz we're pros): Dress in layers if it's cold outside and if it's hot, just dress cool because it's hot as balls in this place between the crowds and the humidity levels they have to keep to maintain the art properly. Also, load up on caffeine because this place is hardcore. We didn't do this to start, but luckily, the French do it up right and there are dozens of cafes throughout the museum.
For all my talk about how much I think it is important to go to the Louvre, I have to admit, it wasn't my favorite. That distinction belongs to the Tate Modern in London where I will be visiting in a few weeks with Jen! And to be honest, the Louvre was probably not even my favorite museum in Paris.
My favorite in Paris might be a toss-up between the Musee D'Orsay and the Rodin Museum. D'Orsay was once a train station -- Gare D'Orsay ("gare" is the word for train station; unfortunately it was not named after Jen's dad Gary). The French turned it into a museum in the 70s, and now it holds some of the best impressionist and post-impressionist pieces in the world by all the people you learned about in school (I hope) -- Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Gaugin, Renoir, you name it.
I liked it better than the Louvre, probably because I am in a large part partial to this time period in art history. And practically speaking, it's a hell of a lot more manageable than the Louvre. Start at the bottom and just wind your way up to the top. All the art is on the left or right sides with sculptures down the middle.
Pro tip: When you get to the top, you can see out from behind the clock tower, and it's a pretty great view of Paris and the Seine, a good place for snapping photos.
So as far as art goes, I'm not really into sculpture, but for whatever reason, I have a soft spot for Rodin. Maybe because his work is equal parts expressive and creepy, I don't know. The Rodin Museum is the smallest of the four discussed in this post, and it's housed in his old home, which is pretty freaking cool to me, but maybe that's just because I'm an art nerd.
There's pretty much a one-way path through the house (where The Kiss is), but the best part about it is the surrounding sculpture garden. That's right -- some of his most famous works, including The Thinker and The Gates of Hell are just right out there for you to walk up to and marvel at. It's a legit beautiful place, and you're just standing there, right next to major works of art.
Pro tip: Go on a sunny day because duh.
The Centre Georges Pompidou is Paris's answer to New York's MoMA. It feels about the same size to me and has equally fun and sometimes mystifying modern art. The building itself is crazy; it's inside out and if you ask me, a little bit ugly. But I do appreciate that half of it houses a huge library, and it also includes a center for music. Unfortunately for me and Jen, we spent a good chunk of time wandering around the library wondering where the art was.
It's easy to get around and see everything. I'd estimate you only need a couple hours tops to see the whole thing, not unlike the MoMA. And it's great, you know. Not as serious as the rest of Paris. Full of whimsical pieces that will make you smile, cringe, or make notes on what to Google when you get back to free wifi.
Pro tip: The Pompidou is open on Mondays, and since the other museums are not, we recommend going on a Monday. We also recommend following signs for the museum entrance, not the library (bibliotheque) entrance. Then, there's a sweet plaza outside full of buskers and mimes and people just chilling out, so if you go in the morning, you can picnic there for lunch.
And now, because I said "Americans in Paris" a little ways up there, I leave you with the musical stylings of one Mr. Z and his asshole friend Yeezy. Frankly, I am surprised this video is making it into one of my posts this late in the game. And there are lots of sweet shots of the Louvre.
You'd be in Paris eating gummi bears too.