When I first saw Paris…

My first impressions of Paris are still vivid in my mind, even after all these years.* Excited to be in a world city, a big city, after growing up in a glorified country town, I took the Metro everywhere for the first few days so I had little concept of the layout of the city. On my third day in Paris I had to navigate my way across the city in what I believe was my first {only?} Walk of Shame. Is it still a walk of shame if you take public transport? Still wearing my slinky red dress and black boots from the night before, I found the Metro and made my retreat from Phillippe’s respectable neighborhood. Luckily I already knew the metro like the back of my hand.

The trip from one side of the city to my hotel in the leafy NeuillysurSeine took around 30 minutes and it was the first time I had realy stopped to study the lay of the land. Smack bang between us was the Musée du Louvre. The Louvre-Rivoli metro station offered a tantalising insight into what was above.

The sun was already making its presence felt when I reached the hotel. Marc was waiting for me. He raised an eyebrow at my attire but otherwise said nothing. He was lucky he kept his mouth shut; I’d had enough of judgement from people at home, I certainly didn’t need it from a stranger. I had tried to tell him that I had an appointment with Gilles for a guided tour but he insisted on waiting while I changed and accompanying me to the museum.

I hadn’t made an appointment with Gilles. I had called him and he said he didn’t have time to see me, and his wife had warned him. ‘Warned’ you, I thought, but I really didn’t need to get into someone else’s dramas when I had enough of my own. I thanked him and rang off.

The walk to the museum was fun with Marc. He gave me a French history lesson and corrected my terrible verbs. Stopping for coffee and a croissant he tried to pay for my meal but I insisted on paying for his; a fair deal, I said, in exchange for the great tour. It was further than I thought, to the Louvre and the sun was high in the sky before we saw the giant glass pyramid. One bonus of arriving at midday; no queue! Back in the early 90s there were a few dozen security guards around but I don’t recall seeing x-ray machines. A few years later the guards did search day-packs. Twice we had to relinquish a brand new wine knife that we had forgotten to remove after our latest picnic. {I am a huge fan of security; the more the better before entering a crowded, famous landmark so you can relax inside.}

I was surprised that Marc seemed to know every guard and docent and they seemed happy enough to see him, although they all, to a (wo)man, looked me up and down with the same cocked eye-brow Marc had used. They didn’t look pleased or displeased to make my acquaintance, but they all seemed curious. I showed my Museum pass at the desk and took the guide offered by the staff. I planned to lose Marc in the crowd. He seemed nice, but I had just spent the night at Phillippe’s and we hadn’t really parted on the best of terms. It seems he was shocked at my age, and I have to admit I was shocked at his. My excuse is that he looked a lot younger but I am not silly; there’s not a person alive who would have said I looked older than my years. People often mistook me for at least 5 years younger than my age but to be fair, when I told him I had been widowed it would have confused the hell out of him. I didn’t care that he was older than me but he said he needed to think about it. What was there to think about, wasn’t this just a holiday fling?

Marc seemed to pick up that I was planning to flee and promised to take me to see La Joconde {The Mona Lisa} and leave me to enjoy the museum in peace. We found Da Vinci’s masterpiece and he snapped a picture. My memory could be failing me, but I think back in the pre-Da Vinci Code days, she had pride of place behind some lovely velvet ropes and had her own security guard, but she didn’t attract the mad crowds she does now. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I seem to recall that she was simply in a corridor alongside other works. She was famous then, but perhaps amongst simple art lovers. Now she attracts anyone and everyone based on the fame of the Dan Brown book/Tom Hanks movie, people who more often than not come away miffed that she is ‘not as big’ as they thought, as though size matters. For an art-lover that’s akin to visiting the Grand Canyon and calling it a hole in the ground.

sure she was under lock and key but no one ever said she was too small back then.

After saying goodbye to Marc, I wandered the museum for hours, having lunch and then coming back for more. I think it’s wonderful that most visitors to Paris see the Louvre as a must-see, but if they just accepted poor old Lisa on her merits and made an effort to see some of the other truly spectacular canvasses {The Raft of the Medusa, Liberty Leading the People just to name two} they might not just view it as a one-off.

I didn’t want to return too early to my hotel so I sat at a bistro overlooking the river with my journal and too many glasses of wine. When I made my way back to the hotel the receptionist had messages for me. I told her unless they were from my mum I wasn’t interested. Now I just had to remember what colour my hotel room was on.

*Read my memories of my first 24 hours in Paris and the three Frenchmen I met…


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