I woke up in a little bed in a little apartment in the 10th arrondissment in Paris. My couchsurfing host was sleeping in the other room so I got up quietly, turned on the kettle, and searched through my backpack for some clothes that weren’t visibly dirty, or smelly. I checked the map again to make sure I generally knew how to get there and slid a metro ticket into my back pocket.
I was going to Louvre. I was hoping to get there somewhat early because I had heard the line could be daunting. When I finally rounded the corner to see the iconic glass pyramid told me I’d found it, Musée du Louvre. A goofy smile spread across my face. Then I saw the row of people winding across the courtyard and out of sight. Daunting indeed.
I consider myself to be somewhat of an art nerd. Right after I graduated from college I was woefully under employed and the amount of free time I suddenly had was freaking me out. In between crafting dozens of bullshit cover letters and changing the margins on my resume again, I haunted the Jefferson County Public library and checked out giant coffee table books on art and world history. I read and took notes ravenously, as though I were still preparing for an exam.
When I finally descended into the crowded atrium of the Louvre and had my ticket, I chose at random which wing I would start with. The Louvre is like a giant maze. There are no clocks, and most of the windows are covered so that the inconsistent natural light doesn’t affect the paintings. Its rooms and corridors seem endless.
I walked slowly trying to take in every painting. I would smile as I came across one that I recognized from those giant coffee table books as though I was meeting an old friend. As I went deeper into the maze it became much quieter, and some of the rooms I entered were completely empty. This seemed a little strange considering that I had waited in line with hundreds of people. Where were they?
The last wing I entered contained the Italian Renaissance art. As I walked through a little more quickly, sliding past tour groups congesting the hallway, the noise level started to grow. “So this is where everyone is,” I thought. Finally I arrived at a large room with gorgeous vaulted ceilings and was a little taken aback to see the whole place crowded with people talking and jostling into each other.
Then I realized… The Mona Lisa. This bitch. During World War II the staff of the Louvre scrambled to remove much of the art and take it to secret places where it would be safe from the looting Nazis. The Mona Lisa was transported to the countryside in an ambulance. They sealed up the back tightly to maintain a certain level of humidity that would protect her 400 year old canvas. One of the curators rode in the back with her. When they arrived at their destination and opened the door they found that the curator had passed out from lack of air but the Mona Lisa was unharmed.
The room was so loud, and there were security guards everywhere. Many people in the throng around the painting were holding their smartphones and tablets up over their heads trying to take a picture. Two young girls were standing near me. “It’s a lot smaller than I thought,” I heard one say to the other with a tone of boredom mingled with disappointment. I was not keen to try to snake my way through the crowd, waiting for people to snap a quick selfie with her before moving out of the way. I decided to leave the room without seeing her properly. Since I had already been there for hours and had probably walked about five miles I just wanted to duck into a quiet café and sit down for a while.
As I sipped my espresso it occurred to me that there are probably a lot of people who get up early, wait in line for hours, pay the fifteen euro admission fee, go take a blurry selfie with the Mona Lisa, and then leave.
What the fuck?
Like seriously why? If you don’t care about art don’t go to the Louvre. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not elitist, and I’m not mad that people don’t respect or appreciate art or whatever. I believe that art is for everyone, but not everyone has the same taste, and that’s fine. So if it’s been your dream for as long as you can remember to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa, by all means go get your selfie. But there are so many things to do in Paris, and most people who are fortunate enough to travel there don’t stay for more than a week or so. If you take time out of your trip to do something you wouldn’t normally want to do just because you feel like you’re supposed to, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s that simple.
Let’s say you’re more into going out and enjoying the nightlife. Do that. Go to a discotheque, dance your face off, make out with a stranger, and then sleep in and skip the Louvre. Or maybe you came to France for the food. Sit in a crowded little bistro and order like five courses and a few glasses of wine, drag your lunch out for hours, it’s the French way. Perhaps you’d just rather go shopping. Girl, treat yo self. Or maybe you do like art, but you’re more into contemporary stuff or the impressionists. There are literally dozens of art museums and galleries in Paris to choose from. Or just go sit on a bench in a park and people watch. It’s your trip, it’s your life, do whatever the fuck you want.
Part of the appeal of travel is about breaking free from society’s expectations and requirements. So why would you do anything just because it’s something you’re supposed to do when you go to Paris, or anywhere else? Hell, you don’t even have to go to Paris. Maybe you hate big cities, perfect. France is full of cute tiny villages you can hang out in. Or skip France and go to The Netherlands, or Spain, or Indonesia!
I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but travel is about freedom. So be free my little birds, and if it doesn’t sound awesome, you don’t have to go to the Louvre. As my friend Simone once said to our scandalized high school French teacher, “Oh Madame Norris who even cares about the Louvre? It’s just a bunch of naked white people.”