Of all the museums in Paris, the biggest and best is, of course, The Louvre. Containing more than 1 kilometer of display space for it’s tremendous collection (of which there is rumored to be four times as many pieces in storage awaiting rotation), housed in a fortress originally built in the 13th century and featuring at its heart one of the most controversial French art instillations of the modern age, The Louvre more than lives up to its reputation. However with that reputation comes a price. No other sight or landmark in this city, excepting perhaps the Eiffel Tower, has a seemingly permanent line longer than the museum itself (I exaggerate, but just barely).
(soldier figurines, they look so fierce)
I know, from personal experience, that this serpentine behemoth moves quicker than expected and that the palace is open to more visitors in a day than I can easily comprehend. Yet, I have hesitated to return after that first whirlwind, awestruck, jet-lagged visit on my second day in the city. I did not feel motivated to stand in line for at least an hour only to enter and have to stretch on my tiptoes to see those objects in which I am especially interested over the heads of 5 or 6 tourist groups parked in front of each piece, each single-mindedly listening to their audio commentary. I imagined there would be not a hope in the world of actually getting close to the most popular pieces – the mummy or the Mona Lisa. So, I had just let it go by the wayside, assuming I would tag along with my visitors at some point. At least then I’d have someone to talk to while in line.
(Italian something-or-another. I just love these two guys – “hey! look! check out where we are!”)
What I have discovered instead is an apparently little known (I say this because of the complete lack of a crowd, it does appear to be listed in most guidebooks) Louvre evening hours. Each Wednesday, the museum keeps its doors open until 10 pm. Additionally, if you arrive after 6 pm, the entry fee is reduced to just 6€. At first a measly 3.5 hours (they do start to round you up by 9:30) seemed hardly worth the trip – there is no way I could really see one of the west’s largest museum in that amount of time. Admittedly, I am lucky and I can come back if I miss something. However, I was completely surprised – there was hardly anyone in the museum and, without the crowds, jostling or fighting for a clear view it was easy to pause, take in a painting (step back if needed!) and feel like I was giving the necessary time to seeing a large part of the collection. Even better, the über-famous pieces were the only ones with gatherings of people, but even then it was easy to walk right up to the Venus de Milo to examine the grain of the marble. Something unthinkable on your average Saturday afternoon. I found myself, at one point, alone (well, with The German) with the Winged Victory, my favorite piece in the collection. It was magical.
Done at the right time, walking through the French 19th century sculpture garden/atrium during twilight changed the entire atmosphere. The glass ceiling let in natural light and, as we walked through, the sun was setting, lighting the statues in pinks and golds. I sat for a while, watching the shadows shift and thought, for the first time, that I could imagine coming there with a book or my laptop, to take in the quiet, contemplative and creative atmosphere. When filled with scrambling children, exasperated parents and tour groups during regular hours, I think it is hard to remember how meditative and inspirational such an environment can be.
I had always thought of myself as someone with low museum tolerance. I get ‘museum fatigue’ easily and just assumed it was sensory overload from the art. I know now, it is sensory overload from the people around me. Clearly, everyone should enjoy what the Louvre has to offer in terms of the art and humanity of our shared past, however it is nice to know that there are quiet moments when I can get some of that all to myself.