This is the fifth, and last, post about my Paris trip. The first one can be found here.
On my last day in Paris it was raining heavily. Cleverly, my itinerary involved spending several hours standing in an unsheltered queue for the Louvre. That was some epic planning on my part.
The queue was massive. It was so large that it attracted its own system of commerce. There was an army of guys strolling up and down attempting to sell various tourist trinkets and Paris-affiliated paraphernalia. Every couple of minutes you had to decline an offer of an Eiffel Tower ornament or something. There were even some rather astute individuals selling umbrellas. They were certainly more astute than some of their colleagues. I don’t think the sunglasses were exactly flying off the shelves, not that there were shelves. It was quite an ad hoc market place.
I found the sellers amusing. They paced relentlessly up and down the queue incessantly trying to drum up business. They passed every couple of minutes. Surely after the first few runs they should have got the message. I struggled to imagine that, after an hour or so of declining, someone might say, “Actually, you’re right. I do need a tacky Eiffel Tower in my life.”
There was a young Chinese guy in the queue just ahead of me who expressed an interest in the Eiffel Towers. I wondered if he later regretted this display of vague interest. They gave him quite the hard sell. Every few minutes they would return to continue negotiations. He kept declining, but they kept returning to barter. Sometime later I saw him clutching a whole collection of various-sized Eiffel Towers. We had been in the queue for over an hour by that point. His purchases clearly undermined my earlier assumption. I guess sometimes it does take asking people thirty times before they realise that they don’t just want a single tacky Eiffel Tower, they want a whole skyline of them.
There was a young couple in front of me who I initially assumed were both Australian. She had an obvious Aussie accent and, what little he said, could pass for Australian. It surprised me that he was wearing only a T-shirt. It was freezing cold and raining heavily. Being accustomed to a slightly more clement climate, I was surprised that he was so blasé about the conditions. After a while I got chatting to them. It turned out that she was indeed an Aussie, whereas he was actually English. They were from Perth. He’d been living there for ten years during which time he’d picked up a bit of an Aussie twang, which is what misled me. He was originally from Bolton. “Ah, a northerner,” I thought to myself. “That explains why he’s standing in the freezing cold and driving rain in only a T-shirt.” They turned out to be really nice. They even gave me a spare poncho they had. It seemed odd to me that a guy wearing only a T-shirt was handing a guy in a thick, warm, water-proof jacket a poncho, but he insisted that he didn’t mind. Granted, he was shivering while he insisted, but that’s northerners for you.
After about two and a half hours of waiting we encountered a mischievous couple. I think they were Italian. They were attempting to sneak into the queue. I was pleased to realise that my fellow queusters took as dim a view of this as me. It was freezing cold. We were wind-battered and rain-drenched. Yet, we’d been patiently queuing like that for over two hours. The idea of them casually sneaking in ahead of us didn’t impress me too much.
In front of the Perth couple was a girl from New York. She was, quite rightly, very indignant about their attempts to flaunt queuing etiquette. She immediately blocked their sneaky manoeuvre and they abandoned the attempt. As the queue proceeded they decided to try again, leaving the task of enforcing the queue’s sanctity to the Perth couple. They were similarly unaccommodating to the underhanded behaviour. The Italian guy was chatting casually on his phone, which I found amusing. It appeared to be a transparent ploy. I think he hoped that it made people less inclined to engage him in conversation and say “GET TO THE BACK OF THE F@*?ING QUEUE!”
The Perth couple persevered, the queue moved on and it became my turn to scupper their attempted contravention. There was no way I was going to let the side down, so I similarly blocked their entrance. After that, it was a battle for the people behind us to lose, which they duly did. The Italian couple only walked a couple of metres further down the queue before trying again. Here they encountered some less defiant types who limply stood by while they sneaked in front of them. They were only about 45 minutes from the front and we’d been waiting about two and half hours. The cheek of it. But the strident New Yorker wasn’t willing to accept that. She waited until we got to the very front and informed a security guard who promptly escorted them from the queue, much to our delight. They’d therefore wasted the previous 45 minutes.
I couldn’t help but enjoy the stereotypes on display. On one hand there’s an English northerner resolutely ignoring the freezing wind and rain in only a T-shirt, and on the other hand there’s a straight-talking New Yorker unprepared to stand by and let injustice prevail. Maybe there is some truth in stereotypes.
Anyway, after more than three hours we finally got into the Louvre. I was so soaked by that point that my trainers squeaked as I walked down the stairs. Needless to say, I was relieved to finally be in the dry.
But there’s a very good reason for the extravagant queues. The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. Almost 10 million people visited in 2012. That’s a lot of footfall. The many visitors come to view the 380,000 objects and 35,000 works of art. A lot of the collection originally comprised war acquisitions. But after losing against Britain in the Battle of Waterloo (1815) many of the pieces were returned to their rightful owners. This didn’t go completely smoothly as the Louvre authorities were reluctant to give up the treasures and diplomats had to be sent to London to secure the piece’s return.
After finally getting in I bought my ticket and went to explore. It’s massive. As it took so long to get in I didn’t have a huge amount of time. I was catching my train home in a few hours. So I headed straight to the Mona Lisa. I know it’s the cliché thing to do, but I was doing it anyway.
I couldn’t believe the sight that greeted me as I entered the room where it’s displayed. It was absolutely packed. Everyone was slowly trying to edge their way towards the front to get their obligatory picture of the picture. The walls were covered with what I imagine are priceless works of art, but they may as well be macaroni pictures for the amount of attention they were being paid. All anyone wanted to do was to get to the front and see the Mona Lisa – the apparent rock star of the art world.
I joined the slow procession of people trying to edge towards the front. It was a matter of patience and how dedicated you were to get to the very front and centre. After a fair few minutes of gently easing myself forward I eventually got pretty close and got a picture I was happy with. Once safely out of the melee I stopped to look back at the amusing scene. It’s arguably the most famous piece of art in the world, but very few people, if anyone, seemed to be there to appreciate its artistic qualities. We were all there simply to tick the box “Yes I’ve seen the Mona Lisa” and get the obligatory photo. I’m sure that’s not what artists intend when they pour their heart and soul into a piece, for it to be simply a tick box on people’s bucket list.
After that I went wandering off to explore, but after queuing so long I only had an hour or so. Well, I had an hour and a half, but after taking the gargantuan size of the Louvre into account I decided to put aside half hour to leave. This proved wise. It’s not the easiest place to get out of. I was wandering around quite lost for a while. As I did so I was a little disappointed to see the Italian queue jumpers walk past me. They had managed to get in! Clearly there weren’t enough strong-willed New Yorkers around to keep them in line, or out of line as the case may be.
Most such tourist attractions utilise the capitalist principle of ‘exit through the gift shop’. The Louvre has taken this concept a step further. The Louvre employs the philosophy of ‘exit through the shopping mall’. Seriously, they have a whole arcade of shops offering everything that you might imagine from an average shopping centre.
Pressed for time, and not an avid shopper, I pressed on. I ended up following a ‘Sortie’ sign which directed me to a lift. As I waited for the lift I found myself besides a rather frustrated English lady. She explained that she’d been struggling to get out for half an hour. I decided to deploy my joke about exiting through the shopping mall, but she was beyond laughing at that point. She just resignedly agreed with a slightly broken shake of the head.
The lift arrived. We hopped in. We went up a floor only for the doors to open and present us with a short corridor at the end of which was another lift. We looked at each other a little confused and headed for the lift. When the second lift’s doors opened there were a couple of confused girls in there. They were struggling to get out too. We got in the lift. The lift appeared to go up a floor, pause, the doors didn’t open and then it went straight back down and returned us to the corridor. I found the whole farcical situation funny, the frustrated English lady not so much. I decided to keep my amused smirk to myself; I don’t think she was in the mood. The girls explained that they’d been repeatedly going up and down and not getting anywhere. So we abandoned the lift and headed back down in the first one. It turned out that by going around a corner and climbing a few flights of stairs we eventually reached the outdoors, daylight and fresh air. I checked the time. It turned out that my decision to put aside half hour to exit was a wise one. That’s exactly how long it took. I walked back to my hostel, picked up my bag, headed to train station and went home.
The famous lady herself