Operation Transatlantic: Drowning in Tourists at the Louvre

You’re traveling through another dimension. A dimension of sight, a dimension of sound, a dimension of mind. A place of things and ideas. A dimension devoid of logic, devoid of organization, and where sensibility is a concept as abstract as a Picasso painting. A dimension full of mystery, intrigue, where anything can happen and men will trample each other to gawk and take selfies at an image the size of a throw pillow. Welcome… to the Louvre Museum.

Submitted for your approval, or at least your analysis, is the experience of one traveler named Will, who traveled from America to visit a museum known around the world. The museum in question was a palace turned public art museum after the guillotine-filled events of the French Revolution, and subsequently had its exhibits expanded after the ventures of a certain man named Napoleon. Nowadays, it serves as a tourist magnet, sucking in millions of travelers the world over to make a obligatory pilgrimage here. This Will has now exited a taxi cab, while the hungover city of Paris recovers from the previous day’s football victory. Little does he know that his destination is anything but sedated; in fact, it might possibly be the most turbulent place on the planet. Unbeknownst the the man in question, Will of WillTravel has just taken a voyage into the dark, horrifying chasm known as the Louvre Museum.

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The courtyard of the sprawling Louvre Museum is filled with crunchy sand and gravel, stretching out past a decorated arch up to the street, past which is the bus queue. If you look west from the courtyard, you can see the upper third of the Eiffel Tower, and images of Duran Duran music videos flash through your mind. But there’s no time. Because we had paid to take a skip the line tour from an online company, our printed tickets had told us to go to a souvenir store next to a currency exchange bureau. So, believing we were going to meet our tour guide right outside of the underground Louvre entrance, we descended a flight of stairs into the subterranean level of shops outside of the galleries.

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I.M. Pei designed a huge glass pyramid above the lobby of the Louvre, surrounded by the palace grounds. Although the pyramid was controversial, at the very least it serves as an intriguing contrast between classic French stonework and a modern geometric design.

However, because of the vague instructions, we had no idea where this souvenir shop was- not even the name. We scoured the underground promenade of boutique stores and security checks for twenty minutes, but to no avail. As it ticked closer to our entry time, we walked around the periphery of the museum, past the new I.M. Pei glass pyramid, and outside the palace complex. And then we took a closer look at the marked address, and were startled. As it turned out, our tour of the Louvre… didn’t start AT the Louvre. Apparently, it started at a random street corner several blocks away from the museum itself. Not in the underground promenade, not in the shaded and comfy courtyard, but instead we found ourselves several blocks away, in an isolated alley. It doesn’t exactly make you feel good when you get to the designated location of your tour, and it’s far away from your destination, in a secluded back alley, and it’s a pair of decrepit buildings with shut garage doors and graffiti covering the walls. So we waited there to see if there would be any signal from the tour company. There were no “TOUR STARTS HERE” signs or anything to designate this was the correct location.

After waiting for the better part of an hour, the next tour group finally showed up, and a very compassionate lady helped us get onto the next one. However, this tour group was led by a different woman who had no clue what was going on. Perhaps she had never been to the Louvre. Anyways, she led us into the Louvre- and into a line. Keep in mind that this is the “skip the line” tour, so what line are we bypassing here? And this isn’t just any line; this was the line to get INTO the security line, which looped through the palace’s arcades and out next to the pyramid. This “guide” obviously had no clue what was happening, just parading us through the suffocating lines of this tourist trap. When we moved under an archway, next to the security station, we see that this was when we were getting our Louvre tickets. But the company hadn’t purchased the tickets beforehand- in fact, we got our tickets by having random people shove tickets into our hands. It looked like the tour guide just bought our tickets from scalpers hanging around the Louvre entrance!

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So we pour into a bottleneck, the security station, and this one man in uniform points at us “Sortie! Sortie! Get out of the line!” After standing in that line outside, we were getting pushed out! We stayed firm, and found our way into the glass security line without having to leave. At first, we were furious that this guard tried to force us to the back of the line, but it’s not his fault that there is no organized line, no signage. It’s just a flowing mass of human momentum seeping towards one entrance in the whole complex. If it was anyone’s fault, it was this incompetent tour woman’s fault, forcing us through lines, screaming at us, and being indecisive. It was probably her first time at the Louvre. The sheer unprofessional nature of this tour group was so baffling that it was simultaneously hilarious and infuriating.

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To make a long, blurry story short, we descended an escalator into the lobby of the Louvre, which was polished marble and a huge herd of tourists muddling around under the shiny glass pyramid above. By this point we cut loose from the guide, and ran to wherever we could go. By now, we had spent three hours scrambling around the campus and shuffling through lines of confusing tourists, and in all honesty, we just wanted to see the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa and scram. But even this was hard to do; the signage is few in far between, and I’m not complaining because there were none in English. There were no signs in French, English, or anything! Just blank, bland marble walls and staircases, hoping you’ll discover some way to the Mona Lisa exhibit. If I were the curator at this museum, I would make one significant design change: I would take the Venus and the Mona Lisa, the Louvre’s biggest attractions, cram them in one expansive room, and put them on display to where all the tourists dedicated to seeing them can see them both then leave. At this point, we were hungry, tired, sweaty, and just wanted to see the two of them and depart. But the lack of signage, tidal wave of crowds, and labyrinthine stairwells make this hard.

We finally made it to the Venus de Milo, and although the tourists crowded like lemmings around the pedestal, I was able to appreciate this gentle masterpiece of chiseling and ingenuity. Although limbless, the Venus twists and gawks, seemingly made out of flesh, not rock. The features are so distinct and cunning, from her posture to her hairs, and I adored it.

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The Venus de Milo seems to bring life out of a slab of rock.

 

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Then, we saw the Mona Lisa. Contrary to all sense, the Renaissance Painters gallery is located a long way from the early European sculpture zone, and to get there you must hustle through a thoroughfare of crowds. And when you reach the room with the Mona Lisa, it is quite underwhelming. Hundreds of sweating, selfie-crazed tourists make the obligatory photo, leaning against the railings with their cameras. An entire interior wall is taken up by the painting, so it’s a mere plaque on a canvas of white. The rumors are true; the Mona Lisa is indeed small. It’s nice to look at, but you lack the time necessary to fathom her deep smile, the different backgrounds behind her, and the effort Leonardo Da Vinci put into its creation. You have no time, because as soon as you force your way to the front, another person is trying to force you back so they can get their own picture. It’s so hard to appreciate these masterpieces when all you can focus on is trying not to be trampled by a camera-toting pickpocket magnet with no historical appreciation. I suppose I am jaded, made cynical of the Mona Lisa, because we see it everywhere, on shirts, and pictures, postcards, books… it’s overdone. Kind of like when you’re surrounded by “Frozen” merchandise, and it beats you down to where you watch the movie in a dentist office’s waiting room and you go “meh.” At the same time, I feel awful about it, because the Mona Lisa itself is supposed to be the epitome of Renaissance culture, refinement, and art. I just can’t help but feel cynical every time I see this:

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Five euros… how and why would this BOOKMARK sell for five euros?! Overprice much?

Ironically, I get a bigger kick out of seeing this rare sign, posted outside of the Mona Lisa exhibit. It sums up my feelings exactly. Rushing through the hurricane of humanity, we scampered to the elevator and evacuated… after spending four hours trying to see that one painting.

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Who said modern art can’t have taste?

In terms of crowds, the Louvre has a horrible system. I have been to San Diego Comic Con, Times Square, and three Disney resorts- and have seen nothing to the degree of the Louvre’s crowd problem. For a complex that stretches for half a mile along the Seine, it is claustrophobic. I admit we didn’t visit in off season, but for any art and culture lover, off season is a prerequisite in order to admire this temple to art. It was a veritable ocean, like bizarre currents, and at one point we were caught in the deluge of what appeared to be a Japanese tour group. One elderly lady pushed my dad out of the way, so he shoved her back. To me, museums encapsulate the best and worst of humanity; on the walls, you have great, refined achievement, while in the halls, you have pushing and rudeness. It’s everyone for his- or herself here, and no mercy. All we could do was get in, see the sights, and get out. And this is what separates the Louvre from other museums. I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when it was busy, and still I had time to sit, ponder the art, and appreciate it to its own scale. Here, you can’t sit down, you have to stay in motion and keep moving, never stopping. At the Louvre, even at opening hour, it is so congested that there’s not enough time to locate hidden, underrated gems. And by the time you arrive at the two heavyweight champs, Venus and Mona, you’re so exhausted, feet burning, stomach churning, that you just want to see it and move on. I’m giving the Louvre a second chance, of course, at a later date, but I must implore that going here, even on a weekday, even in the early morning- is unfortunate. This was only impeded by the unprofessional practices of the so-called “Skip the Line Tour.”

Please don’t let me spoil Paris for you all, though. This is just a warning for those who come after. Of course Paris is a city of art and splendor. But, having done the Louvre, there are more serene art appreciation experiences in the city. After the Louvre, we visited Ste.-Chapelle, a nearby cathedral dating from 1248 to house relics from the reign of Louis IX. While it was by no means lacking tourists, it was quiet, uncrowded, and the interior calming and tranquil. This has the largest array of stained glass anywhere, and even without full sunlight in has brilliant colors, hues, and light patterns.

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All in all, the Louvre was possibly the low point of the entire trip. Things didn’t quite connect. From the “skip the line” tour ripoff, to the evident lack of signage, queues, and organization, to the immense of crowds- it was a beat down. There simply wasn’t enough time or energy remaining to explore this artistic temple. It deserves its recognition, but visitors can’t enjoy their time there, especially in the summer, as the result of its hype and attraction. I will go back here, of course, when it’s colder and not as crowded, and my opinions will reform, perhaps. After all, travel happens in the midst of a changing world, and change can be amazing. Here’s to hoping that the folks operating the Louvre can clean up the place, make it more comfortable, and simplify things to where every traveler can actually have a stress-free, enjoyable time in this complex that begs to be explored, but at the moment simply can’t.

 

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