We spent a long morning at the Louvre. I’m guessing all mornings at the Louvre are long, with all the backtracking, map staring, finding someone to direct us, hard marble floors, halls blocked off for renovations, and navigating around crowds. Hordes of selfie takers pose in the same position as a nearby statue or painting, or with hands positioned to create an impression of holding the art in a certain way.
If you like art or history, the Louvre is a must-do at least once in a lifetime – everything people say about it is true – The incomparable vast collection of art! Things you’ll never see elsewhere! The palace itself is awe inspiring! Still, it’s exhausting. I wondered about the actual size and Googled it. “If you spent 60 seconds looking at each of the objects at the Louvre, going steadily for eight hours a day, it would take you 75 days to see them all.” I have no idea if that’s even true, but it’s all over the internet. There’s also all sorts of advice about the best way to approach a visit to the Louvre: what time to enter, which entrance, what path to take, what tours to listen to, what the highlights are. We weren’t quite that forward thinking.
It was our second day in France, and jet lag was a prominent feature of the day, eyes closing irresistibly at inopportune moments, feet already sore from all the walking. But this was Alan’s first visit, and I hadn’t been in 45 years, so while I was resigned to skipping some of Paris’ many experiences and sights, we had only five days in the city, and needed to make the most of our time, tired bodies or no.
We miraculously entered the museum ahead of the line because we’d splurged on a museum pass, the one bit of advice we did follow. A definite improvement over the youthful backpacking/starvation mode of 45 years ago. It saves money if you’re going to more than a couple of Paris museums, and allows you to skip to the head of the line. It didn’t, however, help us get a close up view of the Mona Lisa, and the crowds crushed us, everyone jockeying for position to get up close. As far as I could tell they weren’t trying to look closer at the painting in detail or at length, or admire the skill and artistry. They wanted to get a picture of themselves with the painting, perhaps wearing a Mona Lisa-like smile. It’s a strange world now.
Michelangelo’s The Rebellious Slave and The Dying Slave, 1513
An allegory of the soul imprisoned in the flesh, slave to human weaknesses
We jostled our way up the wide marbled staircase toward the stunning Winged Victory of Samothrace. Fortunately it was well placed on the landing midway up the stairs, so there were plenty of good viewing points. What I loved most though, was Michelangelo’s two “Captif” slave statues. No other sculpture measured up for me on this trip, not the ancient Greek statues, not Rodin’s Thinker or Gates of Hell at the nearby Rodin museum, and not the faces on the buildings and bridges. I don’t have the education or sophistication to describe why I was so taken by these sculptures, but was just struck by his incredible artistry, the detail captured in each muscle and sinew, the care in capturing life in stone, even the texture. It made for a heart-stopping experience for me.
After the Louvre, I was rewarded and almost equally impressed, with the artistry and flavors of my burrata salad at the nearby Cafe le Nemours (2 Place Colette). I ordered the salad not actually knowing what a burrata might be, and then spent the remainder of our visit looking for something equally gorgeous and delicious. We found the cafe using a Rick Steves guidebook, which we bought thinking it was the key to all our touring needs, but which in fact we rarely followed after looking through it at home, preferring to wander, using serendipity and local suggestions to find interesting restaurants, streets and neighborhoods. Or perhaps we were just too tired to get organized in advance and follow anyone’s plan.
Our harried waiter delivered the salad and I sat for a moment admiring the pure artistry: the yellows, reds, and greens of the heirloom tomatoes laid out in a spiral, the glistening white bulb of fresh cheese in the center, the drizzle of green pesto shiny with olive oil, all topped off with a sprig of plump basil leaves. The perennial basket of fresh baguette slices aided the scooping and eating and then sopping up the remains on the plate. I heard my mother’s voice advising that perhaps the bread soaking was a sign of bad manners, but hoped it was a compliment to the chef instead.
I searched in vain during the next three weeks for another perfect burrata salad. The only constant was the bright tuffet of cheese in the center, and the rest was up to the interpretation, inspiration, and the chef’s ingredients at hand. Each had more or fewer tomatoes, sometimes lettuce, a boiled egg, or other veggies. The existence or amount or quality of the drizzling varied as well, sometimes with pesto, sometimes just olive oil, sometimes a dressing. Occasionally it was equally sculpted and displayed. But a salad in France is better than a salad anywhere, just because you’re in France, and I enjoyed every single one.
We went to our local Farmer’s Market a few days after getting home, and it was a joy to see the vibrant produce, the exquisite array of flowers, high spirited live music, and friendly crowd. It felt like a warm welcome home and I rediscovered the joy and adventure of living in Portland. Best of all, there’s a crepe stand run by French people at the market, and I felt right back in the lap of french culture.
Still, it feels good to get back to simple eating habits – three weeks of eating out is hard on my old body. I miss the surprise meals, the bold, creative invention of the chefs (though Alan is no slouch there), the exquisite and new combination of food colors and flavors. I’m no Michelangelo or French chef, but I’m trying to create burrata salads at home, one of the few dishes I might come close to recreating. Sadly, no baguette, and no, I didn’t lick my bowl. But then, you wouldn’t know about it if I did.