Paris, France: The Neighbourhoods Of ‘La Rive Gauche’

I was standing in line at the Louvre even before they opened the doors. After buying a ticket at a self-service machine and dropping off my coat and backpack, I immediately headed for the one place I knew I wanted to see first. If I waited any longer, there would be such a crowd it might not even be worth it.

From the main atrium it was a little confusing finding the way to the Mona Lisa, but I eventually made it there. There was a modest group, about 15 people and by the time I walked away from that exhibit, the number had doubled. A fence of stanchions and felt rope had formed a convex semi-circle in front of the painting, and many of the visitors took turns standing at any available point on the arc and turned their backs to the Mona Lisa, flashing cheesy smiles at their friends with cameras. I rolled my eyes and hoped that the museum board had installed some kind of UV-filtering glass in front of the fragile work. As much as I’m not a fan of having people in photographs when the subject of the picture is not the people themselves, I’m REALLY not a fan of doing it in a highly populated area, where everyone is jostling for view of the very thing you’re standing in front of.

Which is exactly what was going on in the hall outside the chamber that housed the Mona Lisa. It was filled with other Da Vinci works, and those of his peers, but almost each one, Da Vinci or not, was shielded by a group of tourists who were each getting their picture taken next to … a picture. I recently read a quote by Ansel Adams which sums up my philosophy on the matter:

`To the complaint, `There are no people in these photographs,` I respond, `There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.`

No truer words … I spent the next 5 hours in the museum, wandering from exhibit to exhibit. Each time I thought I was done or that I wanted to leave, I would see something else on the map that I found intriguing. The museum is just massive. It’s almost massive to a fault. Not that I don’t appreciate large amounts of such great content, but your ticket is only good for that day. The Louvre is easily a two-day visit, and the stress and sheer willpower involved in seeing all the fascinating artifacts on display in one day is unfair to say the least.

There was one exhibit I knew I wanted to see, but by the afternoon I didn’t know if I could make it. It was the Code of Hammurabai. For those of you who went through Social Studies in the public school system, the Code of Hammurabi is one of the first things you learn about. The relic itself is a 3,700 year-old, seven-foot tall basalt stone slab, with a relief engraving on the very upper portion, followed by cuneiform script. The script describes a set of about 280 laws enacted by King Hammurabi of Babylon. There would have been several of those stone slabs placed at temples around the kingdom. I don’t know why, but when I was young I was fascinated by it. I think it just blew my mind that it was a set of laws that were older than what I thought was the age of civilization. Also, the laws themselves are pretty amazing. For example:

If any one brings an accusation against a man, and the accused goes to the river and leaps into the river, if he sinks in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river proves that the accused is not guilty, and he escapes unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.

How crazy is that?! Must’ve been some wild times in Babylon. It kinda reminds me of that Monty Python bit in “Holy Grail” where they determine if a woman’s a witch by comparing her weight against that of a duck.

But I digress … I decided to take a break from the Louvre and return later that night to check out the Code.

I took the back way out, which leads to the Carrousel, and made a quick stop of the innovative architecture made famous by Dan Brown.

I walked East along the Seine towards Le Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter), which is just across the street from Notre Dame.

Inside the church it was incredibly crowded. There was almost a current of people walking along the ring that encircles the alter and pews, and after a quick loop I got the hell out of there. I hate tourist groups …

I crossed the Seine and walked around the Latin Quarter, stopping at the Eurolines bus office to inquire about buses to Amsterdam and Luxembourg. The Latin Quarter is full of restaurants and cafes of not only Latin ethnicity. I sat at a small Greek restaurant and had lunch, then walked on through the Sorbonne campus to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon is the final resting place of many famous French men and women. In its necropolis lie such notables as Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Mare Curie and Alexandre Dumas. But it’s incredibly expensive to visit, so naturally, I moved on.

Just down the street from the Pantheon is the Jardin du Luxembourg, a large park that’s popular for picnicing and sunbathing.

It was getting dark and I decided that it might be fun to go see the Eiffel Tower. I still had plenty of time before the Louvre closed and even if I didn’t go up the tower, I would get to see it in a different light. The walk from the Latin Quarter to the Eiffel Tower was longer than I expected, and I stopped to consult my woefully insufficient map several times, as I surely must have been lost.

I stumbled on to the very end of the Parc du Champs de Mars, the long stretch of green that lies in front of the Eiffel Tower. On that side, facing the tower is the Ecole Militaire, a military school.

I did indeed get to see the Eiffel Tower in a different light … blue.

I learned later that the Tower is usually bathed in gold, but to celebrate France’s turn at EU Presidency, it was changed to blue and a circle of stars was mounted on the side that faces the Trocadero, opposite the Parc.

As I approached the Tower I realized that with all the different things I wanted to do in Paris, I may not have the time for two visits to the Eiffel Tower. They were still letting people go up, so I bought a ticket. There are three stages to the Tower, and the first one doubles as an exhibit hall. I decided that the second stage would suffice for some good views.

You could see all the major — and larger — landmarks, such as the Arc de Triomphe at the center of the Etoile:

You could also see the Parc du Champ de Mars and the Ecole Militaire, with an interesting pattern effect from the park sidewalk lights.

And some other really cool lighting contrasts: a soccer field’s bright stadium lights, the lines of cars on the road and the random dots from office buildings.

I do love taking pictures at night …

I walked away from the Tower towards the Trocadero, an area across the river where the Palais de Chaillot sits. It’s used as a meeting place (for example, the UN signed an important declaration on human rights there in 1948) as well as a place for kids to come and get stoned.

The path along the Seine took me back to the Pont de la Concorde, but before I reached the bridge I got a few last shots of the Eiffel Tower, including the EU insignia.

Across the bridge sits the Assemblee Nationale, a Parliament building. A projector had been set up displaying what looked like a Powerpoint presentation on the face of the building. I couldn’t translate all of it in time, but I think it had something to do with an upcoming conference.

I went back into the Louvre with less than an hour to spare, which was ok, because I had but one mission … see the Code of Hammurabi.

Which I finally found amongst other ancient artifacts from the Ancient Near East. And you know what? Totally worth it. After staring at it in awe for a few minutes, I went searching for the laminated placards which tell you about the exhibit, but could only find the foreign language versions (though I suppose in France, the English card would be the foreign language version …). I fudged my way through the French one. I was just happy to have seen it exhibit.

Just to make sure I got all the Louvre-ness out of my system, I wandered around the sculpture garden and some of the other exhibits until they closed. Outside, the lighting of the Pyramid against some of the fountain pools around it was very inspiring.

There was something going on at the St. Chris hostel that night … a concert or DJ or something. I considered going but after spending all day on my feet and literally walking around the Left Bank (or Rive Gauche), I was absolutely exhausted.

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3 comments

  1. wow, talk about powering your way through paris. i was there for 5 days and i didn’t do as much as you did in that one. good work.

  2. I disagree with you and Ansel. Putting people into a picture makes a connection to humanity and differentiates the picture from a commercial picture postcard.

  3. I see your point, but I think there’s a time and place for everything. In a crowded, popular place, I don’t think it’s fair to impose on others the time and space required to take a picture of someone posing in front of the attraction.

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