France #11: Leondard de Vinci

Saturday, 2 November. 

It's taken a bit to get to this final post... we re-entered our regular life. On our last full day in France- 2 November,  we lingered over breakfast again- no hurry to get started with our day given our planned escapade. Linda had wanted to make sure we were able to go to the Louvre and had wisely pre-purchased the tickets. Even better, she was able to pre-purchase tickets to see the just barely opened Leonard de Vinci exhibit at the Louvre. Once the show opened, the tickets sold out through the end of November. so we counted ourselves quite lucky that she was able to get tickets while we were visiting.
First things, first: a walk around Notre Dame. Outwardly, it looked to be more well stabilized than we might have expected. The interior scaffolding was bent and blackened, and the windows where they weren't covered were charcoal on the inside. However, we were impressed with the work they had done to protect and preserve the structure. 

After spending some time watching a mime perform his tricks, looking at plants, and otherwise exploring, we spent some time running around in circles and trying to step on each other's feet (we'll let you imagine who that might have been).


A simple and early lunch, then off to the Louvre to figure out how to be at the right place at the right time for Leonardo. I knew the Louvre was big, but it is big! 14 horizontal kilometers of space, 3 wings, 5 floors high in a great big U shape. Pictures really don't do it justice, in part because the space between the wings is packed with tourists taking the perfect selfy, people trying to sell you stuff, lines of people, and just general chaos. I somehow managed to take photos that made it look empty, but these photos lie. Steve and Linda took some quiet time on a bench, Stephen and Elizabeth ran around and found out that mazes make for a fun game of tag, and Chris and I looked at obscure parts of the courtyard away from people. Turns out that I like taking pictures of random details, so here you go.



We look ready for a big museum, no? 
Elizabeth finally figured out if she took the picture, she didn't have to be IN the picture.  

We made it into the Louvre at our designated time: 13:30 PM. Special entrance for ticket holders for the Leonardo exhibit- we got to take the special "blue carpet" entrance and down into the museum.

Looking up through the glass triangle was spectacular. 

We navigated ourselves in past security, which was tight- I think we went through about 3 or 4 (mostly checking tickets, one through a metal detector). Finally arrived!

The first part of the exhibit may have been one of my favorite: Leonardo's study of fabric drapes + light and shadow. The first photo is of fabric dipped in clay, with light on it from an angle. 

As we went through the exhibit, a few things caught my attention. One was the absolutely cool ability to see his sketches, then the painting the detail contributed to. A hand, a face, a piece of fabric. Another was where all the pieces are coming from- there might be 5-10 sketches from 5-10 different museums. The absolute effort to gather all of these into one places must have be astonishing. (In researching this more, it took them 10 years to pull this exhibit together). A third detail: the Queen of England has a lot of Leonardos- her name was on a lot of them! Fourth: a number of the pictures were done in paper and blood. Fifth: he only ever painted 15 paintings (and a heck of a lot of sketches). He hauled the Mona Lisa around with him for 10 years and never finished it. Sixth: Leonardo left Florence in part because he couldn't get commissions. His competition? Michelangelo and Raphael. The history of the time and outbreak of wars definitely drove his travels. Finally, he really was an amazing artist and scientist. I could have spent a long time in the room with all his sketch books.

Example sketch work


And some of the pieces or work we saw...

A contemporary copy of the Last Supper. The original is a fresco and can't be moved- we saw it a few years ago in Milan and it was remarkably faded in comparison with this "copy."

My two favorite pieces in the entire exhibit. The top: simply named "Head of a Woman"
The lady below is the "face" of the show: Portrait de femme, dit la Belle Ferronnière 

The very famous Leonardo sketch: 

Cool details of horses- he had this form down!

 They also had a number of paintings where they'd taken an infrared scan, which allowed you to see the work behind the painting. Also very cool!

One entire room was filled with his sketch books and notes. 

The kids spent a lot of time running back and forth between the sketches and the paintings, or the paintings and the infra-red pictures. 
A bit challenging given the crowds, but it helps to be nimble.

 Sketches in blood. 

We finished the exhibit (much more that I didn't take pictures of), and followed the river of crowds to see one of the most famous Leonardos not in the show-- the Mona Lisa. Past a few famous artworks at a blur, including the Winged Victory of Samothrace (aka Nike). 

 Too hard to move the Mona Lisa, we understood why when we waded into the gallery that sees 30,000 people a day. The line to see this directly was about 30-45 minutes. We took a gander from the edge. The New York Times recently published an article entitled "It’s Time to Take Down the Mona Lisa," arguing that the exhibit is too crowded, a safety hazard, etc. We saw the article after we saw this room, but couldn't help but agreeing. Another friend said that the Louvre is open a couple of nights during the week- a late night at the Louvre may be the way to go. 

A behind the scenes look at the details in the painting + the infrared in the Leonard exhibit were both quite interesting and gave us a chance to think about the painting, not the crowds. 

Lots of other fabulous paintings to look at too. Chris' favorite was a set of paintings: one by a famous painter, with a copy of it below by Monet.  

At some point, it gets hard to "see" everything... 

We went wandering through the Louvre, our path guided by where the crowds were less. A few details on our way to the Greek statutes and Islamic room. 

I also tended to take pictures of art work associated with horses for Elizabeth.

The Islamic exhibit- set up in a now covered courtyard. Looking up through the mesh ceiling covering to the glass above was interesting, as were the layers of light and view. 


One could spend literally decades in this museum, but we departed for our next mission: Angelina's for the younger Fowlers, and getting off their feet for the elder Fowlers. 

Pastries as works of art


Best hot chocolate ever says Elizabeth 
(and a big thanks to her friend Nora for the recommendation)

The kids ran through the hedge mazes... too much sugar and a need to run off their sillies. We took the subway back to our hotel, had a slightly odd dinner at an Italian restaurant where the owner tried a bit too hard to make us feel at ease (therefore causing the opposite), and a final night in Paris. We lingered over breakfast and conversation with Steve and Linda, then took a cab to the airport for flights back to Stockholm. It felt odd to be coming "home" to Stockholm, but so be it. We'll take a forecast of "snow ending at 9:15". 

Overall, a great trip to France... we enjoyed exploring a part of the world we'd never seen before with Linda and Steve, who were able tour guides. There is a lot more we'd like to explore, especially in the mountains and terrain around Provence. The Louvre exhibit is well worth seeing. 

A few lessons learned: We learned to carry a 1 euro coin for the bathrooms and to not trust the "50 meters" to the nearest bathroom. We learned that some advance planning will save a lot of time in Paris (or any big city)- but this is harder for our style of travel, which seems to be more "show up and explore." We also learned we perhaps don't love cities as much as we might, or perhaps we just don't love cities and crowds. Our friend's suggestion of finding the off normal times when museums might be open is a good one. I think that Linda and Steve learned how much our kids need to run- we spent a lot of time in random places with them chasing each other around like unruly bear cubs. 

In writing these posts, it is also to realize how much we tucked into these 8 days- while our field trip to the Bories was interesting, contemplating hitchhiking as the dark fell may indeed be the stuff memories are made of (along with good pastries, rock walls, flamingos, Parisian mimes, and more).  About a day after getting home, Elizabeth piped up: "Mom-- what was your favorite artwork?" Then she proceeded to tell me in detail about her favorite- the Monet water lilies. 

A big thanks to Linda & Steve for being our stalwart traveling companions and introducing us to this truly amazing part of the world.