Friday, August 22, 2008

The Flight and the Empress

During our illustrious semester spent abroad in Oxford, England, Dani and I had the privilege of trekking together to at least eight different cities. The two of us made good travel buddies, both wanting to see a lot and do a lot- be it dangling out of the top of castles, buying poetry from crazy old Irish men, or seeing the entire Louvre art museum in a single morning. Now if you've never been to the Louvre before, know this: the Louvre is amazingly, astoundingly, fangoriously large. Picture a giant building. Now multiply that by thirteen. That would be the first floor of the Louvre's four floors. I you tell the truth: it's crazy big.

Now Dani and I had traveled to Paris for Valentines Day with six other girls. As you might imagine, this led to plenty of opinions about what to do and where to go. The first day in Paris, most of the group elected to sleep in and come to the Louvre later in the morning. Dani and I were in the small group that wanted to take as much time as possible to see as much as we could in the museum, so we headed out early. Our goal was to see every wing on every floor. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? No, we soon realized. No it does not. Upon laying eyes on the monstrosity that is the Louvre, Dani and I came to understand how insane we were to attempt to see everything in the Louvre in a week, let alone in half a day. But as we looked at each other that morning, our eyes did all the talking. "Are you in?" "Let's do it."

After buying our tickets, we set off down the first hallway, maps and cameras in tow, ready to face all the art the Louvre had to throw at us. We were completely overwhelmed with the sheer volume of paintings lining the walls, ceilings, and stairwells of the Louvre. The next couple of hours melted together in colorful confusion, as countless works of art, statues, jewels, furniture, and pottery blended together in a blur of awe and wonder. Dani and I stopped occasionally to take silly pictures, ask directions, or observe the painters copying the masterpieces that lined the walls. But for the most part, we flew through those corridors, deftly manuevering our way through slow-moving tourists and laughing as our assessment of most of the art consisted of pointing at the passing pictures: Cool, there's a painting! Look, the Mona Lisa! Awesome, a statue! 

But I'll never forget the moment when both of us stopped dead in our tracks and stood mesmerized, staring up at the only painting that had been able to capture our attention for longer than a handful of seconds. The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I and the Crowning of the Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame Cathedral is a mind-blowingly enormous painting, truly worthy of the Louvre; it is over twenty feet tall and more than thirty two feet long. We'd been on the fast track all day, but time stood still in that moment.  "This is my favorite painting...ever," I breathed.

I can't explain the trance that painting put us under, and I don't know why out of the thousands of astounding works of art we'd seen that morning this was the one that stopped us cold. Could it have been the sheer size of the painting? Maybe. Was it because I was amazed to have never heard of or laid eyes on this painting before? That probably played a role. Was I enchanted by the detail of Empress Josephine's gorgeous dress, the rich colors of the cathedral, and the romantic notion or a coronation? Absolutely. It's probably just a combination of all of the above, but something special happened on that morning in Paris. I felt art. I finally understood how it could be something more than a pretty thing to look at. I wanted to step into that canvas and be a member of the scene, covered in paint, living as a part of the art. I fell in love with a painting.

I don't recall exactly how long we were in the presence of Empress Josephine. I know we took a lot of pictures, lingered on a nearby bench, and forgot about the rest of the museum for a while. We basked in the presence of this large, magical painting. And I remember whimpering to Dani: "I don't want to leave it!"

We left the immense Musée du Louvre that morning content in achieving what we could of our goal* and amazed at the experience we'd had with the Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine. We also each walked out clutching posters of a certain painting, fragments of the wonder that we'd witnessed earlier that morning.

*There was one section of the fourth floor that was closed off that we were prevented from sailing through.


dc said...

Best. Day. Ever. We totally conquered the Louvre.

I'm so glad you wrote about it... I still have Napoleon and Josephine somewhere. :)

Katie said...

Aww. This makes me think of my own times in Paris, art I've fallen in love with, and you lovely House 9 girls. Miss you, Val!