Selfies With Hillary

Recently I saw some footage of Hillary Clinton campaigning, and it seemed like she was spending most of her time with a plastic smile on her face, stopping for “selfies” with people in the crowd.  The candidate would pose with an admirer who wanted a picture, walk a few paces, pose as another person manipulated their handheld to get their face and Clinton’s face in the shot, and that silly process continued, again and again and again.

If I were Hillary Clinton, this kind of  stop-and-go, photo-centric approach to campaigning would drive me nuts.  I also wonder what the Secret Service has to say about the physical security of selfies.  It’s one thing to have candidates walk the rope line, doing the grip and nod as they move steadily along before or after a speech, but the stop every few feet, cheek-to-cheek nature of constant selfies would seem to pose greater security risks.

I think the apparent obsession some people seem to have about taking “selfies” whereever they are, whatever they are doing, is curious — and, at times, off-putting.  In my view, the cell phone camera/selfie stick world has wrecked the experience at some art museums like the Louvre.  (I’m not alone in this; some art museums have banned selfie sticks because of their irritating, disruptive, view-obstructing tendencies.)

But I also guess I don’t understand why people want to take, and have, so many pictures of themselves. Is it simple Narcissism?  Is it a desire to have photographic proof that you were where you claimed to be?  Is it a desire to perfect your very best selfie pose?

The last time I was at the Louvre I watched a young man taking individual selfies of himself standing in front of every one of the dozens of paintings along one wall in a gallery.  What in the world was he going to do with them?  Was every one of those selfies posted to the guy’s Facebook page so that his friends could see dozens of nearly identical pictures of his smiling mug in front of a painting on their news feeds?  Was he going to have a mind-numbing slide show upon his return home?

Hillary Clinton, and no doubt other candidates who have to do the selfie stops, probably will end up being among the most selfie-photographed people in the history of the human race.  It would be interesting to get her unvarnished views about how she feels about it.

Musee National du Moyen Age

048We’ve had a number of special experiences during our trip to Paris, but one of my favorites was a visit to the Musee National du Moyen Age — the National Museum of the Middle Ages. Formerly known as the Cluny, this Left Bank museum is a wonderful find for the history buff and the art lover.

The museum is located in an actual medieval building, so the very act of entering and wandering around helps to give an idea of life in the middle ages — at least, for the aristocracy and the clergy. You enter the the museum through a walled, cobblestoned courtyard, past the remains of the Latin motto of the place when it was the town house of the abbots of Cluny, and then move through cavernous stone rooms and cellars where various items and exhibits are found.

055The rooms are filled with a rich trove of the art and handcraft of the Middle Ages. If you are a fan of stained glass windows, this is a must-see visit, because the many exquisite examples of glassworker craftsmanship are displayed at eye level, where they can be carefully studied and fully appreciated. It’s great to see the stained glass at St. Chapelle, where the full effect of entire windows is felt, but there is an advantage to examining individual panes, too. The vivid colors and staging of the scenes are spectacular, and the expressions on the people depicted, and the familiar attributes of Biblical personalities, like St. Peter and his ever-present key, come to life when the stained glass is examined up close.

052Another evocative exhibit featured the formerly lost heads of the kings of Judah. When the mob attacked the Notre Dame cathedral during the French Revolution and tried to turn it into a secular temple, they knocked the heads off the kings of Judah who stand in line above the front doors. The heads were replaced in the middle of the 19th century, but the original heads were thought to be lost forever. That is, until 21 of them were unearthed during the 1970s. They now are on display in the Musee National du Moyen Age, still looking somewhat startled that they were removed from their former stone bodies.

There’s lots to see in this museum, such as the mysterious, obviously symbolic series of tapestries featuring a woman, her servant, a unicorn, and other creatures, marvelous wood altarpieces and stone statuary, and many religious items. I particularly liked the flow and pace of the museum, which was in sharp contrast to the jam-packed crowd scenes at the Louvre. There was plenty of room, and time, to enjoy the exhibits and appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the life and craftsmanship of the Middle Ages.047

Last Visit To The Louvre

Today Richard, Russell and I visited the Louvre. I think it will probably be my last visit. If you’ve been to the Louvre, you may understand what I mean. If you’ve never been there, you won’t. You’ll read the guidebooks, and they will tell you that you absolutely must visit the Louvre, and you will go — because you absolutely must visit the Louvre if you come to Paris. I’m betting, though, that you probably won’t enjoy it.

Today we bypassed the long line for tickets because we had a museum pass, which is crucial — otherwise, you could wait for an hour or more just to get a chance to buy a ticket. Once inside, we headed to the wing of the museum that houses the Mona Lisa and thousands of other paintings from the Renaissance. When you get to the room that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, prepare for a scrum. The room is a wild melee of people elbowing to get close to the painting and taking “selfies.” It’s not a positive reflection of humanity, and it’s simply impossible to enjoy the painting in anything approaching quiet contemplation. The experiences in front of the other famous items at the Louvre, like Venus de Milo, are similarly unpleasant mob scenes.

It’s hard to get away from the crowds, and it’s hard to appreciate the artwork when any movement is likely to insert you into a picture taken by another tourist. And there really is too much to see — room after room after room of Egyptian antiquities, or Roman statues, or Greek busts. I found myself thinking that, if I were an Egyptian visitor, I’d be upset that my cultural heritage has been taken and warehoused in faraway Paris, in a place where countless riches from other countries are on display.

005If you want to focus on one area, such as Flemish and Dutch paintings, you could fill an entire day. And be prepared to walk through room after room of hundreds of Madonna and child and Biblical paintings, still life paintings of gutted animal carcasses, landscapes and sea paintings, arranged in rooms where dozens of pieces are on display cheek by jowl and even the ceilings are painted masterpieces. It’s just too much. At the end of our visit I searched for a room that was quiet and suited for enjoying art, and found a room of beautiful medieval tapestries that would have been worth a separate visit if they had been located in virtually any other museum in the world. In the Louvre, however, they are an afterthought — as the picture included with this post indicates.

After a few hours we departed, having walked for miles on marble floors until our feet ached and our necks were tied in knots, and I swore that I had had enough of clustering, clamoring tourists, and walls crammed with paintings, and bustling guides. I think this will be my last visit to the Louvre.

Pickpockets At The Pyramid

If you’ve ever been to the Louvre, you know one of the great joys of the experience is waiting by the ugly glass pyramid to get in to one of the world’s great museums.  And waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . . .

Apparently things have gotten a bit more . . . exciting at the Louvre since Richard and I spent an eternity there one morning two years ago.  At that time, it was just a boring exercise in passing the time until we moved to the front of the line.  Now the news media is reporting that gangs of aggressive pickpockets that include children are prowling the premises of the pyramid, attacking tourists and employees alike.  The crime has gotten so bad that the employees went on strike today and the Louvre was closed to visitors.  Can you imagine how you would feel if, on your once-in-a-lifetime visit to Paris, you budgeted one day to visit the Louvre and today was that day?

There must be something to this story that I don’t understand.  It seems like the response to a pickpocket problem at a particular location, like the Louvre, would be obvious — station a bunch of gendarmes there and have them chase down, tackle, and arrest any perpetrators.  You’d certainly think that France would want anyone visiting one of the crown jewels of Paris to be able to do so without grappling with the French equivalent of Fagin and the Artful Dodger.

I thought waiting in the Louvre’s endless line that moved at a tortoise-like pace was awful.  I guess I should be grateful that I wasn’t mugged to boot.

Faulty Footwear

I’m a big walker, and I knew we would be walking a lot during our stay in Paris.  It is easy, and a good way to see the city as you move from museum to church to formal garden.

A few weeks before I left Columbus, my old sneakers gave out, and I went to buy some new ones.  I chose some black Sonoma shoes that are comfortable and well-suited to a jaunt around the Yantis Loop.  I am sorry to report that they have been a dismal failure as a Parisian walking shoe, however.  They simply lack the padding needed to adequately shield my large, very flat feet from the constant pounding of foot against pavement, foot against marble floor, foot against dusty path, and foot against cobblestone.

I wore the shoes on the day we walked to the Arc de Triomphe and the day we strolled to and through the Louvre, and by the end of those days my dogs were really barking.  I was afraid that when I took my shoes off, I would find nothing but bloody stumps.  So, I switched to some much less fashionable but thickly soled old brown shoes, and my feet are once again happy campers.

By the way, when your feet are killing you you tend to notice things like the lack of floor covering.  I say it’s high time that the French discovered the glories of wall-to-wall carpeting.

Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters

The melee today in front of the Mona Lisa

Today Richard and I went to the Louvre.  We saw rooms of Greek and Egyptian sculpture, works by the Dutch masters, more religious paintings than you could count, and the full panoply of Renaissance art.  One highlight — or, more accurately, lowlight — was the visit to the Mona Lisa.

It is easy to tell when you reach the room with Mona Lisa, for two reasons.  First, it is exponentially more jammed with people than the rest of the Louvre.  Second, the otherwise rational, respectful visitors and art lovers you find elsewhere in the museum have been magically transformed into the most appalling jerks imaginable.

Today's rabble in front of the Mona Lisa

The Louvre has the Mona Lisa displayed on a central column in the middle of the room, with ropes to keep people back.  There is an immense crush of people in front of the painting.  Seemingly everyone has a camera and is snapping a picture of — a picture? — and is pressing forward and trying to wedge themselves in front of the person standing next to them.  As Richard and I stood at the rear of the crowd and tried to appreciate the world’s most famous painting, I was hit on the back of the head by the camera of the person behind me and Richard was swept away in the mad press forward.  I’m amazed that fights didn’t break out as people jockeyed for position to take the best picture of the painting.

No one can possibly appreciate the quality of the Mona Lisa under these circumstances.  You can’t get close to it, and if you even get to the front of the crowd you don’t exactly have the opportunity for quiet contemplation as the cameras click and you’re trying to stand your ground against the onslaught.  We gave up and decided to move on.

The Mona Lisa undoubtedly is a great painting, but this was ridiculous.

VRBO Changes The World (Paris Edition)

The kitchen at chez Josette

So, I’m in Paris, meeting up with Richard to spend a week with him as he moves slowly through Europe and soaks up what the continent has to offer.  Rather than spend a ridiculous sum on a hotel, and be squirreled away in some sterile tourist area of the City of Lights, Kish and I decide to try VRBO.  We end up renting an apartment in the Latin Quarter.

When I arrived today, I had some trepidation about what I would find.  Things can look good on the web, but sometimes the reality falls short.  That did not happen today, fortunately.  (Bon!)

The TV room at our apartment

Here is what I found:

*  A surprisingly spacious apartment with two well-sized bedrooms, a TV room with cable TV and a collection of hundreds of DVDs, a full kitchen with every utensil and cooking appliance known to man, a full shower and bathroom, a separate toilet room,  a washer and a dryer, a desktop computer as well as apartment-wide, free wireless, and a dining room with a table that seats six.  And, the apartment is decorated with style and stocked with fresh baguettes and chocolate rolls.

*  An incredibly helpful and accommodating hostess (merci, Josette!) who explained every appliance, computer, TV remote, and key, provided suggestions on restaurants and bistros to frequent, gave us her apartment number and cell number, and encouraged us to call if we had any problems or questions.

A look down the Rue Val de Grace

*  Windows with iron railings that open out to an iconic Paris street with a view like this.

*  A central location on Rue Val de Grace near the Luxembourg Gardens and the Pantheon, located in the heart of a student housing district in the Latin Quarter (District Five), within easy walking distance of the Ile de la Cite, the Louvre, and other sites in central Paris and (perhaps most importantly) directly across the street from a wine shop with an excellent selection and very moderate prices.

All of this, for a price that probably is about half of what we would pay for a decent hotel.  This is why VRBO is changing the world.

“Madonna And Child” Fatigue

The BBC reports that a painting by Titian recently was sold at auction for a new record for a Titian painting.

The painting, called “A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria,” sold for $16.9 million.  The painting has all of the standard features of a “Madonna and child” painting — the plump but alert baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, held by his placid mother Mary, who is clad in dark clothing.  The only remarkable thing about the painting is that two other characters are shown, too.

When I read the BBC story and saw the painting it reminded me of my visit to the Louvre many years ago.  I love art and I love looking at artwork in museums, but walking through room after room of “Madonna and Child” paintings definitely gave me “Madonna and Child” fatigue.  I felt guilty about my reaction, but after the first few dozen of the paintings I found myself unable to appreciate the artist’s technique, the depiction of the angelic features of the mother and child, the positioning of the characters, the background representations, and so forth.  Instead, I found myself thinking things like:  “Wow, Jesus was really a porker!  What the heck have they been feeding him?” I was happy when I finally got to the Mona Lisa and left the “Madonna and Child” rooms behind.