I’m kidding, of course. But to the thousands saluting the Winged Victory, Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo with their cell-phone cameras, the rest of the world’s best-known museum might as well be an oversized Furniture Mart. To hell with Botticelli or Renoir; they’re there to photograph the Big Three and then get their asses on over to the Eiffel Tower to stand at the end of a 90-minute line.
As a gawking tourist myself, I’m familiar with the compulsion to see and record every landmark in the guidebook. But at the Louvre, the crowds milling around these particular pieces radiate the impatience and hunger of paparazzi — how many blurry pictures will constitute proof of the visit? How many bizarre poses? Would that idiot in the cargo shorts please move a little to the left?
These great works became famous because they were masterpieces; today they are just three more celebrities, unable to thwart the crowds and cameras by ducking into waiting limousines. Fortunately, their patience is limitless. Viewed from the back of the room, Mona Lisa’s forehead and enigmatic eyes seem to float, amused, in a sea of tiny LCD screens. Venus, from her higher vantage point, gazes past the throng with the perspective of 21 centuries. She’s not wearing panties either, but somehow makes it work better than Britney Spears. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, her head in some other place, seems not to regret the fact.
No doubt celebrity has always attracted the insincere like moths to a porch light. The difference today is that they all have digital cameras, and are mostly unaware that it is possible and preferable to shoot indoors without flash. But no matter. The good part of it is that, with the crowds concentrated elsewhere, the rest of the vast Louvre remains hushed and dignified, and conducive to appreciation of the long-dead geniuses who have adorned its endless corridors. Even on the weekends.
But enough about Paris. I’m off to the bookstore to see if I can’t find some worthy fiction. In the meantime, I’m in the middle of A Year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke’s amusing and semi-fictional take on his year as a Briton in France. Not really up my crime-fiction street, but so far, not bad at all…