beautiful hieroglyphs for J. + following Thoth

The strain of carrying provisions home in my backpack has done something to my spine. The one night I am relieved of having to write late into the night – a self-imposed pressure – pleasure – I awaken at 2:00 am and thereafter hourly with twinging muscle something, left side, below ribs and into small of back.

The tap water is excellent. One of the reasons to carry a backpack: water bottles. And layers of clothes to put on and take off as the temperature rises and falls, which it has by about ten degrees in the short time we’ve been here. Then in the Louvre today, it was stifling and especially close, claustrophobic under the glass pyramid.

We made our approach via Place de la Concorde, Louis-Phillipe’s clean-up job after the mess chopping all those heads made, and entered the Tuileries, to eat our lunch, baguette with gritty hydroponic (?) greens and smelly cheese and salami, or pork for some, in true Parisian fashion, reclined on the green recliner chairs provided, arranged staring into the middle of a dirty fountain, with tourists to left and right, the ones on the right of us intrepidly feeding pigeons from their hands, the pigeons greedy enough to mount each other (!) to get to the chippies. The rain had stopped and a bit of blue was visible, laced with jet-streams, above.

Russians with give-away fringes, eyeshadow, tights and lumpy at the waist, Chinese stepping over us to claim their recliners, Japanese doing everything but diving into the fountain to get that photo of a drake’s head that’ll be the envy of the folks back home, Parisians ignoring the no dogs sign, with dogs hardly dogs anyway, smoking single men, sometimes on cell-phones, with nice watches and trenchcoats, and elegant shoes, German youths, pale legs exposed, sucking on bottles of beer, Spanish families, ushering small children through the melee, maps flapping in their hands, Hawkers with metal souvenirs of the Eiffel Tower, and other knick-knacks, displayed on sheets. Students on class-trips, small ones and big ones. And a slew of international tourists.

As per the instruction of our Fat Tire Guide, Brian, we took the secret stairwell down into Carousel, a shopping arcade leading into the pyramid, the crowd not so great as that heading in through the pyramid, and bought our tickets at a machine. 9 Euros for adults, kids free. Cheap.

Again that odd phenomenon: the museum or gallery where everybody is taking photos, and, despite the no flash sign, using flashes. Here it really detracted from the experience. The point seeming to be to record the exhibits before seeing them.

The first star turn we came to was the Venus de Milo. Cameras above heads, partners and friends and fellow tour group members, putting themselves in the shot. Proof of attendance? A funny thing, proof, as our friend Moliere’s misanthrope might say. And all these lenses blinking like a many headed thing, like snakes on a Medusa, were enough to make us misanthropic. What were people doing?

The Greeks were popular. England’s marbles being more famous, I had not known France had thieved so well or widely. We tended to steer further and further from the thronging of tour groups and tourists following Dan Brown’s footsteps. And down we went to the medieval footprint of the Palais du Louvre. This was an exceptional space, around the donjon and outer walls, the pylons that had supported the draw-bridges intact, towering up towards the unfinished concrete of the ceiling – below today’s Louvre.

To the Egyptians. The artifacts of everyday existence and contact were well represented. It was interesting that the human figure tended towards idealisation, tended to a general form, with few variations, except for gods, while the natural world was presented with uncanny naturalism; the differences in form being respected, the eye of the artist or artisan generalising according to phenotype. Beautiful fish and birds of every variety. Sometimes a fish would be shown in the hand of a fisher and then would lose specificity as if to say it could have been any kind of fish that was caught.

The fineness of the work was also remarkable. Small figurines of gods and sacred animals done in metal or glass or ceramic. Or in ink. All really good to look at. Satisfying. With certain colours that stood out, blues, greens.

Filters that people drank through, to avoid the herbs in wine and deposits in beer. Like elongated thimbles with holes to filter out the gross material.

A menu taken into death of all the foods provided for the afterlife, including cakes and breads, the French having provided a commentary saying that many of the cakes and breads were now unknown, but were like ‘our’ baguettes and gateaux. A thousand mixed meats. Beef. Shoulder, rump. Milk cake. The things the body liked in life taken with it and written down, like a wish-list for the bill of fare in the next life.

A plaque of hieroglyphics, in form like a rounded gravestones, an ad for the chief artisan’s work and workmanship: I have mastered the art of showing the attractiveness of a man and a woman’s walk, a man running, the shoulder of a hippo. I have learnt how to make something that the fire cannot consume and the water not dissolve. I will not give these secrets to anyone but my eldest son. And so on. Recommending himself to the reader as the best man for the job of sculpting, writing, recording, memorialising. But what did the Egyptians think they were doing when they did that? Preserving in material form something of those people who lived, their patrons, to last through eternity? I don’t think so. In the preservation of the materials there was something else at stake.

The sarcophagi were stunning, rows of them, some smiling like the Buddha, often more intensely decorated on the inside than on the side visible to visitors, like family, loved ones. As if the perseverance of material form were that to which the dead were supposed to bear witness. An audience of the dead.

We escaped to the outside for a breather, ascending through the airless pyramid. Returning, we made directly for La Giaconde. Through hallways it was clear belonged to a palace, skylights above, endless Italian mannerists below. But first a special smaller corner room featuring work by Cimabue, Fra Angelico and Giotto. The progenitors.

An enormous length of corridors. Then Mona. And a camera-sprouting herbaceous border of people massed about a plate-glass sandwich with the little window in it out of which peers … over the wood veneer lintel … and the seatbelt cordon … into the red flashes of digital cameras … who? I overheard a German tour-guide telling his group that it might have been the face of Leonardo’s male lover. The sillier the cult gets, the more readily people accept that it is silly. But go see anyway.

The Ingres’s and the Gericault’s and the Delacroix’s afterwards are great and special. And when the museum was being cleared at 5:45 I caught the Caravaggio’s. So many canvases. Grand halls, with ceiling panels just as spectacular as – sometimes more than – the eye-level works.

We left the Louvre having seen a fraction, and in that fraction, knowing little well. Revisiting in fact, like the hordes flocking in to see what they knew, the names already known, the paintings recognised from books. Is this good?

The architectural presence of the Louvre creates its impression. Quite apart from what is on exhibition. Colours and volumes.

I loved the space below the building, Charles V’s Palais, its foundations. The concrete raw above it. Like a modern sub-basement, only lit better.

And the pyramid was a thing better seen from outside than in.