My Travel Book - Paris - A few hours in Le Louvre on a cold Sunday afternoon

When we spend the week-end in Paris, sometimes  we go to the Opera on Sunday afternoon. Otherwise, we take long walks around because Paris is made of so many different small areas that there is always something new to discover.

We may also decide to go to a temporary art exhibit, so many of them that it’s hard to choose.

But today, we made up our mind that we had to go to the Louvre. It had been ages... and since in less than one year, we had been twice to Madrid to go to the Prado and Reina Sofia, we felt a little bit silly not to care this much about the Louvre!

So the Louvre it was... There were many things I wanted to see again but since the Louvre has expanded so much, we guessed it would take a few Sundays to go from one center of interest to the other one and then go through the entire museum.

We were so right. Especially since the Louvre was overcrowded. Good thing because while you could hear many foreign languages spoken, there were a lot of «natives» there, with children and babies... Which means that art is no longer elitist. Or maybe, a Sunday trip to the Louvre has become really trendy! Who knows!

No phones ringing for a change but a lot of children running around. A lot of people taking pictures using a flash, (an awful thing to do to paintings) Maybe I sound a little bit harsh on that subject especially since there are worse things (I got really mad at a woman who was patting a Persian stele) which explains why every five minutes or so an alarm sets off! But you get used to it!

There are small posters in every room: no flash, no touching, no phones, no eating (?)... but they are not very obvious.

O.k. I’ll stop being negative. The Louvre is a very amazing place especially when you think it represents only a very small part of France’s art treasures, even in Paris.

I wanted to see their Spanish painting collection... Alas, the Louvre is very, very poor in this field... What did I expect after going so many times to the Prado? When in France... Well, there were a couple of very wonderful El Greco... Other than that... Oh my god, I am becoming a real snob!

By the way, for those of you who will go one day to the Louvre, there are  two amazing Boticelli frescoes that people usually miss. They’ve been at the same place for at least 50 years... I remember looking at them when I was a kid, wishing to turn out like one of those beautiful maiden... Well it didn’t happen but that’s ok.

So you go up to The Samothrace Victory. You can’t miss it... It still hasn’t got her arms nor her head back but that’s allright. She’s quite impressive this way. Watch out, you may get tramped to death there... Same thing, if you try to get to see Mona Lisa... Museums can be dangerous at times.

Ok, sorry, I probably got you lost there. So you’re right in front of this formidable winged disabled victory emblem. Right there, you turn right and please, please, look out on your left, because they are hiding in a recess, there they are... My Boticelli girls! One of them is getting married but they are such a symbol of feminity, beauty and grace!

Today, after I tore myself away from them or was torn away by my better half (oh yes?), my beloved husband suggested we’d «go down to Egypt». (Sounds like Moses, doesn’t it?)

It was quite suitable since it didn’t involve getting on a plane... Instead, we walked and walked... went past zillions of greek and roman statues... and got down or up to the Egyptian department.

I still remember the night we had been invited to the reopening of this wing a long time ago. We have gone back there many times since. I’ve always loved the Egyptian history and legends and gods and Pharaohs.

I still dream about going to the Pyramids but I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed because you see, I like very much those small lifelike statues caught in their daily life, so human, so close to me, talking to me throughout so many centuries. The real heart and life of those huge and appalling tombs.

And I’m fascinated by the attractiveness of the bas-reliefs, the sarcophaguses (I would have written «sarcophagi»), the jewelry. It is a world so filled with beauty that somehow you tend to forget the humble and hard-working slaves who gave their lives for this beauty. Except that they are still here, so handsome, fresh out from the graves.

I remember reading recently an article by Zahi Hawass who is the head of Egyptian Antiquities in Egypt. He sounded quite upset about France (and other European countries) robbing Egyptian antiquities for centuries... Maybe we didn’t exactly rob them, maybe at the time, it was simply a matter of «protecting» them in a colonial way... But I have to admit that our Egyptian exhibits are huge, incredibly huge (and they are probably only a small part of a much bigger collection down in the museum reserves).

Of course, they are perfectly preserved, perfectly exhibited. But it is so true they belong to Egypt and the World cultural heritage. They definitely do not belong to our history. Even if Champollion discovered how to translate and read hieroglyphs which opened the way to comprehending fully the Egyptian civilization.

(By the way, besides small museums all over France, our national Archeology museum is in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, very close to Paris, in one of the royal palaces from medieval times till the XVIIth century. Interesting, of course. But not as fascinating as the Egyptian artefacts, at least for me.)

Well, we were very happy about our day. (Going from one Egyptian room to another one - downstairs and upstairs and downstairs and upstairs kept us busy all afternoon long.)

What a chance to spend part of the day enjoying fully a trip through Egyptian history, culture and civilization, then getting back to our son’s appartment after buying a few excellent cakes, settling down on the sofa with a glass of mango juice and sighing with pure happiness... with our cat purring his heart out, close to us.
(In Egypt, he would have been Bastet, a deity. But we didn’t tell him.)

I know I’ll sound awful and I’m very sorry, Dr. Zahi Hawass: Thank you so much to all of you, archeologists and grave robbers and art dealers and crazy collectors and generous patrons of the arts and most of all to the Egyptian people. We spent a fabulous afternoon in ancient Egypt today.

 °Of course, all the pictures are copyrighted and none of them was taken using a flash!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Belgium... How sick art thou?

At 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning, a terrible train crash happened very close to Brussels. They don’t really know why yet... Maybe a train driver run a red light. Maybe the red light was not working. Maybe the other train driver was going too fast...

Well anyway, two trains filled with commuters crashed (thank gooodness, the schools were closed). At first it was said that it had been a head-on collision. Then they discovered that the two trains got at the same time at a switch and so it had been a lateral collision. Then a third train piled up too (no one ever said which way it was going).

Tens of dead commuters. People still missing. Hundreds of mangled people. Innocent people going to work, commuting to Brussels for the day.

So there we are. You’d think this is a national tragedy for Belgium. Wrong, my friends.

Belgium has become a very sick country where dead and hurt people are not Belgians but Flemish and Walloons... Now Belgium has really become a tribal country.

The accident took place in a Flemish part of Belgium (the Flemish Brabant - by the way, there is also a Walloon Brabant). Very close to Brussels which is enclosed into the Flemish Brabant.

One train was coming from Flanders. The other one from Wallonia.

Right after the accident, the governor of the Flemish Brabant made a very official statement: «Today is a day of bereavement for Flanders.»

Thank you, Mr. Governor, for the Walloons who got killed and maimed in the accident too. Thank you for your care and mourning about Belgians who died and were maimed in this horrible accident.

I know many people wonder why I do not like living in Belgium. Well, there it is. In 1998, hatred between the two speech communities was perceptible. In 2010, it’s more than real and every once in a while, they talk about partition for language problems... actually more because of  economic problems.

Those problems go way back to the XIXth century when Belgium was created, kind of flared up from time to time during the XXth century. Now we are on the verge of explosion.

I’ll try to make it short.

Belgium is a very small country (about the size of Brittany) but it is the heart of Europe.

Belgium has a king who has almost no power but who garantees the existence of the country, sort of. 

In Belgium, unless I’m wrong, all elections are proportional which implies
long negociations between the political parties before they get a government in action. This is true from city halls to the federal government.

Belgium is a federal state made up of communities and regions.

There are 3 communities: The French Community, The Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community (-/+ 12.000 people in Limbourg).

There are 3 regions: The Walloon Region, The Flemish Region and The Brussels Region (called «Brussels Capital»).

There are 4 speech communities: the french-speaking community, the flemish-speaking community, the german-speaking community and the bilingual «Brussels Capital» community.

Are you still following? We are talking about a country the size of Brittany!

In Belgium, there are 4 governments: the Federal Government (i.e. the Belgian government over Belgium)*, the Flemish Government, both of them choosing Brussels as their Capital. Then there is the Walloon Government (with Namur as its capital). And last but not least the Brussels Capital government (and its own capital of course: Brussels again). All of them have a real government. Ok, ok, ok, mental calculation... Go! And dont’ forget the language barriers.

There was a joke in Brussels, told to foreigners like us who were appalled at the decay so apparent everywhere... «Every Belgian or so is a state employee working in an office. We don’t have time to care about freeways, roads, buildings, railways, etc.» And then a shrug. Being Belgian is being wise or resigned to his fate.

Don’t forget to add the thousands of employees of the European Community and you’ve got almost the right picture!

I think things started getting very bad, some sort of a painful awakening, in 2001.
A train crash which could have been avoided if two walloon and flemish employees had been able to understand each other and communicate. By the time, someone found a bilingual employee, it was too late.
They call it the Pécrot tragedy. No longer the worst tragedy, alas but very revealing of the deep malaise in Belgium.

I’m not saying that the problem is all flemish... When French-speaking Wallonia was rich and powerful, it mistreated the Flemish part. Now that Wallonia is getting poorer and Flanders is much wealthier, guess what happens!

There is also the fact that the governments, present and past, never imposed bilingualism (french/flemish) to Belgium (including all communities and regions)...

Somehow, it may never have worked at all. Bilingual Brussels is torn apart.

Well, this is a very short story about Belgium.
Besides the fact that this tragedy starts revealing a lot of malfunctions 
in the railway system (one of the trains was 50 years old) with no putting into practice European safety regulations, etc., it will probably lead to something much worse: the complete break-down of Belgium.

Let’s have a loving thought for the human beings and their families who were so deeply hurt yesterday. What else can we do?

*The king does hold a consultation with the winners and approves the appointment of the Prime Minister (who has to be Flemish now), to make things short.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


France, you are my country but you make me really mad sometimes.

I’m learning Arabic. My teacher, a very patient and kind young man, is a PhD student in Archeology in Paris. He comes from the Golan Heights. (The history of his birthplace would require a full blog entry and maybe two. There is also Wikipedia.)

T., my teacher, has many brothers and sisters. One of his brothers, Fahed, slightly older than him, is a painter. He used to live in Tel Aviv where he has exhibited his work many times.

Artists sometimes need to travel around for inspiration through other cultures.

Fahed left Israel a couple of years ago to go to Bilbao, an extremely  creative place and now he is in Paris, which I will refrain from praising of course. His papers are in order so he’s fully entitled to live and work in France.

What kind of work can a penniless painter do in Paris? Well, lots of jobs... But you see, Fahed is a painter so he got this idea of painting famous places in Paris and sell those paintings to tourists...

So far so good. To survive financially, he does what he likes best in life and gets enough free time to work on his own projects. Many art students do that. They sell their «touristy» paintings to tourists who are delighted to hang over their fireplace this beautiful Eiffel Tower or whatever they bought in Paris. IN PARIS, OH-MY-GOD!

Ok, let’s go back to Fahed. The other day, he thought he had enough paintings done and since the weather was getting milder, he went up to Trocadero and started selling his paintings.

It went very well. His paintings are good. The tourists were attracted by his work and bought some of it.
It went very well for a while at least.

Where did I say this story takes place? In Paris? Paris, France?

When I was much younger (a century ago), I loved a Renaissance French poet by the name of Joachim du Bellay.

He’s still very famous (is he?) because he wrote a poem: «France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois»... "France, mother of arts, mother of soldiery and mother of laws." (At his time, armies played a great part since France was still in the making.)

So we are in France, mother of arts...
Fahed is selling his paintings.

Two cops who are leisurely trying to pin down petty thiefs and/or maybe a couple of people without papers in order, enter the scene.

They spot Fahed and go straight to him. They ask him in French what he’s doing there or something like that. You see, Fahed has just started to study French and therefore he’s not yet fluent.

He answers in English. Not in Arabic, good for him... Well, he may have tried Hebrew but would the cops have made the difference?

But they know English is not French and they start getting pissed off. (Excuse my French.)

What do they do since they are soooooo pissed off? (Excuse my French again.)

They grab the paintings. A big trash can is close by and they throw the paintings in it.

«France, mother of arts...»

Fahed gets a little bit upset (no kidding!) and keeps on talking to them in English, trying to explain to them who he is, etc.

All of a sudden, one cop remembers that he understands and speaks English a little bit (leftover from school probably) and yells at Fayed:


And another point: Unless you speak French, do not try to sell your art in Paris.

After the cops left, Fahed called T. who came and took pictures of his brother’s work in the trash can... Yesterday T. showed them to me and told me the story.

I was not surprised considering what’s going on in France right now, pretentiously called «our major debate about national identity» i.e. What makes you French? Wide-ranging debate but quite irritating to many people like me.

This will be the subject of another blog. I’m already working on it...

Right now, I’ll let Joachim du Bellay express his feelings about France (and you’ll get a bonus... the English version)

France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois

France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois, 

Tu m'as nourri longtemps du lait de ta mamelle :
Ores, comme un agneau qui sa nourrice appelle, 

Je remplis de ton nom les antres et les bois.

Si tu m'as pour enfant avoué quelquefois, 

Que ne me réponds-tu maintenant, ô cruelle ? 

France, France, réponds à ma triste querelle.
Mais nul, sinon Écho, ne répond à ma voix.

Entre les loups cruels j'erre parmi la plaine, 

Je sens venir l'hiver, de qui la froide haleine 

D'une tremblante horreur fait hérisser ma peau.

Las, tes autres agneaux n'ont faute de pâture,
Ils ne craignent le loup, le vent ni la froidure :
Si ne suis-je pourtant le pire du troupeau.

France, mother of arts, of laws, of soldiery,
Long did your bossom suckle me; now I,
Like lamb ripped from the teat, do vainly cry
Your name through woods and glens: come succor me!

If once I was your child, suddenly,
Must you, grown heartless now, make no reply?
France, France, give ear: hear, hear my plaintive sigh.
Alas, Echo alone answers my plea.

Over the plain, midst vicious wolves I go;
I feel the winters’s breath: soon will it blow
Its gusts, and I will shudder, terror-cursed.

But why? Your other lambs browse, graze their fill,
And fear nor wolf, nor wind, nor winter’s chill.
Yet am I not, of all your flock, the worst.

© University of Chicago Press

Good Luck, and Good Night*


Let's have a good laugh - Life before CP

Remember those endless debates about Aesop and the tongue in senior high school? We had them in France. But of course, we have Jean de La Fontaine who copied shamelessly the great Aesop.

What’s the story again?

Someone called Xanthus had a wife who left him after a quarrel. Aesop, writer of fables, won her back with his wit.
So Xanthus gave a feast for the leading philosophers of Greece and put Aesop in charge of preparing it.* 

Each dish turned out to be a different "tongue" preparation.
"Why?", said Xanthus very angrily.
"Well. You asked me to get the best thing ever. The tongue is the way to all knowledge. What could be better?"**
They all had a good laugh about it and so Xanthus asked them over again for supper on the following night. This time Aesop was supposed to prepare the worst food ever.***
The following night, guess what Aesop had fixed for the meal. Tongue again!
Xanthus who doesn’t seem to be the brightest man after all got very angry.
Aesop had to explain it all...****

"An evil tongue caused your wife to go away? A soft tongue brought you two back together."

The moral of this story: "The tongue is the best and the worst of things. Both of them at the same time."

Well done, Aesop.

So what about cellular phones? Yes. CP stands for cellular phone... Got you!

I love to walk in Paris. I used to love to walk in Paris. Blue sky, wide sidewalks, passers-by talking together, laughters.

The first time it happened to me (a long time ago), I turned around on the spot and grinned at the woman who was walking behind me.
She barely looked at me and kept on talking... on her cell phone.

Good thing too that she didn’t really notice me.

I’m a slow learner so it happened again and again. Feeling good and friendly... because of a slight defect (listening too much about what’s being said around me whether it’s in a store, in the street or in a restaurant).

So I had to learn not to react anymore. Phone in hand and close to the ear means "not talking to you".

And then they invented the earphone for cell phones! Mandatory in France. Just imagine my mental confusion... Now I was bumping into people who were sort of talking to themselves.

How could I know for sure they really were talking to someone else and not asking for directions or feeling like talking to me, the stranger walking alone in Paris.

Yes, I am a slow learner.

There were other experiences too. A lot.

I travel by train. Thalys (from and to Belgium) is filled with very busy businessmen. When cell phones started to be a must, the whole journey would be filled with ringtones and "Allo?", "Hullo?", "Hallo?"... Yackety-yak! All of them trying to sound important! And loud too, thank you. (By the way, there was a lot of industrial spying done on those trains. No kidding! I don’t blame them. It was so easy!)

At the beginning, the fun part was recognizing the cell phone brand since at the beginning, each brand had a very unmistakable ringtone. And there weren’t those many brands around anyway. So one phone would start ringing and 40 man would jump to grab their phone! Funny.

But then they started getting their own ring tone from the net so I quit having fun and focused more on the annoying part like trying to read a very good book but feeling like I was sitting in the middle of a duck pond.

Then a miracle happened. Cell phones were banned from trains... You can use your cell phone but only in between the cars which is not the best part of the train especially when you’re used to travelling first class. There are fewer calls, that’s for sure.

Cell phones were banned from hospitals (no kidding) and Opera houses (unbelievable).

Except that last night, a phone rang right in the middle of a most beautiful Bellini aria. Had it been my phone, I would have died on the spot. But nothing more happened... Pathetic.

Cell phones are still all over the streets and subways and stores and, and, and... everywhere.

What can be so important that it can’t wait till you are comfortably home or at the office to talk calmly about it?

Many times, not many things...

Is it no longer possible to take a walk somewhere or do your shopping while enjoying it fully and peacefully?

"Allo? Where are you? Let me tell you. I met so and so..." Blah blah blah.

But here comes the good part. You’ll love it, coming from me, after all I’ve said.

I’m the proud owner of two cell phones. Have a good laugh now. One is my secret phone... Oops, no longer but I won’t give you the number. The second one is more official and it is an iPhone. Wow!

I love my iPhone to distraction. Why? Because it can hold music and pictures? Because it is nice to play with and easy to write messages with? Because it doesn’t let you forget your appointments nor the entry codes to your friends’ appartments? Because it is the «in» thing and they sold it to me with a theft insurance just in case...?

I love my iPhone because... because... because all my important contacts are fit with their own pictures. Isn’t it great to get a phone call and know who’s calling you and you answer a real call from someone very real? Well, you usually do so anyway but I know what I mean. Don’t you? All of a sudden, things get different.

Most of all, I love my iPhone because its ring tone is so unpretentious (in Europe) that I never hear it and so I miss my phone calls when I’m outside... 

(I don't go as far as turning it off all day long.) But it has this nice part called «Missed calls». And the message is right there, very nicely obvious when I get home.

Of course I still can use it in case of absolute necessity, like reassuring instantly my loved ones after a very important test at the hospital or letting them know I’m safe and sound whenever they need to know that. (But only if they begged me to do so.) And it's nice to know whether or not my husband has forgotten I'm nervously waiting for him in the Opera lobby.

This is the good side of cell phones. Being able to get in touch very easily, whenever there is a real need to and wherever you are. I don’t miss the public phone booths because I never had the change I needed or I had to wait so long to call someone (there is a very funny sequence in one of the first Seinfeld shows... Times almost forgotten. So unfamiliar to young people.)

Another good thing, when you think of it, is that nobody really knows where you are when you’re getting a phone call on your cell phone... Except if you’re in Paris, Place de la Concorde, at 6:00 p.m.! Sneaky, eh!

Last Saturday, I was listening to some music in one of the hospital waiting rooms, which is what I usually do when I need to protect myself from unpleasantness. The doctor I had an appointment with told me that he would never do it. He has to be home in a comfy environment to listen to music!

Well, it’s just the same with me. I like getting my phone calls in a comfy environment, in perfect quietness and peacefulness. It is also true when I call my friends and family. Even though I won’t use my perfect and beautiful iPhone but the plain home phone (wireless though. I went that far).
Because communicating deserves privacy and quietness.

Maybe one of these days, I'll give my iPhone away to a friend who won't want it because by then, this phone will be totally obsolete. This is one of the real reasons I don't like cell phones. They are so representative of our consumer society.


Do you remember the time before cell phones?


 *Maybe his wife was not a good cook after all hence the quarrel.
 **Of course, this story happened well before the web came into existence.
 ***You have to admit that philosophy doesn’t go well with wisdom... The worst food ever? And coming back for it?
**** He had to be chuckling. He had to!

"Good Luck, and Good Night"*