The day again starts abnormally late, even after several extra hours of sleep. I meet a German at breakfast, Victoria. She’s a virology student in Vienna. We make tentative plans to go to Versailles together later this week. We’ll see if it works out. Sometimes things don’t go the way you think they’re going to. For instance: My intention is to go to the Louvre this morning, but the line is so long that I say, “Fuck that” out loud and mosey down to the Museum of Decorative Arts, which is uncrowded and quiet. Sometimes you have to change plans for the sake of sanity.
Luckily for me, this museum is perhaps more useful than the Louvre because of the rooms that have been decorated in the style that I’m most interested in (late 18th-century, baby). Just when I think I know as much as someone can know without having a degree, my knowledge deepens. This is probably of little use or interest to any of you, but I find it deeply satisfying to know that richer households reupholstered their furniture twice a year to accommodate temperature change (cotton for summer, velvet for winter). While it makes me sad that more people aren’t taking advantage of this resource, I do love being the only person in a room.
It is in this sort of solitude that I come to this conclusion about 19th-century art and decoration: the large mix of antiquities spanning from Egyptian to Roman eras–along with an overall darker color palette–speaks to a drifting sense of identity the French were feeling after the fall of the Ancient Regime. It was a century in identity crisis, which inevitably led to things like Impressionism and later more experimental works in the City of Lights as time went on. Cognitive dissonance is real. I’m 100% certain art historians have written dozens of books on this topic; but I came to the conclusion independent of anyone else, and that’s cool.
What isn’t cool is this weather. You know that scene in Forest Gump where he complains about it raining from every direction? Yeah, it’s like that. And my umbrella isn’t agreeable, which means that I’m soaked to the bone by the time I get over to Les Invalides. At least it’s a place to be dry, though I have to admit I’m surprised I didn’t come last year. The whole of the complex is dedicated to war history. There’s an entire wing devoted to the history of the French army and all of its trappings, such as weapons and uniforms. It is a cornucopia of ideas. New characters begin to emerge. My understanding of how the royal guard operated helps me imagine a world without Napoleon.
Those thoughts lead me through the rain and into the Little General’s tomb, which is impressive, to say the least. His ashes are interred in this urn that’s two stories tall. Let that speak to the glory of France and the impact of one man with a vision. Imagine people treating you like a god. A part of my lingering has to do with the weather, but I’ll eventually get fed up with sitting around and stomp in some puddles back to the Louvre. Before I enter, though, I stop in an art supply store and spend 15 minutes picking out a new pen that doesn’t have too much drag. It’s the most interesting thing that happens in the Louvre. I do not stay long in the museum itself because I haven’t eaten all day and am irritable. I recognize that I need to take better care of myself.
It’s early when I decide to turn in for the night. The train is crowded, but that doesn’t bother me as much as it might. I’m tired but listening to my music, so I’m actually feeling content. When I get off at the Belleville stop, I stumble into the nearest restaurant and order steak (covered in an herbed butter), fries, and a salad in the best French I can manage. It’s painfully obvious that I’m from out of town, but the server is patient and encouraging, going so far as to buy me a drink. I am very charming when I try. Perhaps that’s a lesson I’m meant to learn: you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try–especially in regards to things like writing, a thing that I have struggled with for a long time. Yeah, trying feels about right.