paris, pt 2: secret entrances, climbing stairs, and bob dylan narrations

the next morning i ambitiously set off on my goal of taking down the louvre in one day.  for the record:  this is not really possible.  either you will run out of time, or the louvre will simply wear you down. The louvre always wins.

nevertheless, i arrived at the louvre first thing in the morning, in time for the doors to open.  i was intent on trying to enter thru one of these “famous only on the internet” secret entrances to the louvre, so rather than line up with all the other tourists, i headed for the “porte des lions,” a small door just a little south and west of the famed pyramid entrance that has become an icon across the world.

as i approached the entrance i felt proud of myself for doing the work the night before so i could cleverly and smugly skip all the lines and have the louvre to myself for a time until the throngs of other tourists caught up to me.

porte des lions location at the louvre

but as soon as i tried to enter the small revolving door, i noticed that it wasn’t revolving.  not sure if i was pushing hard enough, i started to increase my effort when i noticed someone inside sitting at a desk waving his hands in the air, shaking his head frantically side to side with a look on his face as though he had just ingested spoiled milk.  to verify he was signifying that i was not allowed to enter here, i silently made an inquisitive face and drew my hand horizontally across my throat making the “off with his head” gesture (and now that i know more about the history of paris and its relationship with the guillotine, i realize that this is probably not a good gesture to make in this city).  he didn’t change his behavior and just kept waving his hands and shaking his head until I turned around and walked away.  time to wait in line. (and for the record, i looked it up later. this entrance is frequently closed according to other travelers online. you need to call the day before to ensure it will be open. so if someone else has had success with this entrance, please let me know about it in the comments section. i’d be very curious how it works).

the louvre graciously poses for a pic on a blue sky day in paris
the louvre graciously poses for a pic on a blue sky day in paris

the wait ended up only being like 10 minutes because i had gotten there so early in the morning (alternatively, you can pay extra and buy a ticket that lets you skip the line. definitely worth it if you’re leisurely strolling up around lunchtime, see below for info), plus standing in line next to that big glass pyramid is actually pretty cool.  it wasn’t a part of the louvre until 1989 when it was completed after president mitterand controversially commissioned it.  the most popular and biggest museum in the world still only had normal doors at that point, so the key french officials and curators came together to think in a more advanced fashion than parisians typically do (it seems to me that the parisians never want anything to change, they always like things the way they are.  doesn’t matter if the change is good change.  Any change is bad change to them. I think this is endearingly funny. then again, you could make the same case about a lot of my fellow americans).  So they came up with a way to “go big” in the typical french fashion and created the pyramid entrance, dramatically reconstructing the internal center of the louvre.

the louvre stares back at itself through its reflection.  paris, france
the louvre stares back at itself through its reflection. paris, france

anyway, if you visit the louvre, do not attempt to just wander.  you’ll end up losing your mind in there and you’ll leave feeling like you wasted your time getting lost in a maze of meaningless art.  instead, do what i did.  create a list of the top 20 things you’d like to see.  do some googling to see what the internet says are the noteworthy pieces and then try to prioritize those.  then, you can download the louvre app for $2.99 and you’ll have a little tidbit of audio info when you find each piece in the museum (at least for the main ones).  then just work your way through the museum and locate things from your list, leaving yourself time to view other things that grab your attention (and other things will indeed grab your attention) that weren’t on your list.  also, for the love of god, don’t take pictures of everything you see.  take a few here and there, but

  1. make sure you’re appreciating the art as intended, spend some time trying to notice details about the piece, and leave your phone in your pocket, and
  2. if you must snap a pic, ask yourself “why?  what will i do with this photo?”  remember that a straight-on photo of the mona lisa has been seen by every person in the world, even if not in real life.  nobody gives a damn that your cellphone was 20 feet away from it.  plus, everything you see in there can be found on google images.  If you need to show somebody back home what you saw, use that.

in other words, when you’re in the louvre, spend your time wisely and in all other cases, just keep moving.  this is also good advice in case of a zombiepocalypse.


after about 5 or 6 hours of the louvre, i felt my eyes popping out of my head and my feet were going to fall off, so i got out of there.  as i exited, i could see the arc de triomphe looming off in the distance (not the small fake one right across the way from the louvre pyramid, the actual one a couple miles away, straight down the champs-elysees), and decided to climb it.

this was a much more ambitious plan than i had realized.  my feet were hurting and it was further than i had realized.  this is because that arc is so damn big and nothing around it is even close to its height, so it looks a lot closer than it is.  i just kept walking and skipping the subway stations because i thought i was almost there for about 20 minutes.. i wanted to amputate my own feet when i finally got there.  And then I couldn’t figure out how to get across the major roundabout to climb the arc once I got there.   You see, not only is the arc so massive, but the chaotic roundabout that surrounds it serves as an incredible moat with completely insane french motorists jockeying for position and madly

the arc de triomphe supervises the insanity at the roundabout below in paris
the arc de triomphe supervises the insanity at the roundabout below in paris

running each other off the road to get to the next exit from the turnstyle.  let me save you the trouble.  if you are approaching the arc from the champs elysees in the east, the entrance is on the other side of the arc, the west side, on the northern sidewalk.  there is a little staircase leading underground which will take you under the roundabout and up into the arc.  you’ll need a ticket to ascend the 280 stairs to the top, but I think it was less than 10 euros, so it’s worth it.  the view from the top is spectacular, mainly because paris is so expansive, and the weather was perfect.  As with everything in paris however, there are always crowds to fight, so beware.

after i had finished taking in the view, had to run across town over to the canal st. martin area to meet my friend anaelle, whom I had met in iceland.  anaelle was one of the self deprecating french friends that I made in reykjavik whom had been very insistent that I come visit them in france. as exhausted as i was from all my traversing all over the city those 3 days, i was very eager to have a full conversation with someone.  even though i had been getting around and productively seeing all the main sites, all my interactions with people in paris thus far had been limited to pointing to things and hilariously trying to pronounce french words and failing miserably.  the most in-depth conversations i had been in so far had been with ticket agents.

anaelle and i had agreed to meet in the neighborhood of canal st. martin, at a mcdonalds, because if there’s one thing an american knows how to find, it’s a mcdonalds (i actually play a game when i travel internationally. every time i see a mcdonalds i proclaim “found it!” these are the kinds of things you develop to keep you sane when you’ve been traveling alone for too long). i arrived about 10 minutes late, but anaelle didn’t mention it.

when i had met anaelle in reykjavik, my friends gregory and thomas had introduced me to her and i awkwardly failed on the greeting.  i’m not completely sure how it works, but i believe that when men and women meet in france on an informal basis, it is customary to do one of those kiss the right cheek, then the left cheek things, instead of in america where you would shake hands, or if you’re more comfortable with the person you just give them a hug.  i could google this and instruct you properly, but i’m writing this from a train with no internet connection, so i’ll just settle for once again looking like an ignorant fool.

anyway, in iceland i extended my hand to shake anaelle’s hand when she was already moving in close, so i assumed she was giving me a hug. so i changed my approach and gave her a light hug, locking her awkwardly onto my right cheek and then releasing her, realizing she had kissed my cheek.  the end result was total confusion between both of us as to what had just happened. i sincerely wish i had that moment on video, because even now when i think about it, it makes me laugh out loud.

so this time when i met anaelle, i executed the proper french greeting between a male and a female. outside the mcdonald’s.  how ironic.

anaelle is an attractive student in her early-mid 20s with a sweet smile and a friendly, happy-go-lucky disposition.  when she speaks, it is through a thick french accent, but i’d be lying if i said it wasn’t one of the sexiest accents i’ve ever heard; i told her to never improve her english, just speak exactly the way she does forever. she originally had met my friends gregory and thomas at the airport departing for iceland in the security line.  they had all been late for their flight and were hurriedly trying to make the gate before it closed when they all realized they were going to the same place.  they became friends, and eventually i met her on their last day in reykjavik, near the beginning of my trip.

anaelle did not know me very well, but she somehow intuitively knew that what i had craved most from paris was authenticity and something a little more in between the extremes of how i had been experiencing the city:  evenings in the ghetto and daytime at the luxurious tourist traps.  so rather than head straight to a restaurant or a bar, she suggested we walk around a little and let her show me the neighborhood.  despite my aching feet, i gratefully agreed.

rare tranquility in paris is found at the canal st. martin
rare tranquility in paris is found at the canal st. martin

we walked for about an hour around the bastille neighborhood, up through republique, and over to canal st. martin, and it was here that i knew i should have been spending my time. this was the area i had imagined in my mind would be my paris.  i was torn. i was so happy that it did in fact exist, and that it wasn’t just some fiction in my mind, but i was sad that i had only just now found it, and it was almost time to head to germany.

anaelle explained to me that this was more of an artist community.  lots of artists and musicians and aspiring fashion designers and students live in this area, creating a culture of creativity and progressive free-thinking. it sounded marvelous.  we walked along the canal, finding small grass lawns and parks where people were sitting on blankets and drinking wine, eating bread, talking.  she explained to me how lucky i was with the weather.  apparently it had been raining every day for like a month straight, and then suddenly right when i arrived it stopped and was nothing but clear skies.

we stopped and found a patio overlooking the water to have a beer and rest my aching feet.  we talked for another hour before anaelle had to leave to meet someone else that she had made plans with before i had contacted her.  we left the patio and she helped me find a restaurant where i could get some decent food.  we said our goodbyes and i earnestly thanked her for taking a little time to hang out with me.


today’s noise poetry is a gem from the new basement tapes.  music junkies everywhere are eagerly awaiting this release, as it is not your garden variety new band or new album bringing something to the table, no this release is a very interesting one.  this album was born from a collection of abandoned bob dylan lyrics that never made it into song form which was recently discovered and given from bob dylan to legendary producer t-bone burnett.  t-bone then invited a handful of musicians to collaborate on writing music to the lyrics.  these musicians include jim james, taylor goldsmith, elvis costello, rhiannon giddens, and marcus mumford.  the album is called “lost on the river” and is set to release november 11th.  in the meantime, we have this song to hold us over.  it’s called “when i get my hands on you.”   enjoy…

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