Paris : The Lovely Ladies of the Louvre

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The steps leading up to The Sacre Coeur Basilica (watch out for the thread-weavers!)

‘Threads’ (Part 1 of 3)


- "Iz okaay Mista, iz okay, I work for da church!"

  Yeah, really, I’m sure. It’s about 8.45 in the morning and I’m  being approached by my first unashamed scammer of my trip.

- "Iz  okay, I work the church. Iz free Mista. Where yo from Mista?"

- "England."

- "OOOoooh! Eeeeengleesh man.  We like the Eeengleesh man!"

- Yeah, I’m sure you do.

The Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica in Montmatre.

 - "Right, c’mon, how much is it then?"

- "Ahhhh NO!  Iz ok Mista I work for the church, iz free fo you fo da church. Give me yo finger." 


Ok, ok, I raise the requested finger deciding I may as well partake in the charade. Not much else to do right now and so a series of twined cotton threads are skilfully looped over my index-finger as a holding point and the ‘man from da church’ commences deftly wrapping, twisting and turning these threads into some form of colourful bracelet.


- "So you like France Mista Eeengleesh man?"

- "Yeah, loads.

A moulin in Monmatre :)
  Where are you from?"

- "Me, I am from France. Well also my family we are from The Gambia but I looove Eeengland."

- "Wow. Cool.  I have a friend who’s been to The Gambia lots.  I’ve never been there.  Are these the colours of the Gambian flag you’re using?"

- "No, iz Jamaica I tink.  Oh is wonderful there, in the Gambia Mista Eeengleesh man.  The Eeengleesh man, the white man he like to go there.  Ha Ha.  He love da black woman yes! Ha ha.  You wanna go The Gambia Mista Eeengleesh man?  You wann-a-I-fine yo some niiice women?  You like the jiggy-jiggy? Ha ha.

Notre Dame Cathedral (found on Isle de la Cite).


Cripes man, just hurry up and twist this thing to a conclusion would ya! I’m sure international sexual-procurement is no more in the church’s remit than bangle-threading.


- "Um, I’ll bear you in mind if I’m ever in The Gambia." (feeble attempt at fake bawdy, conspiratorial laughter).

- "Yes, Mista Eeengleeshman.  You do that.  You like it. Ha Ha.  A little zigga-zig-ah yes? Ha Ha.  OH NO, I not done yet Mista Eeengleeshman.  Just hold yo finga."

 Twist-twist, snip-snip.

Behind the Madonna inside Notre Dame.

- "There! is done now."

- "Right. Thanks"  (I think)  "So how much then?" (Mr “iz free from da church”)

- "Oh Mista Eeengleeshman, fo usual price it be 20 euros..."  (?!!!)  "...but fo you, as you so funny and nice Mista Eeengleeshman not 20 but only 10 euros!"

- "There’s 3 euros pal.  Cheers."

- "3 Euros!!! Oh. Ha Ha. Mista Eeengleeshman, only 3.  Funnyman. Oh ok, as we like the Eeengleeshman, is ok.  Iz fo da church."

- "What’s your name?"

- "Caramac.

Me and da pyramid (The Louvre).
" (I’m not quite sure exactly that’s what he said but it’s close enough to the name of a childhood choccie bar I used to like that the names sticks.)

- "Goodbye Caramac."



“Phew. Thank heavens that’s done!” A shaking of hands and 3 euros lighter and I’m done.  First sort-of scam over and I have both my first true traveller fashion accessory and my passport to avoid further harassment all the way to the top of the steps that mount towards the Sacre Coeur basilica in Montmatre.


In previous trips to Paris this one’s always passed me by, but it caught my eye firmly from the vantage point of the Eiffel Tower yesterday.

Descending into The Louvre gallery/ palace.
  Yep, there are a fair number of steps again, and if you are there at a good early time in the morning then there is a definite, almost spritiual sense of calm about the basilica and the mount upon which it sits.  A few other tourists have struggled through the clutches of Caramac and his various co-thread weavers to reach the top.  An extremely limber 40-something Japanese lady is doing eye-wateringly bendy calisthenics right on the steps to the church, arcing up her leg behind her head at a 180 degrees greater than nature intended as she stares out over a misty Parisian morning.  Quite a spot to exercise of a morning.


The basilica is an impressive structure sat on Montmatre, curiously an area of Paris more renowned over time for the bawdier, rather that the religious side of life.  Dancing clubs, can-can girls, sexual liberality and Le Moulin Rouge etc.  It is calm and unmoved by all this change though. Lining the inside of its substantial domed main cupola (dome) is a truly magnificent mosaic scene of Christ, his mother and many others.

  Tens of thousands of gold-leaf tiles pour forth from the composition making it quite a bedazzling spectacle.  The perspectives of the figures as you move around vantage points is genius! (Trust me at the time of writing I have seen maaaany impressive and awe-inspiring Basilica's and their cuploas but this remains one of the best!)


Next I stroll around Montmatre for a bit.  The world is just waking and again this feels a good time to be taking in the real morning life of this slightly tourist-trap part of the city.  Most of the tourists are still in bed, and the tack-hawking shops are only just beginning to put out there infinite naff Toulouse Lautrec and Degas prints rather than trouble anyone for money.  I then catch a metro to Ile de la Cite, the island that sits just behind Le Pont Neuf in the middle of the Seine and amongst other things provides the foundation for Notre Dame cathedral.


This huge, imposing gothic structure I think in some ways is seared into the imagination of many people, whether they’ve stood in its shadow or not, being the venue for Victor Hugo’s 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and a backdrop in numberless pseudo-gothic movies over the years.

  It really is worth a good long look both inside and out.  The many thousands of visitors that pass through its door for the most part patently ignore the restriction not to use flash photography.  I never quite understand this as flash photography almost always in my opinion, but especially in such low-light conditions, produces just the most ghastly, ineffectual pictures!  The flashbulb banishing all semblance of gothic mood and form to memory only.


I then head off from Ile de la Cite and take the short walk down the Seine and here I am at last.  The Louvre!


At 9 euros for a full day entry The Louvre must be one of a small host of unsurpassable, great and affordable cultural experiences in life.  I would have paid this sum JUST for the privilege of walking around the sprawling, magnificent palace alone, before you even begin to consider the sheer mind-boggling volume of art, culture and history on display within its walls.

The lovely lady De Milo, or 'Venus-D' as I like to call her :)
  You can just gladly wander in wonder around the labyrinthine, often gigantic rooms, halls, passages, stairways and chambers for hours on end.  Whilst I had a map in my bag, I would strongly recommend doing as I and just taking the time to get lost in the place.  I think I looked at my map just once in 5 and a half hours and loved just ambling along, up, down, along left, right etc… never knowing what surprise might lurk around the next corner!


And it is in this vain that I happen upon one of the two great ladies of The Louvre.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know this famous dame had made it her home, but all of a sudden there she is in all her armless glory, The Venus de Milo!  A breathtaking moment.  Seen a million times in encyclopaedia representations and reproduced many times over in art projects even by myself whilst aping some of Salvador Dali’s renderings of her form and here she is right before my eyes! “Cool!”


The other famous female resident of The Louvre of course is De Vinci’s 'The Mona Lisa', arguably the most revered and renowned painting in the whole of human history and not unsurprisingly the biggest crowd-puller in the museum.

One part, of one of the stunning sculpture gardens within the walls of The Louvre.
  To be honest I’ve never reeeally got what all the fuss is about, and not coming across her until right towards the end of my day at the museum I’m not even so bothered whether she passes me by or not but assuming that saying you’ve visited The Louvre and NOT seen Lisa is tantamount to saying you were invited to tea with the Queen but were happy just to talk with her I give her (Lisa, not the Queen that is) a glance. 


There are indeed many, many people thronging around her as she sits smiling almost mockingly at her huddled adorers as they strain to get closer to the alter of her image.   She sits behind (presumably nuclear bomb proof) glass some 15 feet behind a cordon.  Cameras are flashing with machine-gun flack rapidity, people are smiling, laughing, overwhelmed to have met the star actress in the De Vinci Code.  And as the cliché goes when meeting such mega-stars in 'real life' she’s an awful lot smaller in reality than you imagine, and this only adds to the slight pointlessness of her position (so far away) as there’s just no way to get close enough to her to admire the  creative epoch-defining form, composition and brushwork upon which her reputation (I presume?) is founded.

Somebody actually made me have this photo taken!
Oh well. Nice to have met ya anyway chick.


For my part, following from The Venus de Milo, the highlight ( and aside from the magnificent sculpture gardens, and the massive relocated Assyrian bass-relief temple walls) is Theodore Gericault’s ‘Le Radeau de la Meduse’ (The Raft of the Medusa) a grand and powerful painting depicting the torments of a ship-wrecked crew in their attempts to wrestle salvation or rescue or both from the oceanic jaws of despair.  Great stuff!


Time to head on now, 83 euros (!!!) for an evening train from Paris to Gent in Belgium and a quick connection to Sint-Niklaas (Saint Nicholas) where my good friend and former housemate Mr Kazutaka Tsuchida presently works (too hard) and lives.


We greet each other at the station.

Culture can be exciting AND stimulating but yes, it all gets a little TOO much for some visitors.
  He laughs and comments that he thought I’d brought “a second Steve” along, referring to the size of my backpack.  We stroll into a pleasant night and have some much needed Belgian beers whilst a live band play loud Spanish-inflected music into the night in the shadow of St.Niklaas Church.  We reminisce and laugh lots before ambling home.

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The steps leading up to The Sacre …
The steps leading up to The Sacre…
The Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Bas…
The Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Ba…
A moulin in Monmatre :)
A moulin in Monmatre :)
Notre Dame Cathedral (found on Isl…
Notre Dame Cathedral (found on Is…
Behind the Madonna inside Notre Da…
Behind the Madonna inside Notre D…
Me and da pyramid (The Louvre).
Me and da pyramid (The Louvre).
Descending into The Louvre gallery…
Descending into The Louvre galler…
The lovely lady De Milo, or Venus…
The lovely lady De Milo, or 'Venu…
One part, of one of the stunning s…
One part, of one of the stunning …
Somebody actually made me have thi…
Somebody actually made me have th…
Culture can be exciting AND stimul…
Culture can be exciting AND stimu…
Stained glass window within Notre …
Stained glass window within Notre…
Door from Notre Dame Cathederal (D…
Door from Notre Dame Cathederal (…
Rear courtyard of The Louvre Palac…
Rear courtyard of The Louvre Pala…
The Sacre Coeur
The Sacre Coeur
A fly-by of The Sacre Coeur.
A fly-by of The Sacre Coeur.
Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral entrance.
Notre Dame Cathedral entrance.
Christ with Notre Dame.
Christ with Notre Dame.
Inside Notre Dame Cathedral.
Inside Notre Dame Cathedral.
A decorative ceiling within the Ro…
A decorative ceiling within the R…
Statue of an neolithic era French …
Statue of an neolithic era French…
Drrrrrrum roll... AND HERE SHE IS!…
Drrrrrrum roll... AND HERE SHE IS…
Le Radeau de la Meduse (The Raft…
'Le Radeau de la Meduse' (The Raf…
The main plazza of The Louvre... I…
The main plazza of The Louvre... …
photo by: Sweetski