Saturday, April 3, 2010

Saturday, March 27

Our last day on the tour. The Louvre is kind of quite compared to previous days. And there do not appear to be any work stoppages or slowdowns!

We spend the morning with large-scale Romantic paintings from the late 18th century and early 19th century.

One of my favorites is David’s “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of the Empress Josephine on December 2, 1804". This one of the, if not the, largest works ever done on canvas. And it has a title to go with it! The subject is Napoleon crowning himself emperor. I like to think of this as “Megalomania Triumphant”. Gone is the wild artillery corporal,; gone is the greatest field general since Julius Caesar' gone is the leader of France who preferred the title “First Citizen”. All that remains now is the megalomania. It is his high point. Never again will it be this good. In three years he will invade Spain, a war that will drain his army and finances and never come close to victory. In six years he will divorce the love of his life, Josephine, because she bore him no children.

We also take a long look at Gericault’s, “Raft of the Medusa”, considered to be the greatest of all Romantic paintings – and very grim indeed.

In the afternoon we look at Objects d’Art, starting in the beautiful Apollo Gallery. The walls are covered, top to bottom, with real gold. Must be time for a revolution!

As we move from gallery to gallery I begin to realize how tired I am and that my cold is now in full bloom. If I am to make it through our Gala Dinner tonight I am going need some rest. As soon as we enter a gallery dominated by Christian objects I know I’m done. I go back to the hotel knowing I will only miss an hour or two of items I’m not really interested in.

Tonight our Gala Dinner will be held at Le Procope. Established in 1686, it is the oldest restaurant in Paris, possibly in all of Europe. The restaurant has been frequented by a who's who of French society ever since and was a central gathering place for the men who began the Age of Enlightenment. One of the comments in Zagat says, “great for history, but not for gourmets.” And this we will experience first hand.

In addition to our group, three guests, including a couple that are friends of the Hunts, join us. The woman was born in New Orleans but has lived in France all her adult life. She married a Frenchman, who worked in San Jose for several years in the 1960s. I am seated with the man and as I look at him I am wondering what on earth we are going to talk about. But, we do alright.

Due to the size of our party we have ordered our meals in advance. Only, except for me (for obvious reasons), no one can remember what they ordered and chaos quickly ensues as plates are brought. One of the main courses is supposed to be duck, for which there are 8 orders. However, I hear the maĆ®tre’d tell Dr. Hunt that the duck will not be ready for forty minutes. Everyone agrees to change to something else. Ten minutes later, eight plates of duck arrive. Huh?!?! Then my dish arrives. It is supposed to be a risotto but instead they have tossed a couple of side vegetables onto a plate, including, of course, pomme du terre. I decide to just push the potato’s aside but before I can, Dr. Hunt intervenes and the dish is whisked back to the kitchen. Quite by the time everyone else is finishing, the risotto appears. It seems like the kitchen is not having a good night.

While we are dining Dr. Hunt goes to pour himself a glass of wine. He has an odd habit of wearing a contact lens in one eye but not the other. (He has worn glasses during all of the lectures.) He does this so one eye can see far away and the other very close up. However, this leaves him with no depth perception. I watch him begin to pour the wine realizing that the bottle is nowhere near his glass. (He is not drunk by any means.) He begins to pour the wine onto the table and soon it is running onto the floor. He does not realize his mistake until the shock begins to register on the faces of those of us who are witnessing this. It is the only inelegant thing I have ever seen him do.

After this little mishap, he begins to review what we have seen on our trip. Completely from memory, he describes everything we have seen. I am constantly amazed at his memory. During this trip, as well as last years to the British Museum, he has lectured completely from memory, never referring to notes or the placards next to an item!

All too quickly (only as a feeling though, for, in typical French fashion, we have been here for three hours) the meal is concluded and our trip is at an end. It is weird to say goodbye to all these new friends and then just disappear into the cold Parisian evening. I walk back to the hotel and slump into bed, completely exhausted.

About the images:

1. Michelangelo's "The Dying Slave".

2. Detail from David's "The Intervention of the Sabine Women " Rome ascending!

3. Detail from David's "Consecration of Napoleon...".

4. The Apollo Gallery.

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