We’re in Paris for some work and play. We’ve been here before, but not for many years. Notre Dame is being rebuilt after the terrible fire. They hope to have it done for the Olympics in 2024, but with incessant labor strikes I don’t know if that’s reasonable!
The Louvre has about 490,000 works of which only 8 percent are on display at any given time. The curator who showed us around was the head of the contemporary art department. I asked what constituted “contemporary” at the Louvre. He said, “Oh, about 1880 or so.” He said that if you spend four consecutive 24-hour days trying to see every item on display you could do so—if you viewed each piece for ten seconds only.
An informal, international museum agreement limits the display of drawings to three consecutive months, and in low lighting, after which they are retired to total darkness for three years (daVinci’s work for five). This is to delay fading.
There is a lot of genitalia in the collections, enough to shock those sixth-grade parents in Florida many times over. And Sleeping Beauty is, of course, a hermaphrodite, with sexual features of both genders. (Hermaphrodite: Hermes plus Aphrodite.) Although counted as one inventory item, the mattress on which Sleeping Beauty rests was sculpted 1,400 years later, when the then-owners, the Medicis, felt a mattress was needed.
There were thousands of people, most quite young, waiting to get into the Louvre on a Saturday, an hour or two’s wait. We also noticed over a hundred students lined up to get into the National Library, all carrying books and notebooks. It makes me somewhat furious to consider that we’re teaching our kids so little about culture, art, and history in school (but, rather, how to determine what gender they are or to learn that we’re all racists and guilty).
The French are surrounded by beauty and rich history. Our hotel, the Shangri-La, was built as the Royal Palace for Napoleon’s nephew, and it’s gorgeous. (When we were in Firenze, we stayed in a former Medici Palace.)
I know some of you are unhappy when I’m not making some pragmatic point you can use (!), so here it is: We need to focus more on the greatness, beauty, and splendor of what humankind has accomplished, while admitting our errors and sins. But to ignore the great culture and art that we’ve created and simply fall victim to some permanent, irremovable guilt, is wrong.
And one more thing: Is it really an accident that the transcendentally beautiful music and art that has lasted and thrilled people for centuries was created hundreds and thousands of years ago? Will our art and culture of today be able to stand that kind of test? We have too many self-proclaimed “artists” today, and not enough art.
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