Worth Raising A Glass, I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid

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The Louvre is the world’s largest museum.  It is housed in an old fortress that became a palace and converted to a museum.  Buildings connect in a U-shape with a courtyard, Cour Napoleon, in the center.

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As the number of visitors grew, it became clear that the Louvre needed renovations to accommodate all the visitors.  In 1983, the Louvre developed and President François Mitterrand supported a renovation plan known as the Grand Louvre.  Among other things, it called for a new design for the main entrance that would be climate controlled, and provide space for a ticket office, security checkpoint, visitors center (for things like audio guides, toilets, sitting areas, information centers, cafes and shops).

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When Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei‘s modern glass pyramid structure in the courtyard was unveiled, most critics gave negative reviews.  They deemed it an unwelcome intrusion of modernism into  traditional architecture.  Still, it provided 650,000 additional square feet of much-needed support spaces for the Louvre.

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Inaugurated in 1988 and opened in 1993, his design of The Louvre pyramid, met the need and then some.   It appears strikingly modern and sophisticated against the baroque façade.  It guides  visitors’ movements between the three immense wings (Richelieu, the Sully, and the Denon) of the museum.  As a Louvre visitor, I find this as  genius as any part of the design.  The Louvre is immense and it is easy to get lost.  By following the signs to the exit, you can get to a guide who will point you in the right direction for your adventure in the next wing.  Plus, the glass provides wonderful light to the underground lobby.

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The complex inter-linked steel structure sheathed in clear, reflective glass.  This transparency allows an unobstructed view through it permitting vision across the pyramid to the palace on the opposite side. This allows it to float lightly in the space.

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While its style differs drastically from the original palace buildings, its transparency and simplicity allows it to sit among them without taking anything away from them.  It just becomes another interesting focal point.

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It didn’t take long for Pyramid to become integral part of Paris’ center and another one of its iconic buildings (Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Les Invalides, Sacre Couer).  In the New York Times,  Paul Goldberg wrote: “…the design provoked international controversy and accusations that an American architect was destroying the very heart of Paris…the news from Paris is that the Louvre is still there, although it is now a dramatically different museum. The pyramid does not so much alter the Louvre as hover gently beside it, coexisting as if it came from another dimension.”

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The movie ‘Da Vinci Code‘, which had scenes set inside the Louvre included several minutes of dramatic video shots of the Pyramid. It’s also appeared in The Dreamers,  Prêt-à-PorterThe Rape of Europa and Fire, Plague, War and Treason.

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One of the cool things I noticed about it is that the pyramid is inverted below ground into the interior space below.  It comes to a point, immediately below that point is a sculpture, a pyramid.  Their apexes are only centimeters apart.  I’m not sure these pictures do it justice, but trust me when I tell you that it looks sweet.

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If all this isn’t enough, check it out lit up at night.  Definitely worthy of the City of Lights.

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Louvre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Arles, Better Than New

After our whirlwind tour of France’s Côte d’Azur (Cannes, Antibes, Villefranche, Nice, Eze, the Grande Corniche, St. Paul-de-Vence, and Vence), we headed back from the coast to Provence.  Arles was a cultural and religious centre during the late Roman Empire.  During the dark ages, it fell under the control of the Muslim Saracens, the Franks and even experienced Viking raids.  The turbulence didn’t last and the town regained political and economic prominence.  For centuries Arles was a major port on the Rhône.  With the advent of the railroad in the 19th century, Arles became something of a backwater while nearby Marseille (with it’s seaport) exploded. Today, Arles is gently loved and its decay is part of its charm.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Arles is that even though it is filled with old, even ancient buildings and surrounded by history, it doesn’t stay rooted in the past.  It isn’t, nor does it want to be, a time capsule.  The ancient buildings house very current shops restaurants and exhibitions.   Arles is vibrant.  It manages to be lively and active without being stressful.  We loved its relaxed vibe.  After having been in the Cote d’Azur, it was a nice change to visit a town that had more locals than tourists.

We weren’t the only ones who fell under Arles’ spell.  Our friend, Hokie, at The Swiss Watch Blog, recommended it.  The movie Ronin was partially filmed in Arles.  It stars Jean Reno (an iconic French actor who you probably know from The Da Vinci Code, Mission: Impossible, and Hotel Rwanda) and Robert De Niro.  This caper film has wonderful cinematography an unforgettable car chase.  John Frankenheimer filmed Ronin’s shoot-out in Arles.  Vincent Van Gogh lived, painted, drank and cut off an ear here.   There are placards all over the city at sites where Arles appears in his paintings.  Who hasn’t seen the painting Cafe Terrace at Night which the cafe below?

We walked along the Rhone River from the Roman Museum into town before losing ourselves in its history and narrow alleyways.  Thanks for the recommendation Hokie.  We loved Arles.

A Knife Fight In Aix

The south of France.  Aix-en-Provence.  Sounds pretty tony, right?   We thought so to, but were willing to give it a go anyway.  It is conveniently located near the intersection of two major highways and a central point for many of the things we wanted to see on our France trip.

Driving in, we were impressed by its majestic squares, shaded avenues, mossy fountains, and elegant mansions.  We checked into our hotel and went to dinner.  We went to Place des Cardeurs because it is a big piazza with lots of restaurants to choose from and outdoor seating.  It wasn’t anything fancy (he had a pizza and I had a big salad).

Right after our food arrived, we saw a scuffle on the sidewalk between the terrace where we were eating and the restaurant.  It was a Saturday night and a bit early for a bar fight, but hey, the local culture is different everywhere.  All of a sudden, one of the combatants pulled a knife out of his pants.

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II - Copyrigh...

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II – Copyright 1988, Paramount Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the scene in Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan says “that’s not a knife, THAT’s a knife.”  This guys knife made Paul Hogan’s look like a butter knife.  He had a machete.  What’s more, he was swinging it around.  The two guys (for the ease of explaining things, we’ll call them the Surly Drunks) jumping Mr. Machete both got slashed.  Waitstaff on the terrace borrowed cell phones and to cal the police.  By that point, we’d I’d stopped eating…for the rest of the night.

Our ringside seats. This all happened behind the vinaigre bottle. I didn’t want to attract the attention of the Surly Drunks and figured there were enough witnesses so I didn’t take any pictures.

Since it was two on one, Mr. Machete took refuge inside the restaurant.  We found out later that he was a local business owner; the area businesses clearly knew him.  The manager, servers and kitchen staff barred the door to separate (and protect) everyone until the police arrived.  The Surly Drunks outside were bleeding, possibly high, probably in shock and definitely not rational.  The Surly Drunks kept screaming for the him to come out and were talking a lot trash.  When he didn’t exit the restaurant, they tried, unsuccessfully, to force their way in.   The posse of servers, managers and cooks stopped them.  Angered by their failure, the Surly Drunks began breaking bottles and brandishing them.  They cut a cook before dropping the bottle in favor of hurling giant planters.   They threw some punches too.  He said they threw the punches like NBA players, not like hockey players.  Realizing they sucked at hand to hand combat, the Surly Drunks stopped throwing punches and started throwing chairs.

I’m not saying that police in the US always respond promptly (especially in certain neighborhoods), but we were astounded by how long it took the police to arrive in the center of town.  It took them at least 20 minutes to arrive.  Thank goodness the cooks had come out of nearby restaurants and followed the Surly Drunks so that the police could track them down.

The police arrived and went inside to interview Mr. Machete.  Paramedics came, tended to to the cook and took him away.  We’re pretty sure he had to go to the hospital for stitches because the slash on his neck was pretty ugly.

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Cover via Amazon

Jean Reno plays and excellent French police officer in movies (Leon: The ProfessionalRoninThe Da Vinci Code,  French Kiss).  The police we saw didn’t appear to be as professional.   They seemed to be more like Louis de Funès in the Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez.  I saw them put evidence (multiple bloody shirts) in an old, balled up H&M  bag.  Obviously they do not watch CSI.

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Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep! That’s the evidence in the H&M bag. Très CSI.

Go figure.  I saw more violence in the south of France than during the years I lived in Detroit.  Have a great weekend and stay safe!