|Welcome to the Mona Lisa conga line, snaking through galleries.|
Photos: WritersClearinghouse News Service/Richard Carreño
By Richard Carreño
[WritersClearinghouse News Service]
The Palais du Louvre, which used to house the royal families of France and now houses the art treasures of the country's citizens, is less a museum than a obstacle course. My best recommendation to any visitor to Paris: Don't go!
Of course, if you must enter the admission maelstrom at the Musée du Louvre ('What, are you nuts,go to Paris and not visit the Louvre?'), there are ways to arm yourself against the hordes of tourists who crush the immense galleries, making the experience on any given summer day more like people-packing on a Tokyo subway than a serene, contemplative communion with some of the world's greatest artworks.
Strategizing a visit to the Louvre, the globe's most frequented museum, is of upmost importance. Nothing to take lightly. Almost 10-million souls (I'm sure you understand why I hesitate to call them 'art connoisseurs') visit the Louvre each year, also making this Paris landmark the world's single most-visited tourist site. Welcome to mile-long queues, shoving that makes the Times Square Shuttle seem like child's play, and packs of Chinese package-tour visitors who apparently have never learned in grade-school that jumping the queue in some parts of the world (that is, notably everywhere except the People's Republic of China, it seems) is a hanging offense. Welcome to crazy!
First survival tip: Never get in the admission line. That is, unless you have a crush with your I-device (many of the Louvre's teen-aged female visitors seemingly do) that can keep you busy in dazed pre-occupation for hours; have lots of sunscreen and an umbrella (Paris weather changes on a dime); or you're really good at chatting up that Australian babe who's alone in front of you, which might later result in making eye-moves that even the Mona Lisa hasn't heard of.
In other words, pre-book for queue-free entry. Do this on-line for day tickets, though you'll have pick up your tix at a will-call counter. A pre-paid 2-,4-, 6-day museum pass can also be purchased on-line, at tourist agencies, and at some hotels, also entitling the holder to queue-free entry. Or, best yet, purchase your admission from your hotel concierge. He'll charge a bit of premium. But who cares? Presto! You get ushered into the museum's hallowed halls through its secreted arcade entrance, off the rue de Rivoli, avoiding the dreaded People's Republic line. (Also, single-entry tickets are best because most Paris museums are free or charge miminal fees with lots of available discounts. Getting locked in deadlined museum passes results in unnecessary expense).
OK, if you haven't followed the above advice (shame on you!), here's another escape hatch: Never, ever purchase an admission ticket under I.M. Pei's fabled Pyramid main entrance. Most visitors naturally gravitate to this site, which, by the way, is more an architectural delight than a practical entrance. (Talk about threading a needle!) What most Louvre combatants don't know is that admission (with much shorter lines) is also possible at two other lesser-well-known portals, underground at the Galerie du Carrousel and at the Porte des Lions. (Consult the visitor's map for directions).
Lastly (not recommended) you can also show up in a wheel-chair, hobbling about with a walking stick, or pushing a walker. This equipment will get you into the fast-lane for persons with disabilities. Of course, it's not nice to cheat, and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I know people who fake this disability profile. They glide about airports in wheel-chairs, demand early seating at the theatre, and carry sticks and walkers as props at museums, restaurants, movies, and other venues when long lines are anticipated.
Here's another tip, a pretty obvious one really: Avoid spring/summer visits. These seasons see the greatest numbers of international visitors to Paris. Most of these are first-timers, and the Louvre is often the No. 1 item on their must-see check-off list.
Besides its attendance crush, there are several other odd things about the Louvre, not the least of which is that most of the people who visit the place couldn't care less that they're in an art museum. In tourism jargon, it's 'doing the Louvre.' Americans, say, from Cleveland, who have never the Cleveland Museum of Art (one of the world's great art institutions, by the way), will kill ro visit the Louvre. Well, not exactly the Louvre. Actually, what most tourists do is the Louvre hat-trick, pilgrimages to three of the world's lamest, but best-known artworks, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo, The Winged Victory, and the Venus de Milo. Oh, yeah, and the gift shop.
Actually, the most surprising thing about the Louvre -- despite its world-wide acclaim and top-rated attendance status -- is that it's hardly the world's 'greatest' museum. That honor is deservedly claimed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, though the Met places second in the 'most-attended' sweepstakes. (The Met has about a third fewer visitors than the Louvre, about 6-million in 2013).
Like many things in life, the Louvre's success has a lot to do with location, location, location. Paris itself is the most visited city on the planet, and it's not surprising that the Louvre benefits from this touristic traffic. Another reason is the nature of the Louvre's collection. In other top-tier cities (London or Washington, for instance) a Louvre-like collection is divided among several national museums, an archaeological venue (the British Museum, say), a National Gallery, and a National Portrait Gallery. The Louvre is much like your great auntie's attic, especially if you're auntie was related to Napoleon and benefited from his raiding parties to ancient lands.
Add London as the second most heavily visited tourist city, it's not surprising that the British capital has three museums in the top ten most visited annually (the British Museum, 3; Tate Modern, 4; and the National Gallery, 5). Paris also tallies three in the top ten with the addition of the Centre Pompidou at 9 and Musee d'Orsay at 10.
Cities off the world tourist map, despite possessing great museums, are simply also-rans. For example, with just more than 800,000 visitors in 2013, the Philadelphia Museum of Art ranks 76, even well below institutions with lesser collections in like categories (the Pergamon in Berlin, 35; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, 62; and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, 66. (Unlike tourists bound for Paris, London, and New York with their destination museums, a typical visitor to Philadelphia, given the city's 'family-oriented' demographic, places the Liberty Bell well above the Philadelphia Museum).
Unfortunately, the prognosis for visiting the Louvre isn't good. When I first started going to the museum, as a young person in the 1960s, the galleries were empty. Now, unless the Louvre starts controversial time-ticketing (thereby, in fact, drastically reducing the number of entrants), I'm afraid that a visit to Louvre will soon become a year-round full-contact sport.
Yes, go to the Louvre, if you must. Even brazen the mob scene in front of the Mona Lisa, if you must. But ultimately, the only way to survive a Louvre tourist blitz is to laugh, cry -- or join a Chinese package tour.