All travel disasters are not inevitable. You may visit Mexico City without gastric distress. You may safari through Tanzania without being mauled by a lion. But if you visit Paris, no matter how careful you are, you will ultimately end up visiting the Louvre. This last disaster happened to me on my most recent trip to France, and, having made it out alive, I hereby report on my discoveries from within that most terrifying of places.
The Louvre has several million visitors each year, and thanks to careful design, it can easily accommodate them, as long as none of them wish to visit the restroom, eat, or view art.
Fortunately, the worst crowds can be avoided through a simple technique: never go in the direction marked "this way to the Mona Lisa." At times, this will require jumping head first through a glass window. (Note: Always check first to make sure that you are not diving head first through a highly realistic landscape painting, as this may result in your being marooned in 17th century Denmark.)
The aforementioned directional signs, by the way, refer to a common but incorrect belief about the Louvre: that it houses the Mona Lisa. In fact, the painting was stolen in 1987, and rather than admit the loss, French President Francois Mitterand hired a crack team of Japanese actors with cameras to block any access to the spot on the wall where the work once hung. This is no great loss, as, prior to the theft, visitors were often disappointed to discover that the painting was far smaller than they had imagined. It is shown here, actual size: Experts hold out little hope for the painting's return, as they believe it may have been accidentally stuck to an envelope as postage and mailed to an unknown location.
Fortunately, the Louvre still has many exciting and important exhibits. Among them are: several items of clothing that were worn by either Napoleon Bonaparte or a chihuahua; countless Rennaissance masterpieces; and a banana that was once handled by Peter Lorre.
The history of the Louvre is as fascinating as the items contained therein. The building was begun in 1546 under Henry IV, who, fearful that his favorite paintings might eventually fade, sought a way to block them from the sunlight with multiple layers of heavy stone, tinted glass, and hungry, ill-tempered visitors. In the late 18th century, the extravagantly ornate building became one of the flashpoints of Revolutionary anger, as ordinary citizens resented being forced to spend hours wandering around the Louvre in thick, suffocating crowds while the King sat in a café eating pastries and snickering. After the Revolution, thanks to the adoption of the Universal Rights of Man, no French citizen may be forced to enter the museum, although foreigners founds wandering the streets after nightfall may be sentenced to as much as 5 hours within the building.
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