One thing about actually living in Paris, as opposed to being a tourist, is that I rarely go Paris' most famous places. Of course, I have visited all the greatest hits at least once, but after that, I'd rather avoid the crowds and stick to more off-the-beaten-path areas. Which is why my kids have never been up the Eiffel Tower and why I rarely visit the Louvre Museum. But another thing about living in Paris is having friends with cool jobs who get invitations to things. So when a journalist friend of mine received an invitation to an exhibit at the Louvre that she couldn't use, she passed it on to me.
Let me tell you, visiting the Louvre with an invitation is the way to go. Not only do you get to skip all the lines, but people are actually nice to you if they see you with an invitation in your hand. The exhibit in question was centered around the newly restored Victoire de Samothrace, also known as Winged Victory, one of the most emblematic works at the Louvre. For the past two years, it has been out of view of the public and its return to the top of the Louvre's grand staircase is the occasion for the museum to mount an exhibit about its origins and history.
All that said, I recommend that if you're going to crash a press event, it's better to be a little more prepared than I was. I have been to invitation-only events before, but I guess I haven't been to one exclusively catered to the press. I didn't realize that once I flashed my invite, I would also be asked to sign in with the name of my press outlet and join a small group of journalists for a private tour of the exhibit. I had a moment of panic about what to write in the guest book. Should I use my friend's name and employer? Make something up? Or turn around and make a run for it. As I was already being escorted past the ropes by two young pony-tailed press assistants, it was a little late to pretend I was in the wrong place. In the end, I scribbled the name of this blog and mumbled that I wrote for a website, then scurried to join the others, hoping no one would demand to see my press card (although if that little old Asian lady I hid behind was a journalist, I'll eat my stolen press kit).
I was so nervous about being outed, I could barely take in what the two welcoming and informative curators/guides were saying about the statue and exhibit. Things I did pick up: after the statue arrived in France, it took a whole year for it to be shipped to the Louvre because no one wanted to pay for it; the statue and pedestal are actually made of two different marbles and was once painted Egyptian blue; the best vantage point to view the statue is from the front, slightly to right, as the details on the dress and wings are most visible from that angle.
Despite trying to adopt the serious, yet interested demeanor of a French journalist - and the fact I really was there to write about the exhibit - I'm sure I looked guilty as hell. Which is why I took the first opportunity to slip out of the cordoned off area and make for side exit, sure I was about to be tackled by a guard or a pony-tailed PR assistant any second. So I guess I also learned I would make a lousy art thief.
But invitation or no, I do recommend going to see the newly restored statue. It really is splendid in person and the restoration allowed me to notice many things I hadn't before, like how its pedestal resembles the prow of a boat (it is thought the Victory commemorates a naval battle, although it could just as easily celebrate a sporting event). The accompanying exhibit describes in detail how the statue was originally found and its subsequent restorations, of which this one is the fourth. And to be honest, the regular entrance line wasn't all that long on the Wednesday afternoon I was there. Still, I don't think I'll be headed back to the Louvre anytime soon. Better wait till the heat is off.