Paris, Day 5: Life Is Art
She is broken. And yet, she is beautiful.
She is me.
I was moved so unexpectedly today visiting the Louvre. The building itself humbled me — perhaps more than any of the art it houses. It is cavernous and majestic, imposing and grand. Its stone and marble are impervious, and yet there is a strange intimacy to be found in its fathomless sprawl. Whispers linger. The light puddles in corners. One has the sense that the building feels each soul that passes through.
I heeded the wise advice of not attempting more than a half-day tour for my first visit, designed to hit some of the must-see highlights. As part of the impressive Greek sculpture collection, I admired the Venus de Milo and took some extra time to seek out Marathon (he looked suitably wrecked at the end of his run…). I traversed the French palatial displays and stood, reverent, beneath Cy Twombly’s The Ceiling, a beautiful mediation on sky and sea and time.
The Grande Salle, is, of course, grand. Its long expanse and room after room are a marvel of painting of scale and substance. The Mona Lisa was, as expected, underwhelming: I craned my neck over the crowd, gave a wry smile back, and then was on my way. It was when I went in search of the exit that I met her:
I stopped short on the stairs as she caught my view from the left: Headless, armless, yet radiating strength and grace and beauty. Her gown folded around her legs of substance. Her torso steeled to the path ahead. Her wings, aloft, unfurled, and proud. She is the unstoppable Nike.
Tears sprung to my eyes immediately. In the moment I couldn’t have told you why. I walked around her, marvelling at how she exuded lifelike radiance from every angle — every inch of her poised and engaged. I couldn’t tear myself away. I sat on the steps surrounding her as waves of crowd came and went. Something about her brought me comfort and despite her partial state made me feel … whole. I shared about twenty minutes with her. And then, reluctantly, I moved on.
I walked to the Jardin de Tuileries afterwards to sit in the fall-hued gardens and write. I was still feeling and sorting through my response to Nike as I made my way over the wonderful Centre Georges Pompidou to take in a special David Hockney exhibit, as well as National Museum of Modern Art’s permanent modern and contemporary collections.
It wasn’t until afterwards, ruminating on the day with a glass of wine, that I began to make sense of my reaction to Winged Victory.
My head and arms may still be attached, but there are parts of me, invisible ones, that are so broken right now. That’s what happens when you discover that someone has been lying to you. That’s what happens when you discover you aren’t actually different from the rest. That's what happens when you realize what transpired between the two of you wasn’t richer and deeper as he once claimed — it was no different than the same web he weaves with others.
And that’s what happens when you have to face the awful truth that you misjudged a man’s character and put your heart in the hands of someone who had no business holding it — it feels as if parts of you have been severed.
And yet here I am, in Paris. I'm alive in every second of every day. Words are flowing from me in torrents as I discover this place neighbourhood by neighbourhood, brick by brick, surprise by surprise. There are people walking with me through my words, and today I thought back to a comment I made to someone before coming. It was offhand at the time, but I am starting to feel the depths of its truth: “One day I will look back and see my life in two parts: Before Paris and After Paris.”
Perhaps more accurately it will be Before Winged Victory and After Winged Victory. Because she showed me today. She showed me what it looks like to be a woman who is brave enough to have come through battle with her wings still spread:
Despite the injuries and loss, there is beauty. Life is art.