I had already visited Paris four times and was actually living here before I finally visited the Louvre. This is the story of the reason why.
My fellow tour guides and I recognize a certain type of visitor to Paris as a “checklist tourist.”
This person seems to come to the city with a list of things they want to have done, rather than actually do. In four days, they want to have visited the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Montmartre, the Champs-Elysées, and Saint-Germain. They want to have eaten at whatever restaurant was just featured in Bon Appétit or the New York Times, and they want a photo in front of Julia Child or Hemingway’s former Parisian residence. And speaking of photos, they want photo evidence of themselves in every spot on this list.
Now I’m definitely not saying that any of these are things that people should not visit when they come to Paris. And I’m well aware that a trip to Paris is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and people want to make the most of it. What gets my goat is that this sort of tourist tends to visit these sights just because they feel like they have to. They barely look at the view once they have their snapshot at the top of the Eiffel Tower. They have the taxi driver keep the meter running while they dash into the Champs Elysées Louis Vuitton. They suffer through the Louvre to get a bad-quality photo of the Mona Lisa, and then they’re dashing towards the exit to make it to the shops before they close. If they have kids, they’re dragging them through all of these must-see spots, but they’re tired and they’re cranky, and no one – not the parents, not the kids, and not whatever waiter they’re dealing with when they finally decide to take a 20 minute stop to have lunch – is enjoying anything about this experience.
I am not proud, but my next bit of wisdom comes straight out of the 1999 direct-to-video classic, Passport in Paris, starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.
After the twins have met their improbably equally attractive boys with matching mopeds and dueled with baguettes on the Champ de Mars, they are wandering past a man painting by the quais de Seine, and one of the twins tells one of the boys (Marcel? François? The one who speaks English [“Only me, and only a leetle.”]) that she’s seen so much art in the past few days that she “can’t tell the Mona Lisa from Lisa Simpson.” (Haha. She’s funny.) And the boy replies by saying that that it’s more important to see one painting, but really see it than to barrel through museums trying to catch a glimpse of everything.
And I’ve gotta agree with Jean-Pierre. (Jean-Claude?) It is more important to see just one painting than to see them all.
When I was first visiting Paris, it seemed my trips were always insufferably short. I came for four days with my dad when I was ten; he’s much more into the Impressionists, so we spent hours at the Orsay but never went across the river to the Louvre. I came back when I was 14 and was studying in Lille; we visited with my family and had quite a few exquisite dinners, but no museums on the docket. Then I came back twice with friends, and both times, we were far happier to sit in cafés, people watch, visit the Luxembourg gardens, and wander different neighborhoods than to wait in line at the Louvre.
I never felt like I was missing out, when I didn’t go. I figured that some day I’d make it inside, but it also wouldn’t have bothered me if I never did. I really enjoyed everything that I was actually visiting; there was no #FOMO.
And when I finally made it inside, it was worth the wait.
I wasn’t doing it as something to check off my list. I was visiting the museum with a friend who knew a lot about the works, who had a specific piece she wanted to see, and in the process, I saw a handful of other masterpieces. And then I went back, and I saw a few more. And pretty soon, I hadn’t just visited the Louvre, I knew it, with all of its quirks and hidden bathrooms and long lines and crowds.
As a tour guide, I spend a lot of time in the Louvre. I remember what it was like to come to Paris and feel overwhelmed by it, to prefer not to go than to be crushed by the movement of crowds of people. And that’s the sort of experience I try to help people avoid when they come. And if those people decide that they’d rather go to the Musée d’Orsay or to Père Lachaise or just to sit at a café sipping coffee and people-watching, then more power to them. None of us is ever going to get to see everything. There’s not enough time. So it’s much more important, in my humble opinion, to actually enjoy what you are seeing.
And that goes for everything, by the way; not just the Louvre.
It’s nearly the end of summer here in Paris, and so I’m making the most of the last of the season’s produce. Truly ripe peaches are the key to success with this recipe, but if yours aren’t quite sweet enough, grilling them will add some caramelized notes and lend the sweetness this salad needs.
Peach and Shrimp Salad with Crispy Prosciutto (serves 2)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
salt and pepper
4 slices prosciutto
1/2 head of lettuce
1 small red onion, small-dice
1/2 cucumber, small dice
8 ounces cooked shrimp
1 peach, sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large salad bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the slices of prosciutto on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake for about 5-8 minutes, until crispy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 1-2 minutes, then break into large shards.
Place the lettuce, onion, cucumber, shrimp, and peach slices in the bowl with the dressing, and toss well to coat. Top with the prosciutto shards and serve.