Le Louvre et Le Fumoir

It’s 2pm and I’m having a late lunch at a restaurant called Le Fumoir. I came here in February 2003, thanks to the recommendations of my mom and sister who found it the summer before. I’m sitting in the bar area, in a comfy brown leather armchair. It’s a cozy and intimate restaurant, enhanced by the music of Ella Fitzgerald. There’s a wooden bar stained a deep mahogany color near the entrance; at the back, a wide door reveals a library filled with old books. It’s a warm and inviting place to stop in for a bite to eat or a coffee on a gray afternoon.

Looking around it looks like I’m the only non-native French speaker. It seems Le Fumoir is a place where locals go, despite its proximity to the Louvre. I can see the museum out the window, it’s directly across the street. Perhaps it’s because the restaurant is on the only side of the museum that doesn’t have an entrance, that it remains a secret to tourists.

I’m at Le Fumoir because I’m one of those tourists visiting the Louvre. I’m taking a lunch break – after nearly 2 hours I’ve only seen the Egyptian exhibit, a few rooms in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities exhibit, and the statue of the Winged Victory. I need to have some lunch before tackling the other 95% of the museum. Fortunately I’ve chosen a day on which the Louvre stays open until 10pm.

When my lunch arrived at first I thought they gave me the wrong dish. I skipped my usual Parisian lunch of a salad, preferably one with chevre, for a sandwich that sounded really tasty (it also had chevre). After cutting in with my knife, I realized the bread was just buried under a mountain of grilled vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and sun dried tomatoes, with a sprinkling of chopped basil and a drizzle of olive oil on top. It’s a great combination of sweet and salty, along with the fresh taste of the basil and the tanginess of the cheese. And it’s much easier to write when all I have to do is put down my fork!

This is my fifth trip to the Louvre. Each time I’m amazed at just how much there is to see. The number of statues of Egyptian gods must be in the thousands alone. The building itself is enough to look at for hours. Walking through the museum makes you truly feel like you’re walking through history – and it’s not only because of the art and artifacts inside. Each corridor has a sign by its entrance, explaining its own history. The Louvre dates back to the 12th century. It was rebuilt and expanded to become the home of Francois I and later, Louis XIV. The actual museum has been around since 1793. From the marble columns to the decorated fireplaces, to the carvings and paintings on the ceilings, there’s a lot to look at.

Sure you can follow the hundreds of visitors who make a beeline to the Mona Lisa, but I find it’s more exciting to go to that less visited corner of the museum, where you can take in the hundreds or even thousands of years of history on your own. I found an empty room at the end of the Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities exhibit that was filled with terra cotta. Walking around the small room in privacy, the wooden floor creaking with each step, you really get to take in the beauty and the significance of the artifacts. Who were their original owners? What was their daily life like?

This afternoon I’ll be traveling through time. I’ll be starting in Mesopotamia, then visiting the Renaissance, then visiting sculptures that once resided at Versailles. I’ll also make the obligatory visit to the Mona Lisa. Now that I’ve finished my coffee and paid the check it’s time to dive back in. After all, I only have seven hours until the museum closes.