The French government has had enough of its workers not tolling on weekends, and so decided this week that the three most popular museums in the city will soon remain open every day. Be modern, be brave, be bold. In a country known for its ridiculously short work week of 35 hours, half closed on Saturdays, and definitely shut down on Sundays, it is quite a revolution, breaking news, and a daring proposition!
The three major museums are scheduled to stay open all the time, Monday to Sunday, seven days a week -- yes you read correctly, seven days out of seven, whoa! In a land of semi-holly weekend breaks, it is indeed an act of courage. To be fair, I should add that many stores do open on Saturdays, but then they close on Mondays, to make up for the tragic loss of the weekend day that was sacrificed.
Work is serious business in France, but recreation is even more adored by all. Japanese, they are not. The sacrosanct vacations (five paid weeks per year) plus the many holidays and the in-between days called le pont (the bridge) turns the lovely month of May, for example, into a barely-there month of leisure more than labor.
When a holiday falls on a Thursday, you automatically get granted the Friday off; if it falls on a Tuesday, how could you be expected to work on that sandwiched Monday? The month of May has a long weekend of three-four days off every weekend, making it the shortest worked month in the history of... months.
A recent new law has just authorized some stores to be opened on Sundays, to break with traditions, and offer customers an extra day of spending. Good economic move. But the government has said non to a request from a chain store to stay open 24/7, which was pushing the accepted boundaries too far.
The three museums that will start operating on a seven-day-a-week schedule are Le Musée d'Orsay, Le Louvre, and Le Chateau de Versailles, and they are the three most visited museums in the world. Of course, it's not going to happen overnight; the decision came after workers representation (unions) asked for more money/more hours, and resulted in the creation of more opening hours, to create more jobs.
The new scheduling will start taking effect in 2015 and end in 2017, which makes it basically one museum a year to enter the folly of non-stop workweek. They're not really rushing into this new measure. But then again those are government museums, so anything so official takes time, and may very well change too.
Le Musée du Louvre is the most visited in the world, with nine million people a year entering its majestic lobby. The former residence of King Louis XIV before he moved to Versailles, and a museum since 1793, the building had several lives as official ministries, before its rebirth in 1989 with the opening of the glass pyramid conceived by superstar architect I. M. Pei.
With 2,000 permanent staff, the Louvre is owned by the French government, under the Ministry of Culture and Communications; with a yearly budget of €122 million, the museum also generates the same amount in ticket sales. The government pays for operating costs only. New wings, refurbishments, acquisitions are financed by the museum itself. In 2006, filming of The Da Vinci Code movie raised $2.5 million, allowing filming in its various galleries, with no damages done by crews.
Le Musée d'Orsay is a former 1900s train station, with the soaring ceiling that usually decorates a railroad terminal. Inaugurated in 1986, it provides a transition between the collections of the Louvre and those of the Musée National d'Art Moderne. With three million visitors a year, the smallest museum among the three offers an elitist and selective choice of art among giant museums in Paris. Orsay houses the largest collection of impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters such as Monet (seascapes and garden), Manet (café scenes), Degas (dancers), Cézanne (Provence), Gauguin (French Polynesia), Van Gogh (cut off his left ear during a psychotic episode), and Renoir (intimate portraits), making the museum a favorite of American crowds.
Le Chateau de Versailles of course needs no introduction. Since the last occupying king, it has never idled, always full, always loved, most definitely a landmark in France, as famous as the Eiffel Tower, as scrumptious as the best multi-tiered wedding cake, the extravagant abode is all gold and marble, mirrors and chandeliers, mural paintings, gilded furniture, delicate and bejeweled doors and window knobs, secrets passages for lovers and escapees - more lace and linen that an army could possibly use. Downton Abbey has nothing compared to Versailles.
The courtyard gravel has its own technician, who does nothing but raking it, cleaning it, calibrating it, smoothing it, and replacing it when all the above eventually failed. It takes a chorus of hundreds to maintain the castle - at 2,300 rooms, nothing compares to its grandeur. One thousand rooms are open to the public and a day is not enough to see everything or pace the magnificent gardens. The museum needs visitors to stay open for visits. No French president has ever resided here, this is clearly for royals.
The massive palace, its various buildings and annexes took four centuries to be completed. The official residence of the kings and queens of France, it was also the house of Marie-Antoinette, one of the most recognizable figure in the history of the country. She was the last queen of France, and for that she lost her life at age 37 in a shameful public execution.
If you visit Paris, the three museums are a must in a city of many. The Louvre and Versailles each require at least a full day, several even better if you can, and ideally a week to really explore most of them in a more complete way. If you are going to Paris only once, plan to spend three weeks in the city, a treat never to be forgotten. Six million people visit Versailles each year.
As a child in Paris, I remember going on school field trips to the Louvre museum at least twice per school year, and for the many years I was in grade school, from 6th to 12th grade, that would amount to at least 14 visits, and to this day, I still discover many wings and aisles I had never seen. Yes, the Mona Lisa (Gioconda in Italian; La Joconde in French) was there then, is still there now, smirking away, and yes, it is true, she is very-very tiny, only 30 by 21 inch.