Shortly after graduating high school the summer of 1965 found me in Paris visiting a Parisian exchange student, Jean Paul that had spent some time with my family the year before. At the same time a classmate of mine was also in Paris with her parents. For a few days Jean Paul, Beth and I hung out together racing around Paris in Jean Paul’s Citron 3.
Evenings usually found us in the park that cascades down the hill in front of Sacre Coeur. It was a gathering place for young people that included British rockers all decked out in their Union Jack clothing and spiked hair, American hippies, Algerian revolutionaries and Parisian rebels. It was full of guitar music, discussions about the Algerian freedom fight, the Vietnam war, art and our future. Often conversations travelled through three or four languages to include everyone and American and British rock songs were sung with a multitude of accents. The evenings broke up when the Gendarmes swept down the hillside with batons swinging to clear the park.
After that was bar hopping through Montmartre and Pigalle often stopping at street vendors selling french fries and mustard.
We slept late every day but did fit in some sightseeing here and there. Around that time Art Buchwald, an American humorist was in Paris and wrote a column in the American Times of Paris titled Breaking The Four Minute Louvre. It was shortly after American Jim Ryun was the first high school student to break the four minute mile and in the Spring of 1965 running the mile was in the news.
Tongue in cheek, Buchwald claimed that the worlds largest art collection actually contained only four pieces really worth seeing. Of course they included Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, but also Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (often called Venus on the Half Shell), the Winged Victory (a masterpiece of Greek sculpture, called the Winged Victory of Samothrace) and the Venus di Milo (an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture). They were each in different galleries in the Louvre and Buchwald’s column claimed that nobody had yet entered the Louvre, looked at each piece and exited the museum in under four minutes, but the new record was near. It was a funny image offered up to American tourists visiting Paris but it had unintended consequences.
What red-blooded American youth visiting Paris could walk away from that challenge? The three of us accepted and while we were slightly hindered by being chased by museum guards we finished in a little over seven minutes. Getting lost could easily double your time and it was easy to do. I understand that the Louvre had to put up with crazy, running young people for most of that summer.
I actually met Art Buchwald in 1972 at a meeting of college newspapers in D.C. and asked him about that column. He laughed and said the French really have no sense of humor at all and he may still be persona non grata in Paris. Their loss.