Wednesday, December 13, 2017

From France with love

It's not often that a major international museum with a hefty collection of Old Masters opens up an hour and a half's drive from your doorstep, so it was to Abu Dhabi that we recently wended our way to visit the newly opened Louvre.

Those of you who take an interest in these things will know that the Louvre Abu Dhabi is not, as tends to be the way of things in this region, without its fair share of controversies, and having a less than three-year-old in tow is reason enough to sack it off until she's a bit older and less likely to try to climb on to an Egyptian sarcophagus (that happened, but you know, that's to be expected). But, the lure of such a cultural achievement was a bit too much for us to resist. I told myself I wasn't going to get into the controversy surrounding the building of the Louvre in this post. It's well documented, as you can see from that link, but I would rather concentrate on the place itself rather than go into it all, there is ample places for you to find out more about it and let that influence whether you choose to go or not, should you so desire.

These days, I tend to think of places in terms of "suitable to visit with small child" and "not suitable to visit, stormy weather involving tantrums, dirty looks and tuts ahead, to the life boats, to the life boats.". Most places in the UAE fall into the first category as the culture here largely welcomes children, within reason. Taking your little darling to smokey bars and other "night-time" establishments might earn you a few hard stares, but it's perfectly normal to see small kids out with their parents in restaurants long after what us Brits think of as "bed time", as well as in evening showings of films, etc.

The Louvre is largely OK for a small child, but I would say if you've got one that's a bit appetite for destructiony, it's probably not for you. Desert Baby is a pretty placid type, she'll sit in a buggy for reasonable periods of time and will be engaged by parental attempts to talk to her about things she is seeing in her terms, ie, pointing out animals featured in art, telling her some very basic historical things, pointing out the baby in Madonna and Child paintings (they were a particular hit), but she definitely suffered a bit of a sense of humour failure by the time we reached hall 10 or 11.

I realise I sound like a right "oh, my little Jocasta has such an interest in fine art, particularly the Impressionists" type w***er of a parent right now, but I do think it was definitely worth taking her. However, here are a few dos and don'ts, to help those of you with sprogs who are contemplating going, to plan ahead.

DO - If your desire in going to the Louvre Abu Dhabi is to see the headline acts - the Manet, the Monet, Whistler's Mother, Van Gogh, etc, and you have small ones in tow, then take my advice and skip straight to the end to see them. From memory, check the map and head straight to halls 10 and 11, so you have time to contemplate them before your beloved offspring starts demanding snacks, milk, toilet trips, or to watch "she that shall remain nameless", whose name rhymes with Queppa Qig, on an iPad. As it was, Him Indoors and I had a conversation like this during Desert Baby's aforementioned sense of humour failure:

Me: Did you know they had Whistler's Mother here?

Him: No.

Desert Baby: I wanna go home!!!!

Me: They have Whistler's Mother here, you should probably check it out.

Desert Baby: Daddy, I wanna go home!!! I want biscuits!!!!

Me: *Picking up Desert Baby and holding her by the waist*, quick, we're losing the light, repeat we are losing the light, haul anchors, etc etc.

DON'T - No food or drink whatsoever is allowed inside museum, there's a cafe with both a la carte and counter options, as well as snack trolleys once you're through the main part of the museum,  otherwise you'll be expected to put any food or drink, including water bottles, in a bag in the cloak room. This probably seems like stating the bleedin' obvious to those of you who are art aficionados, but it's a rule that is rarely enforced in most places frequented by us parents of midgets in the UAE, so it's worth filling your youngster with snacks and/or milk before you go in to avoid a low blood sugar, hungry toddler meltdown half way round.

DO - Leave a bit of time to check out the building itself. There is a large covered but open air section which seems to have been designed to keep the sun off while making the most of the benefit of the sea breezes, which, I must say, is simply fabulous in winter, and who knows, may even be a bearable place to sit and contemplate the art works you've just seen during those pesky 45C+ UAE summers.

DO - Check out the Children's Museum, it's got a mixture of UAE and French culture exhibits combined with art activities.

DO - Book in advance online. It was fairly quiet when we went first thing on a Friday morning, but if you have an online ticket, you avoid having to queue to pay.

DON'T - If you're taking the offspring, at least one of your will have to forego the multimedia listening commentary device whatsit to give full attention to stopping your precious darling climbing on to or touching the exhibits, as the "do not touch" rule is enforced strictly. Again, this probably seems like stating the obvious to those interested in art, but those of us with youngsters are not in this kind of environment often!

DO - Think about making a weekend trip. We stayed at the Beach Rotana, which was handily close to the Louvre and had the added bonus of a Swiss Christmas fair, complete with yodelling singers, beer, sausages, gluhwein, as well as a children's activity section with TV showing the obligatory Thomas the Tank Engine Christmas, and cookie decorating, which was a bit of a result. If you go to Abu Dhabi the night before, you can get the sprogs to the museum early in the morning rather than attempting to interest them in it after the drive from Dubai. That way, they'll be in more cooperative, less "destroyer of civilisation" mode, which, I think we can all agree, is better for everyone.

DO - Just go. I'm a total thicko, really, when it comes to fine art, but even I can appreciate the value of seeing such extraordinary works of art in the flesh. The standout works for me were Ai Weiwei's Fountain of Light, and of course it's hard to beat the fascination of a Van Gogh self-portrait. And, within a day of us visiting, it was announced that the "world's most expensive painting", a Da Vinci, is soon to be exhibited there. I'm also no expert on architecture, and again, the issues surrounding the alleged treatment of the work force that built it may cause some to stay away on principle, and, I hate to sound self-justifying, but wouldn't it be a pity for the efforts of those workers to not be seen? It's a remarkable building, in my very ill-informed opinion, and worth the trip alone. Plus, at the moment it's only AED 60 per adult, children under 13 are free, which is an absolute bargain.

The opening hours are 10am-8pm Saturday-Wednesday, and 10am-10pm Thursday and Friday. You can buy tickets here.

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