I went back to Paris a few weeks ago to celebrate the anniversary of the running of the Six-Minute Louvre. Forty years ago, a young American student named Peter Stone broke the Six-Minute Louvre and brought glory and honor to American tourists everywhere.
It is common knowledge that there are only three things worth seeing in the Louvre. They are the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa. The rest of the stuff is all junk. Tourists go to see those three works and then rush out to continue their shopping in Paris.Before World War II, the record for going through the Louvre was seven minutes and 30 seconds, held by a man known as the Swedish Cannonball. After the war an Englishman, paced by his Welsh wife, did it in seven minutes flat. Soon everyone started talking about a Six-Minute Louvre.
Thus it was in 1950 that the young Peter Stone went in while thousands cheered, ran around the Venus de Milo, up past the Winged Victory, down to the Mona Lisa. You always have to say something when you look at the Mona Lisa. Peter's famous remark was, "I know the guy who has the original," and then he drove away in a waiting taxi. Peter did it in five minutes and 56 seconds, a record that still stands.
As I stood in the courtyard of the palace looking around me at the seasoned veterans who had come back, I recalled the '50s and thought, "When it came to sightseeing, we were the best and the brightest."
I told my son, "I.M. Pei's glass pyramid has made it impossible to get near the rec-ord. Look at us - we've been standing in line for an hour."
"Give me a pair of Reeboks or Nike shoes and I could do it," my son said.
"It doesn't help what kind of shoes you wear when there are now escalators all over the museum. The French always had a fear that an American would beat the Six-Minute Louvre, and they did everything to confuse us. That's why they would point you in the direction of the Mona Lisa, and you'd wind up in the salle displaying 22 armless and headless Roman statues. Peter broke the record because he refused to take any directions from museum guards."
A man came up to me and stuck out his hand, "My name's Gerry Tornplast. I was on Thomas Cook Tour Number 230 when it happened. The French didn't think we could do it, but we proved that when you have a strong dollar and a weak franc, an American can achieve anything."
My son asked, "Wasn't there something else you wanted to see in the Louvre?"
"There was nothing. You have to remember, son, in those days the American tourist was strapped for time."
I continued, "The halls still echo with Stone's voice, as he broke into the sunlight, saying, `There isn't a museum in the world that can keep me inside for very long.' "