The Dan Brown Code

Chapter OneThe Streets of Paris Like millions of other Americans, I have recently read The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. But unlike millions of other Americans, I don’t live in America. I live in Paris, where much of the novel is set. I love it when novels or films are set in locations that I know well. I enjoy seeing things I know through someone else’s eyes, which can give the story a personal side, immediacy. I realize that minor mistakes can simply slip through. They make us smile. Then there’s Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. First, I should say that I enjoyed this novel. I raced through it as one should race through a best-seller thriller. But every once in a while, I felt a little bump in the road, not enough to make me stop reading, or to pull out a map of Paris to verify something that didn’t seem right, not even enough to make me really think about what I was reading beyond the story of Robert Langford–no, sorry, I just checked, and it’s Robert Langdon. But then the ride seemed to be getting bumpier and bumpier, and the bumps bigger and bigger (I’ll get back to these bumps later). And I finally came to a stop on page 139, as Sophie and Robert are speeding towards the sanctuary of the American Embassy, and “cut sharply past the luxurious Hôtel de Crillon into Paris’s tree-lined diplomatic neighborhood. The embassy was less than a mile away now.” I’m stopping here for a few hours, because I’m going to the Place de la Concorde to measure the distance between the entrance to the Hôtel de Crillon and the entrance to the American Embassy. Also I have to get a book for my daughter, Leah at an English bookstore that’s also near Concorde. … I’m back. Now, never having stayed at the Hôtel de Crillon, I wasn’t sure exactly where it was when I was reading this novel, but I had a fair idea. I actually thought it was a bit farther from the Embassy than it really is. I can now state that it is 50 steps away. I should explain that these are not 50 paces, but steps. There are a lot of French police armed with machine guns and wearing bullet-proof vests around the Embassy, not to mention a lot of tourists and the too-dignified doormen of the Crillon, so I decided to go for discreet. Plus, if the police see that I’m measuring the distance, they may very well take me for a terrorist planning on blowing up the American Embassy, and they might arrest me, or even shoot me. I’m willing to take a métro ride to verify something, but I’m not willing to get arrested for it–or shot. Anyway, I’m fairly tall, so I would estimate that my 50 steps would probably be the equivalent of between 40 and 45 yards. Whereas it’s true, as Sophie muses, that this is less than a mile, this strikes me as similar to saying that the Eiffel Tower is taller than Edith Piaf. So, I started wondering, is this supposed to be a funny novel? Or is Dan Brown just incredibly sloppy? Or is there another more sinister explanation? Is it part of “The Dan Brown Code?” Let’s now go back to some of the other oddities in this novel. We first meet Robert Langdon is his room at the Hôtel Ritz. A French policeman comes to take him to the Louvre to help with a murder investigation. Although I’ve never stayed at the Ritz I have eaten at the restaurant, from which I stole a box of matches (which I’ve never used), but which has the address on it: 15 Place Vendôme. So one can only wonder why the car would go south past the Opéra, and then cross the Place Vendôme in Chapter 3? They are apparently going fairly fast, with the siren on, and they have time to have a short conversation, plus Robert has time to reflect. When I read this, I had the impression that the trip took possibly 15 or 20 minutes. But the actual distance is really quite short. The other day I walked it–without benefit of siren–in 12 minutes, on tourist-crowded sidewalks. In the post midnight streets of Paris there would be almost no traffic, so I would be hard to imagine its taking much more than one minute, certainly not two. There also seems to be an armchair tourist perspective of Paris. Robert glances at the Eiffel Tower to his right, but from the position of someone sitting in a car, the Eiffel Tower isn’t visible from the Rue Castiglione. They then cross the Rue de Rivoli into the “wooded section of the Rue Castiglione.” As they say in French, “Bizarre, bizarre.” This street doesn’t cross the Rue de Rivoli. There is a path in the Tuileries Gardens that would correspond to it, but there isn’t access to it from the Rue de Rivoli. There is an iron fence with a gate, but the gate is locked at night. And even if it were open, there are steps to go up and then steps to go down. They would have to have Harry Potter’s flying car to manage that. Again, in the park, Robert glances around, and sees some more tourist sights: the Pompidou Center and the Musée d’Orsay. But these aren’t visible from the Place du Carrousel, except possibly from a helicopter. But he can also now see, ahead, the Louvre! However, from the Place du Carrousel you are already surrounded on three sides by the Louvre. (This is why you couldn’t see the Pompidou Center or the Musée d’Orsay.) From here, the policeman drives up on the plaza, and the “Louvre’s main entrance was visible now. . . La Pyramide.” But it would have been visible when they had first seen the Arc du Carrousel…
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