The Da Vinci effect

As fans of Dan Brown's novel retrace its bestselling steps, the world's top tourist city braces itself

In these “Da Vinci Code” days, being a tourist in Paris means you’re either a believer or you’re not. Battle lines have been drawn.

At the Saint-Sulpice Church in the Left Bank, a key location in Dan Brown’s novel (the Ron Howard-directed pic had to use a stand-in since the Catholic Church refused permission to film inside), Father Arnault Menettrier wants it to be known that his side is the side of truth.

“It’s hard to fathom, but there are actually a lot of people who come here believing every word they’ve read in ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is true,” says Menettrier, slowly shaking his head. “The other day there was an American tourist who wanted to know where the nun in the book was actually murdered; he wasn’t at all convinced when I told him that no murder had taken place, that everything he’d read had been made up. When people overheard us talking, they stopped their praying and began laughing.”

It’s not just the credulous who are having a hard time of it either.

According to Anna Kozina, head of marketing at Paris Intl., just one of several outlets that run “Da Vinci Code” tours, a group of German tourists also went away with mixed feelings. “This group was not at all happy with their guide,” says Kozina. “They were expecting him to completely demolish ‘The Da Vinci Code’; the fact that he was willing to acknowledge the book made some valid points did not go down at all well.”

As “The Da Vinci Code” premiers at Cannes, all angles in Paris are being covered.

The Ritz hotel where Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) stays at the movie’s beginning has developed a special “Da Vinci Code” package, which went on offer April 1 and has already attracted 15 bookings. Even the room number — 512 — is the same.

Meanwhile the hotel’s barman, Colin Field, who was voted the world’s best in 2001, has come up with a special cocktail, called the Opus Dei — a heady mixture of champagne, vodka and grapefruit juice — in honor of the Catholic sect depicted in Brown’s novel.

Fodor’s have even brought out a 256-page “Da Vinci Code” guidebook that traces Langdon’s itinerary from Paris to Rome to London.

In fact, the only ones who seem to be doing their best to avoid the glare of the spotlight are the guardians of the Louvre, whose Grande Gallerie and inverted Pyramid are integral to “The Da Vinci Code’s” sulphurous plot. The Louvre president Henri Loyrette’s only words on the subject are that if a film can encourage people to come to a museum who wouldn’t normally, then all is well and good.

Indeed, Loyrette, who opened the Louvre’s doors to Howard’s film crew, is sitting pretty. Last year the museum welcomed some 7.3 million visitors, a 10% increase from 2004.

And with the movie to come, it will be interesting to note this year’s figures and see just how much the “Da Vinci Code” is responsible for putting the culture back into vulture.

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