Un Conte des Deux Expos 08/04/2010Posted by brendan in Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement, La Vie en Paris.
Tags: crime & chatiment, fabrique des images, france, journalism, musee d'orsay, musee quai branly, paris
Most museums are closed Mondays. When I was given clearance to a sneak preview of Musée d’Orsay’s latest exhibition Crime & Châtiment I was nervous about walking with actual journalists and art critics, listening to a press liaison who was one question away from realizing I didn’t speak French.
After strolling along the perimeter of what was once a train station I walked into a neat queue of people. Grey and slightly bowed, all were clutching some glossy invitation in their gloved hands. At the back of the line I listened while confused tourists were told the museum was closed and that this was a special preview. Then the old ladies at the back of the line would look to see if I was getting the message.
Two people stood outside the revolving doors glancing at people’s invitations. I aimed for the woman, distrustful of the man’s mustache. My horrible French distracted her from keeping tabs on the 70-year-olds filing in. Do I have an invitation? No, it was e-mailed to me. You don’t have an invitation? It was e-mailed to me. A passing 70-year-old repeated ‘e-mail’ with a little nod, and I nodded as well. If you don’t have an invitation you can’t come in, I’m sorry.
I asked for the press liaison but the press liaison was currently engaged inside dealing with all of the press who had received invitations. Noting that the slowly moving line still had a ways to go I asked if I could come back in half an hour, would the press liaison be available then? When it became clear I wasn’t going to leave the woman babbled something foreign at me and the mustache disappeared inside to talk on his walkie-talkie.
For the next several minutes I wasn’t sure if I was standing here because the mustache was finding someone for me to talk to or not. The woman managed to ignore me while I stood two feet from her face. She eventually apologized and babbled some more French. I told her I understood and that it was her job. However, getting inside was mine.
The mustache returned and did not appear to see me. 70-year-olds shuffled through the revolving doors. Two new museum staffers arrived with walkie-talkies, had a brief and distracted conversation with the woman I had been staring at and then stood off to the side babbling foreign into their devices. One finally had the presence of mind to indicate by international hand gesture that I was to wait, and looked sympathetic.
Three more museum staffers appeared, all carrying walkie-talkies. At the same time a group of twenty Italian highschool students descended on the line and began arguing with everyone is extremely loud and heavily accented French. A piece of paper was waved, claims that people had called ahead to confirm this very special trip were made, the museum staff apologized and refused the school group entry.
Surrounded by a pack of bored Italian teenagers, angry chaperones and seven members of the Musée d’Orsay staff all carrying walkie-talkies I became the center of attention. Do you have an invitation? No, I was sent an invitation by e-mail. So you don’t have an invitation then? No, it was e-mailed to me. Who do you write for? I write for Vingt Magazine, on the internet. Do you have a press card? No, I’m sorry but I don’t. Eventually it dawned on someone that I might not be proficient in the language, so the youngest member of the museum staff with her clipboard and braces asked me in English if I had an invitation. It was e-mailed to me. Oh, okay, and she told everyone exactly what I had been saying this entire time.
I was allowed to walk through the revolving door. Inside there was a press table filled with informational packets, friendly press liaison officers, and a clipboard to sign up for future events news. I signed up.
Musée Quai Branly looks like a Star Wars prop left alongside the Seine. Clusters of people were basking in the brilliant spring sunshine throughout the grounds. I wound my way towards the entrance, feeling removed from Paris and enjoying the sense of displacement provided by a meager stretch of ground shrubs and Jean Nouvel’s towering glass wall.
Then into the modernist foyer, noting the bored looking ticket taker and a couple girls working the information counter. No press office, and I had a name scribbled in my notebook to ask after. The bored looking ticket taker seemed resigned to his function, implying a powerlessness which included not being able to help me. I walked over to the info counter where neither attendant was standing behind the English sign.
Bonjour! I asked after the press contact, and then showed how it was spelled when my accent thwarted any attempts at communication. There was hurried discussion over who this person could be, then a dawning. Oh yes, they told me in English, you want to go to the offices. Leave the compound, wander down the street, walk into some random doorway denoted by one of many flags flying in the neighborhood, and start babbling your fractured French there.
Which is exactly what I did. The girl behind reception immediately started speaking English and looked at my notebook and asked me to write down the name of the magazine I worked for. On the phone she parlez’d some rapid fire foreign before handing it over. The woman on the other line babbled some French at me, eliciting an immediate apology and we switched to English.
Who am I? I explained who I was and what magazine I was writing for and that I had been told to ask for her specifically. She seemed a little puzzled and told me she wasn’t able to see me now, but please put the receptionist back on the line. Additional French and the phone hit the cradle and I was asked for my press card. I don’t have a press card. Oh. I have an ID, I offered. Ah yes, that will do just fine, thanks. So I handed over my expired California ID and was given a Visitor badge in return. And with that I walked past the bored looking ticket taker and wandered the exhibition, trying to avoid the group of highschool students being led around by a docent.