Archive | June, 2011

For the love of Process – C’est comme ca

29 Jun

20th century chairs - Les Art Decortifs, Paris Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerWe wanted to visit the Museum of Advertising. The website made it clear that it was associated with the Museum of Decorative Arts. How it was associated was unclear.  From what we could tell, they were housed in the same building, a wing of the Louvre, on rue de Rivoli.

In the entrance hall of the Museum we got a map to see if we could find the Museum of Advertising.  The map – a meter (3 ft) long by 40 cm (8 in) wide, detailing all 9 floors from 2 different cross sections using 23 colours – was in English.  However, I struggled to hold it let alone find any special sections without serious study and a guide.

The usual French menu of ticket choices, failed to help either. Our options included:

  • General collection only
  • Temporary exhibit A only
  • Temporary exhibit B only
  • General collection + exhibit A only
  • General collection + exhibit B only
  • General collection + A and B
  • Temporary exhibits A and B only
  • General collection + ticket to sister museum across town
  • General collection + ticket to sister museum + sister museum’s temporary exhibit, and so on.

None of the choices included the Museum of Advertising.

We concluded that all of the decorative arts must be displayed together and, after opting for the ‘general collection only’ ticket, decided to head into the museum.

Our first hurdle was the fact that to get to the general collection you had to go through temporary exhibit A, or at least the start of it.  Men who looked like bouncers were checking tickets. With a look that made us understand that they were watching us, and that we were to not even think about looking at the temporary exhibit A for which we did not pay, they pointed us to the elevator which would give us access to the general collection.  

Safely in front of the elevator, I had room and time to take another look at the atlas of a map.  We decided that given the overwhelming size of the museum and the fact that we wanted lunch sometime in the next several hours that we would head to the 20th century collection on the 5th floor. We had a plan. I knew where we were on the map. I knew where we wanted to go on the map.  Unfortunately closer inspection revealed that the lift we were about to take only went to the 3rd floor, two floors short of the 20th century.

I was trying to figure out how to get to the 5th floor, fumbling with the map, as the lift arrived and we got on.  A gentleman inside the lift asked us in English what floor we wanted. I said I wasn’t sure but we wanted to see the 20th century exhibits.

“The visit starts on the 3rd floor,” he said. “It is best that you start your visit from here.” And he pushed 3 on the lift. 

We exited on 3 and were pleased to see an information booth.  The man behind the counter had a beard that clashed with his youthful pink cheeks and long eyelashes, but underlined his earnestness.  I asked again for directions to the 20th century exhibits and was again told, firmly but with a friendly smile that, “It is best to start your visit from here.”

I looked at the map again and then at my sister, and then realised we were up against something much bigger than us: the French love of procedure.  When the New York Times’s departing Paris bureau chief offered eight lessons for living in France, along with the need to understand that the customer is always wrong and the importance of getting to know your butcher, she noted, “Rules govern even the smallest activities.” While the details are often only clear to the initiated and rarely make total sense, there is a special procedure for everything in French life. 

I realised that the only way were going to enjoy our visit to the museum was to capitulate and start our visit where they wanted us to start our visit. We reasoned it would not kill us to see something new and eventually we would get to the 20th century. 

I folded the map so that I could focus on one floor and studied the route ahead.  I was not encouraged when I saw that the route drawn on the map through the first six rooms looked like a spaghetti junction. You were directed to cross paths with yourself 4 times and backtrack twice. I started to wonder if they would give us sat nav along with the audio tour included in the admission price.

At one point, I enquired of a museum guard if I was going the right direction. A loud “No, no, no” was accompanied by a wagging finger pointed at my face. The aforementioned finger then pointed back in the direction from where I had just come. 

I am delighted to report that from the start of the 17th century – until Art Nouveau at the start of the 19th, everything was more or less straight forward.  However, to make the transition to Art Deco and on to the 40s, you had to go down one floor and then up 6 to level 9.  The rest of the 20th century also went smoothly, however the visit ended on level 6, with no clear route to reception on level 3 where you needed to hand in the audio tour handset.

When we got back to the information desk on level 3, we felt a sense of accomplishment, but were disappointed.  Our original assumption that all of the decorative arts would be displayed together had been wrong. We’d been on a very interesting trip through furniture, ceramics and other decorative pieces through the ages but had seen nothing about advertising. 

The cute, earnest, beardy gentleman at the info booth asked us if we had enjoyed our visit. I said it had been very interesting but we had really come to see the Advertising collection.

He looked very serious, “Because of the delicate nature of the collection, we are only able to show parts of the collection at any one time.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “We’d like to see what’s on display at the moment. Can you point us in the right direction?”

He looked even more serious, “I am very sorry, the Museum of Advertising is closed.”


Fete de la Musique

26 Jun

Fete de la Musique, Place des Vosges Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerTo the screeching sound of Sri Lankan music, a Scottish assassin’s wife murdered a fat lady in a fur coat over a broken bottle of perfume. Then, a young man went into a bar, picked a fight with a bully and, against the odds, kicked the bully’s butt.  And this was just the start of my first experience of the Fete de La Musique

The Fete de la Musique is an originally Parisian festival that has now spread all over the world.  It happens every Midsummer’s Night and involves music being played, both organised and impromptu, everywhere on the streets of Paris all night long.  This year Midsummer’s Night landed on Tuesday, the same night as my writing group. The usual reading of participant’s work (i.e. assassins and fights in bars) was supported by a soundtrack put on by the Sri Lankan residents of that neighbourhood of Paris.

Around 9.30, the group stopped the writing-related chat and wandered down the Canal St Martin, to Republique, then down blvd Beaumarchais and into the Marais. We heard DJs playing everything from disco to techno, we saw men playing cardboard boxes and plastic containers, and listened to old guys playing rock and roll.  Some were outside cafes, some just at the side of the road. All were loud and all had crowds spilling into the streets, enjoying the show.

One point in the evening resembled the start of a joke – an American, a Welshman, a Brazilian and a Bulgarian all entered a bar… some writing group members and I after hydration in plastic cups to take on our further wanderings.  In the Bar we saw the Bastille, 3 blocks away, live on MTV.  We took the plastic cups in search of the music.

Under the covered arches around the Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris, we stopped for a while to watch a Madness-esque band sing songs in front of about 60 pogo-ing fans.  The ages ranged from 7 to 75 with everyone loving it. Deeper into the Marais, we passed more DJs, we sang to Lady Gaga and Brittany Spears and we passed a trombone, trumpet and tuba group bringing the house down.

My night ended around 1.30am, but the music went on all night.  What a great way to celebrate the longest day of the year!

Brass Section, Marais Fete de la Musique Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

PRIDE at the end of my street

25 Jun

Riot of Rainbows - Paris Pride Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerWe heard the tell-tale honking of horns this afternoon.  We live near the Bastille in Paris.  This very important site in French history is often the rallying point for demonstrations and marches.  There is usually something on most weekends and car horns play a large part in the French making themselves heard.

This one was different.  After the car horns, came dance music, really loud dance music. The windows were shaking. We went to the windows and saw the riot of rainbows.  It was the Marche des Fiertes LGBT, Paris PRIDE at the end of our street! Fantastic!

Off to go show support and enjoy the music and atmosphere.Bastille PRIDE - Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

Pour L’Egalite!PRIDE supporter - Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

To learn or not to learn

22 Jun

A little help from my friends Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerSpeaking and learning French has not been a priority for me since I arrived.  At the start, I did a quick calculation between time-required and pain likely to be experienced learning the language versus having a nice time and not learning. It clearly showed that not learning and focusing on having fun was the way to go.

Everyone knows French people don’t like it when you get their language wrong. You try, they give you a nasty look and then reply in testy English.  So why go through the hassle?

I was not going to get far in 5 months with my pathetic language skills and enough people speak English for me to get by. I’ve communicated with sign language and a smile all over the world. I was sure I could connect even in notoriously grumpy France.  And really, how much French do you need to know to get a real bang out of seeing the Eiffel Tower, eating a macaroon or enjoying the pop of a champagne cork?

However, I am getting pressure from all sides to change my mind. First, everyone expects me to want to try.  Friends at home all seemed to think that learning the language was one of the top benefits of my trip. “What a great opportunity to learn French,” they said enthusiastically. In France, my landlady, expats I meet, the woman at the cheese counter, all think they are being encouraging when they ask, “How’s your French coming along?”

“It’s not,” I think to myself, as I point to the cheese I want behind the glass and say, “S’il vous plaît.”

The second pressure is me.  My default mode is to talk to anyone, about anything, at anytime. I am programmed to need to share. However, even small pleasantries with the woman at the bakery or the man at the fruit and vegetable store are denied to me. This is partly because I don’t know the words or phrases.  But the reality is that the biggest obstacle is my fear to get it wrong. I am terrified of the face that says, “You stupid American, when you speak it’s like you are spitting on my baguette.”

As a result, despite all genetic programming to the contrary, I’ve effectively taken a vow of silence.  A shop assistant will ask, “Can I help you find something?” and I stand there silent, like a deer caught in headlights, with a stupid look on my face.  Sometimes I can utter a weak, ‘I don’t understand French’ but most of the time I just shake my head, close my lips tightly and make for the door.

To make matters worse, people want to talk to me. Naturally being a talker, my ridiculous tendency to make eye contact and produce a cheesy smile screams that I am up for a chat. Little old ladies stop me on the street, mothers stop me in the grocery store and even children have come up to say something – what they want to share, I have no idea – and I’ve nothing to say to them.  I must look rude, stupid or both.

Finally, and the most compelling pressure to learn French is the fact that French people are actually really nice.  Yes, it’s true. At no point since I’ve been here has anyone been mean to me about not speaking French. At no point has anyone been mean to me or expressed displeasure at me attempting to speak French. In fact, the French people I’ve met have gone out of their way to make it easy for me and to make my stay in France better. Sure, people have been initially bemused by my “I don’t speak” routine.  However, they usually look at my shoes (the best test for country of origin), figure out the situation and try to help.

This week I started the language tapes. Everyone knows the best plans are flexible.

**You can help me and others learn French!  Please post your favorite French phrases.

Royal Assent

1 Jun

The Lodge Photo by Juliet GoldOn 21 May, 2011 Drumintoul Lodge on the Rothiemurchus Estate in the Scottish Highlands, became the centreof the universe.  At 1.15pm, a full quarter of an hour before the scheduled time, my brother-in-law and his fiancé, two of my best friends, were married in front of 38 very lucky guests. 

The family Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThe very family centred and intimate ceremony was conducted by an Aunt of the Groom. She was ably assisted by the flower girl and page-boy – the niece and nephew of the Bride – and the Best Man and Bridesmaid – the Groom’s brother and Bride’s sister, respectively. The Bride was piped in to the sound of “Highland Cathedral” and yours truly honoured to be asked to make an attempt at Burns’ “A Red, Red Rose“.

The Bride, her sister, flowergirl and pageboy Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerAfter the ceremony, the joyous and emotional party took over the entire hunting lodge and the champagne and whisky flowed.  The pre-dinner speeches by the Father of the Bride, the Groom and the Best Man were excellent, funny and touching.

The delicious wedding dinner featured the best of local Scottish produce and was prepared by a local French chef. Spoons Photo by Barrie WestSpoons were used creatively during the meal. The flower girl and I had ‘spoon on nose’ competitions and my mother-in-law uncharacteristically used the handle of her spoon to scoop and lick the last of her lemon dessert.

Later in the evening a fiddler and an accordionist played traditional Scottish music. The floor was filled with guests dancing Scottish country favourites – the Gay Gordon, Strip the Willow, Dashing White Sergeant, to name a few. Wellies Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerTaking a break from the dancing, the Bride and a number of guests exchanged their party shoes for Wellies and went to find the row-boat in the Loch beside the lodge.  The evening ended with the traditional circle of clasped hands around the Bride, Groom and their families and the singing of Auld Lang Sine. A perfect day.

However, it could have all been different. Little did the Bride and Groom know that their fairy tale wedding had been threatened just 24 hours earlier.  One last crucial detail was yet to be finalised.

 I was in my bedroom at the hotel and there was a knock at the door. I had been expecting this visit and was tense. I knew what was riding on this decision.

“Where is it?” my mother-in-law asked as she came into the room.

The moment of truth had arrived.  I gestured towards where I had laid out my dress, shoes and The Hat.

“It’s beautiful,” she exclaimed.”Really beautiful. I think it will make the outfit.”

Thank god. Royal assent had been given and the wedding could go on.Jen & Rabbie Burns Photo by Juliet Gold

To find out more about the importance of The Hat, see earlier post The Wedding and me

A special thank you to Juliet Gold for the pictures of Drumintoul Lodge and me with the Rabbie Burns book