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.”