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The Museum Guard Magnet

With so much of this year spent traveling to the Riviera to set up “Le Matisse” (Parler Nice apartment – Le Matisse), Paris has been sadly neglected. The proverbial ‘love of my life’ (Paris) became a back-drop while the focus has been on other proverbial ‘mistresses’ (Nice and the Côte d’Azur) and I can tell you in all honesty, she has been sorely missed. When there was once time for a weekly trip to visit an exhibition or attend an interesting lecture, the year has flown by with much less quantity of the Paris drug in my veins.

I’m not usually the jealous type, but it struck me green with envy that others with whom I am friendly have the time to enjoy Paris at their leisure, taking in the sights, sounds and smells that more than full-time working people such as myself don’t have. It’s the reason I moved to the City of Light in the first place — to take advantage of the art and culture that surrounds us on a daily basis…but it got somehow lost, first in the basic need to survive and second in a set of ambitious goals.

One of those lucky friends is one you have heard about before: Geraldine Kaylor, author of The Travel Oyster. Geraldine and her husband are here only two months every year for his business purposes, while “Ger” goes along for the ride, improving her French, visiting the city and learning all she can. We’ve been friends from when I first moved to Paris and she attended a French-English conversation group I was running at the time in my apartment in the 17th arrondissement (call it survival and the beginning of “Parler Parlor” [Parler Parlor]).

Geraldine is one of the world’s greatest story-tellers. While she’s an outstanding writer, she’s an even better story-teller and can take even the smallest minutia of a happenstance and turn it into a screenplay. Some of the stories I’ve heard several times, but it doesn’t matter — like a great movie, one can replay it dozens of times without being bored. So, as one can imagine, Ger has the gift of gab and can talk about just about anything with anyone in several languages: English, French and Italian (she also spends two months in Italy every year…what a life!).

One night while enjoying artichokes together (you may recall this recent event), Geraldine told us all about how she is a “museum guard magnet.” I chuckle even as the words appear on the computer screen: MUSEUM GUARD MAGNET.

What does this mean? As she tells it, museum guards, in museums all over the globe, wherever they travel, manage to single her out as the one person worth speaking to and strike up a conversation, without her having to provoke it. She told a whole series of various situations, where the guards actually walk over to her, even when she’s in a line and one of many others, or say things to her they should never actually say to anyone, or expound on their knowledge of the art or the museum or whatever. It happens time and time again.

We all laughed. Her husband, Jeffrey R., backs up the claim and we vowed to test it out and let Geraldine prove it for herself. This was a perfect opportunity to make a plan to visit an exhibition in a museum with her, something void in my Paris life for some time now and in need of revitalizing.

13-2-12 Musee Carnavalet-313-2-12 Musee Carnavalet-413-2-12 Musee Carnavalet13-2-12 Musee Carnavalet-2

We arranged to meet on Sunday and see “Le peuple de Paris au XIXe siècle: des guinguettes aux barricades” at the Musée Carnavalet on only until February 26th (Le Peuple de Paris au XIXe siècle). It was mid afternoon by the time we arrived. A museum guard came over to us and broke the line just at our point, not allowing us entry into the exhibition as the line had grown too long.

Why us? I wondered. It was the first sign of Geraldine’s magnetic personality.

Instead we chose to visit the permanent and vast collection of the museum along with a special section on the history of Les Halles. It had been such a long time since having perused the works at the museum that it was like seeing it for the first time and in many cases, it was — as there were rooms I’d never had the pleasure of visiting. One of them was “La boutique du bijoutier Georges Fouquet” (Georges Fouquet). The art nouveau boutique constructed in the 1860s by Alphonse Mucha and transplanted here at the museum is worth a special visit.

At the entry sits a guard. Geraldine announced to me that she would ask the guard if one of the rooms she knew of on an upper level was open for visiting. This was not much of a test of her magnetism, until I heard the guard’s answer. It was just as she claimed. He did not answer “yes” or “no” and leave it at that. Instead, he responded with a long explanation of why the room was closed — that she did not ask. Then he continued to talk and tell her all sorts of things the average public would never hear…such as news that the city plans on instituting an admission fee on the city’s museums permanent collections beginning in 2013 — up until now, admission has been free.

This, of course, started a long discussion and Geraldine learned much. She is always astounded by how much a museum guard knows — including the ability to know what are the visitors’ nationalities just by observing, not hearing them speak. And they take pride in the works they guard, getting to know them as true friends. In one situation, a guard clandestinely took Geraldine into a closed-off section of the Carnavalet just so she could photograph one of his favorites.

We missed the special exhibit, but thoroughly enjoyed the permanent collection. Besides hundreds of beautiful paintings that tell of life in Paris throughout the years, there is a maquette of “l’Enclos du Temple” from the end of the 18th-century that illustrates what my own neighborhood looked like in the 13th-century when the Knights Templar occupied the land — where now stands the Carreaux du Temple and the Mairie du 3ème. And from the windows is a view of the elaborate French garden.

What a wonder to have this museum and so many others so close at hand, and to seem so far from reach when life is too busy to stop and take Paris into your veins.

13-2-12 creativeparisSPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT — HOT OFF THE CREATIVE PRESS: Creative Paris

The City of Paris has launched yet another great Web site for one and all to promote the city’s creative activities. In a press release from Jean-Bernard Bros’ office, the associate in charge of new tourism and local media, the City Hall has this message:

“Over the last few years there has been a real boom in artistic
activities and creative tourism has grown in France and abroad. More
and more people are using their break to learn a new skill or master
their hobby during short courses and workshops. Sometimes we don’t
hear enough about the wide variety of creative and artistic workshops
in Paris. The ADCEP (Association pour le Développement de la Création
– Etudes et Projets) has used its ties to artistic circles to list
what Paris has to offer visitors. The City of Paris is supporting the
ADCEP with the Creative Paris website launch to help promote Paris as
a major European creative tourism destination.

From February 2012, Creative Paris will provide a directory of creative courses, lessons and workshops in a range of categories:

– visual arts/arts and crafts
– performing arts, music
– photography/cinema/multimedia
– art of the garden/flower arrangement
– culinary arts
– fashion/design
– science and technology
– writing, philosophy

The Web site is available in English and French and every season there will be new reports and profiles of some of the courses. It will also be available in a mobile version for iPhones and Android phones.

Paris is home to an infinite number of creative activities for
Parisians and holiday-makers from France and abroad: learn African
dance, the tango, take a photography course, Italian cookery course,
Thai food, arrange a centerpiece or learn about ikebana. There’s
something for everyone on Creative Paris!

The initiatives available to tourists who wish to explore their destinations through their chosen hobby are part of the international Creative Tourism Network. The network is supported by the EU’s Culture 2007-2013 program and develops and promotes creative tourism with 3 European cultural operators (ADCEP – Paris, Fusic – Barcelona, Osservatorio – Rome). These initiatives will be discussed at the international meetings for all the network partners to be held at Paris’ Town Hall in December 2012.

A la prochaine…

adrian by LifeguardAdrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.P.S. Happy VThirzaVallois-150alentine’s Day! Don’t miss Thirza Vallois’ take on Romantic Paris tomorrow afternoon at Parler Paris Aprés Midi, 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais. Visit Parler Paris Aprés Midi for details. See you there.

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