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Old and New, East and West

Tuesday is still cool, still cloudy. It drives Larry bonkers that he cannot get an accurate weather forecast in France, with the level of obsessive hour-by-hour detail he's come to expect from the US weather service. Our favorite Paris weather moment was the "sunny" icon on the online forecast when it was pouring outside the window.

After cafe and croissant, we walked over to the new Musee du Quai Branly, that much-discussed museum of non-european art.
In essence, the artifacts and artwork are fabulous, of course. I loved, loved, so much of what I saw. It's a near thing though, and whatever impact the artwork had on me was in spite of the museum's design.

http://www.quaibranly.fr/index.php?id=1&L=1

The exterior, with colored building-block pieces is stunning, and especially that wonderful vertical garden planted with creeping plants and flowers.

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The design of the exhibits feels like it was done by a committee of overenthusiastic 13 year olds. You bounce from one geographical or cultural grouping to another. Very little documentation or thoughtful explanation of the "why" behind the materials, beyond the very limited basics. The labels, when you can find them, are often in brown text on brown background. The lighting is dreadful. The glass and badly designed lighting causes so much glare and reflection that many items are extremely difficult to see. And good luck if you're in a wheelchair--the elevators up to the top levels weren't working; and many of the small hidden exhibit rooms didn't have doorways wide enough to allow the person I saw in a wheelchair to get through. In many of those small rooms, the flooring is already buckled and taped.

I often felt slightly dizzy and claustrophobic there. The deep browns and reds of the color scheme, uneven floor, ductwork ceilings, and odd reflections from glass and lighting were probably the cause. I'd be curious if others get that sensation.

I loved the materials themselves, but left feeling quite frustrated. At least my curiosity was sparked by much of what I'd seen--but the museum didn't do anything to extend that curiosity into something meaningful. It struck me that they have such a treasure trove of work here. Instead of mushing it into one huge exhibit, why didn't they attempt to create a changing series of more focused exhibits, with a deeper impact? (Or leave the materials where they were in other collections, but that obviously wasn't the point in this project of political empire-building)

From the Museum, we walked across the Seine to the Metro, and got off at Les Gobelins in the 13th. I've wanted to visit the Gobelin tapestry weaving workshops for years, and finally got the chance. There are tours in French only Tuesday-Thursday at 2:00 and 2:45. We ate a simple lunch at a brasserie around the corner (salad for me, and croque for Larry), then hunted down the tour office. (Enter the main gate at 42 Av des Gobelins, turn left, go down the cobbled drive, enter through the large rounded door to the Chapel)

We began in the chapel, hung with enormous old tapestries. From there, you are brought through a succession of weaving rooms, where you can watch the workers and get a detailed history and weaving lesson. Vertical tapestry looms, horizonal looms, carpet looms, all in long rooms lit by natural daylight streaming in through huge windows. Many of the workers still live onsite, though the old fruit orchard is now full of ornamental flowers. I do wish my French was stronger, as I know I missed much of what the guide was telling us. But as a hobby weaver, this was a tremendous treat. They're still weaving as they've done for 300 years, warp by warp. Peering at the "carton" of the design, and often working in reverse, looking at mirrors placed at the back of the warp. Most of the weavers I saw wore glasses.

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To my surprise, most of the work they do now is of contemporary design, very modern. Stunning, amazing works of art and craftmanship. Most pieces are for State use, although there are a very few private commissions for those who can afford the steep price tag. They also replicate older designs, like to restore an upholstered piece of furniture of historical merit.

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The tour lasted almost two hours, a wonderful and absorbing peek. We went back to the apartment for a brief rest, and then headed over to the 11th to meet up with Dave and Aralynn for dinner. We had a fun, enjoyable evening with excellent food and conversation.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 11, 2006 8:23 AM.

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