Another first Sunday just rolled by, did you catch it? Seriously, time needs to slow down a bit – I am struggling to keep up. Anyways, it was the perfect day for museum-ing. The clouds were dark and heavy, threatening rain all morning, which culminated in a specatular thunderstorm later that night. My colleague suggested the Musée du Quai Branly, which is located just past the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement. Wanting not to feel claustrophobic, as can be the case when the whole of Paris seems to crowd into your museum of choice (I am looking at you, Musée d’Orsay), we made the effort to be there bright and early. This is what greeted me as I exited the metro:
Not such a bad way to start a Sunday morning. Turns out we need not have worried about space. The museum is massive and almost completely hidden from the quai (riverside boulevard) by a large glass wall and a tangled jumble of lush, green foliage. Is it just me, or does this remind others slightly of Jurassic Park?
The museum contains innumerable artifacts from the indigenous cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Apparently, only slightly more than 1% of the total collection is on display. That was more than enough to keep us occupied, mouths agape and overwhelmed for the better part of several hours.
The layout of the museum was very organic. Designed relatively recently (mid-1990s), the different civilizations are grouped together and organized first by geographic regions and then chronologically. The exhibits run through a long, relatively narrow space, along the outsides of the rectangular building. Running through the center of the cultural exhibits is an additional feature, “La Rivière”, which seeks to explain how man perceives and impacts the environment around him. Here there are interactive features about how different cultures organize their homes, cities or perceptions of where Earth fits into a greater spiritual world.
Unlike several other grand museums in Paris, almost all major signage was displayed in at least French and English, if not also Spanish. As I have almost no background knowledge in anthropology or ethnography, it was a relief to have some framework within which to put the pieces I was seeing. There was so much – statuary, textiles, tools and idols – seemingly crammed into every nook and cranny that even after three hours of wandering I felt like I had only taken a cursory glance. Here are a few of my favorites:
(protective monkey spirit + my reflection)
(protective faceless spirit)
(ritual oxen mask)
Upon reflection, I think that one of my favorite installations was “The River”. As you traveled up the ramp from the center lobby/entrance into the main exhibit hall, there was a projected cascade of words that traveled along the floor much like water. The words formed whirlpools and eddies, merging streams and meandering offshoots, and every once in a while, you’d recognize the words floating by and hurry to whip out your camera in time to capture the current.
As we walked out of the museum into the emerging sunshine, we both decided that this site would go onto our ‘must show to guests’ list, if only to have the chance to return and sift through the enormous collection. Moreover, entrance to the gardens is always free, and a coffee sipped in the quiet of this urban forest, just minutes from the tumult of Paris, seems as if it would be ideal for another summer Sunday afternoon. We parted ways and I meandered along the river towards the city center.
(roof of the Grand Palais, next on my list)
It is remarkable the palpable change that has come over the Parisians now that summer is here. The sunshine and long days have softened even the crankiest local and, it seems, everyone is smiling or laughing. And, why not? It is Paris, after all.
(wedding photos snapped in haste during a red light, as everyone strolls on by)