Night at the museum

July 24, 2009 at 9:29 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

No matter how hard I try, I just never seem to make it to museums unless there is a friend in town.  Not only are the museums closing right around the time that I get home from work, but on the weekends there is just too much going on–and usually the weather isn’t bad–and the lines are so long and everything is so crowded–and in any case, I can think up any number of excuses, but the bottom line is that the only museums I’ve seen since I’ve been here this summer are the Pompidou, the Museum of European Photography, and the Carnavalet (Paris history museum).

And it turns out that the Musee D’Orsay is open late on Thursdays, so I decided to go after work.  First, of course, I had to work in a few detours.  What is the fun of getting of the train and heading straight to your destination?  I got out of the metro, saw that I was incredibly close to Poilane, the legendary boulangerie and, many would say, the iconic Parisian bread, so I decided to stop in for a visit, since I’d shockingly never been.  It is a tiny little shop on R. Cherche-Midi, a very cute little street full of upscale boutiques.  In fact, I was quite surprised at the tininess of the store and the simplicity of the offerings.  The iconic pain poilane–giant round boules of pain levain (starter bread) with a P carved into the top, available as wholes, halves, quarters, or slices.  Punitions, or sandy little butter cookies, available to sample from a basket near the cash register.  A few little specialty breads and pastries.  A few Poilane-themed accessories.  Fin.

I bought the equivalent of a quarter-loaf, en tranche (sliced) since we have no bread knife (it’s a dismal situation but more on that later), and rather than giving me a quarter-wheel, I got a quarter-boules’ worth of bread in loooong slices–the biggest was as long as my arm from the tip of my middle finger to my elbow.  It was ceremoniously wrapped up for me and, fortified with a few punitions, I was on my way to the D’Orsay.  On my way, I stopped in at La Maison du Chocolat for a deep inhale of the smell, but the store was filled with parents, strollers, and whiny kids, so I left.  As I wended my way towards the museum, I looked up in shock to see that I was on Rue de L’Universite.  You see, I’m reading Julia Child’s autobiography My Life in France, and her love of French cuisine was born right here on this street where she and Paul Child lived for five years in the late 40’s to early ’50s.  “Roo de Loo” as they called it.  Anyway,  I was about halfway through the book at that point, so it felt quite serendipitous.

The Musee D’Orsay was quite beautiful, of course–I had been, but it was on the first Sunday of July last year (all museums are free the first sunday of the month), and it was mobbed to the point where it was completely unenjoyable.  This time, I hoped it would be better.  I headed up to the top floor, where the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were.  Turns out, I was not the only one with this idea.  It was so crowded up there, almost to the point where it was unenjoyable.  I wandered around, spending some quality time with the paintings I really liked, skimming over those I didn’t.  But what was almost more entertaining–or at least more horrifying–was watching the behavior of other museum-goers.  Now, I am not one to judge the way that someone else experiences a place.  Everyone has a different way of enjoying museums or sights, and who am I to say what is right or wrong?  But this…I was nearly speechless.  First of all, there were almost no guards, and kids were bouncing on the metal cables that were strung a foot out from the wall to keep people from getting to close.  I heard one kid scream, “You’re not paying any attention to me!”  I really feared for the integrity of some of the paintings.

And then there was the photography.  There were two main ways that people were photographing things–or, at least, two ways that rubbed me the wrong way.  The first was the group that would photograph themselves with every painting, often standing right in front of the painting so you couldn’t see it in the picture, and in the process blocking everyone else from seeing it, too.  The second was the set who buzzed around, taking a picture of each painting and then of each caption, and never actually stopping to look at the painting itself.  I ended up at the boutique later on, and saw some of these same people scooping up every postcard of every famous painting in the musuem.  So it seemed the main purpose of the visit was to tell their friends that they had seen Degas’ dancers, rather than actually seeing Degas’ dancers.

This all being said, I love that museum.  The building itself, its location and its view of the entire Right Bank and Sacre-Coeur, its collection, its accessibility.  It was a really great way to spend a few hours on a weekday evening, and I’m glad that I got to spend time there when it was a little less crowded.

I got home, dodging my way through a terrific rainstorm, and unwrapped my pain poilane.  Is it a travesty to say that I didn’t like it that much?  I don’t  love sourdough, and this has only a little tang, but enough that I tasted the levain more than the bread itself.  And the texture of the bread didn’t wow me, either.  It was a little dry.  And when I had some cheese with it, the bread stole the show a little bit, rather than serving in the quietly excellent supporting role that I most enjoy when eating a good St. Marcellin or Cantal.


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  1. Glad you made it lady! Sounds like your experience was similar to mine … I love the caption picture taking 🙂 Did you get to see the Daumier busts downstairs? Quite fun and usually MUCH less crowded!

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