What’s New Is Old Again
I am writing this in Rouen, which is to say on a French non-qwerty keyboard – I am back to hunt and peck, please forgive the typos. We set out for the Eifel Tower, but my wife, eager to get to Shakespeare and Co., and no fan of heights, was eager to get moving.
But I spotted a museum not featured in the guidebooks: The Quai Branly has just opened: it is a long; (unlike New York, the vertical city, Paris is horizontal – you express grandeur by spreading over great swaths of prime real estate), red; odd-looking in a fashionable way, and surrounded by the most inviting thickets of grasses. These are not pretty gardens, it is more as if they had created a new marsh – all untouched nature, yet, in fact, carefully planted.
The appealing garden matched the focus of the museum – which is to feature the creations of the indigenous peoples of the world -the people of color (before or outside of any contact with Europe). The result is spectacular exhibit of the arts of Oceania – I have never seen anything like this collection, it is like arriving in Rome and wandering in the Forum: an entire civilization is there to be found if you have the time and interest.
Other areas on Asia, Africa (great for North Africa), are well designed and have much to see. The tiny section on the Americas, North and South, is an afterthought. Which brings me to my point:
Unlike the Troppen Musuem, the Branly treats native peoples as separated from the West, as frozen in a different time and space. And so, for all its beauty, it is oddly old-fashioned. It is them and us, not the world of mixture we saw in Holland. I think it is clear which version makes more sense to me.