Musee de L’orient

Seeking Narcissa

A city as grand and fussy as Paris has many faces, angles and hidden crevices but is universally considered to be fabulous and an enviable place in which to live and work. Throughout history, various kings, dictators and would-be emperors have traipsed back and forth across the map and with them have brought many treasures and spoils of war so thoughtfully liberated from their original homes. The aristocracy of the past saw it as their birthright to store this away from public view in homes and palaces where disgruntled domestics began each back-breaking day polishing eight-foot marble vases from the desert lands. Torch and pitchfork aloft, wielding revolutionaries felt differently as they plundered the homes of the wealthy, looking for powdered-wigged heads keen to separate from their shoulders. Luckily though, the French have always appreciated beauty, and many of these artefacts were spirited away to warehouses for safekeeping until such a time as they could be properly housed.

In stepped a very minor member of the house of Comte-Vache, a clerk who waved his ladyship off to the guillotine and returned to his task of cataloging and expanding her cheese collection, one Monsieur Mouchard Blaireau, who in the absence of domestic, took care of her vast collection of oriental keepsakes. Once the reign of terror had calmed down to little more than an inconvenience of bothering, people began to take interest in leisurely pursuits again and wanted to visit some nice places instead of burning them to the ground. Mouchard Blaireau joined forces with other displaced butlers, cleaners and polishers with similarly fecund collections so recently in their possessions without owners. They found an abandoned portrait gallery near the centre of the city where overzealous peasants had casually knocked several billion francs off the French economy by burning the soon-to-be priceless portraits of the kings and queens. Blaireau and his companions moved in and over the next few years, began cataloguing and displaying the many treasures they had respectively collected. It became quickly apparent that their former overlords all had a predilection for the arts and allures of the East, including a rather interesting set of friezes depicting the erotic aspirations of the Centralese, which they were not sure was even legal. Blaireau suggested that they dedicated their museum to the East as it was something that was bound to interest a public saturated by European culture and ambitions. With every last piece polished and hung, they threw open the doors to find nobody. Not a soul was interested in a building full of oriental art. The creative team withdrew and pooled their creative resources. What would attract people to the museum was the conundrum and question. Three weeks later, thanks to the employment of one Madam Brioche, they opened a coffee shop and patisserie café just away from the main doors. By early afternoon, the place was full and the museum gained an excellent reputation albeit mostly for the divine pastries whipped up by the good madam’s hands.

The museum began to attract wealthy patrons as they embarked on the grand tour around Europe and in particular, the exploring families of the continent began to donate books and artifacts of their own until a huge library and reading room was added in the pursuit of scholarly splendidness. By the time the original caretakers were breathing their last, the by now calm citizens were proud of the rich history contained in the museum, and it was dedicated as National Treasure Number 1. Many descendants of those members are still involved with the museum, some more corrupt than others, but it remains the most visited museum in Paris and the absolute trusted source of information on the East. There are many rumoured secret rooms and passageways where artifacts and documents that could crush a king or bring down a nation are spirited away for everyone’s safety. It has become something of a hobby for students at the nearby lycée to hunt endlessly for hidden doors but if they exist, they are well-guarded. Nowadays, it sits proud and wealthy, assured of its place and grandness in the world.