My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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celebrating indigenous art

Every day, it’s important to have a PLAN. “Okay, what’s the plan?” I ask myself over my first coffee, factoring in weather, timing, mood. Today’s was to walk to Shakespeare and Company, to ask again about a book they said they had (The Sixties by Jenny Diski) but couldn’t find, then to get the metro to the Musee Marmottan and afterwards, picnic in the Bois de Boulogne nearby.

For once, the ubiquitous sandwich in my bag wasn’t ham, it was roast pork, a vast difference. On the way to the bookstore I discovered the glorious little church St. Julien-le-pauvre, now a Greek Catholic church, just the right cosy size with a Greek mass being played over a sound system and many (fake) candles. Around the corner, I found Diski and enquired of the young woman who runs the bookstore if she had Wayson Choy’s Not Yet, “his brilliant new memoir,” I said. I’m sorry to say, and I was even sorrier to have to write to him, that it wasn’t even in her database, which means that neither her American nor her English distributor have any record of it yet. How is that possible? It’s infuriating. One of Canada’s best writers!
At the metro, I learned that the line I needed had been shut down temporarily, so a free shuttle bus was running from St. Michel to Les Invalides where the metro was working. Ah, the word free, works magic. Since I would be getting a free ride halfway across Paris, why not just stay where it dropped me? On my trusty map I saw that near Les Invalides – the vast building where Napoleon is buried, not on my list – was the Musee du Quai Branly, which definitely was. By now I was hungry so ate my sandwich, not in the Bois de Boulogne, but sitting on a rock in the forest of grasses and reeds outside the museum, listening to jungle sounds piped in through a speaker disguised as a rock.
Well, what a surprise – the museum is a feast, a banquet, a delight. I was very glad to be seeing something so completely different from my usual fare – a celebration of indigenous culture around the world, the art and culture of native peoples on every continent. After nearly 5 months of looking at Western art, here were stunning masks, musical instruments, cloth, jewels, paintings, sculpture, sacred objects from Africa, the Americas, Oceania and Asia.
The museum is kind, taking into account how fatiguing it is to look at display after display of masterpieces, so continually provides areas to sit down and watch little screens showing the objects in use: tribal dances, storytellers, musicians. One turned out to be about scarification rituals in Africa, I had to leave that one. Why does the initiation into becoming a man have to involve excruciating pain? I probably know the answer, just don’t want to think about it.
By about half-way through, all I could think was: we are one. Didn’t Michael Jackson write that? We all, all of us, value the same things in our different ways – beauty, belief, family. We honour our dead, make love and war, decorate our homes, cooking implements and bodies, especially our leaders and our women; we all love music and dancing, colour and sparkle and representations of ourselves. All societies have timeless rituals and sacred objects.
Each culture on display used of course only local materials – shells, stones, bark, feathers, ivory, grasses, gold – whereas in a Branly museum of today, everything would be made in China. There was a very small section – too small, my only complaint – of the work of the native peoples of the U.S. and Canada. For me, the most beautiful objects in the whole place were a Haida painted box, a Nisga’a totem pole, Huron and Iroquois quilled pouches – the art of my countrymen.
Exhausted after more than two hours of continuous walking and gawking, I nevertheless decided to walk all the way back to Les Invalides to get the free shuttle back to St. Michel and then walk home from there. I saved myself two metro tickets today, a grand saving of about 5 euros! So to celebrate I had a facial which cost a bit more than that. My face feels really clean, though, after nearly 5 months of city smog and sweaty heat.
What is my most sacred object? Right now, this computer. It wouldn’t look great in a display case beside the exquisite ikat cloth of Indonesia, the dream paintings of Australia, the rugs of Iran, the Senegalese wedding shawl, the silver spurs of Argentina. But it is most beautiful to me, because it links me to the entire world and to you. When I’m home, very soon, I’ll be able to look around and pick out another kind of sacred object. But here, what I value most is a screen.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.


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