My first month in the Musée de Montmartre is not what I expected it to be. Not that something which doesn’t meet your expectations is a bad thing. People assume that if something doesn’t fulfill or exceed your projected assumptions or fantasies, then it’s a disappointment, a failure, something that you regret pursuing in the end. But what this first month in the Musée has taught me is that although pipe dreams are what might have launched you into your adventures into the wild, blue yonder, it is what you make of your own reality that is a thousand times more fulfilling.
I’m sure people are wondering what these silly pipe dreams of mine were before they were given a sharp blow in the head by reality and stomped unceremoniously into the blackening cracks between the ancient cobblestones of Montmartre. I’m almost embarrassed to admit them—they seem so silly now. I imagined myself floating around the musée with a done up bun and a clipboard, gently caressing the edges of a print by the timeless Toulouse-Lautrec with white gloves. I wanted to be in the halls of the musée and arrange the paintings and prints on the walls according to my own vision. I also wanted to drink absinthe in a smoky room and make my acquaintance with Green Fairy but that would have been during my time outside of the musée.
But no. I realized that curating a museum requires an infinite amount of patience, an immutable will that can’t be daunted by an amount of work the size of Montmartre itself, and a particularly acute interest in the era you are working on. I have been translating dozens of documents from French into English and, more nerve rackingly, from English into French. I have been consulting editors and publishing companies for the upcoming catalogue of our exposition “Autour du Chat Noir: Arts et Plaisirs à Montmartre 1880-1910” and it’s been an high-speed volley of phone calls, emails, and running around for confirmations. I’m creating an exhaustive list of all museums who would be interested in the exhibition in Paris and the United States and their curators for invitations to the opening gala. Lastly, and most exhaustingly, I have been waist-deep in the affairs of a certain Gustave Charpentier, a musician and composer of 19th century France who was a seminal figure of the cabarets and dance halls of Montmartre during that era. His family’s donation of his papers and personal affairs is extremely interesting and as disorganized. I’ve been painfully organizing every single piece of the donation into a digital format.
And yet, everything about this internship is making me feel as if I’m making a difference and that might be what I’m most proud of. This work is absolutely necessary for the smooth running of the museum and the good of the archives. I had said that one of my goals for this summer had been to improve on my study skills and be more concentrated on one task at a time; I’ve certainly had a lot of practice in this certain area during my time here. I feel myself changing, being more focused on the task at hand and being more precise with my time. They sound rather mundane, but they’re invaluable skills.
I might have mislead the reader in the beginning, implying that I have had some sort of epiphany-like discovery of self, that my realization that my world is what I make of it was a chapter that I have already written. But I see it more as a change in philosophy, a hazy projection of my coming time at the museum and a hope for the future. I won’t be so pretentious as to call it a prediction, but I think that this new germ in me will grow into something significant and beautiful, nourished by French wine and a little time amongst hardworking lovers of art.