November 19, 2009

Plaques de Muselet

Tonight I went with Laurence, the mom of the two kids I tutor, to an exposition at La Piscine in Roubaix. When we got to the musée, Laurence asked one of the guides if she could recount for an American some facts about the museum. She said, "Ah oui, mais en français." We told her that would do.

So I learned that back in the early 1900s, Roubaix was a thriving industrial city, known for textile manufacturing. During this time, there weren't a lot of good hygiene practices, and tuberculosis and other diseases ran rampant. The city decided to make a public bathhouse to help reduce the spread of disease. This pool fell into disrepair, and then became a museum in the 90s.

The old pool part of the museum was gorgeous. But our tour wasn't of the pool. Instead it was of the new exposition called "conversation anglaise: le groupe de bloomsbury autour de virginia woolf." We had the same tour guide, who was exceptional. She was extremely passionate about the exposition and knew a lot about all the different artists and artworks. The love lives of all the people who were involved in the Bloomsbury house were extremely complicated. I was surprised to find that I was able to follow most of what she was saying when I really listened to her. Sometimes I found myself distracted by certain paintings and would lose myself in thought, but that made it all the better. The entire experience was truly remarkable. I loved feeling like I blended in with all the other French people, listening to the tour guide while at the same time taking time out to appreciate the paintings. What are the French if not lovers of art?

After the tour of the exposition, we went to the lobby where we enjoyed free champagne, appetizers, and bite sized desserts. I met some of Laurence's friends and we all talked about the expo and why I was in France.

One of Laurence's friends asked the bartender if he could have something I didn't understand. Then, he suddenly had in his hand a really cool coin sized cap with a seal that said, "Champagne Joël Gobancé." I said to him, "Wow! That's really cool!" So he asked the bartender to give me one.

Apparently these things are called "plaques de muselet," and the French collect them. He said to me, "Now you can start your own collection like the French do."

I had stumbled upon the fact that once the art has been appreciated, the champagne drunk, and the desserts tasted, what the French take home with them are tiny caps from the tops of wine bottles to remember it all. Merci Joël Gobance for enabling me to never forget such a lovely soirée. Hopefully your cap is my first of many!


  1. Another cool story in the life of Laura in France. You are becoming ever more french.


  2. I can't really think of a better way to spread disease than through public bath houses.


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