Monday, December 13, 2010
In total time I spent ten years at ecole Boulle, staying only once or twice a year during that decade, and less than 3 months each time. It was like I discovered a new existence, and (like an untold number of visitors before me) I began to consider parts of Paris my "neighborhood." I would sit on the metro or in a cafe and read French newspapers, carefully holding them up between me and the tourists next to me so that they would not ask me directions (in English!)
I was reminded of my first time in France, way back in 1967, when I was a healthy, young bicycle racer. I had purchased a custom Rene Hearse bicycle and was traveling around Europe for the summer. It was the "Summer of Love" and there was a very unpopular war in Viet Nam, which the French had lost and we were losing. I carried a small Canadian maple leaf flag which hung from my bicycle and that prevented people I met from asking questions about the war. I discovered that Canadians were generally treated with polite respect, and I was free to experience the true excitement of being a cyclist in Europe. There are some great mountains and many days I would spend all day climbing, only to be rewarded with the entire next day descending.
So my goal in returning to Paris as a student was to be assimilated into the local culture as a resident, not a tourist. It was obvious that I was not French, since I stood a foot taller than everyone on the Metro, so I became a German or American or Dutch or Canadian visitor, depending on the situation. By that I mean if an American asked me directions, I would answer in German, or if a German asked me directions I would answer in French Canadian, and so on. It was just a game, and a lot of fun.
One thing I did have which connected me to the city was a pin, which I wore on my shirt at all times. This pin changed each year, and was made by the students at ecole Boulle, to identify them as students. I have ten different pins, each one designed and manufactured by the students in the engraving/jewelry workshop.
This pin opened doors. When I would walk into any museum they would immediately notice the pin and grant me free entry, as well as clear passage to the workshops and back rooms. Versailles, the Louvre, Musee Camondo, D'Orsay, all museums large and small were happy to let me in and show me anything I wished to see. It was amazing.
It also worked in visiting different cabinet shops and supply houses, since they also showed preference for the students of ecole Boulle. I was spoiled and soon took it for granted that I would get "special treatment."
One year there was a request from the administration for the marquetry workshop to produce a small number of unique pins for some visiting dignitaries. This was unusual, since the pins were normally made in the metal shop. However, the marquetry students were happy to provide the pins, which were made in pewter, bone and purpleheart.
The cutting was done on one of the overhead saws which sat in the center of the marquetry workshop. I was completely amazed to see the precision of the work, as well as the size of the elements. It is hard to believe but the students produce this kind of precision on a daily basis, without any obvious consideration that it might be difficult.
You can judge for yourself by looking at the metric ruler next to the pin. This is not a pin that I was able to get. I had to be content with the normal student pin, but that was just fine with me.