The Spare Leg in the Museum of Lost and Found (Musée des Objets Trouvés, Paris) Part 2 : The Lost Suitcase

A couple of months after the lost museum of lost and found, I was on my way back to Paris from Madrid when en route to the railway station, a shuttle bus thief gang stole my suitcase. This is the second time in nine months this has happened (the last suitcase was nicked by a Scottish train robber) and I’ve suddenly found myself without underwear. It’s very disorienting to lose all your underwear in the wink of an eye. You feel buoyant, but not in the sense of optimistic. Just buoyant in the sense of jiggly. And I reckon even Marilyn would have agreed with me that jiggling body parts are not necessarily always a girl’s best friend (though they can be handy for a career as the world’s biggest bombshell). And in the suitcase were also my swoonsome red leather boots, which I’m wearing in the photo below as I pour feathers over my head in a metal thing that is called Nido, a sculpture by a fab octogenarian Brazilian artist, more of whom anon. Nido means nest in Spanish – I don’t know why she didn’t give it the Portuguese name, maybe she doesn’t like ninho, or thinks people might confuse that with the Spanish niño (child); it’s true the Nido doesn’t look like a child, well, maybe a spaceship’s child)… :

Me in the Boots in the Nest

So now I was bootless on a midnight suburban Paris (these type of trains are called RERs) railway platform. All the other shuttle bus passengers got on the train to Paris while I sobbed on a bench. The stationmaster was a dear man who was terribly apologetic and rushed off to get the police, telling me not to move. I phoned my boyfriend to tell him what had happened, but his mobile wasn’t working and so I called his house phone. It was answered by his mad mathematician of a house guest who was staying with him for a few days. This guy is like Sheldon the physicist from the Big Bang Theory, without Sheldon’s occasional expeditions into the world of reasonable human interaction. He told me that he’d never heard of me and that he doubted I was my boyfriend’s girlfriend. Being told you might not exist by a crazy mathematician when you’ve lost your suitcase and you’re weeping in a station that isn’t even Grand Central is no fun. I told him that the cat whom my boyfriend had been visiting every day while I was away was my cat; I told him I knew he was a mathematician in town for a conference; I told him I knew he and my boyfriend had been meaning to go to the Paris Sewer Museum that day but hadn’t had time…none of this convinced him. Now I was a telepathic non-person. Then the stationmaster came back with the police and I had weepingly to witter on about bus thieves and underwear whilst wondering whether my boyfriend had a parallel existence as someone else’s boyfriend. The stationmaster was so worried about me that he asked the train driver if I could travel in his cabin back to Paris, ensuring I wouldn’t have to undergo unpleasant interactions with any of the witching hour ghouls who were the only other travellers on the last train. So I ended up racketing through a blade-runnerish night, all sudden neon and indecipherable alien sounds, with a friendly train driver, who told me about an old lady who left a plastic bag filled with 30,000 euros in 5 euro notes on one of the trains. She wandered the tracks for days, moaning for her money like Edward Lear’s Lady for her Yonghy-Bonghy Bo. In the dark of the cabin, on my high flip-down seat, shaking slightly in shock, I was nevertheless aware that her predicament was probably worse than mine. Still, the RER trains that link Paris to its suburbs are so long they barely seem to have ends, so to be in the very front of one feels kind of avant garde – unorthodox and experimental, like the dictionary says – but never more so when you’ve just lost your underwear, maybe your boyfriend, and maybe even your mind. When I arrived at Gare du Nord I was met by my boyfriend who explained that his house guest was a bizarre person who had confused me with the person whose cat my boyfriend was sitting, i.e. he had confused me…with me. I bet even Sartre never had to deal with that.

The Spare Leg in the Museum of Lost and Found (Musée des Objets Trouvés, Paris), Part 1 : The Museum

The Museum of Found Objects, or the Lost and Found Museum) is housed in the police headquarters of the 15th arrondissement in Paris. Except it isn’t. Or it might be. A French website told me it was, and the hours and the address and all that. The website said that the museum contained all kinds of things that you mightn’t expect people to mislay, like a prosthetic leg; a wedding dress (even if the bride changed her mind and galloped off naked with a Mexican revolutionary, the dress would still be a curiosity in the Museum); a funeral urn with ashes inside. People speak of loss. They say, I lost my mum last year. What if they actually did, on the metro (so crowded) or in a fleamarket (ditto) or under a table in a bar? The last one is the most plausible, but a person might take their mum on the metro where a pickpocket – or peekpoquette, as it’s pronounced in Paris. It’s now a French word with its own special way of being said, like dayjahvoo in English – would likely take a shine to her urn (ok, urns are quite large, but pickpockets have deep, um, pockets…).The person might well take her to a fleamarket for one last trawl and leave her on a table, maybe even pick up an urnish-looking vase instead (blinded by grief, and all the junk). The fleamarchand would never take an urn to lost and found, they’d sell it on. You have to hope they’d put the ashes in a little bag and hand them in, but how could a person who went to lost and found tell whose ashes they were? What if it happens a lot, and there are lots of little bags of ashes? Maybe we have a special nose for the ashes of those we’ve been close to, but what if we don’t? Anyway if I were some ashes in a little bag I’d feel (yes, probably not, but let’s just imagine) dreadfully lost at lost and found, but even more lost if I was supposed to have been put in the lost and found police department’s lost and found museum, and then it turned out that the museum itself was lost…that’s one version of loss, I think you’d agree.

To explain: on the third floor of the Préfecture (police HQ) there’s a long grey room staffed by long grey people behind long grey counters. But sometimes grey things conceal colourful things, like in the Wizard of Oz. So I was willing to believe that this room and these people hid a dazzle of surprises. Unlikely delights that for one reason or another got lost somewhere (if not over the rainbow).  So I went up to the counter that said ‘Objets Trouvés’. The counter was womanned by two bureaucrattes. I said I’d like to visit the museum. Bureaucratte No. 1 told me there was no museum. This was confusing. Then Bureaucratte No.2 said there was a museum, but it was locked. ‘C’est que pour nous,’ she said. (It’s only for us – the police). This was more confusing, especially because No.1. had told me there wasn’t any museum. I said to No.1., how can this be, if there is no museum? She said, well, there isn’t any museum. I said to No.2, but you say there is a museum, but it’s locked? She said, yes, that’s right. But, I said again. But, but. No.1. and No.2. smiled, in complete agreement whilst also maintaining their own, opposing, positions. This is not as unusual as you might think, especially in Paris. When wielded by somebody in the pay of the state, the truth is mutable and not a priority, easily trounced by the power of the desk. Apparently the leg and the wedding dress and so on both existed and didn’t exist, but there was no way I was going to get to see this Schrödinger’s kitten of a museum. I left. By the time I was on the metro (where by happenstance there were no urns to be pickpocketed), I’d decided that if anything was simultaneously to be and not be, it might as well be a museum of lost and found.