Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Pierre Salinger Museum at La Bastide Rose

Locating this place was a bit of a challenge.  I didn’t see a street address on the internet material, so we couldn’t plug the details into the GPS.  The tourist office in Le Thor had closed about two minutes before we arrived, so we returned after lunch to inquire.  The directions sounded manageable, and we did, in fact, arrive; but once we left the main road, it was a little bit of a crap shoot.  We were inspired by a group of school children on the side of the rural dirt road looking as though 1) they might have visited an interesting historical site, and 2) they were waiting for a bus that might also be having a little trouble getting back to them down this little road.

The first and only sign was located way back at the first turn from the main road.  After that we made guesses about whether or not to take one road or the other.  Next to some corn fields and just beyond the school children was another dirt road with a building beyond.  We took that turn and arrived in a small dirt parking lot.  As we pulled in, there we found a woman dressed in jeans and a French striped tee shirt. 
I rolled down the window and asked “C’est La Bastide Rose?” 

“Bien sure,” (of course) she responded. 

“Est-ce qu'on peut stationner ici?”  (Can one park here?)

She swept her hand around and pointed to some open places—there were many.  There were only two other cars there.

We emerged from the car and she approached us.  “Bonjour.  Je suis Poppy Salinger.”  (I am Poppy Salinger.)

We all shook hands and introduced ourselves, trying to keep our mouths shut and our wits about us so as not to show how awestruck we were by the lady of the house.  I think she asked where we were from and I told her, so she switched into English, though she went back and forth while she was with us. 

We walked toward the museum while she talked about what we would see.  She seemed a little humble about asking us for the entry fee to the museum, a mere 5, and we gave her money for the most plebian of tickets—a simple plain piece of paper with a number on it.  She put the money into a little pouch, which she then put back in a drawer under the table in the deserted room, the door to which appeared to be left open most of the time.  We laughed over the extra ticket she gave me and which I returned since, she said, it would complicate her bookkeeping a bit. 

She showed us around, explaining the installation of the sculpture in the garden, the tributes and art accompanying it, the Zen installation, and a little about the memorabilia from her husband, Pierre Salinger.  She suggested that we come for dinner some time, explaining that the chef makes a wonderful meal and that if it were left up to her, everyone would be running from the table.  I said that perhaps we would treat ourselves and make a reservation.

She left us on our own for a while.  We wandered around photographing the Bernar Venet exhibit, which had previously been installed at Versaille and was moved to Le Thor to live on Poppy Salinger’s lawn from June to November.   We entered the back of the building—the Museum, and she reappeared to talk more about the writings of the former Senegalese president, Leopold Senghor, and the art, which accompanied his books.  The books are beautifully printed on oversized paper.  All written in French, of course, they are elegies to, among others, Martin Luther King.  The exhibit has photographs and explanations of the creation of the accompanying art that is published as part of the books. 

She talked about some of the art—the African masks, the Picasso copies, the Chagall connection.   She answered questions about some of the people in the photographs with Senghor—one of the artists, Senghor’s aide, Georges Pompidou—a personal friend of Senghor.  She was quite the encyclopedia.

She popped back in to start a film on Senghor, which went too long and was in French only so we didn’t watch most of it.  She had darkened the room for the watching, which made it difficult to see the other items in the room, and the light switch was behind a panel I didn’t feel comfortable searching for, though I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded.  The place was completely deserted.   We were alone wherever we went. 

I looked at every single photograph and every single letter, note, gift, medallion, business card, award and other memorabilia from Pierre Salinger.  Around the walls were the original panel drawings from the biographical book that was written after his death by Alex DiGregorio.  The pictures were cartoons.  The text was not voluminous but was informative.  And there were Emmy awards from his reporting and interviewing on “Nightline;” a copy (one of only a few) of a key to the Bastille in Paris; a cigar case that was given to him by Jacqueline Kennedy after JFK’s death and accompanied by a note of gratitude (both JFK and Salinger were cigar smokers); a photo with the entire White House staff under Kennedy; photos with many famous people (Margaret Thatcher,  Anwar Sadat, Grace Kelley, Jack Chirac, Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter, JFK); passports; press badges; a proclamation signed by Governor Brown the elder for his service on behalf of the State in the Senate; and much more. 

We walked back outside to look at Jacques Salles’ Zen exhibit, which included bamboo poles along the path with white plastic flags blowing in the winds—like plastic bags plus plastic tails.  The path led to a hanging of individual words on white rectangles.   Following was a platform with an array of mobiles very much like Calder’s.  Beyond the exhibit flowed the canal over a dam.   And in the orchard were several persimmon trees pendulous with ripe fruit—some of which dropped (actually “plopped” on the ground) as we stood there.   

Back across the canal toward the car, we stopped again on the lawn to take a few last shots of the sculpture and the house.  We regretted not having requested a photo with Poppy Salinger.  Alas, the visit was nonetheless a feast of art and not-too-distant history.   I was strongly affected in the presence of so many details from the early years of my political memory.  La Bastide Rose sent me away emotionally spent but fulfilled.

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