In Paris, there’s a little hidden museum, not famous really, but spectacular and special all the same. It silently displays its artifacts without docents or headsets, explaining the exhibit to each visitor as they walk through.
There’s no fanfare, no big billboards promoting its existence, no guest books to sign and definitely no guest book to sign on leaving. There’s nothing when you get to the end. Just a door to get out, and by the time you’re finished, you just want to get out, at least I wanted to, and it was less than 0 degrees outside.
I don’t know the name for the place, but it’s located in the busy medical school somewhat near Serge Gainsbourg’s old house, near that intense, emotional where the really fancy shoe stores are. I only know Paris by where the shoe and cheese places are. This neighborhood isn’t so much cheese as it is shoes. Some of the shoes will make you cry, and the prices will make you walk away, so it’s fairly safe for that reason.
The medical museum is open to visitors but you have to know that to want to go there. It’s free, I believe, or they didn’t charge anything that day to go in. There were no other visitors and the quiet halls filled with different sized people in jars, silent in their death, their afflictions, diseases, accidents, wounds – everything that they were in life that got them here immortalized in formaldehyde. Many of the jars looked like they needed to be topped up, as they had miniscule leaks, previously unseen air stealing the embryonic fluid each floated in for eternity.
Lots and lots of babies – conjoined twins but also many more – births that had never happened or happened then quickly or slowly led being housed in this place, as if they were preserved in amber.
As well as real people, there were lots of wax people, old models of ravaged faces and bodies, and you’d see the pain in their eyes, even a hundred years later, as if the wax took an impression of that too.