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.