Now that I've been home for about a month, the 30 kilos of clothing, books, and savon marseillaise* I brought home have largely been scattered throughout the house. But there's one thing that has remained propped up against my suitcase in the far corner of the living room, and it's my face.
Before I left France, I sold my toaster and oven, donated my books to the school library and clothes to charity, threw out all my pots and utensils, dumped a bottle of that coveted Bioderma micellar water in the midst of airport “ma’am your suitcase is seven kilos overweight” panic, but one thing I kept and that is my face, blown up in black and white on a sheet of butcher paper that is as long as I am tall. I have to raise my arms above my head in order to unfurl this monstrosity.
Months and months ago, I saw that French street artist JR would be stopping in Reims as part of his “Inside Out” project. So when the time came, I dragged a friend with me to the Palais du Tau, where his photo truck was parked. A queue stretched from one end of the courtyard to the other, but it looked manageable enough. We were also on our way to dinner at a friend’s flat, so I had a head of lettuce in my backpack. We did not end up using the lettuce.
As part of some modern art exhibition at the Palais, two mannequins, covered in light plastic sheets, had been placed at the entrance to the inner courtyard. They had been hooked up to some sort of sound system and whispered incantations with increasing urgency. As the hours passed, we inched from one screeching mannequin to the other, wondering if this was really worth the wait. It hadn’t looked like that many people when we entered the line, but I was starting to suspect photography hadn’t improved since the Victorian era. Not to mention it was a cold, windy day in Northern France and I had been carrying a head of lettuce for the last five hours.
Part of “Inside Out” is for people to paste their portraits in public spaces - he was there at the Palais du Tau with a bucket of glue to cover the courtyard’s cobblestones with smiling faces. The final destination of his truck was the Pantheon in Paris, currently undergoing renovations, where he covered the interior with his favorite portraits.
I…chose to take mine home. And I could try to justify it, but it wouldn’t be very convincing and I’d probably end up showing more ego than I’d like to think I have. But was it worth it? Sometimes I think about pasting my enormous face into the back of my closet and leaving it for the poor unsuspecting individual who next inhabits this house and I think, yes, it was all worth it. My parents, however, may feel differently.
*Okay, one block of soap. I did not bring home 30 kilograms of soap, as I am not about to enter the cutthroat world of soap trafficking**.
**At least if they cut your throat you can easily disinfect the wound.