Friday, February 06, 2009

How to Beat the Line at the Arab Institute

Last week, we headed over to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris to see the exhibition “Bonaparte and Egypt, Fire and Light” about Napoleon’s sensationally disastrous campaign in Egypt which nevertheless became a propaganda victory back home.

The Institut, sitting directly across the Seine from the Ile de la Cite, is a trip in itself. The architects worked hard to bring eastern and western ideas to this surprising building. Our favourite fact about the place is that there are 240 moucharabiehs (think of small metal diaphragms) on the exterior of the south side which open and close individually according to the light. Founded by the French government and 22 Arab nations with the mission of fostering mutual understanding, the Institute has held some blockbuster shows over the years and we have waited in some blockbuster lines to get in to these shows. The reviews for Bonaparte et L’Egypte were good enough to lead us to expect long lines again so we headed over first thing in the morning in the hope of beating the rush.

We entered from the south side (away from the Seine) about 9:50 a.m., passed through security and asked the guard which way to the Bonaparte exhibition. We were told the exhibition had not opened yet and were directed to a waiting area for groups. Just before 10:00, we followed the signs upstairs to the exhibition area. Waiting outside in the cold (at the west exhibition entrance) was a long line of museum goers. The grumpy guard told us to wait in front of the ticket booth until 10:00 at which point we bought our tickets and were the first into the exhibition, which, by the way, would have been worth the long wait in the cold.

Moral of story: Enter before 10:00 am on the south side as if you are joining a group. Head upstairs to the exhibition a few minutes before it opens, look innocent as if you had no idea you entered “through the back door” et voila – you’re at the head of the line. Yes, we know queue jumping is bad, very bad, and there is the option of buying tickets online but you need to speak French and be organised enough to plan several days in advance.

Bonaparte et l’Egype is at the Institut du Monde Arabe until March 29.

A lovely place to eat lunch in the neighbourhood is at the bistrot Le Buisson Ardent on rue Jussieu directly across from the hideous University of Paris campus. With a Michelin guide “Bib gourmand” rating (representing exceptional food and drink at moderate prices), this small, friendly restaurant that once was a coaching inn, has a great prix fixe lunch featuring updated bistro classics such as blaquette de veau and gigot. We prefer the traditional front of house to the more modern rooms as the back.

Institut du Monde Arab
1 rue des Fosses Saint Bernard
Place Mahammed V
Paris 5th
Tel: 01 40 51 38 38
Fax: 01 43 54 76 45
Museum open 10 to 6 Tuesday through Sunday

Le Buisson Ardent
25, rue Jussieu
Paris 5th
Tel: 01 43 54 93 02
Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner
Saturday dinner only

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