A collection of thoughts and tales from the Fontainebleau Art History Festival 2018


Thoughts and tales from the Fontainebleau Art History Festival 2018

Beginning with gratitude

It isn’t just that gratitude is important. It’s that it was truly, genuinely there.

I can’t really say that I was a fan of all the organisational choices that were made, or all the ways in which things were different in reality compared to how they were presented on paper. I know, it kind of seems absurd to expect that I should have been.

Things are never the same in reality compared to how they’re described or written up on paper — nevermind that these were event recaps they put out, and not full-blast marketing material. And I know that on the other side of it, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves when people act like “that isn’t how I’d do it” means the same thing as “that’s the wrong way to do it”, or flat-out, “that sucks”.

All in all, it feels important to give the AHF its due.

More to the point, I’m not just saying that now, in writing, in the cold light of the new week. I was genuinely, legitimately flooded with gratitude throughout this whole event.

I mean:

It’s a long weekend celebrating art and art history, in a magnificent setting, and totally free of charge. The variety of events is staggering, to the point that it’s almost inconceivable not to find something worth your while.

Wanna know something about this space you’re visiting? Got you covered.

Wanna find out what it’s like working in the art world? Got you covered.

Wanna know more about a specific work of art? Got you covered.

In the mood for some music? Got you covered.

No, seriously, I just wanna sit in the sun and have a swan nibble at my shoes? Hooo boy, got you covered and then some.

(And so many events take place in rooms or spaces that are closed to the public the rest of the time… Talk about giving the curiosity bear a poke!)

It’s all in the decor

When I’m not in a hurry, I love ambling behind people and sort-of eavesdropping on their comments as they visit a place.

(When I am in a hurry, I kiiiind of get devoured by a little rage monster – but of course that only seems to send out ‘turn into even worse slowpokes’ vibes, so there’s no winning that.)

Sometimes, listening in is great for TIL moments. Sometimes, it’s all about what appeals to people’s tastes.


Tangerines proved themselves a temptation to many a passer’s-by taste

If certain things are worth a giggle or a comment – looking at you, imperial beds and baths; and if other things are so passé that even their hopes of making a comeback are ashes and dust – sorry, wood panels and tapestries, but you still look great! – there is one object of near-universal adulation.

“Wow! Have you seen these floors!”

“Check out this parquet!”

“Oh my God, this hardwood! Isn’t it to die for?”

…I feel you, ladies. Me too.

The security circus is (still) so funny to me

We’re still not over peering inside backpacks, shopping bags, and ladies’ handbags before allowing people access to a venue. I was over it roughly the second time it happened, and it’s not getting any better.

Then, there was the ~official suite~ getting a tour of the place on Friday afternoon. I happened to be there for the mini motorcade, and the prom outfits, and the guys in black suits and ill-fitting shoes, with aviators on and little white earpieces running wires down their backs.


I don’t know. There’s just something so funny about a handful of dudes dressed up like generic extras in a White House disaster movie for an event with relatively minimal attendance, where no-one who wasn’t paid to do so actually looked their way.

At least there weren’t any fully-armed soldiers milling around. That is a sight that still manages to freak me out.

Curiosity is the watchword

Also known as the guiding principle of, “what’s over there?” As ever, you see and discover so much more when you go somewhere with less of a set plan in mind, and more of an awareness that things are happening and you can just allow your eye to be caught.

Act like you belong there

I saw this one around me. I felt it myself now and again, never mind that it was basically an open-access weekend.

Ultimately, I think it’s something that holds true wherever there are gatekeepers, or wherever you feel like there are. Act like you belong there, and you will.

Sanctioned sidelining

As a concept, the Art History festival is centered around two focus points: a country and a theme. The latter this year was ‘the dream’, and the former was Greece.

Outside of books, there is little you can gear towards consumers that revolves around dreams. When it comes to Greece, however…

What’s that you say? Food and souvenirs? Now who would be that predictable?

No, yeah. Totally.

They set up this “Greek village” space in one of the inner courtyards, where the official booklet claimed that people could go get fresh, homemade Greek food made by some amazing restaurateur, and where they could also buy artisanal wares, as well as imported honey and olive oil.

That sounds super on-point, right?

Oh, wait, haven’t you heard?

The entirety of the “village” was basically this one tent, and the food-providing portion was actually one of the short sides of that tent. And, like I said, it was in one of the remote inner courtyards of what is, at the end of the day, a huge freaking castle. I mean, unless you had your heart set specifically on exploring every angle of the place, or you read the event booklet cover to cover rather than thumbing through the actual events, odds are you were NOT just casually getting in there.

Meanwhile, at the crossroads of the two busiest throughways stood (1) a food truck, and (2) the usual guys – those always-welcome purveyors of pancakes sweet and savoury (meaning crepes, for anyone thinking fluffy), waffles, and a whole heap of flavours of ice creams and sorbets.

I’ll let you guess which place saw crickets, and which queues.


An ode to my forgetfulness

There are days when no word defines me better than ‘forgetful’. Literally, days. On end. Whole strings of days.

So here’s to all the ‘don’t forget’s I told myself over the course of one teeny-tiny long weekend:

Don’t forget to go back when it’s sunnier and film / photograph this courtyard that’s usually super closed.

Don’t forget to take a bunch of detail pics of all the gorgeous patterns/objects/statues highlighted by this golden sunlight.

Don’t forget to charge the camera, because you’re gonna need that super zoom.

Don’t forget to stop focussing internally long enough to take some candid pics.

Don’t forget to sit at the ready waiting for the swans to be assholes, the movie of it is always fun.

Don’t forget to do a 360 shoot of the ballroom after the recital’s done.

Don’t forget to take notes, it’s going to be easier to do rich write-ups after the fact.

How great of me not to forget, like, any of them!

Unexpectedly having your heart stolen

In keeping with the dream theme, there was a violin recital in the castle ballroom on Saturday. (There was another concert on Sunday, too, but more on that in another post.)

I missed the start, because I was still queuing for something else when I saw it in the programme (good thing that I find it too boring for words to queue without something to read or do). And, let’s face it, no matter how hard I was gunning it, there’s no shrinking the castle, and the principles of rage monster vs slowpokes still applied.

Still, I made it in, I even managed to find a reasonably good seat (and pretty early in, to boot, though they were kind of bleeding audience members at one point; ah well), and then I settled in for a listen.

Until suddenly…

This wasn’t the exact Bartok violin duo they were playing, but the notes are close enough to picture what went on. After one particular harmony, a tiny, clear voice rang out,


One tiny bundle of a girl, couldn’t have been older than 8 months, sang out in perfect imitation of what she’d heard – and, clearly, what she’d best liked.

There was a bit of muffled giggling, a bit of discreet shuffling in seats – no-one shushes a baby, of course – and all the while, the recital went on.

And so too, on those similar-sounding notes, did the “Aah”-ing.

And I was thinking, at the end, as the final notes of the encore sank into those wood-paneled walls built under the reign of Henry IV, about immortality. The immortality of a king, made so by the treasure of a legacy that lives through this day thanks to events like this one. The immortality of talent, made so by its ability to transcend the ages and spark magic in our hearts. And the immortality of the human spirit, which can foster the same feelings in the oldest as in the littlest fan.


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