[17 August 2007]
One of the reasons that I came to Paris this time was to attend professional meetings. These meetings were held at the UNESCO headquarters, within sight of Invalides to the north and the Eiffel Tower to the west.
It is an education being at UNESCO (which makes perfect sense, since it is an educational institution—well, duh!). The first thing one learns is that there is no smoking on its premises—which can be eye-opening, since it turns out that so many people in the world (not to mention, France!) smoke. As a result, there are a lot of doors propped open, leading out to verandas where UNESCO employees and visitors are furtively sneaking cigarettes.
The next thing that is eye-opening at UNESCO is the food. Since every meal we were served there would, by any objective standard, have had to be placed under the heading of hors d’oeuvres, what we really were offered didn’t qualify so much as “food” as it did “whimsy” or “suggestion” or “a hint of culinary expression”.
Without opening one’s eyesreally w i d e
, one would surely have missed it. Those little fluffs of taste. Mighty delicious - that handful of rarified UNESCO air—just now being spirited away on that empty silver platter.
Well, one doesn’t come to UNESCO for the food—even if itis
in France. One comes for progressive policy, peace and social action. And so was it that after the security checkpoint, through heavy metal gates and buildings of stolid stone, there was a corridor of this:
On display, the art from a UNESCO-sponsored campaign involving 64,000 students from 25 countries on 5 continents. The (progressive, policy-oriented) aim was to send adults a message through kids’ eyes. And, as you will soon see, it was another one of those P-o-V things. A chance for us to view an object, an idea, a phenomenon from another perspective, through a different set of eyes. As only the metaphysical French could.
Since this was an educational experience, there was also study involved. According to promotional literature, children were exposed to the “magnificent works” housed in the Musée du Quai Branly (in Paris)—works invoking the natural elements of earth, air, fire, water and weather, and involving the legends, myths, rituals and customs characterizing the peoples of the five non-European continents. Following this quick education, students were asked to write a short story and design a mask that expressed the importance of the links between people and nature.
Through these works, the earth was allowed to talk back. You see—an exercise in P-o-V. Thus, the earth might be asked to provide an answer to a question like: “what are your feelings about the extinction of species?” And that answer would be captured in this display piece of a turtle crying human tears:
Or the globe might be asked: “what do you think about the depletion of natural resources? And the answer would be depicted through this overlay of nature on a mask, itself masking a barren, charcoal-grey, denuded natural world:
The globe might also be interrogated thus: “how do you feel about the fate of indigenous peoples? And the answer would be rendered in this mask of a native population’s clash with “advanced”, advancing civilzations:
There were more globes to consider along this well-lit corridor. But these few provide enough of UNcompromising flavor.
Looking at the collection one cannot help but be awed. Kids—no matter where they are—have that remarkable gift—that uncanny ability—to see both with guileless candor and refreshing naivete—often at one and the same time. Kids may see less, but they often also see best.
Looking at this collection of children’s disquisitions on earthly experience, it was wise - one can see - not only to ask them, but to also ask them to ask the globe.
The answers that result are certainly more filling that the fingerful of UNESCO hors d’oevres and even more refreshing than that handful of rarified UNESCO smoke-free air.