Luigi's Courier Trip to Paris
Luigi, 1994

Ah, the glamour of international travel!

My charge was to go with, and oversee the safe delivery of, seven framed architectural drawings, packed in three crates, from The Art Institute of Chicago to the Musee national d'art moderne at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris. These drawings are being loaned for the exhibition "La Ville" at le Centre Pompidou from Feb. 9 to May 9, 1994.

Wednesday, January 19, 1994.

The original plan called for the three cases of drawings, and me, to be collected by a Terry Dowd art truck and art handlers at the Monroe Street loading dock entrance of The Art Institute of Chicago at 4:00 pm. From there we would be taken to the Air France cargo terminal at O'Hare Airport.

About 12:30 Darrell Green in the AIC Registrar's office called me to say that the plane was running late and that the pick-up had been rescheduled for 9:30 pm. Considering that it had been -20 F (for the French, moins vingt-huit) the day before and that it was still below 0 , this was not the greatest surprise in the world. I called Betty Blum in Paris and rescheduled our dinner to Friday night. Instead of having a sandwich at the airport I had dinner with Manly at a restaurant across the street from his office. After dinner, I returned to Manly's office until it was time to return to The Art Institute at 9:00.

The Terry Dowd truck arrived at about 9:20. The AIC security guard unlocked the Art Installation storage room and the two Terry Dowd art handlers quickly moved the three crates into their truck. It snowed all the way to the airport. We arrived at the Air France cargo terminal at 10:25 and waited until 10:40 for Jack Lewin, our Chicago freight broker, to get there. The crates were taken out of the trucks and put on pallet number SO 08561 along with a number of other items. The whole mess was tied and braced in place, covered with sheet plastic and covered with a cargo net attached to the pallet base. All this was completed by midnight. The pallet was moved so that it was sitting in front of the coffee/sandwich machine area where Jack Lewin's special guard could sit and watch it. I went upstairs to the staff lounge where it was warmer and more comfortable; there were windows overlooking the cargo area so that I could also see the pallet.

During the course of the early morning hours, I was joined by an attractive woman DVM who was supervising two crates of sheep, 36 animals, being shipped to a prince in Saudi Arabia for breeding purposes. The sheep had probably been sheared in the late fall; they were very thin. The vet said they were healthy, though thin, and of a breed that was rarely exported as it wasn't especially great for either wool or meat. She was also concerned that the animals would need food and water when they finally reached Paris; there was also the problem of their arrival in Arabia on a Friday when there would be no one to care for them. (Actually, the Koran calls for the care of animals.)

Thursday, January 20, 1994.

Air France freighter flight 6421 was supposed to leave at 10:30 pm Wednesday. It was coming from New York where the weather was also cold and operations were difficult. The plane arrived at 6:00 am, a huge 747. The unloading and then the loading was very slow because only one loader was working. 747's are loaded through both the nose and a side entrance. The weather was so cold that the hydraulic gear on the loaders got so cold that it would not work; one loader would be unloading or loading while the other was in the cargo area being thawed out. The three departing crew members from the arriving flight gave the impression of very unhappy campers; the long delays and their thin Paris shoes and coats made the prospect of time in Chicago perhaps less than wonderful.

I went on board about 9:00 am after the front part of the plane was loaded and the large nose hatch closed. I was warmly welcomed by the three man crew (probably delighted that they were going someplace warmer) and Nicole Richy, Chargree de Mission auprŠs du Directeur of the Musee national d'art moderne at the Centre Pompidou. She was the courier for one or more Miro's being returned from MoMA. She seemed to have spent days waiting for the plane to depart and had been put up at a Day's Inn near the New York airport to get some rest.

The pilots and "passengers" on the 747 are all in the upper level reached by a pull-down attic-access type of stair from the main cargo hold. The cockpit opens to the "passenger" area containing a rest room, coat closet, food lockers for hot and cold foods, microwave for heating food and refrigerator for cold foods, a seating unit with three reclining seats, and an alcove with two stacked sleeping bunks!

At 9:30 the plane moved. We took off at 9:45 am, a good 11 hours late. Better late than never.

Nicole and I both took naps on the cots. Several hours later I awakened to the smell of food. Air France did very well by us. Two meals had been provided, one cold and one hot. We put them all together. The pilot had his own special meal (lobster), but the rest of us started with cold salmon with cold peas and carrots. There was both a lettuce salad and a sliced vegetable salad (sliced red peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, and tiny corn cobs). Then there was the hot course of a nice steak, ratatouille, and a rice medley. This was followed by an assortment of cheeses. Also available were yogurt, fruit, and cookies. There was a great assortment of small bottles of wine for Nicole and me. I tried the Laboure-Roi 1990 Gevrey Chambertin, which was very nice.

After 7 hours, 5 minutes of flying time, we landed in Paris at 11:53 pm local time. It was very foggy and from our high perch we could just see the ground. The plane got to the cargo area at 12:05. I think Charles De Gaulle airport closes at midnight.

No one from the French freight forwarder/broker, L.P. Art, was at the plane to meet me, although the forwarder for Nicole was there. I explained that I had to stay with the art, but that didn't cut any ice as there was no cargo unloading crew, no-one from L.P. Art, and everyone was leaving. I was not to be permitted to stay, but Nicole said she would keep an eye out for our three crates if she could. The pilots took me to one of the main terminals in their van. The terminal was deserted except for one man cleaning the floors. I did find a telephone and reached Mary Mulhern at home (no one else could be reached). We agreed that I would go to another terminal in hopes of finding someone to page L.P. Art. I plopped my bags onto a cart and wandered down the roadway system to another terminal that had doors that opened and a few minor signs of life. There was one open Air France office where a very nice man put a call out for L.P. Art to meet me at the Information counter at Terminal 2A. He also confirmed my reservation home on Saturday.

Surprise! A little man did appear, explained that the plane was very late, the airport was closed, and we would deal with our crates in the morning. I called Mary Mulhern to tell her that I had not been totally abandoned. The L.P Art man then drove me into Paris to a hotel. I said that this was not my hotel, and he explained that it was, for this night, as it was right across the street from the L.P. Art office. So I checked into a Relais Bleus Hotel on rue de Chabrol, somewhere in Paris. The hotel was very acceptable and I gratefully went to bed.

So much for my birthday celebration!

Friday, January 21, 1994.

After a proper French breakfast of juice, French bread with jam, yogurt, and coffee, I checked out of the hotel. Someone from L.P. Art appeared just before 8:00 am, as promised the night before, and we walked across the street to the office of L.P. Art where I met everyone there. Except for the guy who had so much trouble finding me, they all seemed very nice and on-the-ball.

I got into the art truck with the two art movers and we went off to the Air France cargo (fret) area at Charles De Gaulle. The cargo people claimed our crates were not there. The boss of the two art movers got a special badge so he could go into the stored freight area; he found our three crates. (This sounds like my local U.S. Post Office.) By 10:00 the truck was loaded, but the paperwork took a bit longer. The trip to the underground loading and delivery area of le Centre Pompidou was interesting; somewhat like the freight delivery/pick-up area at Union Station. The only problem here was that the Pompidou's big freight elevator was broken and none of the crates could be taken up to the Grand Gallery on the 5th floor. Swell! The three crates were taken out of the truck at 11:30 and put into a safe holding area in the basement with a number of other crates also waiting for the elevator. I could see the elevator mechanic working on the elevator. I met the Naima Kadri, Jean Robert Bouteau, and various other people. They were all very nice and hoped the elevator would be working by 2:00 in the afternoon. (They were also still trying for the 8th painting, but I think by this time they knew they weren't going to get it.) Francois Blanco took me across the street to the office area, and paid my per diem. (I explained that I would not be staying five days, but they paid the full amount.) He then walked me over to my hotel, Hotel Compostelle at 31 rue du Roi de Sicile. We arranged that I would go back to the Pompidou between 2:00 and 3:00 to see how the elevator and crates were doing.

I met the courier from the Australian Archives who had come with the 2nd and 3rd prize winners for the Canberra competition. She had been on planes for over 30 hours, as well as the truck ride from Canberra to Sydney; there's a trip!. We had sandwich lunch together at a nearby bistro (18 inches of French bread with ham and cheese and a Kronenburg beer).

After checking dinner plans with Betty Blum, about 3:00 I returned to the Pompidou Centre. I didn't seem to have the magic key to get in. I waved my papers at the Information counter on the entrance level and was told that I couldn't get to the 5th floor. (Their Information people reminded me of the AIC Information people on a bad day.) So I went up the main Museum entrance on the 4th floor where my papers were understood and a guard took me through the various security doors with key-card releases and up the secure passenger elevator to the 5th floor.

Our three crates were up on the 5th floor! The head of the L.P Art installation crew used to live in Chicago. He worked for Barry Bauman for 5 years and for Terry Dowd. He ran his team well. As each crate was unpacked, the framed drawings were taken to the tables where the registrar doing the condition reports did her work. (I can't read her signature, but she did a good job in a short time.) Their forms really help to do the job quickly and well. The reverse side of the condition report form (which was not photocopied) has an area with a 5 mm grid marked on it. The registrar marks off the approximate shape/size of the object and than marks, using a blue/red pencil, items of interest. I think her code was red for the drawing, blue for the frame, plexi, etc. There were supposed to be copies of our condition reports packed in with the framed drawings, and I thought I had also brought a duplicate set. I couldn't find either, but as I remembered what they said, I think everything matched. The plastic tape on the brown paper backing for the Guerin has dried out and has started to peel off. I thought it would be safest to add more plastic tape so that the separation wouldn't continue and cause problems later in Paris. I have noted on the back of this piece where the tape was added, when, and that I approved.

The art handlers commented that the large crate for the Guerin needed better handles on the ends ... they had a hard time getting a safe grip on the case. They really liked the red tape that our art packers use because it comes off without tearing the plastic.

La Ville is going to be a HUGE show. There are going to be at least 1200 drawings from 400 lenders. They have the whole Grand Gallerie to show in, but that is a lot of drawings to look at. Chicago Architecture: 1923-1993 had 893 objects, and we thought that was big. I wish I could see the show.

By 4:30 our drawings were safely in storage waiting to be hung. I returned to my hotel room and dressed for dinner. My hotel room was very narrow. The bed was long enough and wide enough for me but it certainly wouldn't be long enough for anyone much taller than me. The bathroom was so narrow that one considered backing into it. But it did have a private lavatory, toilet, and shower.

Betty arrived at 6:00 and we took a bus to Jean's office at La Documentation Francaise on the Quai Voltaire a block east of the Musee d'Orsay. Jean seems to be having a fine time putting together three old buildings so that they work together from the inside, even though the floor levels don't always match. His office has splendid old wood paneling. He took us around to see some of the other spaces including two office areas where the original interiors were also intact. The Graphic Design department was filled with big Macintosh computers to design all of their publications.

We first went to a bar in top of a building overlooking the Eiffel Tower. The night was clear and the view was spectacular! We went on to one of their favorite restaurants, "aux petits oignons", a very small husband/wife operation at 20 rue de Bellechasse, just up the street from the Musee d'Orsay. We all started off with one of the house specialties, small iron skillets of chantrelle-type mushrooms cooked in butter or a rich sauce with herbs. Very good, but I fear my system couldn't cope with it with later. (Later note: it turns out that my system can no longer tolerate any mushrooms.) I had trout with an herbed cucumber sauce which was splendid. For dessert I had the lemon tart which was heavenly ... very tart and tasty but also crunchy with sugar. I was back in my hotel and in bed by 11:00

Saturday, January 22, 1994.

During the early morning hours it became clear that I had eaten something, or too much of something, that my system wasn't used to. I hope it was the mushrooms, rather than the fish or the tart. At breakfast I decided that eating anything more was not a good idea.

I shared a taxi out to Charles De Gaulle airport with the art handler from the Virginia Museum. He had had about one week's notice about being the courier, and then had to also build the crate.

My flight home on Air France 054 was uneventful. I slept most of the way, waking up to see Greenland deep in snow. We landed in Chicago about 2:30 after a flight of 9 hours and 10 minutes. When you leave the plane at the new international terminal, you have to walk down a great series of ramps to get to ground level. Then the distance to the main terminal is so great that they have Cushman trolleys to take the less agile passengers to the baggage area. Manly was at the airport to meet me; we got home at about 4:00 pm.

I wonder if the sheep got safely to Saudi Arabia.

Luigi Mumford, Architecture Department