This article was first published in VINGT Paris Magazine, an online magazine devoted to the arts in the 20 arrondissements of Paris. They’re a great resource for things going on around the city. If haven’t already, you should check ‘em out.
Tucked away in northeastern Paris’ Ménilmontant neighbourhood is the Musée d’Edith Piaf, a small, unassuming collection of mementos of the singer’s life and work. Truly one of the city’s musées insolites, the only thing that hints at its location from the outside is a plaque marked, “Les Amis de Piaf,” an association that maintains this museum as well as the singer’s tomb at Père Lachaise cemetery.
Bernard Marchois, who met the chanteuse when he was a teenager and became a lifelong fan, dedicated two rooms of his fourth-floor flat, in which he still lives, to her memory. He receives visitors free of charge (although donations are accepted), and if you ask, he has an impressive wealth of knowledge to share about Piaf.
A life-sized cut-out of the 4’8” tall Môme is displayed at the entrance, a stark contrast to the powerful voice playing over the speakers. Paintings and photos of the singer cover the walls, and a large stuffed bear, a gift from her husband, sits in a chair near the door. Also among the pieces on display are dresses she performed in (always black), and a pair of her shoes — size 34.
The tragedy and hardships in Piaf’s life are readily apparent here too. The illness and drug addiction that plagued her much of her life transform her appearance over time in the photos on display. Laid out on a table is a pair of boxing gloves owned by the inspiration for Piaf’s song, Hymne à l’amour, middleweight champion and Piaf’s grand amour Marcel Cerdan. Although he was married with children when they met, they carried on a year-long affair until Cerdan died in a plane crash while on the way to join Piaf in New York. She never fully recovered from the loss.
The space has a sense of intimacy not often achieved in a museum, perhaps because the collection itself, with all its sad memories, is in a private home. Or, maybe it’s that reading her correspondence with family and friends scattered among her personal belongings, feels private and slightly voyeuristic. Regardless, one can’t help but leave with the impression that the whole endeavour is a labour of love — a little glimpse into the life of la Môme Piaf, as remembered by the people who loved her.
Visits are Monday through Wednesday between 13h and 18h, by appointment only. Appointments are taken during the same hours at the following number: 01 43 55 52 72. Have a pen ready because address and entry codes will be provided when you call. Photos are not permitted, but a few, like the one above, are available for purchase (1-2 € each).
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