The theme of our trip was tradition and modernity. Our program explored the history, art, and gastronomy of Paris by first studying medieval Paris and following a chronology to contemporary Paris. This theme, tradition and modernity, was captured perfectly by our tour of La Musée des Arts Decoratifs in which we studied changing French life and culture through the evolution of chair design from the middle ages to contemporary Paris.
Paris is a historic city, some of its churches and bridges dating back centuries. The city's name evokes images of the graceful façade of Notre Dame, or the sweep of the ancient Pont Neuf, but also more modern structures, such as the Eiffel Tower, whose presence was once found objectionable and crass. In truth, Paris is full of the juxtaposition of the old and the new. The Centre Pompidou sticks out spectacularly from the old houses and shops that surround it. La Défense, an entire district of nothing but new, chic skyscrapers, hardly seems like Paris at all. And yet Paris is all of that, the skyscrapers and the squat, quaint buildings, gleaming bars of metal and old stone façades. This is portrayed perfectly by the progress of chairs. We begin with old chairs with tired-looking upholstery and uncomfortable backs, then progress to more comfortable ones with lighter designs. Slowly, these change into ergonomically correct plastic contraptions and creative, barely chair-like seats. They are all chairs, all pieces of furniture to sit on, just as the old and the new are all Paris, a city comprised of the traditional and the modern.