Please Don’t Touch The Degas

Susan Ross Donohue - Don't touch the DegasHave you ever noticed how many ‘Ne Touchez Pas’ signs there are in places where, well, you’re not supposed to touch things? Problem is, if there’s a need for a sign, chances are it’s the sort of thing people want to touch.

Les Musées

Sometimes it goes without saying. I understand I’m not supposed to touch the paintings in a museum. Truly, I wouldn’t even think of touching them and you won’t find too many ‘hands off’ signs in the Louvre because they assume you know. BUT … head to Versailles and everyone wants to sit in Napoleon’s chair. Apparently a string across the seat stops people from plopping down on the throne. I understand this compulsion, sort of, but sitting on his seat won’t give anyone an insight into Bonaparte. There’s no logic in this human foible but we seem to need to touch some things to understand them.

I’m the first to admit I’m guilty. The first period of construction of Notre Dame was from 1163 into the 1240s. Sorry, but this is too old for me to take in. I touch it. I run my hands over the wall as if I’m going to learn something from the feel of the stone. There are no signs on the outside of Notre Dame so I don’t feel bad. If the pigeons can sit there, there’s no reason why I can’t discover whether old stone feels different from new stone.

Susan Ross Donohue, 13/02/2012

Paris is full of these temptations. The city is packed with fine art and architecture that just amazes North Americans. Saint Julien-le-Pauvre, for example, was built in stages from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. Columbus only made his first voyage to America in 1492 when there were already beautiful buildings in Paris. We’re blown away by all this.

Les Autres

It’s not only art and architecture. Did you ever go into a Chanel store? Just think of touching any creation and see how fast you’re escorted to the door. (I didn’t – but I wanted to. I was highly suspect anyway – not being dressed properly).

The markets have a lot of ‘Do Not Touch’ signs. These are put up specifically for tourists because the French know that they’re not supposed to handle the merchandise before buying. If you’ve been to a French market and seen the artistic displays of fruits and vegetables, you’d understand why (aside from … it’s just not done).

The Salon du livre et papiers anciens held at Espace Champerret in the seventeenth arrondissement is an exception. Here you’ll find prints, rare books, old newspapers, menus, fans and every sort of paper ephemera you can imagine. Oddly enough, I’ve never been told not to touch something at this event. So many fragile paper works, yet you’re free to browse and read as long as you handle with care. I can’t resist an old paper with a Steinlen drawing. I touch, I wait … no … Monsieur just smiles at me. Isn’t that fantastic? As a matter of fact, years ago when smoking wasn’t a crime, we saw a man spilling his ashes on a pile of rare papers. He was the seller so … no fire … no problem!

Susan Ross Donohue - Don't touch the Degas

I suppose it’s just human nature to reach out and touch something of great beauty or interest. As long as it isn’t something that will reach back to you and take your hand off.

Anyway, Degas, Renoir and all the others appreciate you keeping your hands to yourselves. As for the buildings, I don’t think anyone would mind if you touch ­– just a little.

Image credits
1. Don’t touch it via
2. © Susan Ross Donohue
3. Livres anciens via


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Susan Ross Donohue

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