Just when you thought vintage had run its course, a stroll to the end of Quai de Jemmapes in the 10th arrondissement of Paris proves you well and truly wrong. Turn through a backyard and dive into a discreet entrance and voilà – it’s another century, and another continent, in the tumbledown rooms of Le Comptoir Général, the self-styled “Ghetto Museum”.
Showing strong influence from the days of the French Imperial colonies of Africa, and boasting some of that period’s kitchenware as well, by the look of it, Le Comptoir Général is a living, breathing museum, where the walls not only display artefacts, but are artefacts themselves, the ripped, faded wallpaper bearing the impressions of exhibits long gone. Subtitled the Ministry of Unusual Affairs, that seems a good description for the mysterious confines of the building. It’s a souvenir market, and a storeroom of mementos, and a faithful recreation of someone’s living room. It’s a journey from the days of perilous air travel into the dark heart of an unknown world.
With all that adventure stirring your senses, you’ll be pleased to remember that in Europe, you’re never more than five feet away from someone who will gladly (and legally) sell you a beer – flower shops, public conveniences etc – so it comes as no surprise that this museum has a bar. In fact, Le Comptoir Général has as many different facets to it as it has knick-knacks on display. As well as the bar, you’ll find cinema screenings happening, books being sold, concerts being performed, food being served, art being exhibited, and more besides.
The Parisian wonderland runs as a not-for-profit enterprise by those who merely wish to celebrate their ancestors. Visit their homes, experience their struggles and accomplishments, their sense of ingenuity in overcoming poverty – something that is abundantly evident in the craftily put-together objects on show here. We certainly hope the honesty box is soon overflowing at this most extraordinary of museums.