Mike and I each set off a museum alarm while in Europe.
One of us did this intentionally. The other did not.
Both of us didn’t get caught.
Here are our stories.
We were walking around the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, exploring the decorative arts (read: furniture) of the 16th century. There were several-hundred-year-old chairs and beds, expansive red-velvet hangings and silk bedspreads. I was enthralled with the idea of seeing how people actually lived in their homes, as opposed to just seeing what they’re famous for (their works of art, for instance).
Mike was walking a room or two ahead of me (medieval home furnishings not being a topic that makes him gasp with excitement), and I had slowed to look at a particularly ancient carved wooden chair. I started thinking about all of the hundreds of people who had sat in that exact chair over the last 500 years, and it gave me little goosebumps. Those little goosebumps took me straight back to being eight years old, at any of a number of historical sites with my mother.
“Abby, think about it, George Washington LIVED HERE. This was HIS ACTUAL BED. You have to touch it! You have to touched what he touched! This is HISTORY!”
So, inevitably, I would touch it. I touched everything I could get my hands on, particularly in Williamsburg, and always at the urging of my mother. She and I shared a special history-obsessiveness, and touching things was the only way to separate us from the throngs of passing public who merely looked at each exhibit.
As I stood in front of the chair at the V&A, however, I failed to account for the nineteen years of museum technology that had occurred between my preteen illegal activity and now.
I looked around the room. Empty.
For just a split second, I reached across the rope and put my hand on the armrest of the chair. Satisfied, I started walking to the next room. It only took three seconds for the alarm to activate.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.
I jumped at the sound and started walking faster toward Mike, who was far enough away not to hear the sound. By the time I reached him, four guards had appeared at the scene of the crime and were walking around looking for the perp.
But I was too smart for them. I’ve watched cop shows, I know what to do — the opposite of what a law-breaker would do: talk to the guards.
I walked up to the nearest guard and explained that I was looking for Da Vinci’s drawings. I expected a quick answer that would dismiss me from suspicion, but apparently I chose the one guard who had been looking for his chance to show that he knew every corner of the museum by memory.
“Da Vinci is in room 24, which follows a series of rooms that explore several artists’ significant contributions to…” I glanced at Mike in misery that we had just been trapped, as the guard continued, “…or alternately you could take the Asian exhibit route which would show various periods of dress from the seventeenth to…” This was never going to end.
Luckily, it did, and I never brought up my little dalliance with the law with the husband.
Five days later we were at the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris, appreciating Monet’s enormous murals of his water lilies in Giverny. We decided to venture downstairs to the temporary exhibits, because we had yet to see any of Picasso’s work while on our trip.
We noticed as we walked room to room that there were small metal rails blocking people from getting too close to each work of art. But the odd thing about the rails was that they were only 12 inches off the ground, and they were extremely sharp and squared off on the ends.
When we found the Picasso area, we moved slowly around the room, looking at each piece of art. Without Mike realizing it, I left the room and moved into the next, and as he glanced up and saw that I was gone, he turned too quickly and jammed his leg right into a rail.
He immediately lost his balance and gave a shout at the pain, and tumbling forward, he smacked his hand against the wall for support. Only his hand didn’t land on the wall. It landed on a Picasso.
Cue the alarm.
Suddenly Mike came hobbling toward me with the look of an animal in the crosshairs of a hunter. He was grabbing his leg and reaching for the bench I was sitting on. He pulled up his pant leg to reveal a three-inch gash on his shin. But he didn’t care about his leg.
“Oh my gosh I just smacked the Picasso. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Look at the painting, I just smashed my hand into the glass. Did they see? Did they see me?”
Just then a female guard came running, literally sprinting down the hall toward the Picasso. She stopped directly in front of it and started waving her arms around in the universal “Who did this? Who did this?” gesture. She turned around several times, as if the idiot who assaulted the painting would be standing there ready to be escorted out.
“Keep your head down,” I said to Mike. “And stop grabbing your leg! She’s going to put two and two together!”
The woman circled the area once more and then threw her hands in the air in exasperation, as if she had conducted a full investigation and come up empty.
“I can’t believe I just set off the alarm. Who does that!?” Mike asked me.
I decided the only way to make him feel better was to come clean.
“Well…” I began. “At least you didn’t do it on purpose…”