You can lead a cruiser to culture but you can’t make them cogitate

I absentmindedly let Catnip putt along all the way from the anchorage into Port Moselle Marina. It was early on a warm sunny morning so it was no hardship for us. The leg work had all been done on several forays into city center of Nouméa. We were a little fuzzy about the exact location of the bus ticket office, but hey it’s early, and we’re not late for work. After encountering the parlez-cousin Francais sticklers when calling the reservation desk at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, short of learning French this afternoon, I found the only way to book a reservation for the 2:30 tomorrow afternoon traditional dance show was to get in the dink and run into the marina office, have them call the reservation desk at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, and parlez-vous in French. I fear something might have been lost in translation, but more about that later. Our friendly marina manager hung up and smiled,”It’s all set.” Done and dusted.

So where were we? Oh yes, walking through downtown Nouméa on a beautiful sunny morning looking for the little bus ticket office. After a few circuits around the park we found it, bought two tickets and were informed that we could catch our #40 bus back near where we started. No worries, it’s sunny, getting warmer and it’s still early. Our bus came and soon we were enjoying a breakneck race through Nouméa, but we know this always feels like a dice with death after months at five knots on the boat. At the end of the line we discovered the Tjibaou Cultural Centre.

We’d been enthralled with glossy brochure photos of dramatic ribbed beehive sculpted structures thrusting high above the treetops that apparently were part of the center. On the lengthy walk from the bus stop to the center the architects toyed with the visitor using peek-a-boo views of the structures. At the reception desk we were told to speak to the head cheese, Mai. It fell to her to deliver the bad news. It turns out that there may have been a communication breakdown somewhere between us, the Marina office, whoever booked the show at the centre, and the person who makes sure that the brochure copy is up to date. “Oh there hasn’t been a show on Thursdays for ages, just Tuesdays.” By this point I just wanted to find out what drugs this architect was taking. What did these modern ribbed football shaped structures have to do with ancient Melanesia Culture. Mai had suggested that we start outside in the gardens because “it gets hot later in the day.” It already was hot but we knew how closely intertwined the Kanak people and culture were with nature so we strolled the grounds in and around these crazy but magnificent structures.
We came upon a gent wandering down the same path who said his name was Roger, and when we asked where he was from he answered after a significant pause for emphasis…wait for it…”London.” Then he snickered, adding,”The French have such a whimsical way of displaying someone else’s culture.” Point well taken Roger, but what is it with the French and the English? 

Nearing the lowest point of the walk adjacent to the bay we came upon three large pointed huts, examples of the traditional architecture of the three regions of New Caledonia. They are all kind of football shaped with carved finials at the top.

Yes dear Escapees, if you haven’t switched back to Facebook already we have discovered the key to the architect’s inspiration.


Turns out the architect is Renzo Piano who also designed the Pompidou centre in Paris and the Shard in London. He’s Italian and he was chosen by New Caledonians as the winner of the design competition. It’s really a magnificent design, inside and out. Along with artifacts they have an extensive collection of early photographs taken when these amazing cultures were first discovered by western man. 

Inside the “footballs” we found multimedia displays, exhibit spaces, and contemporary studio spaces along with admin. offices and a tasty snack bar. Early sketches and work drawings by Monsieur Piano were used as clever decorations in one space showing the evolution of the wonderful Tjibaou Cultural Centre.

Disappointed about the dancing but well worth the 200fp bus fare.


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