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May 2015
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Tea time in Marseille

"Le Printemps des thés", à Marseille © Christian Crès.

Do you really enjoy a cup of tea? Reacting pertinently to this subject, make an essential detour to see the “Spring Teatime” exhibition in Marseille. André Gabriel, a superb collector due to his passion, his scholarship and…his frank talk, has loaned no less than 600 rare pieces to the Maison de l’Artisanat et des Métiers d’Art. There are tea sets, naturally, but also samovars, boxes of tea, cups, tables and plenty of other fine objects, which have been painted, carved or hammered, dedicated to the creation and consumption of tea. A special chance to discover the one-thousand-and-one sides of tea, its history and its rituals. « Tea was originally a medicinal beverage, which slowly became a luxury drink. In the West, it has been associated with the idea of old grannies sipping cups of tea, whilst in Asia it can hold a religious and very strong social sense as well as being a passport to meditation” explains André Gabriel. Inspired by his passion, he has bargain hunted pieces from around the entire world: from Japan, China, India, Russia, South America, Africa and of course France, where he found pieces in Limoge dating back to the 18th century. There still remains one question. By what means has this academic, with his multiple collections, developed a passion for this millennia old beverage? His explanation is short. “That is a good question because my collection, on principle, is useless. One day, somebody had the terrible idea to invite me to a wine tasting, and I suggested tea instead, and it all started from there. I am a vegetarian, as you might have guessed, so I had to get involved in the world of tea. For the rest, get in touch with my psychiatrist”. Need another cup of tea?

The exhibition is also worth a look due to its venue. La Maison de l’Artisanat et des Métier d’Art occupies a vast 18th century building, built upon the former location of the Arsenal des Galères of Louis XIV, situated right at the heart of it, in the Estienne d’Ovres courtyard. At the time, nearly 400 trades worked here. Massive dark wooden beams and floorboards, stones and ironworks immortalise this history. The handcraft house welcomes the largest number of visitors in the Bouches du Rhône (with 1.5 million visitors in 30 years), including names such as Jean Marais, Caesar, Roland Petit, Jean Jacques Goldman, etc.
Particularly dynamic, this regional institution has organised more than 200 exhibitions beneath the firm leadership of its president, the truculent Jacques Rocca Serra. “I have done it all: exhibitions on all Mediterranean countries, on local metiers d’art, opera costumes, religious art, the Santons of Provence, Easter eggs – imagine 3650 eggs all intact – and even Father Christmas. We even had to do one about him!” . On a more serious note, Jacques Rocca Serra worries about the disappearance of artisans in his region. “We have therefore organised more exhibitions to support the Savon de Marseille, but that is not enough. You can count the number of soap factories on one hand” he laments. During the rejuvenation of “Made in France”, his voice deserves to be heard more than ever.

“Spring Teatime”. Until 27th May at the la Maison de l’artisanat et des métiers d’art 21, Cours d’Estienne d’Orves, 1er.
Open Tuesday to Friday from 10am-12pm and from 1pm-6pm, on Saturday from 1pm to 6pm. Guided tours with André Garbiel (which are highly recommended) take place at 3:30pm on Saturday 16th May and Tuesday 19th May.
Under the aegis of the Consul General of Japan: Tea Ceremony, Chanoyu, presented by Shizue Omi on Saturday 16th and 23rd May.

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