France is filled with great museums: the Louvre, the Orangerie, the Picasso and Rodin museums, the entire Loire Valley. But for me, none of them quite equals the Egg Museum. Located in the tiny village of Soyans in the haute provence, the Egg Museum was founded in 1989 by Françoise Vignal-Caillet. Over the past 17 years, she’s transformed what began as a personal obsession with decorating eggs into a comprehensive collection of all kinds of eggs from all around the world. She’s got a 70-million-year-old fossilized dinosaur egg (you can find old ammonites and other fossils all around the region without even digging); she’s got an enormous ostrich egg (about the size of an American football) and a tiny hummingbird egg, which is no bigger than the nail of my little finger; she’s got eggs from crocodiles, storks, flamingos, spiders and emus.
Then there are the decorated eggs, which include some truly bizarre creations. She has painted and carved eggs from all around the globe, from Bali to Egypt to Madagascar to Ukraine. There are eggs from Russia with icons painted on them, eggs from the Balkans with Nativity scenes painted on them, eggs by Vignal-Caillet herself with Nativity scenes placed inside them, embroidered eggs, carved eggs, eggs adorned with glass beads, acid-etched eggs with Celtic designs, even a faux Fabergé egg. In fact, the only kind of eggs Vignal-Caillet doesn’t have are scrambled, fried and poached eggs.
My favorite egg is really not an egg at all. It is just the thin inner membrane that separates the shell from the egg proper. It’s the thing you have to peel away with the shell when eating a hard-boiled egg. The one in the Egg Museum was extracted whole from its egg; the shell was peeled away and the yolk removed from inside while leaving the membrane completely intact and egg-shaped. Somehow the artist managed to solidify this membrane and then proceeded to embroider it with a knitting needle. It has hundreds of tiny perforations in it in various patterns, sort of like the lace doilies your grandmother used to place her tea cups on. It’s an amazingly delicate, beautiful and vaguely disturbing thing, almost like a photographic negative of an egg, an egg-shaped empty space, a series of holes connected in the form of an egg. It must have taken forever to make. Amazing the lengths to which people will go for their passions, however obscure.
Of course, there were also eggs with aphorisms written on them, but they were all in French so I couldn’t read them. And there were eggs with poems written on them and extracts from famous documents, including one with a few lines from the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps Vignal-Caillet might consider these aphorisms for some of her new acquisitions:
From Polish-German aphorist Gabriel Laub:
Why shouldn’t the egg feel wiser than the chicken? After all, it knows the chicken’s darkest side.
From English aphorist Samuel Butler:
A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
And, um, this one’s from me…
There is not much room for error in an eggshell.