Tantalizing Tahiti


The black sand of the west coast – the city lies just beyond the point

About 2600 miles below Hawaii and 1500 east of Samoa, Pape’ete on Tahiti, the largest of the Windward group of the Society Islands, is the capital of French Polynesia, the only overseas country of the French Republic.

Mylène Raveino and Louisa Marmol had been quite helpful when I made arrangements to tour the Médiathèque de Te Fare Tauhiti Nui (MT) but mentioned I’d be coming right after the four day book fair so hoped things wouldn’t be too messy.

Enjoying the refreshing rain, we strolled along the waterfront plaza and promenade to the library.  Composed of a bibliothèque enfants, a bibliothèque adultes and a vidéothèque et cyber espace, the three separate buildings are close together and are all open Monday to Friday until four or five pm.

IMG_5004 I found the adult department first.  After plopping my husband in a chair looking onto verdant foliage I said bonjour to Losa Masei who kindly posed at her station.

IMG_5007MT has romances, novels, records, blockbusters and short stories.  Membership lets you checkout seven books or graphic novels for three weeks and costs between $20-$50 depending on age and whether it’s a yearly or semi annual subscription.

Redone in 2003 this section has over 16,000 items plus access to 600 French journals and newspapers via Pressreader.  Adults go to moderated monthly reading discussions and events for the July Heivā celebration.  The Festival international du film documentaire océanien (FIFO) highlighting the region in the mid to late twentieth century attracted more than 900 people and even screened a documentary on the parasitic disease elephantiasis.

IMG_5012I wandered around admiring the tribal etchings adorning frosted glass dividers by a pleasant reading spot.

The website announces parenting materials and links to recent acquisitions and the catalog.  Choosing from a compilation of 150 thrillers, mysteries, fantasy and adventure titles at the 24/7 online site, Bibliothèque Numérique, patrons download one e book for three weeks.

Future flyers 10-13 experienced steering a jet over Bora Bora using flight simulation software and parents even got a turn at the rudder of the virtual cockpits.  Cinema and staging introduces kids to early Disney and to classic comic actors like Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy or they can build pillars with Legos.

IMG_5018A large bright area, perfect for browsing, hosts the always popular collection of bande dessiné (BD or Franco-Belgian comics like Tintin and Asterix).

The library partners with several government entities for the La Médiathèque historique de Polynésie, a fascinating aggregation ranging from scanned sepia prints, sketches, watercolors, letters, scientific research, manuscripts, maps, primary sources, travelogues and early grammars and dictionaries, to film and radio clips, first person accounts and ethnologies of Oceania going back to 1760.

By the door, handsome mahogany cases present Pacific reference tomes on Polynesia and Oceania for consultation in the building only.

IMG_5027MT is an integral part of the seaside Maison de la Culture complex.  Globes on sporadic lampposts illuminate little tikis on the paths in the early tropical dark.  Crisscrossed palm fronds and fans decorate columns and a flight of stairs up to one of the facilities scattered over the lovely campus.

Like a gallery, the Muriavai Room has rails, white surfaces and adjustable lights.  Artists, photographers, and jewelers forgo the fee by donating a work of equal or higher value.  The air conditioned Mahana and Marama meeting halls and a projection space lined with bleachers for movie nights can be rented as well.

Covered corridors wend through the maze passing benches, pocket gardens, short lava and stone walls and an enormous umbrella tree protecting a raised square for al fresco affairs.


Marine mural

I made my way to the children’s area.  Renovated in 2013 it contains about 14,000 units and advertises biweekly early literacy classes for babies and toddlers and L’Heure du Conte, a free monthly storytime.  Tweens have regular reading rallies – five week spans to finish options from an assortments of books.  Each has a unique theme, crafts and games, and a questionnaire at the end for a diploma.

It was around Thanksgiving, so Youth was decked out for Christmas and I heard the soft strains of Greensleeves in the background.  Flower filled vases and informational pamphlets dot the desk and a woman greeted me pleasantly but was camera shy.

IMG_5053Though MT’s Facebook page started in June, it’s already full of promotions for juvenile albums, discussion groups, senior get-togethers, and holiday concerts.  It gives advice for potential pilots taking the test for the first time and blurbs for teen trilogies.  Images abound of proud youngsters displaying a gorgeous jungle collage and mandala mobiles and waving trophies over their heads.  In others, they make paper blossoms and travel posters, weave baskets, fish, bracelets, whistles and visors from pandanus leaves, and, faces painted like exotic birds, play chess.  An adolescent theater ensemble variously smiles or grimaces and children employ sophisticated tools and drills to shape wood toys, puzzle pieces and Chinese shadow puppets.

Scrolling photos of exhibitions fade from art evoking the Bauhaus architectural movement to vibrant tropical scenes, acrylics and ceramics, sculpture and glass engravings, and student offerings.

Videos include family gatherings and tots smiling backstage at a dress rehearsal for a play and while giving percussive performances.  The swiveling hips and graceful arm movements of an accomplished brigade of females wreathed in leis demonstrate a choreographed ‘Ori Tahiti (similar to the hula but feistier).

Posts plug a fête featuring oils from the local art association and new manga, digital and Polynesian-centric items.  A hiking guide recounts legends and origin myths, planetarium staff reveal the mysteries of the universe, and there’s a cute snap of the contents of the lost and found box in hopes guardians may recognize a missing shoe or favorite stuffed tiger.

IMG_5064Juniors fashion colorful stand up castles, take a genealogy lesson, use taro, sweet potato and pineapples to prepare fabric dyes and delicately tint portraits recalling Modigliani.  There are Easter egg hunts and escape room games and tykes can try decoupage, origami and calligraphy or stylus pens and tablets that produce electronic illustrations.

All ages are invited to create costumes for Polynesian heroes and events concentrating on the traditions of the archipelago teach tots to respect and honor their heritage.  A reading program focuses on water and biodiversity, hugely important in a place where most of the land is liquid.

IMG_5068Kneelers make it easier for taller folks to flip through picture books and there’s lots of seating and tables for homework here.  Snowmen and santas dangle from the ceiling and scoot across the walls, a turnstile has magazines and everything is a pretty pink.

Outside by the Petit Theatre, a bulletin board and a vending machine, a long easel lets rambunctious toddlers scribble off some energy.  The breezy beach location and surplus of shade means it’s a cool spot on hot summer days.

IMG_5101I met friendly Taero Mike (left) and Malateste Ariihau in MT’s third destination, the media division.

Refurbished in 2007, it’s got ten PCs and a big TV.  Get instruction on technology basics or borrow three CDs and three DVDs for three weeks from more than 3000 selections in genres like jazz, blues, reggae, techno, and rap or cartoons, comedies and classic films.

IMG_5103CPUs are packed under shelves and controllers are stored over the alphabetized foreign and French CDs.  A picture of a sailing ship hangs above a cabinet of suggested tunes and drawers in small bureaus hold more music.  Due to the temperature sensitive equipment, it lacks windows but a circus tent roof coated with white wood slats makes it feel airy and open.


Customers engrossed in games at a carousel of computers

For a small fee take Japanese, English, Spanish, Mandarin, braiding, drum, ukulele, drama, Pilates, yoga and tai chi classes.  Or brush up on Reo Tahiti (this native tongue is part of the Reo Māꞌohi family of languages and was suppressed for decades) so you can chat to relatives from different generations.  Seminars for old and young cover perfume, rainbows, dance, drawing, graphics and pottery.  Sign language was so popular the LSF teacher added a second session for langue des signes française.

Leaving we marvel at the intriguing statues and lit vitrines showcasing vivid textiles and carved wood pieces.


Lobby for the Grand Theatre

What a wonderful resource for the 190,000 or so inhabitants of this lush South Pacific isle!

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2 Responses to Tantalizing Tahiti

  1. Pioneer says:

    ​Justine, I can never figure out if you actually travel to all of these locations or just report on them.

    Stay safe.


    Gregory P. Mickells
    Library Director

    Madison Public Library
    201 W Mifflin St
    Madison, WI 53703

    Office: 608-267-1184



    • jshaffner says:

      I do actually go to every library I write about – that’s how I get the photos. But if I go on a trip I might go to four new countries or states, and I only post one blog a month which is why you are seeing the blog from our Thanksgiving Tahiti trip in April 😉

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