paris musings – the museums

THE MUSEUMS

This could be a long list, but for the time being, here are some of our preferred museums… slightly off the beaten tourist path.

Musée des Arts et Métiers 60 Rue Réaumur, 75003 Paris

Founded in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, this museum is dedicated to technological innovation and inventions. There are seven collections: Scientific instruments, Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, Communication and Transport. It was refurbished in 2000, and has over 2,400 inventions housed in quite an impressive interconnected buildings, including planes hanging within an church – well worth a visit for that space alone.

Grande Galerie de l’Évolution 36 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, 75005 is another impressive vast metal and glass hall structure, with a collection of over 7000 preserved/ taxydermied animals on displayed.

It is close to the Jardin des plants, and the Grande Mosquée de Paris which in turn has the tea room… Cafe de la Mosquee de Paris, 39 Rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Paris, Île-de-France 75005that is supposed to be great (I have yet to get to the tearoom)

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Hunting & Nature) 62, rue des Archives, 75003 is as the name suggests, full of the tools man has developed to hunt IMG_7522.JPGanimals; primarily guns – some with incredibly ornate inlays, there were also some crossbows and other items. The majority of the musem is dedicated to paintings, and the taxidermy animals, including a talking boar head. S. generally found is all a bit scary, so we shot around, with a brief visit to the top floor where there was the chimpanzee tea party along with the “Hunting Wild Game With Flashlight and Camera”  exhibition of the 1905 photographs by George Shiraz, the American lawyer/politician and former hunter turned photographer.

IMG_7595.JPGMusee Picasso  5 Rue de Thorigny, 75003 is a fabulous collection of over 5,000 pieces work on several floors. Long lines to get in, but very enjoyable. As Picasso requires little explanation, a bit about the actual building … Hotel Salé (salted) was built between 1656 and 1659 for Pierre Aubert, a tax farmer who became rich collecting salt tax. The architect was Jean Boullier from Bourges and it is considered to be one of the finest historic houses in the Marais. It was selected as the Musée Picasso in the 70s and designed by the French architect Roland Simounet.

Palais de la Découverte– Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 75008. We have spent many a day in this museum. It has some fabulous temporary exhibitions, but its mainly the hands on interactive area along with the Planets room that we keep returning for. In addition to this, there are kid friendly lectures (in French) in the various departments of chemistry, biology, physics, and maths amongst others. The museum was created in 1937 by Jean Baptiste Perrin during an international exhibition on “Arts and techniques in modern life” and is next to the Grand Palais.

IMG_7920.JPGCité des Sciences et de l’Industrie
30 Avenue Corentin Cariou, 75019 Paris
This building is totally different to its sister museum, Palais de la Découverte.
With two interactive play areas for kids, one aged <5 the other 5-12, we have always gone to the small one in the past which has been a lot of fun. Very physical, things to touch, feel, and manipulate. The 5+ was a new experience, plenty to keep the kids entertained, slightly more informative for the readers amongst you, and a couple of live TV/Studio production set ups. I’ll need to go back again for full exploration 🙂
The huge, modern, five-level metal structure is impressive enough with its “bioclimatic facade” and IMAX theater, but then it is set in the fabulous grounds of Parc de la Villette – the largest park in Paris. You can easily spend the whole day getting lost amongst the play areas, fields, and pathways. The expanse of land for kids to run around, the Argonaute (S636) submarine, the playgrounds with the grand colorful dragon slide, it is all great for wearing young ones out!
The Grande Halle de la Villette seems to always be hosting some public get together, whilst the Cite de la Music along with the Philharmonie de Paris hosts exhibitions (the late David Bowie exhibition – loved it) and performanes (I saw Moriarty here – loved it!). Surrounded by the Canal de Saint Denis and the Bassin de la Villet, you can get strange little boat-carts that running down to the Canal Saint Martin.

Musée Marmottan Monet  2 Rue Louis Boilly, 75016 Paris

paris musings – the flea markets

ANTIQUING & FLEA MARKETS

Visiting friends always expect me to know where they should go…. of course that depends on what rocks their boat…and didn’t they notice that my activities are some what dictated by the whims and fancies of a certain five year old! So my passion for roaming flea markets has been reduced to roaming websites for flea markets that my friends will enjoy roaming, however, the promise of “oooh what if we find a vintage power ranger” has mysterious powers… 

Village Saint Paul: The block in between rue de Rivoli and quai des Céléstins as well as rue Saint Paul and rue de Fourcy. This area is filled with shops and ateliers. The best time to go is the weekend, as there are many places tucked away that are closed during the week.

Au Petit Bonheur de Chance: a tiny shop where you can find old notebooks, kitchenware, toys, and almost every other random trinket you could ever imagine.

All local markets in Paris on any given day are listed at this (french language only) site. Neighbourhood markets are usually on weekends.

The Viaduc des Arts has cabinetmakers, musical-instrument makers, fashion designers, textile restorers, and other businesses related to the arts. It runs from the Opéra Bastille to the Jardin de Reuilly, and right by it is the Promenade Plantée which is a lovely walk – it’s not as inspired as the Highline in NYC, but it’s still a nice stroll!

Rue Daguerre is a food lover’s paradise. Market-fresh seafood, meat, vegetables, fruit, cheese and bread

Le Marché Barbès in the 18th has multiple nationalities and cultures converging at stalls underneath a train trestle.

Clignancourt. This is the big old market that most hard core flea marketers’ want to check out. The market has two entrances, both off the rue des Rosiers, one at each end. Most people use the No. 4 line and get out at Porte de Clignancourt. This will take you in through all the new items. The alternative is to use the No. 13 line and get off at Garibaldi, walking a few quiet blocks until you get to the rue des Rosiers from the other end.

Clignancourt is open for a half day in the morning on Fridays (dealer’s day) with a lot of trading and selling at L’Usine. On Saturdays and Sundays, most stalls are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Mondays, dealers come once again, and shoppers can meet vendors with an appointment. Many of the dealers come in for a half day, from about 11 to 4.

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london exhibitions – the fallen woman

Reflections on The Fallen Woman exhibition at The Foundling Museum, London

The Fallen Woman was one, originally of good standing, who had “fallen” from grace; “fallen” out of respectable society; “fallen” victim to the sins of the flesh, “fallen” for the wrong man; someone who would then also quite often “fall” out of favor with her family, friends, respectable society, and who quite literally, often ended up “falling” from The Bridge of Sighs into a river of whispers.

It’s not as if extra-marital affairs were something new – Anthony and Cleopatra, Guinevere and Lancelot, Tristan & Isolde, Elizabeth and Sir Walter, Napoleon and Josephine come to mind. So our ladies fall seems to have less to do with “sexual knowledge outside of marriage”, and more do to with the fact that she was caught out by potential consequences – you can’t really hide a swollen belly, and subsequent years of child care and financial drainage. In comparison, the male – whether a lover, courtier, adulterer, seducer, or even rapist– who was often admired for his promiscuity, could also move on with no visible physical literal impact or responsibility (unless of course he got caught with the clap or syphilis)

So what to do in these circumstances? Some country air is always a good cure for most ailments, so off to the country for a few months, after which the offspring could be guised as a sibling, shipped off to a distant relative, or an orphanage…

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 6.03.16 PM.pngWhen opened in 1741, the Foundling Hospital accepted all babies brought to them, with no “preference to any person”; by 1768, mothers had to submit an application. Then by the mid 19th Century, whether a response to the unmanageable volume of incoming babies, or Britain’s focus on the virtuous christian life, with a good marriage, good housekeeping, child bearing and rearing as the personification of a good woman , the hospital introduced a strict criteria for child acceptance that was based on the mother’s… good character and potential to go on and live a virtuous life …  and so the fallen woman was born.

After submitting their application, along with character references, if approved, they were given a date and time to deliver their child through a hatch door in the wall of the Foundling Hospital. Hopefully, now free of the evidence and burden of their indiscretions, these women would be able to return to their former status and station in life.

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The turning point, downfall and despair became ripe territory for composers, novelists and painters: Bizet’s Carmen, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Verdi’s Violetta. Women were often depicted outside, outcast, in wintery scenes, desperate, shunned, alone …. the inevitable outcome….plunging to her death…  The exhibition at the Foundling Museum included hundreds of letters from women and their referees…as many women couldn’t actually write, many of the applications were in the same hand writing. Acceptance and reject letters, a sound installation, and some poignant paintings, it was a very moving couple of hours.

Thank goodness society has moved forward and our children can now experience supportive family and friends, whatever their parental circumstance. However, the obsession of the fallen woman, and man, lives on, but with different criteria: drugs, money, alcohol, suicide…people have a morbid fascination with the downward spiral and difficulties of others…Hollywood Babylon collected those stories, tabloids revel in these stories. Amy Winehouse’s public struggles and press feeding frenzy comes to mind, the deconstruction of Robin Williams mental state and suicide, amongst many others.

At least their struggles were not brought about by having to put their child through a hatch door

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paris musings – the parent

Being a parent is tough. Being a single parent is tougher. Being a single parent in a foreign land with a different language, well sometimes I question my sanity!

When the opportunity presented itself, for me to live in a city I had romanticized as a home from my teenage visits, across the sea vs. the Atlantic to my family, with a company and client I was already familiar with, it seemed an opportunity I should accept.

My son was three when we arrived. A lively, vocal, confident and playful boy; tall for his age, with a knowing look on his face, he is often considered older than his years. There was no question of stay-at-home mum, part-time employment, or freelance flexi-schedule. I needed care, as I had in New York, five days a week, and through school holidays. The first port of call was Le Marie. Armed with passports, birth certificates, apartment and work contracts, the Marie assigned the Ecole Maternelle that he would go to.
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My mum had very kindly come over to help me set up (including some city wide searches for mops and specific plugs) and to help get S. settled. A former French teacher, she proved not only a great source of emotional help and support (it’s nice to have dinner with an adult as well as a child), but her translation skills were critical. She came with me to meet the school Directrice, identifying the whys and wherefores, schedule requirements, vacations dates and how the Garderie ((after school) kicks in after school and over the vacation period. Also identified was the need for a trip back to Le Marie to get confirmation of the Cantine tariff I would have to pay. Whether lost in translation or just general lack of clarity, there were a lot of fingers pointing me in different directions as to who actually assigned the Cantine tarriff. Ultimately, it was the Marie who needed to see a payslip and salary verification. They then provided the tarriff amount on a yellow stick-it note (très official!) and sent me back to the school who then captured the amount in their records and it was locked in for the year.

On S.’s first morning at school, I was relieved to find an Irish/French bilingual girl in his class. As I sat with S., attempting to encourage interaction with the other kids, it was my mum who honed in on the mother and started drilling her for information- phone numbers, doctor recommendations, and the English Speaking Parents Messaging Board URL. In Brooklyn, I had been actively involved as a user and moderator of the free Bococa Parents Group, so I found the Parisian board expensive to join and not so intuitive to navigate. However, I did find, most importantly, a babysitter. I posted a request for babysitter referrals and after meeting with five different people, I met a lovely couple who asked me if I would mind if it was the husband who collected S. vs. the wife. Absolutely not! I am really happy that S. has a male baby sitter, and am even more happy with the fact that they have been with me for the entire 2 years that I have been here. S. loves his babysitter and has been embraced by the entire family, even going to christening and birthday celebrations with them!

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights every morning as I dropped S. off at school, not able to communicate with the teacher or the parents. I tried to talk to the other parents (giving the Irish mum a rest from being my only target) and tried to set up play dates. Not only was there a language issue, cultural differences emerged. In NYC, play dates were a frequent and desired activity. Social circles and weekend activities formed around the children. In Paris, this did not seem the way. With a different sense of work/family division, a general feeling of closed communities, as well as weekends being occupied with family activities or trips to the country to see the grandparents, there was minimal uptake on my play date outreach. Whatever my challenges, poor little man! He couldn’t understand, or be understood. He wanted to go back to Brooklyn.

We arranged some facetime calls with his fellow musketeer preschool friends. Not the easiest form of sharing toys and latest news, with the cameras often presenting the ceiling or the carpet, we changed to video’ing messages that we emailed back and forth. That works much better! The three musketeers are always reunited when we go back to New York, and the friendships seem to remain strong, picking up where they left off.

Eventually, a Parisian father took pity on me. His son was also fairly quiet so he also thought solidifying an ally for his son outside of the class room might be a good idea. We had a couple of outings, and whilst the kids had a blast, our conversations in broken English were challenging. I needed another plan. Not only to help S., but to help me! Weekdays are limited to bed time story, and walk to school time; not very much parental time for a child. So weekends are precious and important for us to spend together. We became acquainted with the Aquarium, the zoo, the Palais des Découverte and several other museums and parks. Whilst great company, I kept thinking there must be other mothers who might want a companion for outings. I posted on the english Message board offering to host a children’s English songs singing group but got no inquiries for a year! (When I had almost forgotten about it, I received a couple of calls and now I have met with a couple of parents about three times for a sing along!)

I then tried MeetUp. A zillion groups for every configuration of family, interest, and activity. I found the expat parents and signed up. it took a few schedulings before we actually managed to “meet up”, but when got together, we had a really fun day. S. got on with the girls really well, and it was so nice to be able to have an actual conversation. The organizer is a power house, scanning kid friendly activities and continually posting in the group. My other life saver was finding a music group that turned out to be 10 minutes walk away, organized by a wonderful Bulgarian Piano player who just so happened to have a daughter the same age as S. They buddied up immediately. So from having no adult social life, I had a friday night hang, live music, in a bar/restaurant, where I could take S.; he had a friend to play with and I got to chat with adults and sing. I was very sad when the bar decided to close down.

The most unnerving situations have been when S. had some medical concerns that resulted in couple of 2am calls to the Pompiers followed by trips to the hospital. I hate not being able to discuss and understand clearly what is going on. I have worked on my french, and it’s certainly better than it was, but I am no where near fluent or able to navigate those moments with certainty. I now know there are also Medical record books that you can get from Le Marie. You have to get them in person (presenting birth certificates, passports and job/apartment contracts. This is how you record your child’s health, immunizations etc. (so when you are there getting your school and Cantine tarriff assignments, go an get one of these too! the doctors do not provide them!)

After a rocky start, and a couple of “Pas Sage” moments, S. can now speak fluent french, and has a great group of friends. I have found a core group of mum’s, mainly english speaking, but some French, who I feel confident I can call if need be. It’s not quite like my friends in NY where we can go and hang out, lounge on the couch, watch the telly, eat, chat, and not have a set end time. But it’s a lot better than it was!

IMG_4228.JPG Paris is a beautiful city, the museums and parks are great. I am very impressed with the école Maternelle and Garderie. The art work they do is amazing, the trips to museums and chateaus are enviable, the extra curricular activities are energizing. As S. gets older, the next issue will be homework and being able to help him. If it is in French, I will not be a good tutor!

It’s been a challenge, but I think it’s a wonderful experience that wherever we end up, S. will have benefited from and have some wonderful memories of our time here.

Lessons Learned

  1. Ask the Marie for everything you need in one go – School, tariff & medical book
  2. the Ecole Maternelle and Garderie’s are great
  3. It takes a village – ask for help, use the social groups, and try and learn french!

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paris musings – the apartment

Furnished or Unfurnished
I moved to Paris on November 17, 2013, relocating for a job transfer opportunity within my company. As a mother of a then three year old, I elected to leave my son at the grand parents whilst I went ahead to start work, wait for my belongings to arrive from New York, and set up the basics.
I had been lucky enough to have my company’s assistance a month prior to start date, to come to Paris and spend a day with a realtor who whipped me around 10 apartments in one day. My criteria was set by price and 30 minute accessibility to work. I didn’t want to spend time commuting as I was also going to have to manage school drop off and pick up.
The first thing I learnt was that rental apartments come either furnished, or unfurnished… and when they say unfurnished, they mean UNFURNISHED… no NYC apartment basics like a cooker, kitchen units etc. Some had bathroom units, but a couple were fully bare. Walls, floor, ceiling…unfurnished! On the other hand Furnished meant walking in to someone else’s apartment: Pictures, mirrors, furniture, linen, cutlery, plates, hoover, mops, brooms… the whole kit and caboodle.
Whilst I was a little biased from my itinerary review on google earth of a small cobble stone street named after a 19th Century painter, you can imagine my joy when this apartment turned out to also be the only one with partial furnishing… ie: a kitchen with a fridge/freezer, oven, and dishwasher was already in place! With north/south exposure, and an elevator, after minor negotiation on the rent, and securing a Cave (basement storage area not automatically included), I said yes.
The paper work commenced, back and forth, official apartmentchecks, deposits, bank transfers etc. Unlike New York where I, foolishly or not, lived without any apartment insurance, I was to learn that this is non-optional in France. The rental agency put me in touch with and insurance company, and every year, the rental agency need an updated record for proof of insurance.
I had packed up the majority of my belongings to come over from America, but I had also left a lot behind… mainly electronics, but also a couple of fundamental pieces of big furniture… a bed, table and chairs. Rather than staying in a hotel until the shipment arrived, my company assisted with ordering of a bed and mattress to be delivered..
And then I became acclimatized to the other logistics of my french apartment.  With no buzzer intercom system, when the bed delivery team arrived, I had no way of knowing. I called my company, who in turn called the delivery team. The team had been and gone, but that they would return in an hour. This time, apartment building door codes had been relayed and they found their way up to the apartment, leaving me with a self assembly unit. Thank goodness the instructions are universal, and the flat pack comes with the necessary alan keys. Alas, my brain wasn’t really in gear, and I realized I had no bed linen or pillows… they were en route from NY. Luckily, back at work, a colleague offered to lend me a pillow and some linen which I picked up after work. Back in the apartment, my next discovery was that overhead lights are not a given! Luckily, the hall did have lights, but as I went into the different rooms flipping the light switches, I remained in the dark. Apparently, the French prefer lamps!
Tables and chairs would seem like a fairly easy thing to secure. Whether my tastes are not mainstream, or in alignment with the french style… this process proved rather challenging.
IKEA .com had table and chair sets, but if you wanted this table and those chairs, the table could be delivered but I’d have to go in person to get the chairs… not very easy when you don’t have a car. I went to Conforama, castarama, habitat, BUT, and several other locations where each table I selected turned out to be unavailable for 3 months, and floor models would not be sold. Invariably, I didn’t care for the chairs they had. I ended up buying online from the UK and having a lovely round table with preferred chairs delivered to my apartment!
Joy of joys, my bathroom had an area for a washing machine! Unlike NYC where laundromats seem to be on every block, ready to wash and fold perfectly, I had not passed one laundromat as i roamed my new neighborhood. With measurements in hand, I headed to the recommended electronics chain, Darty. After waiting for ever for a sales assistant to actually help me, the choice of washers was immediately limited to three based on my cabinet’s height restrictions, then reduced to two based on the fact that only one of them had a removable top, that would actually allow it to fit. I filled in the necessary details for delivery, ensuring the provision of necessary door codes, tried to narrow down the delivery window, and accepted the additional sales of a water converter to address the heavy calcium content of Parisian tap water and scaling issues.
When the washer was delivered, it was the washer without the dryer (I needed the all in one). Back to Darty. The correct machine was then delivered, this time, the gentleman installing the machine said that the water filter could not be installed. Back to Darty to return.
A real life saver was finding an english speaking handyman out fit to assist me. After a visit to review the apartment (with a flash light), we compiled a list of bits and bobs, shelving opportunities and overhead light requirements, and he organized his team to buy, bring, assemble and install.
My limited work-surface kitchen now has additional work surface/bar for eating (or accumulating all my french mail that I still don’t know how to read!), on top of a shelving unit, when I flip the switch, room lights go on, and when I have deliveries, or invite friends around, I make sure they have the necessary door codes to get in.
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