Saturday, August 31, 2013

Paris: Museums

Musée d'Orsay: converted train station!
After our first week beginning to get acquainted with Paris, we dove deep into its many museums.  One of my sisters visited for 6 days from Singapore, where she lives, so we wanted to see as much with her as possible.  We took advantage of the free admission many museums offer on the first Sunday of the month, and then we bought the 2-day Paris Pass, which covers your admission fees to as many museums and sites as you can cram in two days, while also allowing you to skip the crazy-long lines of August tourists waiting to get in to the most popular places.  We also discovered quite a few free museums. So over the space of a few days, we went to the musée Carnavalet, l'Orangerie, le Petit Palais, musée Cluny, the Louvre, le Centre Pompidou, musée d'Orsaymusée des Arts Décoratifs, musée Rodin, and the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers!

I've written before about our travels to London and D.C., when N. had a very short tolerance for art museums, finding them overwhelming.  Yet suddenly in Paris N. displayed the long attention span that he has for so many other activities.  What prompted this change?  I don't know.  Perhaps an awareness that this was a special opportunity.  He wanted to see everything and read every plaque (or have every plaque badly translated by me).  We usually tired before he did!  Some particular favorites, new discoveries, and learning moments for N. included the huge luminous water lilies paintings and the Renoirs at the Orangerie; pointillisme and the monumental group portraits of Fantin-Latour at Orsay (he also of course loved the building itself); portraits of Benjamin Franklin at musée Carnavalet and Petit Palais; the Napoleon Apartments in the Louvre; remnants of the first royal equestrian statue in Paris at musée Carnavalet; an awesome exhibit of the chronological development of the 20th-century chair at musée des Arts Décoratifs; Lavoisier's scientific instruments at Arts et Métiers. He learned to identify Rodin's work so well from the museum that he recognized it before I did when we saw it later at the Opéra Garnier.  He pointed out the difference between Degas' sculptures and Rodin's.  He learned about fauvisme at Centre Pompidou and puzzled over contemporary art there as well.   He loved the displays of scientific instruments, disguised cameras (bow-tie cameras, top-hat cameras, etc!), robots, and old French cars at Arts et Métiers.  From the back of a huge throng he saw the Mona Lisa from about her chin up and was confused by the crowds.  This is just some of what I remember him being especially engaged by.  I was so gratified to see N. soaking up all this art and hope to try to keep reinforcing and building connections to the things he saw in Paris in the coming years.  

Aside from the art itself, going to museums with throngs of other tourists is a strange experience of socialization.  We talked a lot about why some museums (or parts of museums) were packed with crowds while others were nearly empty.  We talked about the historical accidents and museum marketing that have made the Mona Lisa so well known.  We talked about the maddening trophy-photography of other museums goers who have themselves snapped grinning next to one famous painting after another they've barely glanced at.  The point is not that other people are doing museums wrong and we're doing them right, but we talked about why people go to museums, the different ways the museum experience is meaningful for people.  I go to museums to see art I've read about in its full vibrancy.  I was overwhelmed by how rich Monet's water lily paintings (works that had seemed bland and cliché in reproduction) were in situ.  And I go to museums to learn about art I didn't know about.  I am so grateful to be able to combine these for N., so that his first exposure to some stunning works of art was through looking at the very works themselves.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Monopoly, en Français

During our last week in Paris, N. discovered one of his favorite games, Monopoly, in the apartment we'd rented.  We had a lot of fun playing en français, deciphering the "Caisse de Communité" cards and learning new words like "louer" for "rent."  We especially enjoyed discovering that the spaces were all named for Parisian streets (many of which we'd been on!) and the rail stations for Parisian gares (all of which we'd visited!).  Our favorite was the replacement for Boardwalk: Avenue des Champs-Élysées!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Il Aime le Metro!

N, as we know, is a huge railfan and he loves the DC Metro, the New York subway system, and the London Underground.  So naturally a major element of our month in Paris for him is le Metro.  He's thoroughly obsessed with it.  He studies the map religiously, parsing the complex lines and systems and planning out all our routes (sometimes proposing the most absurd routes in order to take us on lines he likes).  Studying the Metro map has been one of the primary ways N. has gotten to know Paris.

We've long owned Mark Ovendon's Transit Maps of the World but N. wasn't interested in the transit maps of cities he's never visited.  I suspect it might get more use when we return home, however.  As I've mentioned before, one of the ways N. processes his experiences is through his imaginary world.  Thus, the Paris Metro inspired an elaborate map of the transit system of his imaginary world, which he worked on for days this month.  Every line tells a story!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paris: Getting Acquainted

Bonjour, Notre Dame!
We spent our first week in Paris orienting ourselves.  At first it was all pretty overwhelming, but we figured out how the metro works, where and how to buy groceries, the words for some of our favorite staples. Using City Walks: Paris as our guide, on our first full day we explored Île de la Cité, the ancient island at the heart of Paris.  N. was thrilled to look at Notre Dame.  We walked the streets of the neighborhood where we are staying, discovering the Parisian culture of sidewalk cafes, boulevards, and boulangeries.  Two days after we arrived, we departed again for two days in order to attend a wedding just outside of Paris at the Château de Champlâtreux.
Sailing a boat at the Jardins du Luxembourg
When we came back from the wedding, we started going to one or two major sites a day in order to get our bearings.  N. had done some reading earlier in the summer and it was fun to discover how much he'd learned about Paris from books such as Charlotte in Paris and Magic Treehouse: The Night of the New Magicians (huge thanks to Erica at "What Do We Do All Day" for her Paris book lists!). We went to the Jardins du Luxembourg.  We went to the Arc de Triomphe and walked down the  Champs-Élysées.  We went to the Place du Trocadéro to gawk across the Seine at the Eiffel Tower at night.  We walked around Montmartre and went into Sacré-Coeur.  We went to
Père Lachaise Cemetery and saw  Chopin's grave and the monument to Abelard and Heloise.  One morning we went to an outdoor market for groceries and spent an afternoon in the Jardin des Tuileries.  We walked across the Pont Alexandre III and admired the Hotel des Invalides, the Grand Palais, and the Petit Palais.

a gallery in the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine
Finally, exactly one week after our arrival in Paris, we went to our first museum, the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine (we were hoping to escape the 96-degree heat, but it was inconsistently air conditioned!).  It turned out to be the best next step to take as we deepened our acquaintance with France.  I think we spent at least 4 hours there.  The museum consists entirely of architectural casts and models.  There are huge galleries of full-size casts of architectural components of important churches and cathedrals throughout France from the 12th century onwards.  Many of the casts were made in the late nineteenth century.  Even though I was translating the placards rather poorly, we learned a lot about French ecclesiastical architecture!  And there are numerous detailed models of cathedrals such as Laon, Rouen, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle.  It was absolute heaven for N., who really loves model buildings.  And there is a vast gallery of models of French architecture from the mid-nineteenth century onwards!  N. learned about everything from Haussmann's major changes to the Parisian cityscape in the second half of the nineteenth century to 1960s apartment-block design.  He was utterly absorbed.

Among the contemporary models at the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine was the Citroen Showroom on the Champs-Élysées, which we'd walked by earlier in the week and marveled at without really knowing what it was.  After scrutinizing the model, N. wanted to go in the building, so another day when we walked down the Champs-Élysées again, we climbed to the top of the showroom, enjoying the high-concept new architecture and the Parisian views high above the street.

Without exactly planning it this way, our first week in Paris began in the tiny ancient streets of Île de la Cité and ended in a new automobile showroom with sweeping views of much of the history in between.  And that's how we began to get to know Paris.

Top level of the Citroen Showroom



Sunday, August 4, 2013

Travel Journal

I'm "requiring" N. to keep a travel journal during our trip.  For now this mainly consists of "we went here, we went there, I ate that, I liked it."  Even if he doesn't do more reflective writing, I hope this act of daily summing up helps him process and remember the complex experiences of our trip.

Meanwhile, I'm behind on my own journal here on the blog!  Hope to catch up soon.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cambridge, UK

After Skipton, we went to Cambridge for a few days, where I attended the British Burney Society  conference.  While I indulged in all things Frances Burney, Tim and N. explored Cambridge.

The first day they went to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, where they saw cases and cases of rocks and fossils, as well as dinosaur skeletons.  N. loved it.  It was reminiscent for them of one of their 3rd-grade read-alouds, The Chronologer's Quest, an account of the dating of the geologic age of the earth, in part from the fossil record.  They also went to several college chapels: St. John's, Peterhouse, and Pembroke (the first building designed by Christopher Wren, one of N.'s heroes).  And they walked through the streets, byways, and greens of this lovely little city.

The second day, Tim and N. went to the Fitzwilliam Museum, an organ concert at St. John's College chapel, and the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute, as well as a short visit to Heffer's, an excellent bookstore, and more walks about town.  In the evening we hung out on Jesus Green for a while; N. read a new Tintin book and I knitted.  We enjoyed being part of a large group of people picnicking and playing in the beautiful summer evening.

The third day, while I went on a conference outing to King's Lynn, the city of Frances Burney's nativity, Tim and N. went the short distance by train to Ely to revisit the lovely Ely Cathedral, one of N.'s favorites from our previous trip to England.  They were both so glad to have an opportunity to visit this wonderful place again, "the ship of the fens."