Hello Dear Readers! I hope you are all in the process of having a happy summer season. Our family just got back from a two week trip to France to see some extended family, which, in part, inspired this July| August Roam issue of Eat The Marshmallow! The subject of family vacations is rife with emotions, expectations, plans, adventures and mis-adventures. We all have a tale to tell. There is always a risk when plucking the family out of the usual routine and taking them on the road, so to speak. Avoiding this very action is what probably prompted the whole “staycation” movement… but I digress. Without risk, there is no reward, and this is what I want to focus on. How do you get to see and do things that you want to do and honor the attention spans, wants and needs of your children? Not an easy goal to meet.
During this trip, as we did with the last trip to we took to France, we decided that we were not going to introduce our daughter to the experience of waiting in really long lines to see cultural attractions she “should” see and focus more on making the trip fun and relaxing for everyone. Yes, I am taking advantage of the fact that we know we will be back to the country, and therefore be able to cross those “must-see” cultural attractions off the proverbial “list.” I am hoping though, that even if you, dear readers, are not in a position where you know you will be back to your vacation spot of choice, that you will still carve out some time to be benevolent to your children and yourselves and actually RELAX and have FUN while away from home, and if that means setting aside one or two recommended “must-do’s” then so be it.
In that spirit, we chose to go off the beaten path in Paris. Instead of going to the well-known museums and attractions, we decided to explore some lesser known, smaller museums and discovered some pretty great things that miraculously appealed to all members of the family! We were lucky, while browsing at a book store, we came across a free publication for Parisian parents called Paris Momes which also consequently just started publishing a quarterly guide in English called Paris with Kids. This handy dandy little guide has all sorts of suggestions for great family outings in and around the city. They had lovely walks planned out through gardens and nearby museums with stops at children’s bookstores, toyshops and local patisseries for when adults and children alike get a low blood sugar crash. Paris with Kids had kid-friendly indie movie recommendations, reviews of local shows and exhibits at small museums and galleries, and listings of kid-friendly theater performances– basically we hit the jackpot. Using Paris Momes and Paris with Kids, we plotted out our daily plans and got to have some awesome and novel experiences.
One day, we spent the bulk of our day in the 9th arrondissement, kicking off our day at a show called Hello, My Game Is in a very small museum near the Hotel de Ville called the musée en herbes. The show was a great compilation of 80s arcade games, pop culture, street mosaics. There were documents, reproductions, and original tile mosaics featuring versions of the 80s space invader characters that pepper many cities across the globe as street art. There were some wall-sized mosaics made of up rubik’s cubes configured to create portraits not unlike Chuck Close paintings. And the museum had sample games, so the kids of today could experience playing 80s 8-bit arcade games! Additionally, to keep the younger set engaged, the museum had little activities planned out with a “passport” for the kids. Once the kids completed the activities in the passport, a member of the museum staff checked their work and gave out prizes upon exiting.
After an ice-cream break, while still in the Marais (9th arr), we wandered into another small museum that turned out to be wonderfully weird and beautiful. The musée de chasses et nature (the Museum of Hunting and Nature- I know, I know, it sounds like it would be a snooze-fest, but it wasn’t– keep reading!), is a private museum opened by André Malraux in the Hôtel de Guénégaud (historic monument from the 17th century by François Mansart) was extended in 2007 into the neighbouring mansion, the Hôtel de Mongelas (18th century). The museum “exhibits” the relationship between humans and animals through the ages (from antiquity to the present day) through a mixture of ancient, modern and contemporary art. There are traditional salons, but taxidermied animals scattered throughout the room, some in subtle and unnerving places, like this little fox that is curled up on an antique, period-piece chair.
In one room, which has an incredible collection of ornately decorated weapons, there is a mounted head of a snarling white wild boar that is wired with a motion sensor. Upon entering the room, the snarling beast head starts to growl and “talk” to you. “Talking” is a bit of an exaggeration. It sounds more like a singer from a death metal band screaming into the mic, but you get the idea.
When it started to growl, I yelped, and then started uncontrollably hysterically laughing. This, I believe keeps the guards entertained in an otherwise desperately boring job (it is a much less visited museum after all). After my little jolt of adrenaline, the guard approached us, told us that the wild boar’s name was “Alexandre” and all you needed to do to calm it down was say, “Alexandre, be still.” Sure enough, you give the Albino Boar’s head a little talking to and he goes back to being just another well-behaved mounted head on a wall. The museum guard then showed us that some of the paintings around the museum had an interactive Augemented Reality component created by artists Julie Stephen Chheng and Thomas Pons. By downloading an app called Moving Cards on the spot (this took a little while, argh- 3G networks!), we could use our smart phones or tablets as a window into the animated world of Uramado, a little japanese Tanuki character (a raccoon dog that represents a traditional Japanese prankster god) that secretly interacts with some of the paintings and sculptures in the museum. This animated AR journey is a continuation of the artists’ research in Augmented Reality which began at the French Institute’s Villa Kujoyama artists’ residency in Digital Arts.
For those who do not speak french but want to get an idea of the AR experience with Uramado, the Tanuki:
For those who read or speak french:
This really brought the museum to life for our daughter. It combined some of her favorite activities into one experience, nosing around a new space, searching for clues, and SCREENTIME! It was really heartening to see the arts and technology fused in such an entertaining way, and outside of Silicon Valley, no less!
Another very cool space we discovered on this trip on a different day, thanks again to Paris Momes, was Centquatre, a public cultural center on the site of a former municipal parisian undertakers’ housing and work space at 104 (hence the name, which means “one hundred and four” in French) rue d’Aubervilliers, in the 19th arrondissement of the city. For over 120 years, the building housed the city’s morticians. Over 1,000 people worked in the building, organising 150 funeral processions per day! So it makes perfect sense that it would eventually be converted into a public art space for the city!
That said, the space is huge and gorgeous. During the day, the central halls serve as a practice space for performing artists. While we walked through, we saw dancers, jugglers, circus artists on Cyr wheels, all practicing for the evening’s performances. My daughter was riveted. We watched the performers practice sessions for a good long while before exploring the individual rooms that housed exhibitions with cinemagraph portraits (see .gif on the left), a vintage clothing store, a play space for the toddler set, sound installations by a Swiss artist named Zimoun, and of course, the ubiquitous café!
We then took a 15 minute walk over to an incredible park that is part of a complex called La Villette. La Villette is an exhibition space that has a wonderful children’s museum that is a part of a larger museum called La cite de sciences et d’industries, which is a great option if it is a rainy day and the kids need a place to run around and discover things (it is akin the the Exploratorium). Since the weather was nice and sunny the day we were there, we stayed in the park area and enjoyed the afternoon. Our daughter went bananas playing on an enormous slide shaped like a steam-punk-styled dragon that I found terrifying but all the children found super fun.
We had day after day like this in Paris. And even though we would be returning from our trip with literally NONE of the experiences people would ask us about (did we climb the Eiffel tower, go to the top of Notre Dame, go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa…? Answers: No, nope, no.) we had a blast as a family and we gave ourselves experiences and memories that will continue to egg us on to explore the lesser known in any given place.
So, in closing, this summer I double dog dare you to go a few places that take you out of your comfort zone. Get to know what the locals know! Have a walkabout. Roam!
Zimoun’s Sound Installations!
Have a safe and wonderful summer!