Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Little Joie de Vivre

I often wish I could bottle my children’s passion for living. When they are excited, every ounce of their bodies seems to shake with glee; when they are sad, you would think the whole world had crumbled at their feet. Perhaps as adults, we can’t get that excited because we simply can't get that depressed— we’re supposed to achieve some level of perspective, but the happy part doesn’t sound so bad.

In some ways, being a tourist is much like being a child; You see everything for the first time, find even the most mundane details interesting and dress for comfort, instead of style (at least to some degree).

I’ve lived in Paris twice now and been a “tourist” here many times in between, but having lived here first, I never really experienced the city as a tourist. I spent all my time trying to fit in— wanting to look, speak and act the role of a Parisian. I did it quite well, actually, but only recently did I realize I missed something.

So, in order to give real tourism a try, I bought a ticket and boarded the cheesy tourist boats that make their way up and down the Seine every day. I couldn’t think of anything more "touristy"- and they didn’t let me down.

As we made our way down the river (the guide giving his pathetically brief description of the world’s most treasured monuments), a funny thing started to happen. I noticed that after every description, the whole crowd started clicking their digital cameras. At first I scoffed at them. Wouldn’t it be so much better to buy a reprint of an image by a talented professional who wasn’t bobbing up and down the river as they clicked away? And then I realized that it wasn’t about having the best picture—or even a great picture. Instead, it was about being free to think everything was beautiful, new and interesting—and also about capturing the memory of that freedom. Shortly thereafter, I started clicking away. It felt very child-like. It felt good.

Now, whenever I see that look of excitement cross my children’s faces, I not only recognize it, but I understand it, too. In fact, I'm even a bit envious of it. Perhaps joie de vivre is a French thing or perhaps it is a gift of childhood; either way I truly hope I preserved a bit of it with the clicks of my camera. If not, perhaps a little red burgundy will inspire me.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Curiosity Killed the Afternoon

They say Curiosity Killed the Cat and, if so, I probably should have died a good half-dozen times by now. My deep curiosity seems to land me in some... precarious situations. It recently landed me in Paris' Museum of Curiosity and Magic. What could be more perfect?

The guidebook said it was great for kids- there was a show and lots to see. Given my quest to find the best activities for toddlers, it seemed ideal. Pulling bunnies out of hats and colorful scarves out of a sleeve would keep anyone captivated-- even a toddler!

Walking down into the museum, however, I was acutely aware that I was entering a cave and hoped desperately they weren't going to try me as an escape artist once I got inside. The museum itself was probably quite interesting in the 1980s when it opened, but would have more accurately been called a museum of the history of magic. There were many antique magic tricks encased in glass with French descriptions and a few that moved but, frankly, nothing my toddlers were so interested in seeing. On top of that, the show was more descriptive than "show" and was again, naturally, in French. I spent the afternoon in the magic museum rather similar to how I would spend it at the Louvre- chasing the kids, saying "don't touch," and trying to figure out why I had thought this was a good idea in the first place.

Re-emerging into the daylight, we made our way to a park and had a great time running, climbing and sliding. I quickly realized that curiosity should have killed this museum long ago. It certainly nearly killed our afternoon.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Stalking Cinderella

Having toddlers around means sometimes doing things you would never otherwise do. I occasionally swing on swings, read board books and I’ve been known to attend imaginary tea parties. I know the names of all the Thomas trains and can sing at least a dozen Laurie Berkner songs by heart. Having young children not only gives you the opportunity to do these things, it actually gives you license to relive a bit of your childhood. To that end, my husband and I recently found ourselves on the RER line headed towards Euro Disney. It wasn’t that we had always dreamed of going, nor that our children had been begging for it. It more seemed like one of those experiences that would bring out the child in each of us.

Arriving at the gates was fully reminiscent of the gates at Disney parks in the U.S. The magic of Disney seemed to emanate from each and every corner and I found myself becoming almost giddy as we made our way inside. We did all the toddler-friendly activities we could find— ate lunch at Buzz Lightyear’s Pizza Planet, toured “It’s a Small World,” met Tigger and Baloo and tried removing the sword from Excalibur’s stone. The thing that was really going to leave an impression on me, however, was meeting Cinderella— or, more to the point— almost not meeting Cinderella.

When we arrived in France, my 2-year-old daughter, Kate, had no interest in anything feminine. It remained that way until the day she happened to see the movie Cinderella— the music, the animals, the dresses, she was fascinated with it all. I went from having the perfect little tomboy to a pretty, pretty princess practically overnight— all due to the power of Cinderella.

The line to meet Cinderella was an hour long, which is a lifetime in toddler speak. I sat there weighing the drawback of spending an entire hour trying to keep Kate in line against the joy of making her dream come true. I didn’t want to be one of those moms who torture her children for a “fun experience” but I convinced myself this was different. I decided to go for it.

About half way through our wait, I noticed some activity up ahead and realized the princesses were trading out. Suddenly an hour waiting to meet Cinderella became an hour to meet Jasmine. In no time at all my Mickey Mouse ears came off and I became a calculating opportunist focused exclusively on making sure my daughter (who certainly won’t remember this watershed event) met Cinderella. I was one of those moms, after all. In fact, I probably bore a strong resemblance to some of the cheerleader moms that appear on the evening news, but I digress. With Kate under my arm and my camera in hand, I ran for it.

Thankfully there was a crowd gathering around Cinderella, so she wasn’t moving too quickly. I knew that getting in the midst of the crowd would get me nowhere fast, so I ran around the crowd and put myself directly in her path. She noticed us (how could she not?) and gave us a half smile while explaining that she could not stop. I snapped a couple pictures as we walked, but more importantly, Kate got to meet her.

In the end, Kate was thrilled to meet her, though it probably wasn’t worth the guerilla tactics used to get us there. As for me, well my Mickey Mouse ears are now firmly back in place and I can cross meeting Cinderella off my “to do” list. Perhaps I should just replace it with stalking her, though. At least that would be accurate.