Friday, November 09, 2007

The Natural History Museum: Larger than Life

Larger than life seems to be an American expression-- things in France are much more understated and, in theory, more refined. The one place this seems to dissolve is in the Natural History Museum (Grande Galerie de l'Evolution). Located on the left bank, inside the walls of the Jardin des Plantes, this newly-renovated museum is awe-inspiring as soon as you walk in the door. This ode to taxidermy presents elephants, giraffes, butterflies and whales among other species, in a style that allows you to get as up close & personal with a lion as you would ever want. The African animals, for example, are put together in a scene mimicking an African valley. There are videos along the sides to show you actual footage of the area, complete with moving grass and elephants.

video

Whether your group includes a 9 month old or a 9 year old, this museum is a great stop-- and, ironically perhaps, something you don't see often in the U.S. Sometimes even the French are larger than life.

Overall rating: ****


Grande Galerie d'Evolution in the Jardin des Plantes
Address: 36, rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire, 5th arrondisement
Metro: Jussieu or Austerlitz
Website: www.mnhn.fr
Map:

Agrandir le plan

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Going Home



American writer Gertrude Stein once said, "America is my country, but Paris is my home town." Having lived there twice and been a tourist several times in between, I couldn't agree more. It's one of the cities that captures your heart in a very real and personal way.

While I tend to be somewhat opinionated, and perhaps outspoken at times, I try to make a point of expressing myself without attempting to convince others I am right. For the most part, I'm not certain I am right. My conclusions about global warming, the economy, abortion and other hot topics are based on the information I've gotten from others to this point and are thoroughly intertwined with my principles, values and beliefs. Just because it all fits together for me in a certain way doesn't mean it will for someone else. My experiences in Paris, however, were ascertained first hand and, although my feelings on the subject are very emotional, I somehow feel qualified to convince others of the city's beauty and stature.

Given my wonderful experiences in Paris, it always perplexes me when I hear someone speaking negatively about their time there, and almost feel insulted, as if they were speaking of a dear friend. I've found a number of reasons people don't understand the city, but most of it revolves around Americans trying to "check off" experiencing Paris on a laundry list of things to do. I, personally, don't believe that you can really experience anything on a timeline for the simple reason that the timeline itself distracts you from the experience.

I was at a restaurant the other night and, in the same manner that you can hear someone saying your name even if you aren't listening, I happened to hear the people behind me talking about their recent time in Paris. Much to my relief (and enjoyment), they talked about how much they loved the city. They hadn't really intended to spend time there, so they went with no timeline, nothing to "check off" and had a simply marvelous time. They sat in cafes, sipped wine, walked along the Seine and made their way into the Louvre. In my (not-so) humble opinion, they experienced Paris in a weekend far more than the tourists who arrive, lists in hand, ready to conquer the city in one week.

The beauty of Gertrude Stein's quote is that it is really a telling statement on how Paris should be explored. When I return to my hometown, I sometimes arrive, list in hand, ready to conquer it. I see the people I want to see, do the things I want to do, and return to real life tired, having missed the experience all together. Other times, I go home and let life happen. I may not see all the people I want to see and I may not do all the things I want to do, but I return feeling like I walked down Main Street. The difference is subtle, but it's very real. I hope I can go home again soon.