It’s been 15 years almost to the day since I was last in Paris, undoubtably my favorite city in the world. I can’t say if it is the beauty of the Haussmann designed neighborhoods, the variety of world-class and intimate museums, the incredible shopping, in particular the antiques, or simply the butter and the croissants. It just doesn’t matter. Even when gray and rainy, life is beautiful in Paris. While my husband had long been in agreement with me, my girls had only fantasized about Paris and I was looking forward to sharing it with them. I wanted to be sure to do Paris right, because it can be done wrong – endless lines, endless tramping through museums coupled with bad cafe food. The key to doing Paris well with kids (and by default other cities too) is to break things down into small pieces, small tastes and acknowledge that only what is directly interesting in that moment needs to be experienced. Find the sublime, because it is out there.
Obviously museums are the baguette and butter of a trip to Paris. Some of the greatest hits should not be missed including Monet’s masterpiece Les Nymphéas at Musee de l’Orangerie, Winged Victory at the Louvre, and for my girls, Degas’ Blue Dancers at the Musée d’Orsay. But we arrived at l’Orangerie at opening to view the space empty and only went to the Louvre during the relatively uncrowded evening hours – it is open until 9:45 Wednesday and Friday – which made all the difference. Beyond the biggies are some magical places – the Musée Rodin Museum, Le Petit Palais, The Musée Jacquemart-André to name a few – but those are the ones that appeal to me. There are endless choices, but but be sure to pick only a few.
Ironically enough, at the moment I was uploading what I though was a very funny selfie of us crammed in at the Mona Lisa (with the actually much more interesting The Wedding Feast at Cana directly behind us), The New York Times was publishing its own version of the photo as a companion to their article “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum” which makes a strong case for doing just what we did.
My small but very exciting moment was seeing Jaques-Louis David’s unfinished portrait of Madame Récamier (although I was probably supposed to be looking at the gargantuan The Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame across the room). You all know I am a sucker for a daybed of any type, but I’ve never been lucky enough to have one named for me. And in one of those moments of synchronicity that could only happen at the Louvre (or perhaps the Met), we stumbled across her actual chaise made by Jacob Frères.
As the ballet obsession continues unabated in our house, a trip to the Palais Garnier was called for. Alas, there were no performances to be had during our visit, but the tour of the opulent and over the top Beaux-Arts theater did not disappoint. To make the space more digestible we focussed on the ornate ceilings.
Autumn had not quite yet come to Paris, but after a couple of months in the desert we were bewitched by the green and eager to be outside. We did a bike tour, a boat ride and played HintHunt, which has nothing at all to do with Paris, but trust me, if you are traveling with bigger kids its is one of the most enjoyable hours they will have.
We had numerous memorable meals and one particularly magical night at Chez Julien just over the Ile St. Louis bridge on the right bank. My husband and I had eaten there 20 years ago and never forgot the prettiest Belle Époque interior. There happened to be a small wedding party – just 4 people – there that night and the candlelight and mirrors combined with her dress and headpiece made us feel as if we were in a Degas painting.
Where’s the shopping, you may be asking yourself? I did, of course, mention antiques. But that needs a Paris puces post of it own, later this week.
On another note, I forgot to announce the winner of Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print, although I did notify the winners in Singapore and Israel. One of the most enjoyable things about the giveaway was seeing the truly global span of my readership.