Le Musée des Art Forains
Of the 30-plus locations used in the film "Midnight in Paris," there was one I didn't recognize, a part of Paris I had never seen. Do you remember in the film when Gil goes to the 1920s party and meets Adrianna in a room with a carousel? The whole idea was so enchanting, but where could it be? Going online, I discovered Le Musee des Arts Forains, the Museum of Fairground Arts. Quickly, I added it to a list of places to visit the next time I saw Paris.
That day arrived in June. Planning ahead, knowing that gaining entrance to the museum is highly restricted, I called the concierge at the hotel where we would be staying, and he managed to get us folded into a group of fourteen that would be meeting at eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning. That day we took a taxi early morning to discover the joys of driving the streets of Paris, from the first to the twelfth arrondissement, the roads blissfully free of traffic.
Even the taxi driver, a woman who had never been to Le Musée des Art Forains, was enjoying herself immensely, chatting up quite a storm, all the while assuming I understood far more French than I do. Probably because I kept asking: Madame, qu'est-ce que c'est là-bas?
The museum is housed within Les Pavillons de Bercy. Bercy was originally a village on the outskirts of Paris, an area where artifacts—pirogues and bows—show it has been inhabited for 6,500 years.
And the pavilions, once an extensive collection of wine cellars, are now home to the Museum of Fairground Arts—the largest private collection of games, artifacts and carousels that had been used on the fairgrounds throughout Europe. 'Accueil' read the sign, and what a delightful welcome it was. We had no idea so many amazing sights awaited us.
Once inside, we discovered, among other things, a carousel equipped with old-time bicycles requiring a measure of pedal-power to make it go around. So, all fourteen of us—young and old, male and female, nearly all French-speaking—hopped on board and pedaled away,. Had ourselves a whale of a time.
Then there was the steeplechase game where you had to toss a ball into a hole to earn a certain number of points. The more points earned, the faster your horse moved across the field. My companion, an aficionado of horse-racing and the biggest kid of all, won the prize.
There was so much to see, so much to learn, bit you can only see a small portion of the collection at any one time, as the collection rotates.
But that day, among other things, we would learn how to distinguish a German from a French wooden carousel horse. It's simple. If the horse has a wooden tail it's French; if it has a real ponytail, it's German. Also, French horses have straight ears, whereas German horses have ears aiming forward. Can you make out the horse to the left? Is it French or German?
Trivia, I know, but fun facts can whet the appetite and stir the synapses. That day, everyone had a most wonderful time with plenty of high spirits to spare. When one young man overheard my companion (on the white horse) talking to the guide, he asked where we lived, only to find that we were neighbors, living four blocks apart in Manhattan. As goes that old saw: It's a small world. By the way, the boy and his brother were accompanied by a French nanny who was working on her doctoral degree, the parents sleeping late back at the hotel.
When all was said and done, we were most grateful to the owner, Monsieur Favand, for having opened this one-of-a-kind museum to the public. It's a treasure, worth the trip out to the twelfth. So, give yourself a treat and do what we did: Go!
And that's all for this week mes amis. Hope to see you back next week, when I'll have the coffee ready, the croissants browning in the oven.