Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
Bonjour! This follows on from Travels with children in Europe – Part 2 and relates to our trip to Europe for 2 months in 2012 when our children were 2 and 4. After a full week of exploring Paris we had a quiet day on the Thursday. After a slow start to the morning I went to Musee de L’Orangerie on my own!
Monet created the space specifically to display his gigantic Nymphees series of studies of light at different times of the day on his water-lily pond. In 2003 we visited his gardens and saw the lily pond and I’ve been a fan of Monet since my Mum took me to an exhibition of his work at the NSW art gallery when I was a child. I’ve been to see his works in a few galleries around the world and this was the first time that I got to see these big panels (last time we were in Paris the L’Orangerie was closed for renovations).
It’s a great exhibition space and the paintings are amazing. There were several school groups ranging from Parisian preschool/kindergarten through to an Italian high school group. The littlies were as loud as you’d expect but whereas I would have been annoyed by them in 2003, instead I admired their ability to access such amazing artwork and other treasures such as the Louvre holds, not to mention the castles etc. on offer in the greater Paris area. I also found it refreshing to find children being loud and not being shooshed. I’m unsure if it’s real or just perceived but we often felt in our time in Paris that our children were disturbing people. Few people spoke to us or smiled, instead being cocooned in a carapace of indifference. I’ve been giving this some thought and my husband suggested that it’s because they are coming out of winter but I think that there’s more to it than that. I have a few theories that perhaps you’ll allow me to share (I made these theories during the trip in 2012 and I’m sharing them here unfiltered by my 2016 self):
1) Paris is such an extremely popular city for tourists to visit that Parisians are saturated and don’t want to invest energy in interactions with tourists (which we obviously were considering that our son wore a hand-me-down England football team jacket the whole time). The buskers on the metro that were there in 2003 were still common and working the metro even at peak hour. Most commuters look fixedly at the floor while the buskers belt out music at very high volume for that time of the morning. It must be pretty hard to put up with crowded metros every day commuting to work without the regular flow of tourists taking up space with luggage and noisy children and then have the buskers, beggars, bag-snatchers etc. that are attracted to tourists, to contend with as well!
2) Paris has a high population density with very few green-spaces and a very built-up environment. I heard on ABC radio All in the Mind that some psychologists have found that people are happier and healthier (mentally and physically) when in regular contact with green space. Also, high population density leads to greater competition for resources…;
3) There’s an economic downturn and increasing poverty with high numbers of economic migrants in the city (Remember that these are observations from 2012). We saw beggars everywhere and lots of homeless people. When my daughter and I caught the train to Provins we chose our seats, settled in and then a homeless woman came and sat opposite us. While the doors were open we didn’t notice her odour but once the doors closed it became so nauseatingly stinky in the carriage that we had to move to another carriage. We later saw the same woman sitting in the heated waiting room at Provins station. I wish that there was more readily accessible showers, laundries and heated spaces for homeless people to safely spend time.
4) This theory is a bit more nebulous but in the discussion that I had with a German babysitter in a park in Mont Martre, she shared some thoughts with me, that most Parisian women return to work full-time shortly after their children are born and use nannies to raise their children (that finally explained to me why I would see so many dark-skinned women with 2-3 very pale-skinned children each in the playgrounds!). She also said Paris is not a child friendly place with little infrastructure, we noticed for example, the lack of playgrounds, the lack of escalators or elevators in most metro stations, and that the metro entry gates at a lot of the stations are impossible for a child to use and very difficult for an adult to use with a child. Also when my husband tried to take our 4 year old daughter to the men’s toilet at the Eiffel Tower (while our son slept on my lap) she was refused entry even though she was busting.
5) it might of course simply be a reserved culture!
On Friday we set off for another grand adventure, this time to see the Palace where the Princesses used to live (the Palace of Versailles). Our four-year old daughter asked repeatedly if she would get to see the princesses and didn’t seem too disappointed that none live there any more. She was 100% enthralled when I told her about the revolution and that the starving peasants had risen up and that many a beheading had occurred. She had detailed questions about what was done with the heads and bodies, why were they beheaded, what was used to do the beheading etc. She slept really well that night so I’m hoping that I didn’t do permanent damage by telling her that gruesome story! She was interested in hearing that Marie Antoinette lost her head for telling the peasants to eat cake (whether that’s historically accurate or not it makes for a popular story).
None of us had been to Versailles before so we were unprepared for the sheer enormity of the palace and the massive estates. The palace is still sumptuous to behold and my husband remarked that they must’ve been pretty vain to ornament the palace with statues and paintings of themselves in self-aggrandising poses and it’s no wonder that the people rose up. Our son really enjoyed gazing at the gorgeous paintings on the ceilings, especially those with children in them. It was extremely crowded in the palace with over 12 tour buses there and the first crowds we have encountered. It was claustrophobic being pressed like sardines from one room to another with no time to contemplate the paintings nor ability to move faster to get away from the warm press of bodies but the kids coped really well with it. I can’t imagine what it’s like there in peak tourist season and hot weather! It is the most amazing palace that I’ve ever been in. The fountains were not turned on and it must be like a fairytale to be there when they are on. Also the gardens must be spectacular later in Spring when covered in green foliage but still beautiful in the early Springtime and we had gorgeous, warm sunny weather.
Today we had a journey from our apartment in Paris via 2 metros, then a shuttle bus 1h15m to Beauvais airport for a Ryan Air flight to Bologna. We used Priority boarding and it was amazing to walk past the enormous queue and board fourth even though we were amongst the last to check in our bags (due to a lack of signposting to tell us that our flight was from a different terminal to where the bus dropped us off). I had pre-paid for tickets for the shuttle bus on-line and didn’t understand the French passage saying that it must be printed. We did try to print them but couldn’t get the printer to work at the apartment so we went with our trusty smart-phones but they wouldn’t let us use them and we had to buy more tickets (another 60 Euros). We used the Beauvais option because of the big saving compared to CDG airport in Paris but that stuff-up certainly brought the cost up! The flight was good and we caught a cab to our apartment in Bologna rather than catch 2 buses without luggage racks. There weren’t any child safety seats so we had to put the kids on the backseat with adult seatbelts and me using my arm as a flimsy safety barrier. Our landlady is sweet, many people smile and chat with us on the street and 2 shopkeepers have given our kids treats already, breadsticks from a patisserie and soft drink from a pizza shop (super cheap and yummy pizza at only 5.5 Euros each!). More from Bologna in the 4th instalment.