Nos Environs

Beyond adventures in gardens and errands in our immediate neighborhood, Daphne, Jack, and I have conducted a few “fieldtrips” to see some Parisian sites.  It truly has been amazing for the kids to see so many exquisite buildings in one place, one right after another. Michael was with us when we passed l’Opera while en route to Galerie Lafayette for assorted home supplies.  All its exterior details and gold leaf painting were extraordinary, and Daphne insisted that we go inside.  All of the marble, the sculptures, the gold leaf, the mirrors, the heights–all made a terrific impression on Jack and Daphne.  Then they got to see the theatre from inside a box seat, marveling at both the Chagall painting on the ceiling and at their good fortune at getting to see some productions staff setting up for what looked like a rehearsal of a play.. “A-ma-zing,” said Jack who wouldn’t leave his box seat and asked when he was going to get to see a performance there.

A glorious Museum of Natural History is only one block from our house.  We definitely recommend the permanent exhibit on different eras of life on earth and sea, located on four floors in what I think is an Art Deco building with beautiful lighting and details.  Right now, they also have an amazing temporary exhibit on whales, with interactive screens teaching kids about how they breathe, swim, and eat.  We’ve learned that we can become members there and get in for free; since Jack has been wanting to be a “member of something” (Claremont-envy) and since it’s so close to the apartment, we’ll probably sign up.  Jack and Daphne marveled at the “progressive” vision of human development on the top floors, charting developments from modest tools to “great inventions.”  Jack went through each one saying, “not very modern, not very modern, a little more modern, a little more modern, modern, very modern, now that is what we see every day.” Jack wants me to post that he knew almost everything. That night, as I put Jack to bed, he said, “Mommy, what exactly does ‘modern’ mean?  Does it mean better, more complicated, or does it just mean that it came after things in the past.”

We decided to visit the inside of Notre Dame another afternoon.  The kids could not quite believe how short a walk it was.  Once inside, I found myself suddenly fielding a variety of questions that I should have anticipated–who is Jesus?  why did he have to go on that cross? what is Catholic?  can you be Jewish and Catholic at the same time?  what is a saint?  Every answer ended up producing more questions.  If Catholics believe Jesus is the son of God, why did you say Joseph is Jesus’s father?  How old was Jesus when he died? How old was Mary when she died?  Why did Paul fall off of his horse?  In which war did Saint Joan die?  Daphne was most enthralled with the imagery, the sculptures, and the amazing stained glass windows.  Since arriving in Paris, Daphne has also become increasingly interested in the age of everything, unused to being around things that are so old.  At Notre Dame, she kept asking about the sculptures, “Is he dead?  Is she dead?  When did she die?”  (Lately, she has been asking about every building: “How old is this building?  How old is that building?  Now, she is also asking: “How old is this cheese?  How old is that cheese?”)

It was fun to see how interested the kids are in all of the religious stories, at least for their cultural literacy whether or not they decide to believe them.  I did not tell them that Jesus’s hands and feet were pierced in order for him to hang on the cross, and they seemed not to notice.  Jack was concerned, however, that he might have gotten some splinters.  Toward the end of our tour through Notre Dame, we encountered some friezes that told the early history of Jesus.  I tried to pass by one of them, depicting babies being killed, as quickly as possible, but the kids saw it and would not leave until I told them what was happening.  Using what I now realized was poor judgement, I told them about Herod hearing about the birth of Jesus and wanting new babies to be killed so that he could preserve his rule, and pointed out how Jesus, Mary, and Jesus were successfully escaping.  That last point was little comfort.  Daphne was sobered, but Jack was completely beside himself and began to cry. We had to beat a hasty retreat.  As we sat outside trying to process, I said something about the fact that good things have been done in the name of religion but that a number of bad things have been done, too.  I also told him about how sad and upset I had been when I first heard the Herod story when I was child in Catholic school.  Jack said, “Mommy, I knew that some bad things had happened for religion, but I never thought it would be that bad.  Actually, I think that they should have a rule that kids can only see certain parts of Notre Dame, and that some sections should be for grown-ups only.”

Another day of Camp Maman was spent at yet another glorious museum, Musée des Arts et Metier where children and (apparently) scholars all get in for free.  It was a very, very detailed presentation of crafts and inventions divided into different categories: Measurements (for heat, volume, mass), Communications, Materials, Construction, Mechanics, Transportation and more.  This is a museum that one could go to many times during the course of a kid’s life;  Jack and Daphne had their own responses to everything, but also watched a group of teenagers who were visiting at the same time and learning about physics or electricity in more detail.

Over the weekend, Michael initiated one of a few “walks” that was recommended to us by a child’s guide to Paris.  We turned left out of our apartment rather than right for the first time and found ourselves at the Seine at the beginning of a long outdoor sculpture garden.  The kids commented on most of the sculptures and lingered for a while at the playground; from there, we stopped at Shakespeare and Company where they were both pleased to find that the bookkeepers spoke English to tell them where to find the children’s section.  The two of them sat next to each other on sweet little chairs, reading from a stack of books as they tried to decide which ones to take home.  Another visitor to the store suddenly took a picture of them, apologizing but saying that they were “just so cute.”  When of course Mom and Dad tried to take a picture, they protested.

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