Beyond Rye: Paris with Children
Many moons ago we took one of our sons to Paris for Thanksgiving. Let them eat turkey back home!
By Robin Jovanovich
Many moons ago we took one of our sons to Paris for Thanksgiving. Let them eat turkey back home! As Pilgrims in Paris we were never cold or hungry.
This Thanksgiving, we decided to take both boys. We no longer have to harness them or help them tie their shoes; they have wives now. The only parental oversight at this point is the occasional table manners tip.
With six of us piled into a petit appartement on the Left Bank off Boulevard Saint-Germain (whose saving grace was it had three bathrooms), we rarely lingered in the combined kitchen/dining/living area. Our older son and his wife are the tallest couple, but they drew the loft bedroom (which looked much more spacious online). The steps up to the sleeping part were a set of detached wooden cubes, and required a certain athletic agility which No. 1 son has in spades. Once in, it was no easy task to get out. (“It’s perfect for you newlyweds,” I offered brightly.)
I wasn’t worried about our itinerary as my husband typically plans the travel routes and opines on any number of subjects along the way — Medieval history, the Affordable Care Act, Joe Biden’s new look. But with six strong-minded adults, everyone had already mapped out the places they wanted to see, so we quickly arrived at The First Family Compromise. And after a few days, we arrived at an even better plan — go your own way kids. See you for dinner — or not, unless you’re out of euros.
Your first trip to Paris will always be the best because you’re smitten. It’s parks, churches, and ponts are even more beautiful than you’d imagined. I’ll always remember that Paris was where my father bought me my first pair of heels — black patent and très cher — when I was 12 and accompanying him on his fourth honeymoon (for the first part anyway).
There was no Champs-Élysées shopping on this trip nor any Hemingway bar crawls. And rather than hit Paris’ top ten, we wended our way to many places we hadn’t been before — notably Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée National du Moyen Âge (Cluny), Musée Marmottan Monet, and Fontainebleu.
What possessed us non-NRA members to enter a hunting museum? The nearby Picasso Museum was closed for renovations. The collection of 16th-19th century weapons and animal trophies, along with paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt, was pretty amazing, and it was housed in a 17th century mansion.
We made so many trips to le Marais — once just for dinner because a friend’s parents recommended two hotspots they’d been the week before — that we were overmarianted at the end of seven days.
If you want to see Paris through the eyes of wealthy 19th century collectors of 18th century art, objets, and furniture, make a point of visiting Musée Cognacq-Jay. The Fragonards are only part of the appeal.
For an intimate look into the life and work of Eugène Delacroix, leader of the French Romantic School, visit the elegant museum fashioned from his last home and studio. The charming garden, which the artist created, has been maintained in keeping with his vision. It’s close to Saint-Sulpice, where Delacroix received a commission to decorate the Chapelle des Saints-Anges.
It’s hard to imagine a trip to Paris without a Monet sighting, and we saw our share. At L’Orangerie, in addition to a great collection of 1870-1930 paintings by Derain, Picasso, Matisse, and van Gogh, there are the water lilies. At Musée Marmottan Monet, there are works donated by Monet’s son, Michel, which include a fine selection of Renoirs and Gaugins.
Three of us rose early one morning to take the train to Fontainebleu, which is just as royal as Versailles and much less gaudy. Kings from Francis I to Napoleon remade it for their particular taste over the centuries, and luckily they had classical taste. The English gardens are poetic.
No matter how far we traveled on a given day, we always found enough energy to stroll the city at night. In fact, next time we’re only going back to the Louvre at night. On the group’s way back to the apartment late one afternoon I told the others they could take a taxi. I stayed and lingered until the lights came on at the Eiffel Tower.
One night, we heard a fine pianist, Jean-Christophe Millot, play a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin waltz, and one of his own recordings in Eglise Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre, the oldest sanctuary in Paris. Very little of the original church remains, but its history is fascinating.
On our last day, we walked to the Cluny, where we stepped back into a self-contained medieval world of tapestries, stained glass, and carvings. The experience almost made us believe in unicorns.
We didn’t make it inside Hotel de Villes, the magnificent town hall, because you needed to book a tour, and the weather was so dreary that we decided to see Père Lachaise Cemetery on our next visit, which we hope will be in springtime, and there’s still Château de Malmaison, not only the home of Napoleon and Josephine but the headquarters of the French government from 1800 to 1802.
But we traveled to Paris with the kids, and we’ll always have that.