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Visiting the most recognized icon of France. Suck it up (i.e., the culture), kids!

Can you imagine growing up in France and going to school for a full (8 hour) day four times a week since you were three or so, and be rewarded with two-week vacation breaks every two months?! I wouldn’t be clapping my hands in glee in Toronto (compared to Paris) as it is hard to get around in a timely manner by public transit, PLUS, anything cultural costs you a mint most of the time. In fact, I’d be regularly whining, what can I do with my kids for two whole weeks?!” In PARIS, these problems are minimal (well, I’ll complain/compare the transit system in another post), especially if you are a child, because the country wants to educate French children about its history and culture very early in life. So most museums are free for kids, places are easily accessible by public transit, and there are plenty of programs aimed at children to enrich their learning experiences. (Insert here sound of clapping of hands in glee.)

Aside: This is probably why parents with kiddos in strollers are allowed priority into cultural places, to start the process of cultural education early without hindrance. This is also why I’ve observed sooo many kids as old as 4 years, still using pacifiers!! (Clarisse has even observed its use with some kids at her school.) These are the magic tools of calming a child when s/he has a meltdown while walking to school, or keeping a child quiet when in a museum or at a restaurant. During my early years of child-rearing in Canada, many parenting books discouraged the use of binkies unless your baby was colicky. Soothers were a “crutch” that would be a hard habit to break from the child, plus, all the disadvantages of crooked teeth, nipple confusion and ear infections. SO imagine my shock at the omnipresence of these plugs in the mouths of French babes and children alike! I’m guessing this is part of training les enfants to be quiet and calm in public. Now, I wonder how the French mums carry out the weaning process??!

Exhibition of the celebrated French photographer: Robert Doisneau (1912-94)

But I digress. In the first week of les vacances d’hiver (=winter vacation) for my kids, I set out on going to a free exhibition of Robert Doisneau‘s photographic works at l’Hotel de Ville (=Paris’ City Hall). The first attempt was foiled as the wait in the serpentine queue looked longer than the time it took to finish off the sucettes (=lollipops) that I would use to bribe my children to stand with me.

“I Spy, with my little eye…” This is how we killed 50 minutes of waiting in line. We received occasional glares from the couple in front of us because of Clarisse’s “loud energy.”

The second attempt was successful — if you consider standing in line for 50 minutes to run through an exhibition of 200 photographs in 10 minutes. And, for some reason, the stroller advantage did not work when I was told by a passing French couple to go to the head of the line because of my kids in tow. So I did. No dice from the security man. It didn’t help that there were a bunch of kindergarten-aged kids who had to do the same wait before us. It seems no one informed the guard about early cultural education…So I returned back into line with my children where I left it and pretended I never left the line because that’s what the French do here. They casually wander into the queue (read ‘bud in’) and pay no attention to you unless you say something, which most French people don’t. If you can’t beat’em…

Les Halles, deconstructed for its move away from ‘The Belly of Paris’ (=Au Ventre de Paris as coined by Emile Zola). A very sad event for many Parisians.

This exhibition focused on Les Halles in the 20th century, and its transformation from the main outdoor market in Paris (since the Middle Ages!) to a shopping mall in the 1970s. The central market of Paris was moved to the suburb of Rungis and remains there today. It is a great account of modern Parisian history through photojournalism.

These young children had NO interest in the exhibition whatsoever but were lectured to look at the photos and behave. They endured just over 20 minutes of cultural education.

I admire the French for their ambitious attitude of treating children as young adults and exposing them to culture at an early age. But I question whether black and white photographs of 1960’s food sellers were a good choice for this age group, even if they are by Doisneau. Most of the kids were just spinning themselves along the walls, or checking out Clarisse’s princess snack bag and were just plain bored. But they knew how to be quiet and not protest. No evil glares coming their way. [So what was I thinking, bringing my kids to the same event?! Well, being the selfish mum that I am, I explained that this was “my turn” to see/do something in our family group and thought perhaps my interest would spark their interests in viewing slice-of-life photographs. Hmm, maybe I should work for The State.] Realistically, if it were an exhibition of Doisneau‘s works of his celebrated photos of kids around Parisian landmarks, or even The Kiss in front of l’Hotel de Ville, my kids may have shown more interest. And if the guard had let us in immediately instead of making us wait for almost an hour…well, there goes my attempt at cultural education for my offspring.

On a wonderful sidenote, my son’s last school sortie (=outing) was to the local boulangerie where the class learned about the role of a breadmaker and his/her importance to the community. Then every student was allowed to roll his/her own baguette dough, bake it in a huge oven and take the finished product home! Holy smokes, now that’s what I call learning about French culture! It’s all about the food…

“Mange”-ing on his Willam-made baguette in our tiny elevator on our way home.

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