Thursday, April 13, 2006

Paris Parks - The Love Affair Begins Here

In the spirit of the Kate/Eloise project, we spent most of our time last week in the parks of Paris and had a perfectly wonderful time. Both of us.

Like all parents, I made most of my mistakes with the older children. Back when my sons where small, I would never have agreed to “going all the way to Paris to lounge around in parks all day when we have perfectly nice grass and trees at home. We’re here to see and do something different.”

For the record, boys, I’m truly sorry, because I’ve now changed my approach to Paris parks. In fact, a key learning from the Kate/Eloise project is that Paris parks are the most instructive places for introducing children to the many pleasures and possibilities of the City of Light. For parents, Paris parks are living museums of French culture. For children, they are pure unadulterated fun. I’m sure now that the most effective way to begin a lifelong love affair with Paris is to have spent time as a child in a Paris park.

Take, for example, the Luxembourg Gardens which has succeeded in seducing both my husband as a child and my daughter. In this gorgeous setting, Eloise can:

Go to the marionette theatre and shriek, clap and boo the bad guys just like a native
Meet and interact with natives in the huge playground
Beat her previous record on the merry-go-round with the rings
Sail a boat in front of the palace built by a homesick Marie de Medici surrounded by statues of the Queens of France
Ride a donkey
Eat something bad for her or worthwhile – both choices are available
Visit the beehives and the orchards
Find the bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty
Use a clean, nice bathroom (it’s nice because there is a small charge)

While Eloise is having the time of her life, I can:

Enjoy the fact that she is hearing and speaking some French and meeting French children
Be happy that she is getting plenty of exercise
Introduce some feminist history via the Queens of France
Talk about how the Statue of Liberty got into the Luxembourg and some of the history of Franco-American relations (It wasn’t always strained)
Watch the best mother and child fashion show in town (after all this is the Left Bank)
Get a decent cup of coffee
Read a good book
Use a clean, nice bathroom

The culture and history lesson can continue by taking lunch at one of the historic and traditional bistros in the area, either at Aux Charpentiers or our new favourite, the Cremerie Restaurant Polidor, a French restaurant still frequented by students and artists and once favoured by Andre Gide, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac. The straightforward food, bustling atmosphere and excellent prices make Polidor a great choice when dining with children. Lunch should run you about €20 per person. Be sure and bring cash as credit cards are not accepted.

It should be said that while I revelled in the historic atmosphere, imaging where Joyce or Hemingway would have sat and what they would have ordered, Eloise, of course, took no notice of it.

What she found memorable and quite shocking about Polidor was the plumbing, which probably hasn’t changed much since the restaurant’s inception in 1848. Upon her return from visiting the toilet, she regaled us, and the neighbouring tables, with news of her cultural adventures. And yes, when you look at it from a certain angle, even the plumbing at Polidor is an important part of the living history of Paris.

Cremerie Restaurant Polidor
41 rue Monsieur-le-Prince 6e
Tel: 0143-26-95-34
No credit cards

Aux Charpentiers
10 rue Mabillon 5e
Tel: 01-43-26-30-05

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