Visits to Paris can inspire many things. For me the inspiration was to suck up the atmosphere, the centuries of creativity and a fair amount of restorative red wine. I was there for a few days to recharge my creative batteries before starting work on some new ranges of greeting cards.
I’m not much of a tourist and would usually prefer to wander around the city or sit in a cafe rather than climb the towers or castles. I didn’t visit The Louvre to join the millions who want a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. I couldn’t face the queues. I did instead visit a fascinating alternative collection that aims to provide plenty of fun and colour.
The Musee des Arts Forain, (the museum of fairground art), is a privately-owned collection that is open to the public, if you buy a ticket in advance. Once inside you will see amusement rides, organs, carousel horses and unusual objects dating from 1850 to 1950.
The highlights for me were the ‘Manege de Velocipedes’, a merry-go-round powered entirely by manual pedalling built in 1890, and still in full working order. It goes very fast and provides a comprehensive aerobic work-out. And a game where balls-put-in-holes make Parisian waiters race while holding a tray of wine and glasses.
There’s no stuffy atmosphere and you can ride most of the attractions and play the vintage games. The guided tour and commentary are in French but even though I understood only about a third of what was said it didn’t stop me having fun.
Another memorable trip was to ‘Les Catacombs’, which involves descending deep below ground level to sample a little of the estimated 170 miles of tunnels and caves that lay under the city. (They were essentially quarries that supplied a lot of the stone used to build Paris).
The most notorious section of the tour is ‘The Empire of the Dead’, a section of the tunnels lined with the bones of millions of former Parisians, transported here from overcrowded cemeteries in the 1700s.
There’s no individuality here, all the bones, stacked into large blocks that extend to the ceiling, are anonymous. Some are neatly stacked while others are arranged into patterns or shapes. Even deep beneath Paris there’s beauty and art of a type here.
This is certainly the capitol’s most macabre sight and not a trip for the frail or anyone with breathing or heart problems; there are a lot of steps, some tight spaces and a whole lot of dead people.
And as nothing says Paris like the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t resist taking a short film of the light show that currently decorates it for a few minutes at the top of each hour when the sun has set. Vive La France.