Musee des Arts Forains

Saturday morning we again went the two blocks to rue Daguerre to do some shopping. The popular butcher had lamb on sale, we got a cut we don’t see in the states, bone-in chops cut from the leg. Also got apricots, more of the delicious strawberries and salad greens, and a chevre. And a sweet for dessert.

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The Musee des Arts Fourains in Bercy is a place I’ve wanted to get to for a long time. An enormous collection of elements from 19th century carnivals and fairgrounds was arranged in several of the former wine storehouses in Bercy, in the east end of the Right Bank. There are visits twice weekly, and you need to book.

We’d never been to Bercy, it is now several rows of renovated wine storehouses that have been turned into shops and cafes.  On the Saturday we were there, the area was lively with French-speaking families.

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The Museum has you go with a tour which leads you from room to room. On this day, there were enough people so the group was broken into two, one with a guide who also did a bit of English commentary (tours are in French). Carnivals were immensely popular in France, attracting crowds to the lavish displays novel attractions. Many people first saw electric lights at carnivals.

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Besides the fantastic carousels, enormous displays for games and attractions, a room full of the Cabinet of Curiosities, there is lots to look at under the theatrical lighting. And in the ballroom, where early 20th century mechanized instruments play and waxwork dolls of 19th century characters took down, you can waltz! (sorry, no video of us dancing!)

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There are two old carnival games you can play, one based on the Siena Palio with racing horses players can make run by aiming balls into targets; the other based on the Garcons de Cafe race which used to take place in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.

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The Venetian Rooms contained everything from a gondola carousel we got to ride, to a room where puppet figures appear to sing opera, to a modern multi-media show utilizing many of the old elements to create a Venetian Carnivale. I couldn’t decide if this was more cheezy or dramatic, but it certainly is fun.

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One highlight is the bicycle carousel built in 1897. You pedal the bikes to make it move–and man, it goes fast! The guide said that when they had a group of firemen in, they made it go 60 km an hour. I could not believe they let people ride this thing, it was terrifying to watch. (I did a video on solid ground, yes I am a wimp. Larry pedaled)

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By the time our visit ended, the cloudy morning had turned into a rainy afternoon. We ate a decent lunch at one of the cafes and then went our soggy way home. Later that afternoon we heard that a birthday party taking place in Park Monceau (to the north) had been struck by lightning, resulting in 9 children being injured. Awful.

I made the lamb for dinner with a wine-shallot sauce (very proud of myself for reading a recipe in French), roasted potatoes and Larry made salad.

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One thought on “Musee des Arts Forains

  1. What a fun post! I feel as though I went on the “tour” with you. Thank you for a little trip to France to begin my day here in California.

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