A different side of Paris
A few days in Paris is all we needed to bring us out of our stupor from the quiet, peaceful state that Ireland put us in. The bustling city of gypsies, lovers, and tourists filled the winter air with a sense of unnecessary urgency - to what, we did not know. An ascent up the Eiffel Tower by foot got the blood pumping in our bodies again helping us keep warm; the temperature would drop lower and lower as we climbed higher and higher. With a bit of mulled wine (and some extra gloves), we were able to enjoy the windy views from the second level of the spire. We found a set of locks linked to one of the chain fences bordering the overlook (apparently, this trend of conspicuously hanging locks around Paris is the thing to do, leaving behind your mark in this city where hundreds of thousands come to find what love really means...or something along those lines). Here, two locks were left by an Australian couple (Friends? Lovers? Acquaintances?) for the rest of the tourists to discover. The main reason for this trip to Paris was to attend our friends' wedding - a true, Parisian, secular wedding that was beautiful and concise, exactly what you would imagine a civil marriage entails. A ten minute ceremony in the local town hall (a regal room covered in 18th century frescoes and plush, blood-red seated benches) followed by a traditional rice-throwing exit for the newly named bride and groom (congratulations, Adam & Pascaline!), with then a migration to the red-light district of Paris for an evening of duck products galore, wine, and the Parisian sweet delicacy, macaroons! With an intermission of almost two hours in between the ceremony and the reception, a few of us decided to drink some local (inexpensive yet delicious) French wines at a nearby cafe. Just our luck, we witnessed a dog who entered the bar and decided to order a libation for himself (it turned out to be a piece of French prosciutto) but still, only in Paris would a handsome dog have a spot at the bar waiting for him - he must be a regular.
The wedding was joyous and scrumptious with tastings of foie gras, "champagne soup" and a version of Shepherd's Pie (with duck and sweet potato). There were French sing-alongs later followed by a dance party until 4am, with music of American blues to French disco to Italian Fascist anthems (still popular only because their true meaning has been diluted over the years...thank goodness!).
A wedding in Paris - the quintessential love-fest in the most romantic city in the world. To continue this journey of nostalgia and romanticism, we visited the Museé des Arts Forains, a courtyard and cluster of warehouse buildings transformed to house a museum filled with memorabilia and artifacts from the times of the carnivals, dating back almost 200 years. Carousels, carnival games, funhouse mirrors and more were all on display waiting for us to touch and bring back to life that afternoon. It was like stepping back in time, rides and games all made of wood and tin, nothing plastic and nothing synthetic. These were real, the true engineering feats of their own time, looking as though they would come to life on their own, whether we were their to witness the resurrection or not. It truly was a magical place.
We rode an original carousel that is powered by those who ride it (the seats are metal bicycles connected to a track that are pedaled by the rider - at the time it was built, this machine ran faster than the most advanced automobile). You can see me whizzing by a few times with music playing from the Hooghuys Organ along with shots from the Venetian Room. Some of this may seem a little familiar (the famous carousel party scene from Woody Allen's current film Midnight in Paris was shot at the museum).
We moved from one room to the next, trying out more rides, attempting to win the imaginary prizes from the carnival games, and popping our heads in a few decorated holes...I began to realize that in their heyday, these objects that were now in a museum would travel the dirt roads to entertain the masses and bring joy to children and adults alike. It was a great feeling to be able to experience this part of pop cultural history first hand. Merci beaucoup, Paris!