Transcript for Episode 467: The Enchanted World of the Musée des Arts Forains

Categories: Family Travel, Museums in Paris, Paris

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 467, quatre cent soixante sept.

[00:00:23] Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:39] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris.

[00:00:47] What a gem this museum is. Now, we’ve mentioned it a few times on the podcast on different trip reports, but we never went in depth about it. And I think you’re going to be surprised how cool of a place it is.

[00:01:01] And especially if you are going to be in Paris this year, between Christmas and New Year, then you must really get some tickets to visit the Musée des Arts Forains because they have a special event every year, they hire a bunch of performers and you can go and look at everything without a guided tour. It’s a big party !

Podcast supporters

[00:01:24] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, or take a day trip with me around the southwest of France in my electric car.

[00:01:41] You can browse all of that at my boutique

The Magazine Part of the Podcast

[00:01:47] Annie Sargent: For the magazine part of the podcast today, after my chat with Elyse, I’ll discuss a question the wonderful Jenny Wenham asked on the Facebook group for the podcast. She asked: ‘The piece of French life I’d most like to take home with me is….? And the responses were wonderful.

Annie and Elyse

[00:02:15] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, Elyse!

[00:02:16] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour, Annie.

[00:02:18] Annie Sargent: We have a fun recording today. We want to talk about the fairs in general in France, but also specifically about the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris, in the Bercy area.

[00:02:31] Elyse Rivin: In the 12th arrondissement.

[00:02:33] Annie Sargent: Right, which we’ve both been to, it’s a lovely place. But this time, we’re going to do the history first, so that you understand what you’re going to see in this museum, because it’s very different from all the other museums I’ve ever been to.

[00:02:47] Elyse Rivin: It’s a very different museum. It’s very, it’s a fun place to visit. It’s a great place to go en famille, with children.

[00:02:55] Annie Sargent: Kids love it, especially, I would say, perhaps kids over five would be best.

[00:03:01] Elyse Rivin: Probably, yeah.

[00:03:03] Annie Sargent: Under five, they might not get very much out of it.

[00:03:05] Elyse Rivin: No, I mean they would probably get bored because they can’t do the things anyway.

History of fairs in France

[00:03:09] Annie Sargent: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, so, do tell us about the history of fairs because quite a bit to that, isn’t there?

[00:03:17] Elyse Rivin: Yes there is. And, of course, it made me think this morning about the fact that, for instance, in the States, we have county fairs, right?

[00:03:25] Sure do, yeah.

[00:03:25] And I’ve been to a few, I haven’t been to zillions of them, when I was living in the West Coast, it was something that you did sometimes.

[00:03:32] Annie Sargent: It’s big, yeah.

[00:03:33] Elyse Rivin: And they are obviously the great, great, great, great, great grandchild of these fairs that actually started in the early Middle Ages in Western Europe. And specifically in France, and so the term, it’s interesting because foire, the word in French is ‘foire’, which translates into fair, but somehow it’s not quite the same thing, and it’s kind of interesting.

[00:04:00] So the foire began, interestingly enough, mostly in Northern France. And the most important ones at the very beginning, which was really in the 900s were in the Champagne area of all places, because that region, and I’m sure a lot of people can sort of imagine where it is in their minds, it was really a very interesting crossroads for merchants and producers of what any kind of goods coming from Germany, coming from the Netherlands, from Belgium, from the Northern parts of Europe.

[00:04:33] There were lots of trade routes that went through that area. And it was a very, very rich area, even way back then.

[00:04:41] Annie Sargent: Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s a good crossroads, I guess.

Le foire de Champagne

[00:04:44] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, and the counts of Champagne, Le Comte de Champagne,

[00:04:49] what they wanted to do because they were smarties, they were very rich, they were powerful, and I guess the idea of a fair really existed already, but it was on a smaller level because you can read about it in histories of medieval England and other places as well. And clearly what we’re talking about in the early part of the Middle Ages is a market.

[00:05:09] But very different from like, when we now talk about going to the market to get our vegetables, you know, every Sunday or Saturday or whatever. The markets were very special because they only were held several times a year.

[00:05:22] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:05:23] Elyse Rivin: And these were the craftspeople and the producers of goods, that would come from actually fairly big distances, to go to wherever there were one of these markets, because it was a huge meeting place for buying and selling and exchanging goods, exchanging ideas. And a lot of knowledge got passed around through these markets. And so the Counts of Champagne decided that they would create what they called an official fair, une foire, Le Foire de Champagne.

[00:05:55] Annie Sargent: Mm hmm.

[00:05:56] Elyse Rivin: And what they did was they guaranteed security. And of course it makes me laugh because that means that human nature has never changed, because the security meant that people could not get pickpocketed, people could not get ripped off and traders, people selling, could not cheat and people buying could not steal.

[00:06:16] So there was really, a very careful notion about that kind of security, you know, not just physical security.

[00:06:21] Annie Sargent: Set some rules.

[00:06:22] Elyse Rivin: Set some rules, exactly. And they would choose an open space, sometimes connected to a monastery or an abbey if it had a big open esplanade or a big space connected to it, but sometimes just in the middle of a field near a village. And they would designate that as the official space for these fairs, and they would, you had to get permission.

[00:06:43] It was a big deal and a big honor to be a vendor, to be someone who could come and sell your goods in one of these places. And they were held apparently either three or four times a year, depending on the Lord, depending on whatever. I’m not sure exactly how they made those decisions, but I was reading about the one in Champagne and apparently it was incredible.

[00:07:04] It would have been great to be there, although I’m not sure about the sanitary situation that long ago, but there were people from southern Italy who brought spices that they picked up on the trail of Marco Polo, you know, and people were bringing silks from far away.

[00:07:19] And so there was, there was everything. There was food stuff, there was textiles, there were gadgets, there were things, I mean, everything imaginable. And there was a certain kind of entertainment, which is where we have the beginning of what eventually becomes the Foire Foraine. And so they had jugglers, a lot of things that you see at the beginning of what could be considered to be a circus kind of thing.

[00:07:42] They had people on stilts, people who did funny things, magicians, I don’t know what a magician did in the 900s.

[00:07:50] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I don’t know.

[00:07:51] Elyse Rivin: I don’t know. But, it was a big deal.

[00:07:53] Annie Sargent: Right, and I know they had performers, dancers, people that read your palm, your future, whatever.

[00:07:59] Elyse Rivin: They had contortionists. You know, they had what they call, I can’t figure out how to translate the word into English, a saltimbanc.

[00:08:07] How do you translate that? Is it… what is that? Is that like a clown? Is that a, I’m not sure.

[00:08:13] Annie Sargent: It’s someone in a fair situation, a foire like this that would just, I imagine a dancer and a singer, or a juggler, a juggler perhaps.

[00:08:23] Elyse Rivin: Okay, so it was basically one of these people who did entertainment, basically.

[00:08:27] Annie Sargent: And you know, this isn’t, this is something that we can’t imagine very easily, but in the Middle Ages, it’s not like they could run to the supermarket to get what they needed. They had to make most of everything they needed or trade with someone near them.

[00:08:44] And so It was a very difficult, very different time. And they had no TV. They had no printed books. They had no music. They had no, you know, so to them, it was a huge entertainment. You get to go to the foire and there’s people juggling. Wow, you know?

[00:09:00] Elyse Rivin: Not only that, but you’re right, one of the most important elements that made it such a long-standing tradition to have these fairs is that it was the opportunity, for instance, to buy cloth. It was the opportunity to buy certain spices you would otherwise not have. It was the opportunity to have access to all these things.

[00:09:19] And it was indeed a big deal. It was a big event, because they lasted two or three weeks each time, so they must have had thousands of people. And the peasants, I mean, every class of people coming to look, to buy, to see. It makes me think that in North Africa, I’ve seen this, I saw this actually in Morocco, I know it still exists in parts of North Africa, you still have events like this where they meet up once or twice a year and they bring their animals to buy and sell.

[00:09:48] They bring rugs that they’ve made. They bring all these kinds of goods and even in very traditional, very, very traditional parts of Morocco and Algeria, they bring their children to make marriages, you know, and say, yeah, they meet, they think, okay, I know so and so who’s got a nice son.

[00:10:05] There you go, you know.

[00:10:07] Annie Sargent: Wow. Yeah. And they also brought animals to sell, you know, if they had puppies or if they had chickens or whatever they had, they could bring it to sell.

[00:10:18] Elyse Rivin: Cows, sheep, wool, I mean the whole, the whole thing. And so thanks to the Counts of Champagne, this became something that was very popular and spread apparently mostly, mostly, not exclusively, but mostly in Northern France. I’m guessing that it was largely because it was easier to have access to other countries, but I’m not sure why.

[00:10:39] I’m not sure, because it sounds, everything I was reading, they don’t talk about Spain. I don’t know where Spain was in the midst of all of this.

[00:10:45] Annie Sargent: Well, perhaps they had fairs, but they were much smaller and didn’t register as well on the historical scale, I guess.

[00:10:52] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s interesting, but they were certainly very, very famous. And imagine that all of this lasted really just for about a thousand years, the whole idea of these fairs.

Difference between a fair and a market

[00:11:03] Elyse Rivin: And now just to be, I want people to understand the difference between a fair and a market. Now the market is exclusively a place where you go to buy something.

[00:11:13] That’s all, you know, a market could be fairly big, but it did not have everything that a fair had, and a fair was an official event sponsored by a Lord, or by a higher member of the clergy, and it had a, you had a stamp, basically you had permission, it was like you had a license to be there, and so it was a very, very big event, where markets were much more local.

[00:11:35] Annie Sargent: Right. So on Saturday you go sell your eggs and…

[00:11:38] Elyse Rivin: Exactly, yeah, you know, and you bring your chickens in, and whatever.

The French Revolution Reduced Fairs

[00:11:42] Elyse Rivin: And so apparently, what happened was that all of this really lasted up to the time of the French Revolution. This is really interesting because the Revolution, which the more I read about, the more I understand, affected everything in society.

[00:12:00] Absolutely. Absolutely everything. And the fairs, in spite of the fact that they were really not created as a religious event, because they were very often associated with a monastery or the esplanade in front of a church, they were actually looked on with disfavor by the time of the French Revolution, which is hard for me quite to grasp, but apparently everything that was associated with the lords, the monarchy, the church, really it just got bad press, you know, it really got bad press.

[00:12:31] So for a short period of time, they pretty much stopped. No more fairs.

[00:12:36] No more big fairs. Oh, dear. No more big fairs. And then the first one that’s mentioned afterwards is in 1805. So that’s not very long after the French Revolution, and it took place in a suburb on the eastern edge of Paris, Reuilly.

[00:12:53] Annie Sargent: Mm hmm.

[00:12:54] Elyse Rivin: And believe it or not, that’s where there is still, this fair. And it’s called La Foix du Trône.

[00:13:00] Annie Sargent: Oh, this is… okay. Okay.

[00:13:02] Elyse Rivin: This is the Throne. This is the Throne fair.

[00:13:05] Annie Sargent: Yes. Yes. I have heard of it. I have not been, but yeah, you hear about it even on TV and whatever.

[00:13:10] Elyse Rivin: Ah, it’s on. And I saw a couple of pictures yesterday on the internet. So it’s considered to be right now the most authentic, ancient, real, fair left in France.

[00:13:24] Annie Sargent: Interesting.

[00:13:24] Elyse Rivin: Huh? And you can go there and it would be fun to go and see what they have. And of course it would be even more fun if they were dressed up in pre-revolutionary clothes, I think.

[00:13:34] Annie Sargent: Do you remember when, what time of the year they hold that?

[00:13:36] Elyse Rivin: No, I don’t remember.

[00:13:38] I am sorry. I don’t.

[00:13:39] Annie Sargent: But you can Google that. I mean, Foire du Trône is big.

[00:13:42] Elyse Rivin: It’s big. It’s huge, apparently, it’s a big deal. And it is only once a year.

[00:13:47] You know, though it is once a year. But apparently, everybody goes to the Foire du Trône.

[00:13:52] Everybody except us because we’re too far south, you know, so you have to kind of know.

[00:13:56] You have to be there.

[00:13:58] Right. And so begins, a kind of change in the concept, and it goes from the ancient concept of fairs to something that is more entertainment and less the trade part of it, there is still in the one in Reuilly. But starting in the beginning of the 19th century, with the invention of mechanical things and with the influence, interestingly enough of the Comédie de l’Arte, which comes from Italy, and so you have the puppet shows and you have the street theater, which become very fashionable to have.

[00:14:32] They become more and more an important factor in these fairs. And so, it evolves in the course of the 19th century. And apparently, what is considered to be the golden age of these fairs is what is called the Belle Époque.

[00:14:47] Which is of course, the end of the 19th century, really, the last part of the 19th century. The time when France is developing all of its Haussmannian and post Haussmannian kinds of architecture. And that is when we have the beginning of what we have now, with a little less sophistication, you have the merry-go-rounds. Which I didn’t know, under Henry IV in the 1500s, were installed everywhere in Paris, and instead of having a mechanical thing that turned the wheel for the horses, it was real horses, probably donkeys or ponies or something, but they had seats. They had fantasized little seats and they didn’t go up and down like they do now, but they had actually horses.

[00:15:31] And apparently, he encouraged each neighborhood in Paris to have one of these because he thought it was a great source of entertainment for the people, you know. And the idea of the foire foraines really begins there and the foire forains has to do with the idea that the people who run them are called the forains, and they are what we see and we, now this is something you and I both know from living here is that they… Toulouse has a big one right now, in fact, it’s the Foire of Saint Michel. Every town practically in France has one. And apparently, there are over 30.000 small, medium sized, huge, but they are mostly, mostly, mostly the entertainment part. And there, there are stalls, you know, that sell things, with the advent of mechanics and with the advent of machines, they developed more and more sophisticated things, of course.

[00:16:24] Apparently, starting in the 1950s, there was an official motto for these fairs, and that was ‘Higher, Faster, Crazier, more Original’.

[00:16:35] And so today, of course, we get things that I wouldn’t dare go on because I would die of fright from the get go, you know? But it has been, it has stayed, I think more in France than anywhere else in Europe, a huge tradition, the whole tradition of the foire. And the idea of a fair with this, I thought was interesting too, because then we’ll, you know, you’ll talk about the museum of the Foire Forains but the idea of affair has stayed, of course, because we have the Foire au vin,

[00:17:03] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:17:04] Elyse Rivin: We have the Foire aux Livres, which is very, very big and very important.

[00:17:08] And in fact, that’s the biggest one in Europe is in Frankfurt, every year, but there’s another one in Brives, which is not far from here. There is the Agricultural Fair, which every president has to go to, has to go see the cows and the chickens, and the sheep, and eat every kind of food imaginable.

[00:17:26] And you can watch them. Sometimes you look like they’re gonna turn green from doing all of that, you know. But the Agricultural Fair, which is held on the outskirts of Paris, I think it’s a 150,000 people go there every single year to see all of these things. It’s huge. It’s huge. So the idea of a fair is very much anchored into French society.

[00:17:46] And of course it got translated into the kinds of faires that you get in the United States.

[00:17:51] Annie Sargent: Right, so in the U.S. you have these carnivals, right, you have the carnival rides, where we used to live, there used to come a carnival every, you know, every year at some point. I can’t remember when it was, and you would have a few dozen rides would show up with the people who ran them. Some food things.

[00:18:11] I remember always getting what we called Navajo tacos.

[00:18:15] Elyse Rivin: What was that? With corn?

[00:18:17] Annie Sargent: You’ve never had a Navajo taco? So it is a fried dough. So it’s like a fried bread, but you usually serve it with either sugar on top or chili on top. It’s actually pretty good.

[00:18:33] Elyse Rivin: Ah, interesting choice there. You don’t put the sugar and the chili at the same time?

[00:18:38] No, no, no, no, no. I remember going to a big World’s Fair when I was a kid, and it was the first time I ever had a waffle with whipped cream.

[00:18:49] Annie Sargent: Ooooh…

[00:18:50] Elyse Rivin: What really stayed in my mind. I don’t have any idea what I saw. I just remember it was the first time I ate a waffle with whipped cream.

[00:18:56] So there you are.

[00:18:57] They are delicious. But it is really fascinating. And so the idea of a fair now, of course, we have rides. You have the scary houses.

[00:19:04] What we don’t have anymore, and I’m glad we don’t, most of the time is the freak houses, you know, all those oddities that were very, very big in the 19th century, where they had people who were strange, deformed.

[00:19:17] Annie Sargent: Oh, they brought in American native, you know, original people. Yeah, the original people of Americas.

[00:19:25] Elyse Rivin: That’s right.

[00:19:25] Yes, Africans, they put them on display. There was a certain amount of degrading behavior in relation to humans that was included in all of that. It was freaks, it was specimens of things, you know, it was very odd. You still have the scary house with the mirrors, you still have the rides, you still have the shooting galleries where you can win big stuffed bear, you know, or whatever.

[00:19:49] Annie Sargent: Well, if you’d like one of those.

[00:19:51] Elyse Rivin: Cotton candy, you know, all of that kind of stuff, they are everywhere, but we no longer have the freaks and the idea that humans can be put on display as an object.

[00:20:02] Annie Sargent: Even in my village here, we have a yearly fair that brings a few, just a few rides and it’s fewer and fewer rides. I’ve been here almost, what, 18 years or something. There used to be five or six rides. Now it’s just down to one, pretty much. Now it’s just the little kids, you know, they just go around and it goes up a little bit and down, and the kids get to try and reach for a pom-pom.

[00:20:27] And if they get it, they get an extra free ride or whatever. So there’s that, but it’s always accompanied by, you know, some sort of stand where you can get some beers and food, and in the evening they’re gonna do a concert. So they might do fireworks that night. There’s just a few things like that, even for a tiny village, 2000 of us here and they still do that kind of thing. So it’s fun to see that it continues.

[00:20:54] I never go.

[00:20:55] Elyse Rivin: You never go. I’ve been to the one in Saint Michel, in Toulouse a couple of times, right now, what is unfortunate, as far as I’m concerned, is that it used to be in the city center, in the neighborhood of Saint Michel, which is a neighborhood in the old part of the city.

[00:21:09] And they’ve moved it out of there next to where the Zenith is,

[00:21:12] I don’t know. It’s not in the city center.

[00:21:14] It’s not in the city center. And, it doesn’t have the same feeling to it.

[00:21:17] But it’s actually, in spirit, closer to the original fair because it’s on a big, vast open space as opposed to being in the middle of these streets in the city center. But I liked it when it was like that because it kind of closed off a neighborhood and you had stands where you could eat food where you could get things where you could play games. And of course there were some rides now because they have more space, they have more rides.

[00:21:39] Annie Sargent: Yes. And it turns out that these rides that go from town to town, I mean, I’m a chicken, I’m a scaredy cat, anyway, so I don’t go on a lot of rides like that. And I’m even less likely to go because I know they’re getting put together every time and then there’s accidents, okay?

[00:21:59] Elyse Rivin: Unfortunately, there are, there actually have been, there were this year, there were actually two in different places. But that’s because there’ve also going extreme in the speed and in the things that they want to do. It’s like this motto of higher, faster, you know, I mean, it’s literal in the sense that they can’t be satisfied with what they’ve already done, which is kind of a shame, you know.

[00:22:20] But most people love them and they go and it’s noisy and it’s colorful and it’s a foire foraine.

[00:22:27] Annie Sargent: Yeah. It’s just a fun place to go on the weekend. Like it’s, there are places in France where not a lot happens. And when the foire foraine comes by, people go.

[00:22:38] Yeah. It’s an opportunity to have fun and to run into other people, I guess.

[00:22:42] Elyse Rivin: The decoration, now in Toulouse Centre, we have two old Merry-go-round, that are from the beginning of the 19th century, that are absolutely beautiful. Of course, they’ve been made more sophisticated in terms of the electric mechanism that makes them turn. But they’re gorgeous to look at. And they’re always filled.

[00:23:00] They’re always filled with families, with their kids, and I love watching them, actually.

[00:23:06] Annie Sargent: Yes. And many people, I mean, I like to go even on them.

[00:23:10] I think they’re fun.

[00:23:11] And most cities have one that stays there all the time. And the other thing that happens is that a lot of cities now have like, and I think it’s the London Eye that made this popular where they have a kind of a Ferris wheel that stays in place most of the year, anyway. Those are also very fun. So that’s the history and it’s all well and good.

Le Musée des Arts Forains in Paris.

[00:23:33] Elyse Rivin: Now, Annie, tell us about the Museum of Foire Foraine.

[00:23:37] Annie Sargent: Right, so that one in Paris is really, really special. I have been to it just once, but I called them just today to make sure that they still do all of the things that I saw. And yes, it’s very much the same as what I saw a few years ago. It’s called the Musée des Arts Forains. It’s located in Paris. It’s a very unique museum, is what I would call it.

[00:24:00] It’s dedicated to fairgrounds and carnival arts. It’s like you’re going on a journey into a world of vintage amusement rides. You have games, you have theatrical arts. And it’s all located in the Pavillon de Bercy. There’s a mall not far from there, the river is right there. There is no restaurants on the site, but there’s lots of restaurants around there, you know.

[00:24:28] So have you been Elyse?

[00:24:29] Elyse Rivin: Yes, I was there, but I think at least 10 years ago, because my mother in law lived not far away and we had visited her. And so my husband said, he knew about it, I don’t remember exactly, I think he wanted to see what they had just started modernizing it and turning it into a nice tourist area to visit and the museum.

[00:24:48] Maybe it was even 12 years ago. It seemed like it had just opened a year or two before then. And it was very interesting because the whole area was under redevelopment and being turned into a very nice tourist area.

[00:25:00] Annie Sargent: Well, they gentrified the whole Bercy Yeah, the whole, I mean, it wasn’t necessarily tourist. It was even for locals…

[00:25:07] Elyse Rivin: Even for locals, it was just that all of a sudden, I didn’t know it as an area before that, I had never seen it before that. So of course it was just that it clearly it was new. And you had an esplanade with some stands and some restaurants, and then the museum. And we were lucky because, but from what you told me today, now you do have to reserve ahead of time, but at that moment we just walked in and visited.

[00:25:30] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it’s very different today. So it’s open year round, but you have to book a guided tour, okay? You can’t just show up. It costs 18 euros.

[00:25:40] Elyse Rivin: That’s a little bit steep.

[00:25:41] Annie Sargent: So it’s 18 euros. For that you get a visit that lasts about an hour and a half, I think. You have a guide that will explain things. It’s only in French. So I, again, asked the question today. Yes, it’s only in French, but there are always foreign visitors in every group. And the guides are aware of that.

[00:26:03] So they give the visitors a card, that they can read, that has a description of the, you know, the whatever he’s going to point them to, and describe briefly. But really it’s mostly a visual thing, okay?

[00:26:18] He’s not going to give you a whole historical background on each thing. It’s more like, this was used by so and so, perhaps it was made famous by so and so, this is how it works, if they can run it, they will, if they cannot, obviously, they can’t, but it’s really whimsical, it’s really pretty in there, do you remember any of the atmosphere?

[00:26:38] Elyse Rivin: I remember it being very colorful, very, very colorful. And I loved the decoration because a lot of the things we saw, I guess were from the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century.

[00:26:48] So it was, you know, a lot of it was shiny and a lot of it was very colorful. I remember seeing some, a couple of, like they looked like stages for puppet shows, things like that, and I think I remember seeing a couple of Merry-go-rounds. Yeah.

[00:27:05] Annie Sargent: There’s even one that you can run most of the time, it’s one where it’s bicycles, so you hop on, and it’s human powered. Yes. So you have to pedal or it doesn’t go.

[00:27:18] Elyse Rivin: That sounds like a lot of fun. I just remember it being very, very colorful and, there was a lot that had to do with jugglers and, all of the accoutrements for magicians and things like that, but you’ve have probably been there more recently, and, tell me more about what you did see.

[00:27:35] Annie Sargent: So, you have, it’s a whole narrative. So they try and kind of bring you into this whimsical world. If I remember correctly, it starts with a kind of a video thing where things turn on and off around you. It’s just a, none of it is scary, but it’s all very just fun and whimsical, I guess, is the word that keeps coming back to me.

[00:27:57] Now, the regular visit is 18 euros, but they also do prestige visits where it’s a comedian tour guide, yes, and that costs 35 euros and it includes a cocktail,

[00:28:11] A cocktail my dear. Yes, and today, the only time of year when you can visit without a guided tour is around Christmas.

[00:28:20] So, let me explain. They do every year, and they have for many years, they do a special week.

[00:28:27] This year it’s right after Christmas, it starts on December 27th until January 7th because this year kids school holidays is very late, right? So they follow that. It’s only one week and it’s open without a reservation. You can just pay an entrance fee, go in there. They have jugglers, they have dancers, singers. I mean, it’s like the place comes alive, you know? People are in costume and you get to watch their act. You get to try all of the animatrons and all of the things that they, I mean, it’s hard to describe because I don’t know the words for these things, but like they have one place where you kind of bang on a thing and it makes some horses go and you’re racing other people, like, you know, so you’re banging the hardest, as hard as you can, and your horse, you try and make it go fast and faster and faster and beat the other people.

[00:29:22] There’s a ton of these little silly things like that. It’s like old video, like it’s the original video game, I guess.

[00:29:29] Elyse Rivin: It sounds to me like it’s the precursor to pinball machines and all of,

[00:29:34] and the games, you know, what’s that game that you play where you… foosball.

[00:29:37] Foosball. Right. You know, things like that. I mean, clearly a lot of these came from the 19th century, but it just struck me as you were talking that I think that was the thing that I found a bit strange, that it needed to be more alive, when I was there. And that, that’s the difference. Because it was almost like everything was sleeping, waiting to come alive.

[00:29:58] Annie Sargent: Well, yeah, because one of the problems is that a lot of these attractions are very old and so they can’t run them every day. Right. And besides, a lot of them they were made for adult sized people. And so you couldn’t put a kid in there. It would be dangerous. And so they only turn on some of these things during that week where they hire enough people to keep an eye on everything, and to kind of make it come alive.

[00:30:25] Yeah, I can see why you would think perhaps that it’s a bit too quiet in there. Right? Because it’s a big space, it’s a really big space, and they always open at least two pavilions, is what they call them. At Christmas time, they open all of them. And it is very, very, very popular.

[00:30:48] It’s something families that live around the Paris area take their kids to.

[00:30:52] It’s huge.

[00:30:53] Elyse Rivin: So if you’re going to go at Christmas time with children, get there early?

[00:30:57] Annie Sargent: Yes, get there when they open.

[00:30:59] Elyse Rivin: Especially if you can’t reserve a fixed time?

[00:31:02] Annie Sargent: The Christmas special week is called Le Festival du Merveilleux, and yeah, like I said, this year is December 27th until January 7th. It’s always coincided with French school vacations. And I mentioned earlier that they don’t do any visits in English, so don’t even try to book a visit in English. But she said that in the summer, sometimes they have enough people, because most of their guides can do the visit in English if they need to, and as a matter of fact I’ve heard them take people aside and, you know, just tell them quickly in English. So if they have enough people that speak English, they will do a visit in English in the summer, but it doesn’t normally happen the rest of the year.

[00:31:43] But honestly, it is not a hindrance to the experience because it’s mostly things you see, you might touch some things, but it’s mostly seeing it and you have all these cabinets of magic or whatever.

[00:31:55] I love those.

[00:31:56] Yes. And you get to look inside, you know, you have the music boxes where you crank a thing… and it’s like an organ that plays a fun song, whatever.

[00:32:07] Some of it is really loud. I remember being like, Whoa, this is very loud.

Les Pavillons de Bercy

[00:32:11] Annie Sargent: Anyway, let me give you just a brief overview of the history of this place. Now, obviously, the Pavillon de Bercy, there were a lot of these pavilions, they’re like long rectangular houses. They were warehouses for a long time.

[00:32:24] The Musée des Arts Fourrains was founded by somebody called Jean Paul Favant. He’s a passionate collector of all fairground and carnival memorabilia. He began his collection in the 1960s and he had a bunch of artifacts. He had carousels, he had organs, he had carnival games, theatrical props.

[00:32:45] Elyse Rivin: He had all of that at his house?

[00:32:47] Annie Sargent: I guess, he had them in the warehouse or something. Yeah, it’s just crazy. So he collected things over the years that he didn’t know what to do with. He negotiated something with the city of Paris to open an actual place to show off his stuff. It became the Musée des Arts Forains.

[00:33:04] It doesn’t look like a museum at all because the inside is fairly dark, they just light up the thing as you approach it, you know, so it’s more dramatic, I guess. It’s a more dramatic kind of experience.

[00:33:18] It’s very interactive. In a normal museum, you know, you just look at things, you read things, whatever.

[00:33:23] In this one, you have hands on interactions as much as possible, you can ride this vintage carousel with the bike, you know, you pedal.

[00:33:31] It’s very fun.

[00:33:31] It could go pretty fast.

[00:33:32] Elyse Rivin: I bet.

[00:33:33] Annie Sargent: It can go pretty fast, so you can play a few carnival games, that, you know, they seem silly to us, but you can operate the mechanical musical instruments.

[00:33:44] It feels immersive. It feels like fun. You have some kind of theatrical things. You can see the horses, all the statues, the sculptures that they used to decorate fairgrounds. They were made to move around back then, but now they’re stationary there. It celebrates the art of the theater and of the stage and of the props and things like that.

[00:34:09] Elyse Rivin: That’s where you really get the heritage of the street theater and the comedy de l’arte coming in, right? Mm-Hmm.

[00:34:14] You know, the costumes and the people.

[00:34:16] I was just going to ask you though, do they have places where you can work any of the puppets, the marionettes.

[00:34:22] I don’t remember that.

[00:34:25] I remember seeing a couple of the marionette stages, you know, the Punch and Judy type of things, and you could see them, but it would be fun if you could actually try them.

[00:34:33] Punch and Judy is the hand puppets in England. They call them Punch and Judy. It’s like… Punch was punching everybody,

[00:34:40] Annie Sargent: Okay. Okay.

[00:34:41] Elyse Rivin: But it’s, you know, it was the show stand and then you have the marionettes inside and it’s kind of…

[00:34:47] Annie Sargent: Okay. So like Guignol?

[00:34:48] Yeah, exactly. Okay. Okay. Okay. Like Guignol. Okay. So they have guided tours, obviously. They do a lot of special events, lots of special events. So, do look at the schedule, look at their website to find them. They also do a lot of private corporate things. So corporations will rent a place to do, you know, a meal, a game, whatever that they want to do.

[00:35:12] But yes, a lot of this is funded by corporations that rent the space because it is very spectacular and you don’t need to decorate it at all. Like you show up and it’s like, Oh…

[00:35:23] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, right.

[00:35:24] Annie Sargent: You can take great photos in there. They let you take photos for personal and for you to use. It’s a bit, dark, so you gotta be, you gotta have a pretty recent camera that can do this, but yes, you can take pictures, as memories, and a lot of them look really splendid. I hope I find them cause it was a few years ago. I hope I tagged them right. And in the end, you know, this is cultural preservation. I mean, even if like me, you’re not, I mean, I’ve never been big into the carnival rides or games or things like that, but honestly, it’s really entertaining.

[00:35:57] And there’s a lot of culture to this. So I wish they had, like in the US I like that they have carnival foods, you know, in this place, there’s no food inside.

[00:36:07] Elyse Rivin: No, there’s no food. It’s really about the objects.

[00:36:10] Yes. It’s really about the decoration on the objects.

[00:36:13] Annie Sargent: But you can, when you exit, there’s a whole mall right there, so you have, the river, you have the Pavilion de Bercy, you have the mall, and then beyond that, you have a big park.

[00:36:23] You could easily spend a whole day in the area, just looking around, doing a little bit of shopping.

[00:36:29] I think it would, you know, for people who’ve been to Paris, a couple of times, perhaps.

[00:36:33] And especially if you’re traveling with kids, I think it’s well worth a trip to Bercy for that.

[00:36:39] Elyse Rivin: I agree.

[00:36:40] Annie Sargent: Well, apparently it’s better if co-hosts fight.

[00:36:43] What could we fight about?

[00:36:44] People like it when on a podcast people fight.

[00:36:47] Elyse Rivin: When we disagree about something?

[00:36:49] Annie Sargent: When people disagree, yeah, because it’s more engaging, I guess.

[00:36:51] Well, we are engaging, though, but we are both very engaging. I’m not sure. I mean, sometimes we disagree, but we don’t fight. Please out there.

[00:37:02] Why would you want us to fight? You want us to do Punch and Judy? Oh, we’ll have to do a puppet show.

[00:37:08] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:37:09] No, so do go to the Musée des Arts Forains. I think you will enjoy it. I think it’s fun to see how well they’ve preserved all of this. That’s really stunning how, you know, this guy collected a lot of stuff, that I’m sure other people thought was worthless.

[00:37:24] Elyse Rivin: Talking about heritage, what you just said is really important because this museum is part of what is called the Immaterial Heritage of France, which is a real category. It’s just as important in the sense as the UNESCO categories because, I like the fact that they talk about the immaterial heritage.

[00:37:43] That is, it’s a whole question of the culture of entertainment, really going back so far with the decoration, with the jugglers, with the different kinds of things. So this is a very important place in that history and it’s been, it was designated as Immaterial Heritage site in 2017.

[00:38:00] Annie Sargent: Oh, I didn’t realize that. But there’s a lot of art that goes into this, you know, I mean, it is called Musée des Arts Forains. an art. It’s really something that takes a lot of skill to make.

[00:38:11] It’s like theater decoration, which of course is a part of something I’ve done, I mean, it is exactly the same.

[00:38:17] The beautifully painted objects, the small little sets for the different things, it is definitely an art to do all of these things.

[00:38:26] Yes. And if you enjoyyou know, places like in London, they have, what do you call it? It’s not in London, it’s near London, The Harry Potter, kind of experience. And they show you a lot of props that they use to make the movie and stuff. You can see the level of art in these creations.

[00:38:43] And it pretty much is the same with the Arts Forains.

[00:38:46] Yeah, I’m not sure that they’re used in movies, but they could be.

[00:38:49] Well, they could be. I mean, this is part of the whole world of decoration and art for entertainment. It’s just precursor to a lot of what’s going on today. And honestly, well, you know, me, that’s where we can disagree, I prefer that it’s physical material, something is actually painted and not just put on a screen on a computer, you know…

[00:39:09] Yeah, I like the screens.

[00:39:10] But, you really should plan to go, if you plan to go, book it in advance, just look at their schedule. They only open their tickets two or three weeks in advance, depending on the season, she reminded me of this, like, so don’t go looking for tickets for six months from now, it’s not open yet.

[00:39:29] So you just, you know, you have to book just in time for that and plan on spending two hours at the museum and probably another two hours looking around the neighborhood.

[00:39:39] Elyse Rivin: I remember, that there were some places to eat in the pavilions that were nearby, and one of the things I like about it was that I don’t know Paris a hundred percent, but it was interesting to discover a new part of Paris that has been renovated to come to life again.

[00:39:54] Annie Sargent: Yes, yes, yes. They do have a tiny little buvette kind of thing in the museum, but it’s only open some of the year when there’s enough people and besides you can find food and drink outside, but I wish they had a section that was about fair foods.

[00:40:11] Perhaps we don’t have a lot of fair food in France.

[00:40:14] Elyse Rivin: I was going to say, what is a fair food? Cotton candy.

[00:40:17] Annie Sargent: Apples, the caramel apples.

[00:40:20] Elyse Rivin: That’s a, isn’t it American candied apples? That sounds, I’ve always got the impression that it’s much more of an American thing than a French thing, but certainly the Barbapapa, which cotton candy.

[00:40:31] Annie Sargent: Barbapapa, yeah.

[00:40:33] Elyse Rivin: And hot dogs. Yeah.

[00:40:35] Yeah. Where it gets a little bit…

[00:40:36] Nah, that’s not French.

[00:40:38] Annie Sargent: No, just taste delicious. Waffles.

[00:40:41] Waffles. Yeah. You’re making me hungry again.

[00:40:44] All right. Merci beaucoup Elyse!

[00:40:46] De rien, Annie!

[00:40:47] Au revoir.

[00:40:48] Au revoir.

Thank you Patrons

[00:40:48] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for giving back and supporting the show. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing that, you can see them at Thank you all for supporting the show. Some of you have been doing it for a long time. And a shout out this week to Bill Verderly, who is not new really, but he upgraded his support to yearly, so thank you, it’s wonderful to have you on board in the community of Francophiles who keep this podcast going.

[00:41:18] I often wonder, what can I do to get more patrons? And, you know, if you love the podcast, I hope you’ll consider becoming a patron. To join this wonderful community of francophiles, go to and to support Elyse, go to

[00:41:46] This week I published a conversation about French vegetables that you can add to your Thanksgiving table. Because yes, we do like our veggies in France.

[00:41:57] If you are planning a trip to France and need some expert advice, I offer two levels of Itinerary Consultation Services. The Bonjour service gives you an hour long conversation on Zoom to ask your questions and get tailored recommendations. It’s a great choice if you need just a little bit of hand holding.

[00:42:17] For those who want more of a detailed guide, the VIP service offer the same hour long consultation, although we often go over, but it also include a follow up document that outlines everything we discussed, plus a roundup of the best advice featured on this podcast.

[00:42:38] To get started, visit and follow the email instructions.

[00:42:45] Now, if you cannot schedule a 1:1 consultation, you can still experience Paris through my eyes with self-guided GPS tours on the VoiceMap app.

[00:42:58] These tours span iconic areas like the Eiffel Tower, Le Marais, Montmartre, the Ile de la Cité, Latin Quarter, and they allow you to explore Paris at your own leisure.

[00:43:11] If you get the tours from my website through, then download the tours as soon as you purchase them and listen to them, get a preview, look around at the app, see what it does.

[00:43:24] You can even listen at home to the whole thing if you wish, but then when you get to Paris, open the VoiceMap app, go to the starting point and I’ll start guiding you. It’s a lot of fun, and the tours are more than a stroll. They include restaurant recommendations, practical tips, things about where to get tickets and how to find all the hidden gems.

[00:43:46] For a special listener discount, purchase the tour codes from, but the discount might take a few hours to process, so be patient with me.

Question of the week – The piece of French life I’d most like to take home with me is…

[00:43:58] Annie Sargent: So, the question of the week: The piece of French life I’d most like to take home with me is… And I love the responses.

[00:44:09] One person said lingering over meals, and that is definitely something that French people do.

[00:44:16] Not every meal, obviously. Sometimes we just need to get a little food in and rush out. You know, we’re like everybody else. But most days we’ll have one, you know, fairly long meal, an hour, an hour and a half, and if it’s a special occasion, it might take three, four, five hours sometimes, which, I mean, that’s when it gets to be too much, in my opinion.

[00:44:39] Someone else said, fashion sense and style. Okay, so this is funny, because I don’t have much of a fashion sense, my style is ‘keep it simple’. But it’s true that most French women, especially, but men too, have a wonderful fashion sense and are really careful about looking good. Now, if you’re like me and you don’t really care about your clothes that much, don’t worry too much, just do you, but do you like, try a little harder. Okay. Maybe you’re casual, but maybe do your nice looking casual clothes or something like that. But yeah, if you enjoy looking at other people’s fashion sense, then Paris is a great place to do that, and not just Paris, by the way.

[00:45:25] Another person said lifestyle mindset.

[00:45:28] And that’s definitely different from many other countries. French people have their idea of what makes a good life, and you can see it in everyday little details, and we’ll discuss some of those in just a moment.

[00:45:42] Daily outdoor markets showed up, now that’s not in every city, some smaller cities only have a market once a week, but, we do love an open air market, and we do love to look around and browse and just walk the streets, and enjoy, you know, the beautiful layouts that people do, cause some of these people are really, really creative.

[00:46:05] Someone else said, having a job to live, and not living for a job. This is really important because on the whole, French people are not that motivated by money. Once we have what we need to live, we’re done. We’re not going to try and make a million more. Okay? We got our needs met and that’s about it. At least most French people, there are some French people who are really, really bound and determined to make a lot of money.

[00:46:35] It just depends on the person, but most of us don’t live for the job, we just have a job so we can have a, you know, you need to have enough. You need to have your needs met.

[00:46:44] The art of people watching while sitting at an outdoor cafe. Yes, indeed. Although that’s hardly just a French thing. Because I’m in Spain right now, and let me tell you, they do plenty of people watching while sitting at the outdoor cafe, and they do it differently than in France. They go to these cafeterias and for breakfast they have a café con leche and a bocadillo. The ones that have some problems have a beer and a bocadillo, first thing in the morning, that always surprises me. Anyway, we’re not the only ones, but yes, French people do love to take their times and have a coffee or something, and, enjoy a little sitting around and doing not much. Well, that leads me right into the next thing. A relaxed pace of life, generally speaking, the pace of life in France is very, very slow.

[00:47:34] Those of you who move to France will experience this, sometimes it feels like way too slow. So, yeah, don’t expect that your days are gonna be completely scheduled from morning till night because there’s going to be plenty of time where, you know, you got nothing to do, you got to think of something to entertain yourself, which is a good thing.

[00:47:57] French manners and implied respect. So I don’t know what they mean by implied respect, but French manners are very important to all of us. You just have to, you know, not be a bear, sois pas un ours, and use your polite words and etc.

[00:48:18] The next one, I’m sure a lot of you will relate with, it’s Boulangerie and Croissant. Not just croissant, by the way, Pain au chocolat, Chocolatine, in my neck of the woods, Pain aux Raisins, Oh, Les Jésuites, love this stuff. So, just go into a bakery and, you know, look at what they do and enjoy it. It’s fantastic.

[00:48:40] And right after that is bread, bread, is bread and millefeuille. Yes, more boulangerie items. We love our boulangerie. And they are actually a listed as an immaterialUNESCO World Heritage, I think the baguette, the French baguette is listed as an immaterial world heritage thing, so, fantastic, well deserved.

[00:49:04] Someone else says quality versus quantity, and yes, that is true, especially when it comes to the size of your house, the size of your car, the size of everything, pretty much. French people are not so worried about having the biggest house on the block. Some are, but usually it’s not a big worry for most of us.

[00:49:26] Completely different subject, roast chicken. Now this one surprised me because we’re not the only country that has roast chicken. There’s roast chicken in America. I’ve had Costco roast chicken, so I don’t know what’s so special about the French, probably that we have usually when you buy a roast chicken, it costs a lot more money by the way.

[00:49:48] These days a whole roast chicken from a vendor, a street vendor at the market. We’ll probably run you 16 euros, so that’s very far from the five or six that you pay in the U. S. for your Costco chicken. They are usually farm raised chickens, so they are a little more tougher. And perhaps they mean the way they season the chicken?

[00:50:13] I’m not sure. It is different. It is very good. So, I’m not going to argue with you, but we’re not the only country that has roast chicken. Several people mentioned this restaurant quiet, and yes, in most French people until they’ve had a few drinks, are not super loud at restaurants. They usually like to, you know, use their indoor voice.

[00:50:36] Some Americans don’t seem to hear themselves. They don’t hear that they’re using outdoor voice inside. It’s not as big a deal as you might have heard, but do try to be a bit, you know, yeah, quiet.

[00:50:51] Someone says the food in general. Yes, French food is quite good. There’s also very good food in other countries, but yes, it’s good.

[00:50:59] The less hurried pace of life, even in the largest city. Yes, somebody also mentioned the relaxed pace of life. And yes, that is true, even in Paris. I mean, you could be busy from morning till night, but you don’t have to, so this is good.

[00:51:14] A few people mentioned this Healthcare for all, yes that is a definite, very, very strong French value, that we want everybody to be covered with healthcare.

[00:51:27] We’re not too worried about participating in the system, because we benefit from the system, all of us. And sure, if there are some people who are not quite so, I guess successful in life, they still benefit from the system, and that’s fine. That’s fine for most of us.

[00:51:45] The beautiful and fecund landscape.

[00:51:49] Fecund, I guess, beautiful, definitely. Beautiful, beautiful. Most French landscape is gorgeous because we don’t have massive swaths of land being owned by the same people, because of the inheritance laws, different parcels are owned by different siblings sometimes, and then they get sold to different people, and so we never have a farmer who can just have, you know, 1000 acres of land.

[00:52:19] It just doesn’t happen. And that makes it so that the landscape is varied because each farmer is going to decide to plant different things.

[00:52:29] Walking for transportation. Yes, in French cities, we walk an awful lot, and that is great. It’s very healthy. Even if you don’t walk super fast, if you’re walking, you’re doing better than if you’re sitting in a car. So, yes, we do that.

[00:52:45] This one is funny, so I included it because it amused me.

[00:52:48] The gas station food specifically is just incredible in comparison to the U. S. gas station cuisine and blows my mind. That is true that gas station food,and gas stations in general in France, on the major freeways, which are paid freeways, by the way, they’re not free, they’re autoroutes, you have to pay for those, most places, they have very good gas stations, also electric charging stations by now, all of them, and you can stay there for, I mean, as an electric car driver, I often stay there for 20, 30 minutes.

[00:53:29] And I’m never bored, because they have books, they have postcards, they have local regional foods, they have all sorts of things. I’m never bored at the gas station in France. It’s very different from the U. S., that is certainly true. The little courtesies, like saying Bonjour, Bon Appétit, Bonne Journée, etc.

[00:53:49] We have many more. We have bon match, bonne vacances, bon voyage, bon rétablissement, bon voyage, bon rétablissement, bon courage, many, many more for every occasion.

[00:54:01] So, yes, French people like to wish each other good things. Why wouldn’t we? And cheese is the last one on the list.

[00:54:12] And, okay, there’s another thing that I want to list, because it’s something that has come to my attention.

[00:54:19] I was doing an Itinerary Consult today and somebody asked me if they should be worried because they are Jewish and they are coming to France. They hear that there’s some nastiness, and every time there’s a conflict in the Middle East, the crazies get their chains rattled, and we get weirdness.

[00:54:38] But, you know, in France, we don’t really have a free speech, kind of, we don’t have a First Amendment for free speech, the way you do in the US, most other countries in the world don’t have that, so we’re not that strange, but we do have a lot of provisions against hate speech, and I wish that Americans understood that there’s a big difference between free speech and hate speech, and that while we should let people express respectful thoughts, about whatever, it’s no excuse to say things that are hateful and hurtful to other people.

[00:55:16] So, that’s something that in France we know very well, it doesn’t surprise anyone, because we even have people who get fined pretty big amounts for saying things that are untrue and hateful. That’s a big difference between France and the U. S, anyway.

[00:55:36] My thanks to podcast editors Anne and Cristian Cotovan, they make the audio sound good, even when I’m recording in a strange room like this one, and produce the transcripts.

[00:55:47] Where are those transcripts, you ask? They are on If you go to the podcast tab and scroll down to transcripts, they’re all there, or look for the transcript button, it’s a blue button on any episode page.

[00:56:03] Not all the episodes have been transcribed, but a good many of them, the majority of them have.

[00:56:08] Next week on the podcast, an episode about beach hopping on the Côte d’Azur with Jessica Osborne. Ah, the beach. I love it. I love it so much that every morning since I’m in Spain, the beach is not very far.

[00:56:23] In the morning, I wake up, I put my clothes on and we go to the beach with my dog and she runs around like a mad dog because this time of year she’s allowed on the beach. So much so that this, when we came back, took a lie down and when she got up again, she was limping. So, I think if she’s still limping tomorrow, I’m not gonna take her to the beach, she’s gonna be a very, very sad puppy and so will I cause I do love the beach.

[00:56:49] Thank you for listening and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together. Au revoir.

[00:56:56] The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.




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Categories: Family Travel, Museums in Paris, Paris