Archive for May, 2011

I loved the Post Office museum (34, boulevard de Vaugirard, metro Montparnasse-Bienvenue)! It’s free to enter if you’re under 26, 5 euros otherwise. It takes you through room after room of courier history, focusing on the evolution the postal service in France within a global framework. Did you know that legend has it that King Cyrus the Great of Persia set up a postal service as early as the 6th century B.C.E? I learned how to do Morse Code through this cool machine that lets you practice important phrases like “SOS.”   

Rooms decorated with model ships and air crafts and posters announcing the invention of the steam engine and commercial planes document the beginnings of overseas mailing.

Representing the real aeropostale

You will learn how new postage stamp designs are chosen each year:

They are big on interactive displays, like this one where you can see what it’s like you virtually post a package in a computer-generated postman’s hat:

There is also a computer simulation that allows you to sort pretend mail according to zip codes in France, while racing against a timer. Unfortunately, the machine determined that I was not fast enough to work for the French postal service.


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Culture Rapide

I am disappointed that it took me this long to discover Culture Rapide, a café/bar in the 20th arrondissement (103, Rue Julien-Lacroix, metro Belleville or Pyrénées) that offers a fun atmosphere, inexpensive (by Paris standards) drinks, pleasant outdoor seating, frequent live music and twice weekly spoken word poetry.

At first I thought that the plaster men hanging this billboard outside were real:

"Il faut se méfier des mots" or "Be wary of words"

Monday night is poetry in English, Tuesday in French. Anyone can sign up to read or recite original poems, songs and skits. I went on an anglophone night, and it was packed. There is a five minute limit per person, and when your time is nearly up, a bell will ring. If the performer continues much past the bell, he or she will be prodded from a distance with a plastic claw. If that doesn’t end it, the person assigned to use the claw may just enter the scene and carry the performer away on piggyback, as was captured in the not-so-clear photo below:

The brief performances were hit or miss, which is to be expected. Overall, I greatly enjoyed the spectacle and wish I had enough time left in Paris to become a regular.  Culture Rapide also often hosts musical guests. You can check out their events page here.

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Paris fittingly has a museum dedicated to smoking (7, rue Pache, metro Voltaire). It’s 5 euros to enter, 3 for students. There you will learn about the process of drying tobacco leaves and the making of industrial cigarettes. Peruse images of smokers from Native Americans who found a religious element in the practice to George Sand and Chinese opium addicts.

Frédéric Dagain paints these Mayan-inspired figures onto tabacco leaves. This one is for sale for 350 euros.

Even the bathroom walls are covered in photos of famous smokers

The gift shop area is largely dedicated to books and manuals on how to quit smoking.

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The perfume museum (9, rue Scribe, metro Opéra) offers free guided tours (the catch is that the tour leads you into the boutique), so I joined a group of Singaporean vacationers and set off to learn about bottled fragrances. Now I know the difference between “eau de toilette,” “eau de parfum” and just “parfum,” the proper way to apply “parfum” and its cultural significance to the ancient Egyptians. Also, if you want your perfume to last, store it in porcelain, not glass.

Ancient Egyptian perfume bottles

Here are some neat perfume labels

There is a room where you can sniff the different basic scents commonly used in perfume. The person who develops them is called a “nose.” If you want this respected title, you must lead a regimented lifestyle (spicy food is forbidden, so it’s a no-go for me and the Singaporean tourists). Here’s a picture of the balance the nose uses to come up with new harmonious blends:

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Opéra Bastille

OK, so this is not really a lesser known thing to do, but I highly recommend going, so I’m making a post anyway. Unlike the Palais Garnier in its splendorous 1875 Neo-Baroque architecture, the Opéra Bastille is a modern building inaugurated in 1989. It is located at the Place de la Bastille (metro Bastille).

When a performance is sold out, you can try your luck at finding a ticket by going to to ticket office in person on the night of the show, an hour or two in advance. My first attempt to see Les Noces de Figaro failed, probably since it was a Saturday night, but try number two, this time on a Tuesday, was a success. I had been waiting in a short line for about 30 minutes, until everyone in front of me had tickets. At this point the host announced that the only tickets left were going for 135 euros. As I was turning to leave, dejected, he called after me, “Mademoiselle, wait, we might have a few returns.” I waited a bit longer, and sure enough, I ended up with a 20 euro box seat ticket. Score.

The performance was long, and granted, I am no connoisseur of the opera, but I loved every moment of it. Much like my experience at the ballet, I was giddy with excitement to even be there, watching Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro performed at a Paris opera house.

My apologies for the poor quality; I was unable to steal a non-blurry photo

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So I’m not a huge fan of hunting (understatement), but the museum of hunting and nature is fascinating. Located in the beautiful 17th-century Hôtel de Guénégaud (62, rue des Archives, metro Hotel-de-Ville or Rambuteau), the museum boasts an impressive display of animal trophies, artistic renditions of hunting and weaponry. There is a room dedicated to unicorn sitings, and in the bird section you can listen to the sounds of different bird calls from a machine designed to attract prey during the hunt.

Here in the trophy room, I saw some people taking advantage of the stillness of these majestic animals to sketch their likenesses.

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), Diana and her Nymphs Preparing to Leave for the Hunt, Oil on wood, circa 1623-24

They even have a giant polar bear:

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The Musée de la Vie romantique (16, rue Chaptal, métro Saints-Georges or Pigalle) is situated at the former Paris residence of Dutch-born French painter Ary Scheffer (1795-1858). There he often received guests like George Sand, Frédéric Chopin, and Eugène Delacroix, members of the Parisian intellectual elite during the Romantic Era (1820-1850).

Entry to the museum’s permanent collection is free. On the ground floor you will find portraits and former household possessions of George Sand, as well as some of her own paintings. Upstairs there is an impressive display of Scheffer’s works, among the paintings and sculptures of other romantic artists.

   George Sand’s drawing room:

François-Hippolyte Debon (1807-1872), Un Justicier, 1835, Oil on canvass

Guests of the museum can also order tea to be enjoyed in the lovely garden outside the house.

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