On a cold Sunday winter day last January, 2008, my husband Mike and 4 year old daughter Olivia walked with me along Rue de Marignan between the Champs-Elyees the fashionable Avenue Montaigne on our way back to our hotel. We had walked along this sidewalk many times but this time I happened to look up and notice a marble plaque on the building situated next to our hotel. In gold stamped writing, the plaques said:
American Impressionist Painter
Friend & Colleague of Edgar Degas
Lived in this Apartment from 1887
Until her death in 1926
THE AMERICAN CLUB OF PARIS
We felt obligated to take a few pictures of Olivia and I with respect to Mary Cassat who painted so many pictures of Mommies and Babies. There we stood in the drizzling rain of Paris snapping pictures and hoping to get a good one. A French couple strolled up and stood behind Mike watching with interest. After a few more shots we finished and they asked why we were taking a photo there. This was a perfect exit time for Mike to duck into the hotel with Olivia following after him hop-scotching on the sidewalk while counting her hops une, duex, trois…ocho, nueve, DIES! So I stood in the rain telling them that my daughter loves the mommy/baby paintings of Mary Cassat and that we were excited to find this hidden treat on our walk home. I went on to tell them that we were also in search of the Mona Lisa and that we would be going to the Louvre in the following week. They told me their favorite museum (Musee de l’Orangerie) to visit and then they both got the look of “aha!” on their faces at the same time. “Zee Louvre ez FREE t’day. All zee museums are free on zee first Sunday of zee month. You must go RIGHT NOW! Eet will close in a few hours.” I merci beaucoup-ed them and went to quickly gather my family to hustle over to the museum.
When we arrived at Musee du Louvre, there was the very long line, which one would expect to see on a Free Musee day. Depressed, we got into line and began the long wait. Olivia was in her usual seat on Mike’s shoulders…luckily. A man tending the front of the line saw her, left his post to collect us and point us through the special children’s entrance. Two lucky breaks in one day! Free Musee and head of the line. This must be our lucky day.
Once inside we found the map (see previous blog post) and headed for the Mona Lisa. There is a lot to see on the way to the Mona Lisa, let me tell you. Side tracked over and over. Wrong turn again and again. Stopping for explanation of painting of the dark bloody dying man….and then…we saw it. A room directly off of the corridor we were in. The room seemed to have glow emanating out of it. Was that angels we heard? Laaaaaa! It must be her. Could it be we at last found The Mona Lisa?
We entered the room and the painting was hanging on the backside of a small divisional wall. We went around the corner and to our amazement there it was……a huge crowd in front of the Mona Lisa
The museum was obviously expecting this as they had velvet-roped off a perimeter to keep adults behind. Then we noticed the most wonderful velvet rope. There was an inner velvet rope to allow children an unobstructed close-up view of the art piece. We asked the rope wrangler if Olivia could go in and she was allowed but not with an adult. Off she went, alone, to stand right in front of the Mona Lisa. I was feeling a bit disappointed in not being able to talk to her and give her information about the artist and the painting as we often do. I wondered if she would even look at it more than a brief second. I wondered if she would be too scared to be one of two children in the special area with a horde of a crowd standing behind her seemingly looking right at her. Neurotic Mom.
When she was done looking, she returned to us and Mike immediately suggested we take a picture with the Mona Lisa behind us. I swooped her up in my arms and we took our photo. Only when we returned home and uploaded the pictures did I notice that Olivia was posed EXACTLY in the same pose as the Mona Lisa. The ½ smile, the slight turn of the head, and the arm placement were identical. I guess she did just fine on her own with such an important piece of art.
So in the end, if you were traveling to Paris with a child, I would HIGHLY recommend the following:
Hôtel Marignan Champs-Elysées: https://www.hotelmarignan.fr/
Looking up while walking down the rue in the rain.
Le Louvre on the 1st Sunday of the Month: children’s entrance, children’s velvet rope.
And lastly, allowing your child to experience art without supervision!