The Magical World of the Musée des Arts Forains

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My wife and I recently accepted an invitation to join a group to take a tour of the Musée des Arts Forains, a museum of fairground arts located in the Bercy Pavilions in Paris.

Entrance to Bercy Pavilions

Entrance to Bercy Pavilions
Photograph by www.DiscoverParis.net

Because we have heard that the museum was a must-see place for anyone nostalgic for the merry-go-rounds of days gone by, we didn’t anticipate much more than a quick ride on a carrousel. We showed up on a Monday morning and were met by a guide, Joris, who told us to be prepared for the magic that would take place during the tour. I was somewhat skeptical about how much magic old-fashioned fairground equipment could evoke, but as the visit progressed I was drawn into the enchantment.

Le Théâtre de Verdure Musee des Arts Forains

Le Théâtre de Verdure
Photograph courtesy of Pavillons de Bercy

Pink Panther Playing Bugle

Pink Panther Playing Bugle
Photograph by www.DiscoverParis.net

Our first stop was in the outdoor Théâtre de Verdure, a large space between rows of pavilions. The space was overgrown with trees and climbing vines, and if we looked carefully through the foliage, we could see a rabbit scampering down the trunk of a tree carrying a carrot and the Pink Panther marching across a branch playing a bugle. Something strange was going on here.

Hot Air Balloon Photograph courtesy of Pavillons de Bercy

Hot Air Balloon
Photograph courtesy of Pavillons de Bercy

We entered the first pavilion, Le Théâtre du Merveilleux. There, we saw things that were truly marvelous: a hot-air balloon lifting an elephant, Josephine Baker’s garter belt sporting three spangled bananas, several sculptures of wild beasts formed naturally from weathered tree trunks, and more!

Horse Race

Horse Race
Photograph by www.DiscoverParis.net

We played an arcade game where participants tried to make their horse outdistance the others by launching a wooden ball along a track with numbered holes. If the ball fell down the highest-numbered hole, the horse moved forward quickly. It was fun! My horse came in second to last.

Gondola Carrousel Photograph by Sebastien Siraudeau

Gondola Carrousel
Photograph by Sebastien Siraudeau

In the Salons Vénitiens we sat in gondolas mounted on a slow-moving carrousel and then watched a fantastic sound-and-light show. In an adjacent room, mechanical puppets (automatons) dressed in Venetian costume gave an opera performance in balconies high above.

Velocipede Carrousel Photograph courtesy of Pavillons de Bercy

Velocipede Carrousel
Photograph courtesy of Pavillons de Bercy

And in the Musée des Arts Forains some of the visitors mounted velocipedes to propel themselves in a tight circle on a high-speed carrousel. I was satisfied to ride a stationary horse on one of the staid merry-go-rounds in another room.

The event ended with hors-d’œuvres and champagne and everyone left with smiles on their faces. The Musée des Arts Forains had worked its magic!

Pouring Champagne

Pouring Champagne
Photograph by www.DiscoverParis.net

This summer, the museum will be open at 11:00 a.m. every Monday and Thursday during July and August for guided visits in English. Reservations are required. Click here for on-line booking.

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