You’ve taken a selfie with the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, wept at the beauty of Monet in L’Orangerie, and looked out at Paris through the giant clock at Musée d’Orsay. But as you now traipse round the Pompidou Centre for the fourth time this season, you feel completely incurious. For those who have already seen the masterpieces and want something more startling, here is a taste of what lies off the tourist track in Paris.
At a first glance through this otherwise unassuming doorway, it looks as if a fight broke out at the famous antiques market, Marché aux Puces de St Ouen: old postcards, photo frames, and ancient books are scattered across the floor, with jewelry and antique trinkets dripping from every surface. Some would call it a mess, but this is in fact a gallery/brocante (second-hand store). Anne-Marie, the owner, is an accomplished artist, having designed for numerous fashion houses, including Chanel. In 2008 she decided to do something different, and opened the Station, where rather than the usual blank space, artists could display their work amongst her collection of knick-knacks. It was to be an exciting collaboration between artist and venue owner. Alas the project has had little interest, so Marie displays her own works of art. It’s an odd space, but those who show an interest will always be quietly welcomed.
Few tourists have encountered this bizarre building, but those who do will not forget it. Located surprisingly near the Champs-Élysées, but away from the regular tourist foot-fall, it looks comically out of place among the Haussmannian streets.
Right in the heart of Paris, sandwiched between the light sandstone of the adjoining buildings is a bright red Pagoda. When Mr. Ching Tsai Loo, a famed collector of Chinese and Asian art and antiques, bought the building in 1925, there was nothing extraordinary about it.
However, with the help of architect Fernand Bloch, Mr. Loo created a Pagoda in which to house his collection. Ownership has since changed, as have the collections, but the Pagoda is really a museum in itself, its luxury interior changing theme with every room.
So you know that scene in Midnight in Paris (2011), when there’s a big party at what appears to be a carnival? You can go there. For those who have not yet seen Woody Allen’s homage to the City of Lights, just imagine stepping back into the gilded glamour of the Belle Époque, with vintage carousels and gardens with chandeliers. If you visit Musée des Arts Forains, in the Bercy neighborhood, you can do just that. Located in converted wine cellars, Jean-Paul Favand has brought together his extraordinary collection of fairground rides, music-hall objects and anything of the phantasmagorical. The museum can be hired for private functions, or individuals can book a guided tours. And yes, you can ride and play with some of the objects.
A good one for small kids and big kids alike, the museum of magic gives you a wide view of the art of magic from the 18th century up to the present. It is, however, one particular wing of the museum that fascinates, and if we’re being honest, leaves us a little terrified: automatons; devilment; genius; or extravagant clockwork? The museum houses over a hundred automatons, with every single one still in working order, waiting for you to play with them. It was the period from 1860 to 1910 that was known as the Golden Age of Automata, and Paris, like with many other art forms, was its cultural hub. The museum is based in a 16th-century cellar in the Marais. But the scariest thing of all? The cellar lies underneath what was once the home of the sadist and potentially mad Marquis de Sade.
Remember that other party scene in Midnight in Paris (2011), with all those stuffed animals? You can visit it, too! In fact, the inhabitants of this museum have starred in quite a few films over the years. So if you mourn the dying art of taxidermy (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), Deyrolle is the museum for you. A family business since 1831, it has changed hands several times since, and was restored to its former glory under current owner, Louis Albert de Broglie. He emphasizes that the museum still has an educational value, taking great care to re-source old charts of different insects and birds. He also emphasizes that no animal was killed to be mounted; all died of illness or old age. So as much as you want your dog to feature in that next blockbuster – you’re going to have to find another way.