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natural histories and unnaturally expensive vintage

Day 61 - Jardin des Plantes, high-class taxidermy in the Grand Gallery of Evolution, silent stampedes of skeletons in the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology, Happy Noodles, Happy pastries, overpriced vintage, the post office in Hotel de Ville and rainy Paris


It was Polaroids like these that made me want to seek out rooms full of bones. Then, I read Rebecca Stott's The Coral Thief, set in Jardin des Plantes in the late 1800s and I was done for. I needed to go back to Paris and investigate. A few days ago, we were walking around the perimeter of the museums situated in the Jardin des Plantes. In a window, set high above street level, we glimpsed the curve of a skeleton spine rising and falling. Rob pointed and said, "I want to go there!" and I was reminded instantly of that Polaroid.

The Jardin des Plantes is getting ready for winter. The trees are getting pruned for dead branches that might break under snow and hurt someone. A few years ago, I was wandering around the Jardin des Plantes in winter and they'd put mini hothouses over some of these tiny red tomatoes. 


Back to our search for bones, we start off with a happy mistake, at the Grand Gallery of Evolution. There's about three or four different museums that surround the Jardin des Plantes; each housed in their own grand building and dedicated to a specific subject. Together with the Jardin des Plantes, the zoo and other museums across Paris and France, they're known as the Museum of Natural History. So, you can imagine how we got confused. Instead of skeletons, the huge four storey complex, as big as a train station, presents us with a silent stampede of excellent taxidermied animals, all lining up for destination nowhere. It's like the natural history version of Musee D'Orsay.  


Everything is in French so unfortunately for us, we don't get the full benefit of the museum. Luckily, the exhibits are presented amazingly, with a great eye for detail. Giraffes stick their necks over the railings, four storeys up. An eagle is caught in mid-flight. A tiger is clambering up an elephant for some unknown but surely terrifying reason. They've even stuffed fish, positioned in glass cases in a way that looks like they're still swimming in water.


In a barely lit hall, rare, endangered and extinct species look out at you from the gloom of their spots. It's all drama, drama, drama in this room. I marvel at the taxidermy and think that La Specola in Florence really has a way to go. 


The museum is lit to cycle through sunrise and sunset and different types of weather. While we're in there, the hall echoes with an enormous storm, strikes of lightning, and finally, a rainbow. It's spectacular and dramatic and so quintessentially French in it's stylish execution that I want to clap.


There's not a skeleton to be seen though I wander in and out of the staircases to find one. I morosely think that maybe they got rid of the skeletons to make way for the new, flash exhibits. As we're leaving, I ask someone where the dinosaurs are. "The back of the garden. To the left."


On the way, we pass the botanical museum and the rocks museum. I'm pretty sure it wasn't called the rocks museum but that's basically what it is. 

Rob politely declines my offer to go see some rocks and we head straight to the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology; a pretty grand name for floors and floors of skeletons. 

In the foyer of the building, there's a startling sculpture of a gorilla throttling a hapless lady. 


Inside, you're instantly confronted by an audience of silent skeletons. They're all shapes and sizes, from the fossils to the time of dinosaurs to now-endangered species to current animals. 




There's also some foetus and baby skeletons arranged in standing positions and pickled cats in formaldehyde, their furry wee skins peel back only halfway. A natural history museum isn't worth its salt if they don't show you something gross suspended in liquid.


Wooden cabinets line the edges of the room, topped with those classic science exhibits you were forced to do produce in school. I look at them long and hard and absorb nothing. All I think is - No wonder I got such crappy grades in Biology. 


The turn-of-the-century building almost steals the attention from the hundreds of jostling skeletons on the floor. The rarified surroundings helps make the skeletons less macabre, more scientific


The stairwells are a thing of wonder; creaky, thick planks underfoot, milky wintry light struggling through large windows, iron banisters fashioned into twisting leaves and flowers and rows of irises.


For lunch, we're in the third arrondisement, the Marais, just down the road from the Pompidou Centre. We eat elbow to elbow with Parisians on their lunch break at Happy Noodles. We share barely-fried dumplings encased in thick dough, almost like pastry.


I get beef noodles of some sort. My beef is a bit rare for wussy ol' me but the handmade, fresh noodles are out of this world good. Rob happily sniffles through his spicy noodle soup. The portions are best described as huge heaps.


The space is tiny. You have to share tables with strangers but no one really minds. I'm sitting right next to the toilet and the tiny Chinese waitresses have one narrow corridor between the tables to shuttle the noodles, which are made at the front of the store, to the kitchen, which is at the back.


We skip the nearby Pompidou Centre to shop. It's getting colder and rainier every day and Rob needs a warm jacket and boots. Round and round the BHV we go. The price point is a little friendlier than Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. There's also an Anthropologie and an Urban Outfitters satellite store. 

I get stuck at the stationery and gourmet floor, but thankfully come out empty handed. The Christian Lacroix stationery nearly made it home with me though. Our dog, Chester, wins the day at BHV Niche. When we come home from what we're calling our "expedition", he's going to get some special French dog cupcakes and toys which he can chew into pieces. 


I gawk at the beautiful panoramic view of the rooftops of the Hotel De Ville from the top floor. I crowd in with the beautiful toile duvets to press against the window and use the free department store wifi to educate myself about the Hotel De Ville. 


In Wellington, I work in a place I like to call the Soviet compound. The buildings are arranged around the delightful focal point of a large carpark. If you're lucky, you get to work in the "flash" building that has views of the Beehive. But more often than not, you're looking at that carpark or the motorway. Here in Paris, the French house their most mundane of public services (like the Post Office!) in a grand building modelled on the chateau's of the Loire Valley, heralded by a regimented line of sprouting fountains that they keep turned on, even in winter. 


Afterwards, we try out Pain de Sucre, a ten minutes walk away through the Marais. There's the takeaway patisserie and one just next door where you can eat onsite. It's fitted out like a minimalist patisserie hospital; all gleaming white walls and counters. 


I order a Violetta and Rob orders a mille feuille. The Violetta is a gleaming mound of what looks like creme patisserie speckled with vanilla beans but tastes like silk. Like silk, people. This igloo-shaped outer ensconces a delicate, truly tropical sticky pineapple thing in the middle, which sparks against the creaminess of the outer layer. Am I in the tropics or am I on a rain spattered sidewalk in the Marais? Basically, we're playing with cream and pineapple on top of a biscuity base. I scoff every last bite, including the edible violet on top. I even try chewing on this string twig sticking out the top before I realise Oh this isn't chocolate. It's the vanilla bean pod.


A Time Out article suggested we visit L'habilleur for vintage. We're in a particularly uppity part of Marais where all the stores close early and nothing costs less than you entire salary per fortnight. We're passed several times by au pairs picking up their charges from school. These two things should really have tipped me off.

Once we get there, there's no one else in the shop, the owner is vacuuming and talks on the phone the entire time, and the "vintage" consists of obscure Italian designer cashmere jumpers and jackets for over 150 euros. L'habilleur's stock for women is of the matronly, wispy silk skirt school of design. I curse Time Out repeatedly. 


By now, the streets are slick with rain and the light is quickly fading. I'm bobbing along the tiny sidewalks with my umbrella, walking on the road when the constant swerving and dodging gets tiresome. 


People say no one comes to Paris for the weather, especially in November when it rains and rains and rains. I've only seen Paris at its best once, nine or ten years ago with my family during late spring. The rest of the times I've come in fall and winter; once during a snowstorm. Being from Wellington, I'm familiar with cities reknown for their terrible weather. Today, Paris is objectively grim and in the gloom, particularly medieval. For me, it's still no less compelling.


heathens ruining paris in south pigalle and in les halles malls

bad hot dogs for lunch and a noob on a Paris Velib bike