When you’re vacationing, a trip to city hall probably isn’t high on your list of things to do (unless you were visiting San Francisco circa 2004). But this is Paris, and city hall is the magnificent Hôtel de Ville. Moreover, it’s a place where you’ll find fascinating exhibitions on French culture – all of them free.
Learn more about the French for free
For a country so content on keeping its culture, language, and food “pure,” exhibits at the Hôtel de Ville do sometimes stretch the notion of French culture. Last summer saw a tribute to Grace Kelly, princess of Monaco, while another previous expo showcased a day in the life of a rugby player and spectator (rugby is a surprisingly popular sport in France).
One current exhibit is devoted to Le Petit Nicolas, a beloved character from French children’s comics for the past 50 years. Pages from Nicolas stories are hung up on the walls, along with commentary from writer René Goscinny and illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé. Though the scenes are all in French, it is the French of a child and easily understood.
Children visiting the “Petit Nicolas” expo are given an activity book and a pencil so they can draw their own pictures of Nicolas. Even if you know nothing about Le Petit Nicolas, you’re bound to enjoy this lighthearted look at life through a child’s eyes. This exhibit is on now until May 7, 2009; opening hours are 10 AM to 7 PM every day except Sundays and holidays.
Memories from Overseas and The Magician of Iron
Because one expo wasn’t enough, two more opened April 1, 2009 under the title “Memoire d’outre-mer” (outre-mer refers to French territories overseas). One is a series of photographs, documents and personal belongings related to the nearly 70,000 people from Antilles who migrated to French cities in the 1960s-1980s. The other consists of a massive wall with a list of the names of slaves liberated from French colonies in 1848.
Both can be viewed through April 25, from 10 AM to 7 PM. The exhibit is closed April 6-7, April 13 and on Sundays.
Next up is “Gustave Eiffel le magicien du fer”, a tribute to the architect of Paris’s best-known landmark, the Eiffel Tower, currently celebrating its 120th anniversary. The exhibit will run from May 7 to August 31, 2009.
And if you can’t make it to Paris, check out this virtual tour of the Hôtel de Ville.
About the author: Liz Webber is a freelance journalist living and working in Paris. She has previously worked for the International Herald Tribune and Budget Travel.