Friday, 21 February 2014

Playing grounds in the City of Light

Enjoying the outdoors: There are lots of parks and playgrounds all over Paris.

Enjoying the outdoors: There are lots of parks and playgrounds all over Paris.

Paris turned out to be a fun city for children too.

THERE are very many things to consider when moving abroad: personal security, education, language, weather and pollution risks, environmental sanitation, racial or religious tolerance, sexual discrimination, health care, cost of living, support systems, difference in culture and opinions or even driving on the other side of the road or retail hours ... it’s a long list. When you move with children, you just cannot compromise on some of the things on this list. Other less important changes – like retail hours – you learn to live with.

There are also other factors which don’t at all get on the primary list, but are fundamental in choosing the new foreign home – dictatorial regimes, war zones, drug or crime-ridden cities, gun culture, that kind of thing.

But there’s one thing that often gets sidelined, or so I think, and that is, pleasure in leisure. It was important for us to see our children continue to engage in their favourite pastimes and have opportunities to pursue new ones. It is one of the few tangible things that helped them adapt to their new environment.

When we first arrived, we played tourists in our new home city.

Taking a cruise on the Seine River, for example, helped us to orientate ourselves to Paris. Our demoiselles then clearly understood that Paris is divided into the left bank and the right, and that we lived on the left, that Notre Dame stood on an island.

During the boat ride, we saw many of Paris’ iconic landmarks. I must admit that my girls can name them far more easily than me now. When we have friends visiting, it’s always something we recommend they do.

One of the first places we headed to when we moved here was a park. In Kuala Lumpur, our weekends almost always included a visit to the park, either the Lake Gardens, the KLCC Park or something more challenging like FRIM in Kepong. So, we checked out all the parks within a one-kilometre walking-distance radius of our new home.

You’d be surprised but there are plenty. Because most Parisians live in such small spaces, parks and playgrounds play a crucial role in helping keep babysitters and parents sane.

We have two huge parks to enjoy. One, the Jardin des Plantes which is like the Botanical Gardens of Paris, originally founded as a medicinal garden by King Louis XIII in 1635. It’s a 60-acre park, so there is plenty of space for the children to run around. Otherwise, there is a carousel, a menagerie (a zoo in modern speak), a museum of natural history and all sorts of thematic gardens. Clearly, we can keep our weekend park routine.

Skating has become one of the children's favourite activities in winter.
Skating has become one of the children’s favourite activities in winter.

The second is the Jardin Luxembourg where young and old flock to when the sun decides to make its appearance. The oldest carousel in Paris is here, designed by the same creator of Opéra Garnier. A puppet show entertains the very young. A big playground keeps everyone happily occupied while mum and dad sip an espresso.

We have many other small parks dotting our neighbourhood (and all Parisian neighbourhoods), two of which boast the only visible remains of the Gallo-Roman era. One is the Arènes de Lutèces, where a modern playground has been discreetly placed out of view in this ancient amphitheatre. But the kids quite often just play a game of football in the centre of the arena, imagining the crowd on the stone terraces cheering on their gladiatorial combats.

And then, there is the fact that Paris has the highest density of cinemas in the world, with more movie theatres per capita than almost anywhere else (and they’re not in shopping malls). Well, France is, after all, the birthplace of the cinema.

Going to the cinema has now become one of our new weekend routines. It is such a shame that French children’s movies don’t get translated nor viewed much outside of Europe. They are creative, sweet, intelligent, well made and there is hardly ever a princess in the story.

Schoolchildren as young as seven years old are taken to cinemas on school outings. The children watch a series of classic films and are introduced to different film genres. And the word ‘burlesque’ gets added into their vocabulary, just like that. I was duly impressed when I had the chance to accompany my younger daughter’s class to the cinema several times.

The library is also a big part of our children’s lives here. Once a week, we head there. I take along my shopping caddy because 25 books can be quite heavy when you have to trudge up the little slope to our home. Membership is free, and allows you to borrow from any library in Paris.

The best way to get acquainted with Paris is by going on the boat cruise down the Seine River. 
The best way to get acquainted with Paris is by going on the boat cruise down the Seine River.

Museums, of course, merit a mention. Workshops for children are organised on a regular basis. Children’s versions of audio-visual guides are often available. And best of all, children get in free. It’s definitely a new activity to pursue.

In Paris, you have, of course, the celebrated Louvre or Orsay museums, but you also have smaller museums which kids will find fascinating. Whatever the child’s interest, be it dolls, magic, vampires, textiles, masks, sculpture … the list goes on, as there are more than 150 museums in Paris, one is spoilt for choice.

Carousels are a big thing in Paris, especially during the festive season. During the Christmas period, children can ride on carousels for free, thanks to the town council.

Skating rinks are constructed, and stay open for about three months. If you have a pair of skates, you skate for free. Otherwise, renting a pair of skates only set you back five euros (if I were enterprising enough, I would be renting out skates on the pavement for three euros). So, this too has become a new pastime for us during the winter season.

Our daughters have managed to continue with their favourite activities in Paris, and have even taken them to a new level. My elder daughter is passionate about classical ballet. What better place to be than in Paris?

Each arrondissement (district) has a conservatory of dance and music, and though admissions are competitive and the training is rather intense, the children, including my daughter, love it.

We also have an annual subscription to the Opéra Garnier, just like we had one for the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

Before we left, I told myself to expect life here in Paris to be different. And, indeed it is. The day unfolds differently. School hours are different. Birthday parties and play-dates protocols are different. People are different. Attitudes are different.

So, it’s quite good to be doing some of the same things we used to do.

We want to hear about your different family experiences, wherever you are – be it in Kuala Lumpur or Sydney or Abu Dhabi. Parentpost is the new Star2 column for you to share how you are bringing up your children in different environments and cultures, as well as the insights you have gained. Please e-mail us your stories (800–1,000 words) with photograph sin high resolut ion to star2@thestar. com.my. Articles will be edited for clarity and to accommodate space constraints.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Family Community , Parenting , Family , Paris


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