Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Paris 2016 - Cluny, Arts & Metiers Museums

Having visited the "must-see" Louvre and Orsay museums on our first visit to Paris, we chose some smaller, less popular museums for our "Off-the-Beaten-Path" tour on our third return trip to the city.  We had exhausted all the museums that we wanted to see in the 16th arrondissement where we were staying, so we finally ventured into the heart of the city, going to the 5th arrondissement to visit the Cluny Museum and the 3rd arrondissement to visit the Musée des Arts et Métiers.  It actually felt strange returning to the 5th since we were suddenly be in the midst of many other tourists after spending so much time in the outskirts of Paris.  Near Place Saint-Michel, Rich was so happy to find the cheesy hotdog that he enjoyed during our first trip to Paris.

We had previously resisted going to the Cluny Museum of Medieval Art since we knew that it wasn't really our thing.  But it happens to be the favourite museum of some friends of ours and they have been urging us to go.  So when we found out that we would be in Paris during the first Sunday of the month when admission to the Cluny is free, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  We could check it out, see the highlights and if we still were not that interested, we would not have wasted any money.  As it turns out, we were right about our ambivalence towards Medieval art and raced through the museum quite quickly.  One of my favourite things about the Cluny was actually the clever cartoon graphics that were used to explain that the museum was under renovation.  I laughed out loud each time I saw another one, as they guided us towards the detoured entrance.

As expected, the first few rooms were filled with religious art in the form of sculptures, paintings and a magnificent altarpiece with intricate carvings in the centre.  We were intrigued by the sculpture of Christian martyr Saint Denis who is known for the miracle of walking 6 miles holding his decapitated head.  This particular rendition of the saint is interesting because of the faint red (blood?) stains that can be detected on his robe and headpiece.  The room with stained glass art continued with the themes of violence, depicting various scenes of torture and killing of martyrs.

The highlight of the Cluny Museum is the collection of six tapestries known as "The Lady and the Unicorn" that date back to the early 17th Century.  At first glance, the six giant weavings all look quite similar with the red Millefleur background and blue base.  Each tapestry depicts a lady accompanied by a lion on her left and a unicorn on her right.  The two animals either hold pennants or wear sashes bearing a coat of arms of the noble LeViste family.  Various birds, dogs, monkeys, bunnies and other animals are placed around the peripheral.

Upon closer observation, it can be discerned that five of the tapestries allude to the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, as reflected by the actions of either the lady or one of the animals.  The sixth tapestry includes a blue tent with the words "À Mon Seul Désir" written across the top (possibly translated as "my one and only desire" or "by my will only").   Many different interpretations have been attributed to this sixth tapestry, including the sixth sense of perception, or allusion to material wealth.  Personally, I think the poor Lion got shortchanged since he is just as prominently featured as the Unicorn in these tapestries but is not even mentioned in the the name of the collection.

I was quite interested with that the tapestry "Les Vendanges" (The Harvest), depicting the steps of making wine, from picking to pressing grapes and a first taste of the drink. The busy scenes were recreated in a tactile model that the visually impaired could touch and feel in order to get a sense of what the tapestry was about.  Braille descriptions accompanied this model.  I have heard about this wonderful offering but had not seen one personally until now.

The Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts) is a museum of technology, science and industrial design devoted to presenting French scientific inventions, designs and instruments dating back to the late 18th century when the museum was first founded.  We approached what we first thought was the museum entrance, but it turned out to be the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, which was the original owner of the collection of over 80,000 objects and 15,000 drawings, but is now a prestigious school of higher education.  Instead, the Museum of Arts and Crafts is partially housed in the Saint-Martin-des-Champs Abbey, an influential monastry in the Medieval times, as well as in an additional building added during a renovation in the 1990s.  About 3000 items from the vast collection are on display in the museum, which is divided into seven sections including Scientific Instruments, Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, Communication, Transportation.

We started out in the Mechanics section where we perused an entire room full of contraptions with wheels, pulleys and levers with wooden or metal gears.  These were all 18th-19th century French contributions to the Industrial revolution. Some were models illustrating theoretical aspects of transmission and transformation of motion, while others had practical uses such as weaving or looming.  I was not really interested in these devices since they all looked the same to me and I didn't really understand how they worked.  I think I felt the same way in the Materials and Energy sections as well, although I didn't quite keep track of which section we were in.

I was much more enthralled with the "Théâtre des Automates", an enchanting collection 19th Century automatons, which are wind-up machines designed to automatically follow a predetermined sequence of operations. The brightly dressed and decorated mechanical robots in this exhibit perform prescribed movements such as playing a musical instrument,  performing acrobatic tricks, working a hand saw or riding a bicycle.  Although the automatons look like toys, the mechanical movements were quite complex and these were expensive objects in their day that were kept as valued collectors' items. Too bad we were not there at a time when we could watch a demonstration of the movements of these automatons.

There were many objects that I found interesting within the Communications section, including an Apple Lisa II computer (1984), an Opus video conferencing terminal (1989) that pre-dated the "webcam", an old-fashioned telephone (1944), a reel tape player (1930) and what looked like a record player that achieved stereophonic sound by playing two records at a time, each through its own large speaker.

I was intrigued by the late 19th Century Hughes printing telegraph developed by George Phelps that used a piano-like keyboard with the black sharp/flat keys representing letters A-N from left to right, and the white natural keys representing the letters O-Z plus a dot ('.') and space (' ') from right to left.  I also liked the "spy cameras" that were hidden in a watch, a cravat, a top hat and a book.  I'm not sure how the other cameras were operated, but the cravat was attached to a wire and a bulb that presumably was pressed to take the photos.

Léon Bollée's Direct Multiplication machine (1889) won the gold medal award at the Paris Exposition (World's Fair), for its ability to quickly multiply two numbers within seconds (as opposed to minutes for previous machines).  A fascinating video shows how this machine works.  Using levers and dials to set the values of the multiplicand and multiplier, the machine manipulates a series of metal bars of different heights to produce the product.  Unlike previous machines which simulated multiplication through a series of additions or subtractions, this machine directly performed the operation.

Moving on to the Transportation section, we saw Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's 1770 steam powered vehicle named the "Fardier à Vapeur", known as the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle. Intended to transport artillery for the army, the vehicle had two wheels in the back and one in the front, weighed 2.5 tonnes and traveled 2.25 miles per hour.  However the Fardier had poor weight distribution and steering, making it unreliable.  An unsubstantiated anecdote suggests that it caused the first automobile accident when it crashed into a wall.  A hilarious video is shown to illustrate what might have happened in the accident, possibly using a reproduction of the Fardier, which was built in 2010.  You can watch this Youtube video to see this reproduction in action and get a better idea of how the Fardier would have worked.

One of the highlights of the Musée des Arts et Métiers was Clément Ader's 1897 steam-powered Avion III, a flying machine made of wood and linen with wings modeled after a bat and propeller blades resembling bird feathers, trying to imitate animals that could fly.  The plane was powered by a relatively light-weight steam engine fueled by kerosene.  Despite building three models of the airplane, Ader was unable to make any of them fly.  The best he achieved was a short taxi down a runway followed by a 50 metre "hop" at a height of 20 centimetres.

So far all the exhibits that we had seen were in the new addition of the museum.  Now we finally stepped into the nave of the ancient Saint-Martin-Des-Champs chapel and were amazed by what was before us.  Three historically significant airplanes are hung from the ceiling, while vintage vehicles and even a model of the Statue of Liberty are placed on platforms of varying heights leading up into the rafters.  A spiral ramp and stairs allow you to climb upwards in order to get closer views of the items on display.  This was a really impressive use of space, using the height of the tall, narrow chapel to maximize opportunities to show more of the collection.

Being an airplane enthusiast, Rich was quite excited to inspect the historically significant planes in the collection.  There was the 1911 Breguet No. 40 biplane which made the first long distance flight between Casablanca to Fez in Morocco.  The 1906 Esnault-Pelterie REP I was one of first planes to use the joystick as its main flight control mechanism.  The 1909 Blériot  XI monoplane was used to make the first crossing of the English Channel, taking 35 minutes for the trip.  It was great to be able to see these planes in the air as if they were in flight but still be so close to them.

Finally, we saw French physicist Léon Foucault's pendulum, a device invented in 1851 which demonstrates the rotation of the earth using laboratory apparatus and measurements as opposed to astronomical observations.  The device consists of a 28km brass ball suspended by a long wire cable.  If you start the pendulum swinging in one direction, eventually you will notice that it seems to have changed directions when actually it is the earth that has rotated relative to the pendulum.  Foucault also invented the gyroscope as another means to measure or maintain orientation and thus visualize the Earth's rotation.

Although we got off to a slow start, we ended up seeing many very interesting exhibits at the Musée des Arts et Métiers.  I can't say that I understood the science behind many of the things that we saw, but it was still fun learning about them.

Paris 2016 - St Ouen Antiques Market

Located just north of the 17th arrondissement, the Parisian suburb of St.Ouen is home to what has been touted as the "Largest Antiques Market in the world" with an extension collection of antique shops primarily selling furniture but also jewelry, clothing, art and trinkets.  The general vibe of the St.Ouen area is a bit more gritty and urban than the historic sections of central Paris.  Graffiti and street art could be found everywhere as we walked from the metro station to reach the antique markets.

After learning that we wanted to visit "Le Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen", our home swap hosts advised us to get off at the Garbaldi metro station as opposed to the Port Clignancourt station.  This would let us arrive at Rue des Rosiers where the majority of the antique stores were situated, without having to make our way through the massive flea market with vendors aggressively trying to hawk their wares.  As we walked south-west along Rue des Rosiers, we came upon a few smaller antique shops before we found a huge complex of shops under the banner "Marché Paul Bert Serpette".  There were over 350 different stalls within this antiques market, which was indeed larger than any grouping of antique shops that we had ever visited before.  We therefore thought that we had reached our destination and happily sent several hours wandering around.

It was not until we returned home and I started researching more in depth for this blog that I discovered that we had only visited two out of fourteen separate markets that formed Le Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen.  Had we continued down the street, or wandered onto the parallel street Jules Vallès, we would have found many more antique markets, although many of the others were not as large as the one we did explore.  We also missed a few shops dedicated to Art Deco furnishings and art, which is a particular passion of ours.  Needless to say, on our next visit to Paris, we will have to return to this area and check out the rest of the markets.  In the meantime, we were thoroughly impressed with the ones that we did get to see.

The first market that we passed by was the Marché de l'Entrepôt (80 Rue des Rosiers) which specializes in large-scaled items including building materials, iron gates and railings, window panes, fountains, large stone sculptures, lamp posts, chandeliers and even a beautiful spiral staircase.  This would be a great place for someone who wanted to find materials to build his own manor.  A big wide driveway in front of the shops allow you to pull up a truck to haul away your purchases.

Next we came across the shop of Vincent Fortin (59 Rue des Rosiers) where we found an eclectic mix of relatively modern looking furniture that at a guess seemed to be from the 1950s-70s.  I was interested in the chair that reminded me of a baseball glove, the beautiful wood and unusual legs on an Eastern European buffet, and the coffee table with a built-in light feature.

As we stepped out of the Fortin store, we spotted an entrance for the Marché Paul Bert Serpette (110 Rue des Rosiers).  A site map identifies hundreds of stalls, laid out in numbered rows called "Allées" located both outside and inside a large warehouse.  It was raining on and off on the day we visited, so we were happy to be able to duck inside during the rain and explore the outside stalls once the weather cleared.

The 14 antique markets of Le Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen vary in the types of items they stock for sale.  One market only deals in sportswear and trendy clothing, another offers furniture from the 17th to 19th centuries and another market's inventory includes old books, weapons, military uniforms and medals.  Although it does include some art, jewelry, clothing and other objects dating from antiquities through the 1990s, the main focus of the Marché Paul Bert Serpette seems to be furniture.  We were not particularly interested in the earlier 18th-19th century furnishings that looked like they came out of a museum, but quite enjoyed inspecting the large collection of furniture from the 20th Century.  We saw many stylish chairs, sofas, tables, cabinets, lamps and chandeliers from unknown designers and were impressed with the quality of the items on display.

We actually fell in love with a beautiful vintage 1950s Scandinavian loveseat made of soft red leather that felt so comfortable when we sat on it.  If the price hadn't been in Euros and if we did not have to pay exorbitant shipping costs on top of it, this piece might be sitting in our home today.   Rich was also enamoured with the look of a set of tan leather arm chairs with wooden arms decorated with black trim, and the matching wooden table.  I also admired the interesting shape of a bright red laquer coffee table.

We saw some weird and wacky furnishings that made us wonder where you would find a market for some of this stuff.  This included a dining room set where the chairs are painted with bright primary colours and the ceramic back of each chair is decorated with the face of some strange creature with two eyes and an upturned nose.  The base of the table is also supported by another creature, but I did not get close enough to get a good look at it.  An antique chaise lounge with gilded trim was unusually covered with the hide of a horse or some other similar animal.  One of the most unique things that we saw was not any of the furniture.  Instead, it was the electric floor panels that glowed with psychedelic lights.  This was maybe left over from the Disco age?

In terms of inventory that was not furniture, I liked a bright orange, all-leather dress (or was it a coat?) and some Art Deco jewelry.  Rich was interested in the old steamer trunks that were used for travel in the 18th to early 20th centuries and we commented on how they would definitely not meet the weight requirements of today's airlines.  Of all the art that we saw at this market, the most curious was the porcelain sculpture of a woman with her legs over her head. The figures resting on her hamstrings recreate the iconic photograph of troops raising the flag of Iowa Jima.

We did not really see much Art Deco furniture at the Paul Bert Serpette antiques market and we missed going to the Giraud Art Deco store (91 Rue des Rosiers) that presumably specializes in this style.  Looking at the Giraud website, I found out that we could have viewed some fabulous Deco cocktail cabinets.  On the day that we walked the Coulée Verte trail, we did visit the store Hifigeny, which creates custom-made  furniture and art in the Art Deco Style (as well as Baroque and contemporary styles).  I found the Deco-inspired furniture to be absolutely gorgeous but unfortunately still out of our price range despite not being original antiques.  I did have my eye on some 3-foot tall cast iron Art Deco-styled sculptures on marble bases.  Who know, one of these might actually end up in our home some day.  In the meantime, it was so much fun window-shopping at the Antiques market and various antique stores in Paris.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Paris 2016 - Coulee Verte, Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Villette

Part of our "Off the Beaten Path" itinerary involved visiting some large parks either bordering on or actually in the suburbs of Paris, including the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Parc de la Villette, and the Bois de Vincennes, which is the largest park in Paris and sits at the eastern end of the Coulée Verte walking trail. We wanted to have good weather for these outdoor excursions.  When we first arrived in Paris, we experienced quite a bit of rain, including the occasional down pour.  Luckily we were never far from home on those days and got back just before the intense storms started. But we definitely did not want to be caught in the middle of a vast park far away from home during a heavy rainfall, so we did a lot of weather watching and juggling of our schedule to make sure we that embarked on perfectly clear days.

Similar to the Highline trail in Manhattan and parts of the Kay Gardiner trail in Toronto, the Coulée Verte ("Green Belt") is a partially elevated walking path that follows an old railway line, in this case the former Vincennes line in the 12th arrondissement.  Also known as the Promenade Plantée, the extensive tree-lined walkway starts near the Opéra Bastille and extends in a south-east direction for almost 5 kilometres before exiting at the western point of the Bois de Vincennes.  The western end of the Coulée Verte runs along the top of the Viaduc des Arts (formerly the railway line Viaduc de Bastille), a 10-metre high bridge with 64 red brick arches or vaults with shops and art galleries located underneath, running along avenue Daumesnil.  Stairs and elevators are available at various points to allow access up to the elevated path.

The Coulée Verte is more than just a walkway.  It is a linear park that is beautifully landscaped with plants, shrubs, flowers, arched trellises and even water features.  There were very few people on the path and many of those that we did see were clearly locals out enjoying the sunshine, reading newspapers on the benches, or taking leisurely strolls.  The path offers a wide variety of plants including cherry blossom, holly and lime trees, evergreen shrubs, climbing rose, clematis and honeysuckle bushes, that mix with natural vegetation such as moss and wild poppies.

The elevated Viaduc des Arts offers up some great views of the architecture in the 12th arrondissement.  We saw ornate rooftops of Art Nouveau buildings and wide tree-lined boulevards like the ones that we had in the 16th arrondissement where we stayed.  I'm not sure what style it is considered, but I really liked the building with the grey egg-shaped domed roof that reminded me a bit of Eastern Orthodox churches.

The most interesting sight on this stretch of the Coulée Verte has to be the awesome sculptures lining the top of the Art Deco building at 80 Avenue Daumesnil, designed by Spanish architect Manuel Nunez Yanowsky.  The building is currently used as the police station for the 12th arrondissement. The "cheeky" sculptures are modeled after Michelangelo's masterpiece "Dying Slave" which is in the Louvre.

As we came towards the end of the Viaduc des Arts, we saw more examples of the Art Deco Streamline Moderne style of buildings.  I was particularly interested in two buildings that stood on either side of the walkway, which from afar appeared to be a single building that was cut in half.

The elevated portion of the Coulée Verte ends near the Jardin de Reuilly-Paul-Pernin, which consists of a large lawn area used for sports and suntanning, surrounded by smaller themed gardens.  Designed by landscape architects Pierre Colboc and Thierry Louf, this is the largest green space in the 12th arrondissement.  It is spanned by the Reuilly Bridge which leads to Allée Vivaldi, a two-laned road that is divided by a wide, tree-lined promenade named after Italian violinist Antonio Vivaldi.  When we first exited the parklands and arrived at this street with traffic and apartment buildings on both sides, we thought that the Coulée Verte pathway had ended.  We proceeded on through the promenade just in case and quickly found that it did continue.

At the end of the Allée Vivaldi, we reached the Tunnel de Reuilly, an underground passageway leading towards the Bois de Vincennes that acts as a path for cyclists, scooters, skateboards, joggers and pedestrians.  The walls are decorated with rock art and trickling waterfalls.

After traversing through the tunnel, we arrived at a new woodland path that eventually led to the Square Charles Péguy, the largest city square in 12th arrondissement, named after a 19th Century French writer, poet and essayist.  Having reached the end of the Coulée Verte, we were tired after walking almost 5km.  Accordingly, we did not do a good job exploring this square and missed out on seeing a pretty cascading fountain and some other park features.  We did end up at a community garden area that apparently led to another 19km trail called the Petite Ceinture, but we never found that either and probably would not have had the energy to walk it even if we had.  These will be areas we can plan to explore on our next visit to Paris.  There seems to be an endless list of things to do and see in this beautiful city.

On another sunny day, we set out to visit two large parks in the 19th arrondissement, situated in the north-east end of Paris–the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and the Parc de la Villette.  

The beauty of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is even more impressive after hearing about the sordid history of its location.  From the 13th through the 18th centuries, it was the location of the Gibbet of Montfaucon, the main gallows where bodies were hung on display after execution.  After the French Revolution of 1789, it became the dumping ground for horse carcasses, garbage and sewage.  Finally in 1864, it was decided to turn this toxic, disease-infested area into a public park, designed by Jean-Charles Alphand who also created the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes. To revitalize the area and create the park, 200,000 cubic metres of top soil were used to landscape and create sloping lawns, hillsides and a 3.7 acre lake.  The chief gardener of Paris planted flowers, shrubs and thousands of trees of both indigenous and exotic species. 

Steep cliffs (buttes) were created using explosives, resulting in the small island "Île du Belvédère" with a 50-metres high mountain.  Atop the mountain, a miniature Roman temple was erected, modeled after the Temple of Vesta near Tivoli, Italy.  Named the "Temple de la Sibylle",  you can see wonderful views of the Montparnasse district from its perch.  

A 12-metre long stone bridge and a 63-metre long suspension bridge lead to the island from the south and the north sides of the park.  The stone bridge was nicknamed the "Suicide Bridge" due to a number of highly publicized suicides that occurred from this location.  Mesh wiring has since been installed to prevent further incidents.  We accessed the island from the stone bridge, admired the views, then returned to the main park via the suspension bridge.

There are some very picturesque views of the temple, mountain and lake from the bottom of the park, with people are seen sunbathing and even fishing by the edge of the lake.  As we strolled around the Buttes Chaumont, we admired the designs of three very different artificial waterfalls.  In each case, hydraulic pumps are used to lift water from a nearby canal up to the highest point of the cascade.  The first was a flow of water rushing down the side of a tree-lined cliff that looked so natural that you would not think that it was man-made.  The second waterfall was given a romantic setting with slow streams of water trickling over sculpted rocks, guarded by the sculpture of a woodland tree monster reminiscent of something out of Lord of the Rings.

The third and most impressive chute was a massive cascade flowing down 20 metres from within an enormous grotto that was created out of an old gypsum and limestone quarry.  This 14-metre wide cavern was decorated with artificial stalactites and giant stepping stones which guide the stream of water out of the grotto and back towards the lake.

Located a mere 20 minutes walk north-east of the Buttes Chaumont, the Parc de la Villette is an "urban park for the 21st century" that defies past preconceptions of what a park entails.  Built in the early 1980s on top of  former 19th century cattle slaughterhouses, the design by architect Bernard Tschumi incorporates traditional green space with buildings and architecture dedicated to arts, science, culture and entertainment.  Located within the massive 55 acres of the Villette are multiple concert halls and venues for live music, sports facility, exhibition space, a science museum, a museum of historic musical instruments, several movie spaces including an IMAX dome, and a children's play area.

When we first reached the southern end of the park, we wondered whether there would be any green space at all.  The sign said that we were in Parc de la Villette, but there was no sign of any trees or grass. We first passed by the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall designed by Jean Nouvel, whose innovative, sparkling metal façade could easily be mistaken for the work of Frank Gehry.  Then we entered the Place de la Fontaine aux Lions, a large square featuring the 19th Century fountain with lion sculptures created by Pierre-Simon Girard.  Temporary carnival rides are installed in the middle of the square during the summer months (July/August).

At the rear of the square is a large building called "La Grande Halle", which was originally called "La Grande Halle Aux Boeufs" due to its history as a beef tallow processing plant.  Today, the 220,000 square foot space made of glass and cast iron is used as an event space for traveling exhibitions, fairs, festivals and cultural events.  It was interesting to note that the current exhibition "James Bond: Fifty Years of Bond Style" was the same show that played in Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox a few years back.  Also located in the Place de la Fontaine aux Lions square is the "Cité de la Musique", a museum of musical instruments as well as the restaurant "Café des Concerts" where we decided to stop for lunch.

After walking well into the early afternoon in the Buttes Chaumont, it felt good to sit down and get some rest and nourishment before continuing to explore the park.  We were able to score a prime seat on the patio.  I ordered an excellent "Croque Monsieur" with salad, while Rich ordered the "Croque Madame" which additionally included a fried egg on top.  The Croque Monsieur is a "French toasted" ham and Gruyere cheese sandwich which is dipped in an egg batter and fried or grilled.  The one at this restaurant was particularly generous on the Gruyere cheese and was one of the best versions that I've ever had.

After lunch we walked further north in the park towards the Canal de l'Ourcq and finally came across green space.  In a large lawn area, an outdoor movie theatre screens films in the summer evenings.  An annual open-air film festival is held in July and August which features a different theme each year, such as the 2010 theme "To Be 20" dealing with movies about youth and self-discovery at age 20.  Scattered throughout the park are 35 bright red metal structures, known as "follies" that the architect intended as "architectural representations of deconstruction".  It is like the physical representation of the Cubism art movement.  These structures are mainly decorative as well as acting as directional points of reference in the park, although some have been re-purposed to be house information booths or snack bars.

As we approached the canal, we caught sight of a large reflective dome that reminded me of the Cloud Gate (aka "Bean") sculpture in Chicago's Millenium Park. In fact, it is the "Geode", a geodesic IMAX movie theatre which shows films on nature and science.  The theatre sits on top of the "Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie", the largest Science Centre in Europe.

An elevated boardwalk provides excellent views of the canal and the parkland on either side of it.  We watched people walking across a bridge to cross the canal, while small boats and paddle boats slowly approached and waited expectantly.  We wondered how the boats were going to pass, and soon we got our answer.

The bridge is actually a motorized temporary platform that slowly swings around until it sits parallel to one side of the canal, opening up a space for boats to pass.  We stood for a while and watched the mobile bridge as it swung open and closed. The bridge is supplied by the company Contraste, which specializes in rentals of floating platforms, barges, kayaks, paddle boats, and other leisure flotation devices.  The "Pont Mobile" is probably only installed during the busy summer months in order to alleviate the traffic on the permanent foot bridge that sits further down the canal.

From our perch on the elevated boardwalk, we noticed what looked like a colourful sculpture of a giant bug or some other type of creature.  Once we crossed the bridge and got a closer look, we realized that this was an enormous 80 foot slide that is part of a larger children's play area.  Although it did not seem like it to me, the slide is actually meant to be shaped like a Dragon

Since we reached the Parc de la Villette so late in the day, we did not have time to give it a thorough exploration.  We missed many of its featured attractions, including going into the museums and concert venues, or visiting the 10 different themed gardens such as the Garden of Mirrors or Garden of Bamboo.  We even found out later that there is a submarine called "The Argonaut" that you can board for 3 Euros.  We will have to spend more time in this beautiful park on our next visit.