A Travellerspoint blog



I visit a science museum - with robots !!!

overcast 49 °F

Had an early morning flight from Athens to Paris (economy class - oh, the horror!) and then negotiated the train and met with my host in Paris, Jean Jay. Settled into the apartment and did a bit of blogging, shopped for some food for breakfast and got ready for the first day in Paris.

Of course, the first place you go in Paris is the hands-on science museum, right? I Googled it up and when I got into the vicinity I thought to myself - 'interesting- they put the science museum right next to this enormous basketball stadium..'

My bad - the enormous building was the Cite des Sciences et de l' Industries


And unlike the Tardis, it's just as big inside as outside.


Fortuitously, there was a special exhibition on Robotic Art


so I headed there first. It seems that there are two major universal challenges in the world of robotics that everyone is trying to solve and the rest of us can't figure out why. The first is a robot that can bring you a bottle of beer. The second is to make a 'real' Transformer. The exhibit attempted to tackle the second - but really, a mighty robot that transforms into..... a Citroen sedan?


They were doing a video shoot while I was there so I got to see it transform. It took like 10 minutes; Megatron has nothing to be jealous of.

Here's a display from my favorite robot art exhibit


The exhibit, complete with mad scientist video, describes some truly amazing thrill rides. Rather than try and shoot video of video, I strongly encourage you to visit the website of the Institute for Centrifugal Reseach, whose motto is "Gravity is our Enemy" or "We are spinning people around for future generations" or "Unpredictable since 1976" or something. Watch out, Cedar Point, you have some real competition!

A couple of other cool displays were a robot painstakingly drawing a 10 foot long mural of the surface of Mars using an image from the Curiosity Rover and a weird installation of 20 robotic hospital beds that slowly and subtly change elevation to ethereal music.


You may have seen videos of Theo Jansen's 'Strandbeest's as they march down beaches. They had one of his creations on hand and I got to see it in motion

The other exhibits were quite impressive, very well designed and pitched to an older child/adult audience. There was an interesting exhibit on risk assessment that explained some of the techniques and pitfalls due to personal psychology to accurate risk assessment, a large exhibit on molecular biology and evolution and another on transportation. You can see the scale of the exhibits from the picture below of part of the transportation exhibit.


They also have fablab. It's downstairs from the main exhibit hall and accessible without paying museum admission. It really has no interaction with the rest of the museum, either in space or in programming. I wandered in when it was opened and was basically ignored; I guess they get tired of tourists sticking their noses in, but I hope we can be sure that the outcome of the Innovation 5 project will be a more immediately welcoming place.

There are also separate areas for kids 2-7 and 5 - 12. I wasn't able to visit those on this day but I contacted the staff and they gave me permission to visit later. They normally don't let adults without children into these areas, understandably, but I used my Impression 5 credentials and, as they say, voila! There is even a third area for older teens and adults which I also haven't visited yet.


Of course, there is a gift shop to exit through, but again, as in Perth essentially no branded merchandise. No doubt there is a career for some marketer to go around and teach museums overseas how to exploit their brands for revenue!


Of course, given the scale and quality of the Cite, it may just be that they don't feel the need for more money - weird, right?

Posted by tdeits 03:53 Archived in France Tagged paris france museum science robots makerspaces Comments (0)

Paris, Pompidu and circumstance

Headed into the center of Paris for the first time. My first reaction is - it looks exactly like Paris. It is such a photographed city that it is hard not to come with a preconception of the city and it is hard for it not to be confirmed in the reality. As a result, I'm not tempted to take a bunch of pictures of the city per se (though I'm sure I'll sneak in a few). My second reaction is the city is a wonderful walkable mixed use community and that it achieves this by supporting a remarkably high population density. I have read estimates that the density is something like 200 dwelling units per acre, and given the vast number of 5, 6 and 7 storey apartments lining every street, I can believe. To put this in perspective for my Okemos friends, this is roughly equivalent to putting the entire township of Meridian in a space no larger than the Meridian Mall.

Well, all right, one picture - OK, two; one a quirky shot of the city at night and the other of the Pompidu center, my first museum destination.


The Pompidu is famous for its aggressively mechanical architecture and as a center for modern art. It is also overwhelming. I spend the whole day there and I could only manage the visiting exhibitions; another whole huge floor of the permanent collection was more than I could handle. I started with an exhibit about Marcel Duchamp, who is most famous two works - Nude Descending A Staircase, one of the most shocking works ever to be exhibited in America in its era, and for painting a mustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa.


The exhibit goes into exhaustive detail on the influences on Duchamp, starting with Dada and moving through Cubism, Fauvism, Impressionism, and more. It is interesting to see an artist work through all these styles, but I, as a layman, was left with the impression of more dilletantism with occasional brilliance. Interestingly, he wasn't a starving artist - he was supported by his wealthy father. Does this come into play in his inclination to move on in art rather than stake a claim and try to make it his, perhaps as other artists who needed the bread (literally) might be forced to do?

In any event, it was a lot to work through and it was nicely, if oddly, complemented by the other special exhibit of the works of Jeffery Koons. He has made no bones about making a living from his art and has become fabulously wealthy producing his unusual and frequently unsettling works. One element of the trajectory of his career can be encapsulated in three photos of objects from the beginning, middle and peak of his career.

The first is one of a set of assemblies of mundane inflatable objects and mirrors. In the second later piece he has retained the inflatable form and developed a reflective surface treatment. In the third and most recent object, he has scaled up and added color (and switched to a balloon dog). It's worth mentioning that an orange version of the inflatable dog sold for the highest price for any work by any living artist, $58.4 million.


He does other work as well, of course, much of it unsettling and some totally NSFW. He reminds me of Rodin, who was also extremely successful at marketing his works (did you know there are 28 more-or-less original full size statues of The Thinker out there?) and who also was as much an artistic director as a hands-on artist, relying on craftsmen to execute his concepts.

That took most of the day! Time for a late French lunch. There is a fancy restaurant in the Pompidu so I decided to splurge. I had a French green bean and mushroom (yes, the big white discs are mushrooms) salad and a classic French beef carpaccio with a nice glass of Chablis.


Armed with renewed strength, I tackled a Frank Gehry exhibit, equally deep and large, that took the rest of the day into evening (luckily the Pompidu is open quite late). There were interviews and documentaries and a huge collection of his models. He really kind of does work as shown in the Simpson's parody (where he crumples a letter from Marge asking him to build a building in Springfield and, after throwing it on the ground, decides it looks pretty good and so builds it) pushing and cutting chunks of cardboard and then staring at the result.

I like architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright fanboy) and in addition Robin works in a Gehry-designed building, the Stata Center. There was a model of the Stata center in the exhibition and I decided to out-Gehry Gehry. The model was in a display case and I set my phone for 'panorama' mode which is usually used to look out at a scene and instead I took an 'inside out' panorama, walking around the model. I think the result is pretty cool.


Well, that was quite a day. My brain hurt. So I wrapped it up with Boeuf Bourginone in a nearby brasserie - with more wine, of course.


I waddled back to the Metro and put my brain to bed. Nice day.

Posted by tdeits 23:15 Archived in France Tagged art food paris museum gehry koons duchamp pompidu Comments (0)

Louis Vuitton Museum - what all those handbags can buy

I have a cold. :(

overcast 49 °F

Yes, the infinite variety of the global microbiome finally caught up with me and I have a cold. It has slowed me down a bit both with sightseeing and with blogging, but I'll put this one up because it's fairly straightforward.

I had an ulterior motive in visiting the Pompidu Center show about Frank Gehry. The next day was the first opening for public viewing of the new Frank Gehry-designed Luis Vuitton Foundation Museum. I snagged a ticket for the first opening at noon and headed over. My route took me through the famous Bois de Boulogne, a forested park in central Paris (picture below). It's famous for being beautiful and also for its denizens of negotiable virtue, one of whom half-heartedly offered me some unspecified form of entertainment right there in the trees. Sadly, I was late for my tour and so proceeded doggedly on.


Well, it's a pretty spectacular place. I wandered around the interior for quite some time - here are some shots.


There are only a few art pieces in place as yet; here's one.


There were a lot of empty galleries as yet; luckily I had a can of spray paint along....


The exterior is also quite amazing but hard to capture. I have to admit when I took this picture I was reminded of the movie Dune;


Here are few more exterior shots without wiseguy commentary


I also took time to have a bite to eat in the restaurant


and visited an exhibition of models for the project - here are some of the early concepts


After lunch I played with one art piece that was up was an augmented reality tour of the museum. They gave you an Iphone and headphones and then you look through the Iphone as you wander through a narrated walk. I tried to take some pictures showing the reality and the corresponding augmented reality with somewhat limited success. In one, you encounter a percussionist playing the building and in the other a jazz combo is playing on one of the outside decks.


That's it for now. Time to blow my nose (again).

Posted by tdeits 07:10 Archived in France Tagged museums food paris lunch gehry vuitton Comments (0)

Snapshots of Paris

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This is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge (is that one word or two-or is it even a word?). I am going to violate chronology a bit as well, probably. Suffice it to say that Paris will do that to you. Which amazing thing are you going to be seeing/eating/smelling next? So here we go.....

I went to the Louvre. It's not a museum, it's a career. It is enormous and despite a large number of Royally commissioned items of monumental sculpture, there is plenty of great stuff to keep one engaged for a very long time. So I'm going to ignore the big stuff and just pull up some smaller bits that caught my eye.

First cool thing - they have carefully restored some of the Medieval elements of the Louvre (the roots of the building date to the 13th century) and you can wander around down there. The conical structure below is the base of the original dungeon. The neon is scattered throughout the restored area for reasons that remain obscure to me.


Second thing - this place is crowded! I can only imagine what it must be like during tourist season. Seriously, Paris is plenty crowded with tourists at the usual tourist spots in November. The good news is that they tend to cluster around the big 3 at the Louvre (Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Her Nibs) so places like the medieval sculpture gallery are pretty empty of people but full of some interesting pieces. I liked these two; one for its vigor and the other for her expressive face, often not thought to be a feature of Medieval art.


A few baby pictures. This is a Reubens, a guy known to delight in round, pink, fleshy ladies - here he goes hog-wild with round, pink, fleshy babies.


And I liked these two kids from two adjacent portraits by Van Dyck- they were much more interesting than the grownups.


Sigh, I guess I might as well throw in a picture of Her Nibs - enjoy....


You want to come back in August and check out that scene again? Didn't think so.

On another day (not sure which one) I also visited the Musee d'Orsay. This was the place where the Impressionists got started, hoping to be exhibited here so that someday they might get a call up to The Bigs, i.e. the Louvre. They needn't have worried; the Musee is magnificent and has a fabulous collection - that you can't photograph.

I did sneak one photo of a not-artwork. There is a small exhibit on the evolution of Paris as a city and in particular, how, at the instigation of Napoleon III, a fellow named Georges-Eugène Haussmann was given every planner's dream - complete freedom to knock down whatever he felt like knocking down and building whatever he felt like building. Indeed, the wonderful broad boulevards and much of Paris' current beauty is the outcome of his efforts. Of course, there was some dissent and this poster that I snapped kind of reminded me of the world of the planning commissioner (me being one, of course).

The other picture is of Napolean III's apartments which have been restored in the Louvre - I guess we can thank him for upscale hotel lobbies everywhere....


Well, this is going on a bit more than I planned. Think I'll make it a series of snapshots - stay tuned.

Posted by tdeits 11:40 Archived in France Tagged museums paris plants lisa mona Comments (0)

More snapshots of Paris

overcast 35 °F

My French expat friend Evelyn gave me an extensive list of must-do's in Paris and this entry is largely in honor of her success in laying out some great recommendations.

First, I went down to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

But before I do that maybe a word about getting around in Paris. The short answer is that there are two main ways to get around - the Metro and, for spots a bit out of town (like my apartment which was in Saint Denis, a northerly suburb), the suburban rail system, the RER. You can buy a combined pass for both systems for unlimited travel for 1 or more days at most train station ticket offices, which worked out extremely well for me; it's called a Paris Visite. Let me also say that while Mr. Google is an amazing travel companion and has stood by me in every transit system around the world, he does have a blind spot in Paris; he doesn't know how to work with trips that combine both the RER and the Metro which was the case for most of my trips. Fortunately, there's an app for that - it's called "Visit Paris by Metro - RATP" on the play store (somewhat misleadingly as it includes the RER which is not part of the Metro). The RATP app readily routes you efficiently on both systems. To give you an idea, the RATP app got me to the Notre Dame in one go in about 30 minutes from my door, while Mr. Google wanted a 20 minute walk followed by a 30 minute Metro ride.

OK- back to the Jardin des Plantes. It is a garden - containing plants. It's big. It's pretty formal and it is quite nice, even in winter.


It has a variety of beds of different kinds of flowers, most of which, naturally, were not in bloom. It also has an extensive medicinal plant garden which is documented in great detail. It warmed the cockles of this chemist's heart to see molecular structures provided!


Here's a kind of interesting vertical panorama of the trees that line either side of the formal gardens.


and another picture of a bit of residual fall color.


Next stop is the building you can see at the end of the garden in the first picture - the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution. This was a bit of a disappointment, frankly. It is a gorgeous building in the classical 'dead zoo' style of early 20th century natural history museums that they have tried to modernize by opening up the exhibits and cutting back on the number of glass cases, but that isn't the problem.


It's more of a philsophical/educational issue. It is called a Gallery of Evolution but it is really a Gallery of diversity. Now that's fine, and the rich diversity of life is readily explained by the combination of deep time and the known mechanisms of evolution, but they nowhere bring up anything to do with fossil or molecular evidence, so it is kind of a one-legged table. I know this may be a quibble but as I try to follow the ongoing efforts to squelch good science in schools by proponents of creationism and its cousins like Intelligent Design, I really want to see strong arguments made every time we have the public's attention. I didn't think that this museum accomplished this goal, although I do understand that they were starting with a dead zoo and were doing their best within the context; I just think they should have tried harder to enrich the context as well.

Still, all was not lost. I got to see a stuffed dodo!


Well, to clear the dust of the dead zoo, I headed across the street to another of Evelyn's suggestions; the Grande Mosquée de Paris for mint tea and pastries. Very nice indeed and not something I would have otherwise spotted.


Another of Evelyn's suggestions was a visit to the Latin Quarter for some culture. I headed out there in the evening and first browsed a bit in Shakespeare and Company, a very large and interesting (primarily) English language bookstore. Sadly, not a lot of space left in the old suitcase at this point, but it was fun. Then on to the Caveau de la Huchette for a real musical treat. This is a jazz institution in Paris where you grab a beer at the bar and then descend down a narrow staircase into the depths. It does indeed look like a cave; I was surpised there were not beer stalactites descending from the ceiling. There was a 3 piece boogie woogie band playing up a storm and the pianist was a guy who had clearly been doing this for many, many, many years.


And the crowd was definitely cutting a rug (or would have been if there had been a rug!).


It was a complete gas of an evening and a day.

However as I warned, I was not going to be entirely chronological in this entry so I want to briefly describe another musical event I attended; a Mozart Requiem in the Eglise Madeleine. Here is a picture of the beautiful altar where the concert was held, taken earlier in the afternoon.


The concert itself was quite good although not stellar - it clearly was not a regular ensemble of musicians and so some of the playing was a little bit ragged. Nonetheless, a musical experience like this in a place like this was truly special. There was also a distraction during the performance. One of the members of the chorus apparently fell ill during the performance. They moved them to stage left just behind a railing and for the rest of the concert there was an EMT team seen working. I don't know the outcome but I hope everything was all right.

I think I will have to paste together one more snapshot to complete the Paris experience. Stay tuned!

Posted by tdeits 12:24 Archived in France Tagged churches gardens food paris fall museum music mozart evolution boogie woogie Comments (0)

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