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PARIS for the Petite

Carousels, sailboats and Ferris wheels for young imaginations

August 06, 2000|RITA CIOLLI | Rita Ciolli covers technology for Newsday in New York

PARIS — Our twin daughters went to Paris with two promises: They would ride all the carousels we could find, and they would sail boats in the park. A dozen carousel rides into our two-week visit, we headed to the Luxembourg Gardens, the park Napoleon dedicated to children. On one of the few sunny days the city offered this spring, young Parisians were already piloting their craft around the grand basin. Teresa sprinted ahead to the pond and then stopped, stunned.

"Where's the remote control?" she asked, surprised by the worn bamboo sticks the children were using to launch their boats. "Why are they using sticks?"

"Because they always use sticks," I replied. It was the best answer I could muster at the time, but in the end it summed up why we were there in the first place. She shrugged but seemed uncertain as to whether this was going to be all that interesting after all.

I paid the equivalent of $2.50 for a one-hour rental, and she took possession of her worn, three-foot-long pole. The young woman handling the concession dropped the boat into the basin, and Teresa gave it a shove. A breeze took it under the cascading fountain, past the family of ducks circling the pond, and the timelessness of the setting quickly worked its magic.

The pleasures of being a child in Paris can be very simple ones. At first, Paris may seem a very adult locale, a most sophisticated and romantic world capital. But its allure works at all ages. That's why it was so surprising to me that whenever I told anyone of our vacation destination, the invariable response was, "Are you taking the girls too?"

Mais oui.

My husband, Peter, and I had been longing to return to the city, to give Teresa and Claire the gift of Paris at a time when they're just old enough to enjoy the Musee d'Orsay and still young enough to grab the reins of a wooden horse and pretend to ride it. We took the chance at 8 1/2.

The first day we headed to the Eiffel Tower, which, if at all possible, is even more popular since its millennium fireworks display captured the world's imagination. It was nearly a two-hour wait to get a ride up to either level, and the girls were just as happy to run around underneath it and look up at the sky framed by the latticework.

But as we started to walk to the Metro (subway), the unmistakable sound of a carousel music box lured us across the street. It was one of the prettiest we would see, a white-and-gold double decker. One spin wasn't enough.

There are carousels everywhere in the city, especially near many of the major tourist attractions, with rides costing about $1. The city's best-known landmarks would always have an interesting angle for the kids to appreciate. And then there were the spontaneous street scenes as well.

After the Eiffel Tower we headed off to the Arc de Triomphe, where the girls were impressed that you had to go underground and through a tunnel to cross the street. We skipped the monument's significance to French military history, instead using its 360-degree view to map out visually all the places we would see. Of course, we had to count to make sure there really were 12 avenues connecting from L'Etoile, the starburst pattern of radiating streets that you can see from the arch's top.

Next: Notre Dame. And, thanks to Disney and an animated hunchback, very familiar even to those who haven't yet mastered Victor Hugo. While stained glass isn't too compelling at the twins' age, a trip up the steep steps of the south tower to see the bell that made Quasimodo famous was a thrill.

On another day, crossing from the Tuileries to the Louvre Museum, I was so intent on not getting us hit by a tour bus that I strode right by a gold Egyptian statue amid the shrubbery. But Claire tugged on my arms and whispered, "I saw it move. It's real."

The incredibly trained mime in gold body paint and Lycra would bow only when a coin was dropped in the small can in front of her pedestal. Stunned both by the discovery and by the skill of the mime, we parted with several francs and almost all the pictures in Claire's disposable camera before we got into the world's largest museum.

After much discussion on whether to attempt the Louvre at all, we had settled on a 90-minute time limit and a route that would take us to the "Mona Lisa,"" Venus de Milo," "Winged Victory" and "The Raft of the Medusa." We talked about why Leonardo da Vinci's best-known work was behind glass and where the missing arms of Venus might be. But the hit of the day clearly was the mime mummy at the entrance.

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