a golden opportunity to walk through an undiscovered portal.
But some of these adventures are more surprising than others.
The last thing you'd expect in the most cultured city in the world
is an in-your-face romp with some of nature's best gifts.
That's exactly what you get when you visit the "wild"
in the very civilized cultural phenomenon called the
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature.
How often in one's lifetime can you walk right up to a polar bear
and practically feel its beating heart?
Well, ok, I have a good imagination.
Gorillas, cheetahs and a smorgasbord of wild animals are
the "quiet" tenants of this Marais mansion, a beautiful
guesthouse suited up for even the most savage lodgers.
Contemporary design melts into traditional French décor,
transforming what may have come off as an oddly dressed up zoo
into an elegant and graceful historic home.
Paintings by Rubens and Bruegel, sculpture by Jean-Michel Othoniel,
and ceramics by Jeff Koons are what you'd expect to see
in a Paris mansion museum.
But here, they've turn up the volume.
By integrating the wild kingdom alongside its prestigious artworks,
the Hunting and Nature Museum offers one of the most unexpected
and fiercely unique experiences in Paris.
the sometimes unpopular sport of hunting, please consider this.
The museum puts the importance of wildlife CONSERVATION front and center.
Founders Francois and Jacqueline Sommer were committed animal
protection advocates who put their backbone and bank account into an
earnest effort to promote serious conservation work.
They strongly believed that hunting and wildlife conservation go hand in hand.
"Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
in the worldly and cosmopolitan capital of France?
The act of hunting has long enjoyed a revered place in French history.
Dig deep into the national culture and you'll see just how important the hunt is. Think of the acres and acres of countryside just outside Paris -- the great
forest of Fontainebleau and the chateaux country of the Loire -- playgrounds
to the kings and court of France, home to all things wild.
Since prehistoric times -- consider the famous cave paintings in Lascaux --
France has been a hunter's paradise.
Home base for a rich French tradition, this was a culture that
appealed equally to monarchs and provincials alike.
The "haves" considered it sport while the
"have-nots" relied on hunting as its mainstay for food gathering.
You can't think of France without conjuring up all the good things
at the French table where meat has long been considered
the knockout punch in its glorious history.
When it comes to culture and tradition, nothing overshadows French gastronomy. Rabbits, wild boar and game birds still appear on the menus of our
beloved bistros much as they did centuries ago.
alongside its priceless treasures.
The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature does just that.
Gory scenes of the hunt spark horror & bloodlust but irony takes over
as you discover a sweet and sentimental balance in the same room.
A display of antique dog collars melted my heart, their "jewelry" physical proof
of the care and indulgence devoted to man's best friend.
Affectionate displays of beloved hunting dogs put the sometimes
politically incorrect hunt in a completely different light.
It made this non-hunter realize a huntsman is much like a traveler -- or
a foodie or an art lover -- all of us faithfully committed to our personal passions.
by assuming you know everything.
If we hope to learn more about conservation of our resources,
we need to understand and appreciate a different point of view.
I don't "love" thinking about hunting but I walked away respecting what
hunters do for the land and the future of generations to come.
Responsible hunting actually protects the environment so we can
long enjoy the fruits of our diverse nature.
It's the holy grail of museums -- rooms filled to the brim
with gorgeous art, furniture and animals, as well as an opportunity
to expand our intellectual consciousness -- all within the beautiful walls
of a restored 17th century mansion.
Some of the rooms feature pull-out drawers -- a hands-on approach that allows visitors access to curated collections of some pretty amazing stuff --- buttons
from uniforms, tools, guns, hunting accessories.... and more.
It's as if the lord of the manor offered you the chance to
rummage through his medicine cabinet -- except that your host is a
French aristocrat and his cabinets are filled with priceless mouthfuls of history.
"The Night of Diane" by Belgium artist Jan Fabre features six owl
heads -- including glass eyes that seem to scan the room.
It's exceptional -- both beautiful and weird -- and could lead to
nighttime terrors if you let your imagination run wild.
But since most of us are hopeless Paris romantics,
this is a room of wonder -- maybe even an inspirational theme worth
"borrowing" for your next DIY project -- assuming you can get your hands
on thousands of duck, pheasant and partridge feathers.....
and I'll certainly admit to being in that category -- this museum mansion may
help you gain a new respect for the artfulness and influence of its collection.
It's obvious the collectors and curators have taken great pains in their efforts,
even providing a reasonable teaching moment if your head is in the right place.
The Hunting and Nature Museum reflects France's refined civilization.
Much like all the other things this passionate country does,
you have to admire the ART and FLAIR they put into it.
Think about it.
We're all "hunters" in Paris.
Always hunting for the best café or the best deal on a pair of Christian Louboutins.
We hunt down unique neighborhoods and the best prix fixed menus.
We are all hunter-gatherers in our own way.
I had avoided this museum for far too long because of its name and ties
to hunting -- something I wasn't remotely interested in.
Sometimes learning something new is uncomfortable.
Yet feeling a bit uncomfortable is a good way to freshen up your
stubborn old concepts and spark a little intellectual creativity.
Stop being afraid of seeing something in a different light.
I can only speak for myself but I'm so happy I finally opened
the door to this eye-opening and fantastically intriguing experience.
Happy hunting at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature.
I hope you'll make a date with a grizzly on your next trip to Paris.
We should treasure it while we have it and do our part in taking care of it.