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June 7, 2010
Paris: Of youngsters and unicorns
Every January for the past twelve years, my closest girlfriends and I’ve have headed to Italy for a week or more of what we like to call “girling out.” Leaving our husbands and children at home, we relish the opportunity to spend time together, indulging in great food and feeling alive and carefree.
This year, we ventured to Venice, and after a week in that splendid city (I’ll save those stories for another time!), we decided to spend a few days in Paris before coming home. One of the things I love most about France’s capital is its wonderful museums—so I convinced my girlfriends—Diane and Ronni—to come with me to visit one of my favorites, the Musee National du Moyen Age, more popularly known as the Cluny Museum.
Housed in a 15th-century Gothic mansion—a former “town home” for visiting abbots—the museum boasts an impressive collection of artifacts from the Middle Ages. The most celebrated of these are the “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, a series of intricately woven silk-and-wool wall hangings featuring a medieval maiden and the mythical beast. I’d discovered these rare and beautiful textiles decades earlier, when I’d lived briefly in Paris on my own, and I couldn’t wait to share them with my friends.
We’d been gazing at the tapestries for a while when a group of schoolchildren arrived. From the moment they entered the museum, it was clear just how much these boys and girls adored their teacher: Jostling each other in an effort to get closer to her, they were captivated by her teachings. As a former teacher, I couldn’t help but smile. I remember how, at a certain age, the interest and attention for the teacher changes, so it was great to see how the students were hanging on her every word.
Settling down on the floor with their backpacks, the children listened with rapt attention as their teacher explained how the lady and unicorn were used to illustrate the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Listening to her speak, I was so impressed by her knowledge of these textiles that I decided to ask her a question of my own. Walking over to the group, I asked her (in my best French) if she knew the significance of the little monkey who appeared in some, but not all, of the tapestries.
Upon hearing my jumbled French, the children beamed: They were beyond excited to see their teacher talking with an American traveler. In fact, one of the boys, who was about nine or ten years old, stood up and said to me, “Welcome to Paris, madame. Thank you for coming to visit us.” I was quite taken by his manners—and, glimpsing the pride in his teacher’s eyes, I could see that she was, too.
Have you experienced a similarly heartwarming encounter with schoolchildren in your own travels? If so, I’d love to hear more about it. You can share your thoughts with other travelers by posting your comments below this Journal entry, or can email me directly at email@example.com.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring the South Pacific, South Africa, and Eastern Europe. If you’ve explored these destinations with Grand Circle, send your stories (and pictures!) to me at