I have wanted to visit the Musee des Arts Forains for years but it is rarely open to the public and my previous calls and attempts to book were not successful. We have not been in Paris during the week between Christmas and New Year when it is open; the rest of the year it is rented for corporate events or weddings or whatever. The party scene in Midnight in Paris where Gil meets Adriana surrounded by carnival rides was shot at this museum.
The museum showcases carnival rides, games, automatons and carnival decor from the 1850s through the 1950s. It is located in a large warehouse like building just past Bercy Village in the 12th Arrondisement of Paris. The metro stop is Cour St. Emilion which delivers one right into Bercy Village.The entrance to the museum is just through the village and around the corner.
This year there were a few opportunities to be added onto larger group visits in late November; I discovered this when someone on Trip Advisor commented that they were planning to go in late November. I called and was able to book 4 tickets for Ed, me and two friends on November 28 before leaving Paris on the 30th.
We tagged on to a large group of French visitors. We were the only 4 Americans and the tour was in French. The downside, since only one of us spoke fluent French, was that a good portion of the tour is a lecture. The lecture was apparently witty and informative to gauge by the response of the French crowd.
The guide obviously loved playing the part and was quite the master of three card monte and assorted other carnival tricks. He was for our tastes rather long winded, but I am sure if we were able to appreciate what he had to say we would have loved it.
There are three main rooms. The first double room ‘The Marvelous Theater’ showcases carnival decor and games and contains large automatic organs that play music from devices like those in player pianos.
We also viewed a number of small automatons available to carnival goers with a few coins.And of course, since it is a carnival, there were the usual tasteless automatons; here we have lady piss. The effect was pretty impressive – lights and motion and all — for a mechanical devise over 100 years old.
The second large section of the museum presents carnival games and rides. The old carrousel I was riding on at the head of this piece was in this section. The entry area included a player organ and carnival statues.
There were a dozen or so carnival photo cut outs. This was among the more tasteful choices.
This room included several carnival games; here is a traditional knock down for prizes. This is the waiter race where participants shoot skeeballs to advance their waiters. We were allowed several rounds so that everyone got a turn while others rode the merry go round.
There were several other rides in the room. The swings were not set up for use when we were there, but on the open days in December, all of these devices are usable.My favorite ride was the old bicycle racer. Bicycle touring has always been popular in France and this was sort of a Tour de France ride with paintings of heroic riders of the day. The power for this ride is provided by the riders and it goes very fast.I loved this ride. That is Ed on the bike in the background.The final room is the Venetian Room where mannequins move and sing bits of opera. It is dark with spotlights illuminating the spaces where the action is occurring so it is a bit difficult to capture the feeling on film with flash.
This room provides the big finale and is quite impressive, but it isn’t as much fun as the games and rides in the previous space.
The people who run the Musee des Arts Forains obviously love the carnival and there is a great attention to detail. We had a very enjoyable morning and would recommend that you seek it out if you are there during the post Christmas week when it is open to the public.