Once again, I find myself at the end of the year, wondering how to best summarize the past 12 months. 2021 has been an odd one, that’s for sure. Not quite the triumphant return to normal that we were all hoping for this time last year. But still a remarkable leap forward in so many ways. And every time I thought about this past year and what I could write about, I kept coming back to the museums of Paris. Yes, this another museum post. I know I promised that I was done waxing poetic about them, but I hope you will forgive this one transgression. And if it helps, this post is not just about museums. It’s about cultural sites in general, and the many astonishing ways they’re making history come alive.
To Not Taking Culture For Granted
This year began with what my friends and I now refer to as The Long Winter. The lockdown that began in October of 2020 was supposed to end in time for the holidays. But it didn’t. Instead, it stretched on until May of this year. Meaning that by the time the restaurants, museums, and cinemas re-opened on May 19th, cultural sites across France had been closed for over seven months. And let me tell you, that was a long seven months.
To be clear, I’ve always enjoyed the access to art and culture that I have in Paris. And I’ve certainly always known how lucky I am to live in a city that values them so highly. But I also knew that I didn’t take advantage of that access nearly enough. And after seven months of closures, I wasn’t about to take it for granted ever again. That’s why I’m pretty sure I’ve been to more museums and exhibitions in the past six months than I have in all the previous years I’ve lived in France combined. And with international travel still incredibly difficult, I’ve spent the past six months exploring more of France, visiting over a dozen new cities and towns throughout the country. Everywhere I go, I visit the museums. And every time, I’m amazed at the innovation and ingenuity on display.
Reinventing How to Make History Come Alive
I often wonder if the reason museums get such a bad rep is because people think they’re boring. A bunch of old relics behind glass just gathering dust. Maybe this is true of some museums. But it couldn’t be further from my experiences of the past year. In Nîmes, I was handed a fob at the Musée de la Romanité that I could use to access all sorts of interactive content on screens throughout the museum. In Orange, I was able to experience the Roman Theatre as it was over 2,000 years ago through an incredible virtual reality film. And in Avignon, I was able to compare the Papal Palace of the 14th century with how it looks today through an incredibly inventive use of an iPad. This list could go on and on.
However, the most impressive example by far of using technology to make history come alive was the Joan of Arc Experience in Rouen. It was located in the actual building where Joan of Arc was put on trial in 1431, and it used an array of screens and projections throughout the rooms to tell the story of the trial and its ultimate outcome. Actors recited the historical transcripts of the trial, and lighting and sound effects came together to create an experience that was truly unforgettable. It’s one thing to stand in a room and know that important historical events have transpired there. It’s another thing entirely to have those events brought to life so vividly.
To More History in 2022
I don’t know what the new year will hold for Paris. The pandemic continues on, and with variants and rising cases, who knows if more lockdowns and closures are on the horizon. I hope not. But if the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that life is unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen next. All you can do is hope for the best and not take anything for granted. And I intend on doing just that. I will continue to make the most out of Paris and all that this city has to offer. And I will continue to marvel at the many ways that cultural curators are making history come alive. It is truly astonishing what is possible with technology these days, and I can’t wait to experience more of it in the 2022.
In the meantime, I hope you are keeping safe and well wherever you are in the world. I also hope that you are having a joyous holiday season so far. See you in the New Year!
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.