Friday, June 26, 2009

Paris horror in the playground!

I'm in Vancouver today and will be heading over soon to my daughter's house. My sister's visiting from Winnipeg, driving my mom each day over to her radiation session (I'm taking a turn next week), and she thought it would be a pleasant diversion for mom to visit her great-grandchild on the way to the Cancer Clinic. I'm looking forward to seeing my little Nola and to having the generations mix it up again. The day's mix of the gruesome (the radiation treatment) and the joyous puts me in mind of this children's playground in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Somehow, I just can't imagine our North American kids being expected to romp merrily next to this particular statue. Want a close-up?

Now admittedly the bear is vanquished in this scenario and the man triumphs, but I suspect censorship and child psychologists would prevail here and the nudity and violence would be moved to a shadier corner of the park. I know that years ago, when I taught an Orff music program for pre-schoolers, one of the moms called me to discuss a picture book I'd read to the class -- a charming book by Tomi Ungerer that some of you might know, about Crictor, the boa constrictor. Check it out if you can't take my word that Crictor was anthropomorphized into the most harmless creature imaginable, not horror-inspiring at all. But apparently this little one was having nightmares and mom wanted to figure out how to exorcise them. To her credit, she neither chastised me for introducing the book, nor asked me to check future choices with her; she merely wanted the title so she could get a copy and figure out an approach. But I think her response contrasts quite dramatically with that of the parents in the playground pictured above, none of whom seem to be shielding their children from the horrors sculpted nearby.
I'm well aware of the dangers of generalizing from only two examples, and I am far from saying that the French approach is better. I'm not sure I'd be happy pushing Nola on the swing with this fellow menacing only metres away! But I did find the whole scenario amusing and thought-provoking, and I find it difficult to imagine in my neighbourhood -- what about you? any thoughts?

I will be far, far, far from snarling tomorrow when I have a lunch date with someone I have long wanted to meet. That's all I'm saying for now, but I know you'll enjoy hearing about our visit -- maybe you can guess who? (Okay, I'll give you a hint -- she's a blogger you love with a penchant --and facility-- for wearing scarves)


  1. Wow! That's a little nightmare-inducing for me, so I can't imagine that children find it all that comforting.

  2. OMG Can't believe you are meeting yet another blogger!
    I am firmly in the French camp. We shield too much from our children. Life is not a bed of roses and the brothers Grimm were very good at getting that message across.
    I feel children are much tougher than adults because they invariably feel they are immortal and have no real sense of consequence. This I feel comes with age.
    Life is not sugar coated and if children were more aware of this they would be less dissapointed once they grew up.
    I hope you have a lovely time with Une Femme.

  3. Oh am I envious of your lunch! TAKE PHOTOS!

    Agree with Indigo16, the playgrounds here are so sanitized and risk free that kinds wander around scuffing their shoes and looking for fun. No more terrifying head-draped-over edge as merry go round spun deleriously. No edge, no thrills, no fun.

  4. Oh, I'm jealous! Give my regards to Deja Pseu.

  5. Have fun with Pseu - she's gorgeous and so lovely.

  6. Gina: Pretty ferocious, isn't it!
    Alison: Yes, yet another blogger meeting -- I can't wait!
    I'm not sure I'd want to go as far as placing this gory statue in a playground, but I do agree with you that we've sanitized our children's lives a few steps too far.
    Duchesse: As I said to Alison, I tend to agree with you too, although I'm glad that mine are reasonably cautious kids. It seems to me that the ones who live for that edge can't realistically be protected from it forever by narrowing the bars on cribs and forbidding glass bottles and insisting on bike helmets and putting signs at every dangerous swimming spot, etc., etc., etc.,
    Nancy: Yes, I'll say hi to Pseu from you.
    Imogen: I'm so looking forward to meeting her.

    And to all of you: You're very good guessers!

  7. This is hysterical.

  8. When I was a child we used to visit the Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore, which were full of really hideous depictions of torture and the like. I know some kids found it terrifying, but most of us were just fascinated and enjoyed being 'grossed out' - and I do think children are more able to separate image from reality than we sometimes give them credit for. Plus they can be gruesome little beasts. Having said that, I wouldn't actually take mine to see some of the things I saw as a child ... I think there is a middle ground.

  9. Karen: I agree, it's pretty funny (and notably, none of the kids seem to be "hysterical" ;-)
    Tiffany: I'm with you on not going back to the way things were when I was young. I prefer that middle ground which protects children's sensibilities to some degree but without flattening life's excitements completely.

  10. My children would love that sculpture (I think the naked bum would impress them the most unfortunately!). Its a beautiful object and totally appropriate to me in a playground, full of childrens imaginations and fantasies. Don't imagine I'll ever see a sculpture like that in a playground around here though, they are too chock full of safety devices and rubber matting to fit in some art!!

  11. Cybill: I think many school-age kids would have fun giggling about the nudity! If I were designing a pre-schoolers' playground, I have to admit I would choose something much less gruesome and bloody to excite the imaginations, but I agree that we sanitize to a fault. Mostly, I'm amused at how clearly the scene illustrates a cultural difference.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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