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Apart from being romantic, Paris is also marvelously family-oriented. Despite this, it can be tiring traveling en famille. My son, Storsh, is far more tourist-tolerant if he knows some “kid time” is just around the corner. So instead of making the whole day about the kids, why not plan your days with several bursts of kid-time in between what you want to see? I’ll even give Storsh a few city facts, explaining that I’m going to quiz him on them before his next “kid-time,” and watch his ears perk up a bit. Here are some of my favorite kid-friendly activities, all of which are free or cost less than 5€.
What’s better than free fun? Smack dab in the middle of town is the gorgeous Palais Royal, with Daniel Buren’s stripy stumps that any Parisian kid has raced through. Or there’s always the forest of columns at either end of the enclosed gardens, once Cardinal Richelieu’s residence, where my family and I play a quick game of hide-and-seek when passing through.
Make the outside of the Louvre your playground (before making the inside their treasure hunting ground with a THATLou!). The Louvre’s fountains have wonderful iron fish faces and countless soaring lights, so have the kids count how many they can find across the Cour Napoleon, the courtyard with I.M. Pei’s pyramid, whilst sharing the story of how it housed dynasties of French monarchs before becoming a museum in 1793 under Napoleon. The stunning Cour Carrée, the center of the Sully Wing, is also a go-to for hide-and-seek.
The slanted place facing Paris’ modern art museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou, has been a magnet for street entertainers since built in the 70s by architects Rogers & Piano. Let the kids run free as you sit alongside Parisians taking in the inside-out architectural façade. Pigeon- and bubble-chasing is Storsh’s favorite Pompidou activity, but there are also buskers, mimes, and jugglers who’ve kept him entertained for long stretches. Incidentally, the Pompidou also has the best atelier des enfants on the lobby’s raised mezzanine, as well as phenomenal views from the top floor, though they aren’t under 5 euros.
While in the area, don’t miss the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain by Swiss partners Tinguely and de Saint Phalle, where each family member can choose their favorite creature and pose for a photo impersonating these swiveling, water-spouting figures.
If your children are happy to sit still for half and hour and zone out (or tune in!) to some lovely free classical music, there are a few wonderful options in the area. The neighboring 17th-century Church of Saint-Merry has an afternoon series every other Sunday at 5:30pm and the 16th-century Saint-Roch (296 rue St-Honoré) also has a free classical music series on Tuesdays (12:30-1:45pm). If your children are music-oriented (and you’re willing to dish out more than 5 euros), Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris offers a weekend kiddie music program.
One of Storsh’s favorite activities– and probably any boy of a certain age whose favorite word in English is “gross”– is window gazing at any one of the city’s fascinating taxidermy shops. Deyrolle, located on rue du Bac, is the most famous. Another gorgeous option, often with a stuffed polar bear (which does make me wonder), is Design et Nature in the 2nd arrondissement. But if you want to get authentic – especially if your kids saw the film Ratatouille – there’s also the gruesomely gross Julien Aurouze pest control shop, whose storefront is filled with dangling dead rats in all sorts of contraption traps; its perfectly aged façade reads “Destruction des Animaux Nuisibles” (Destruction of Harmful Animals).
There are carrousels all across town, but I recommend heading to the oldest in Paris, designed by Opéra architect Charles Garnier and located in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Another 19th-century number, which is especially fancy, is the double-decker carrousel – the largest in Paris – at Hôtel de Ville. Alternately, you can find more modern rides, like those at the Villiers metro station near Parc Monceau, or artier carrousels, like the one located near Gare Montparnasse, where Impressionist paintings by Monet, Renoir, and Manet lining the center panels.
Finally, for scaled-down versions in practical locations, there are also plenty of siren-ringing, traffic-shaking firetrucks or motorcycles that rattle around most covered markets and run one euro/ride.
Deyrolle, 46 rue du Bac, 75007; Métro: Rue du Bac; Tel: +33 (0)1 42 22 30 07
Design et Nature, 4 rue d’Aboukir, 75002, Métro: Sentier; Tel: +33 (0)1 43 06 86 98
Church of Saint-Merry, 76 rue de la Verrerie, 75004, Métro: Châtelet; Tel: +33 (0)1 42 71 93 93
Church of Saint-Roch, 296 rue St Honoré, 75001, Métro: Tuileries; Tel: +33 (0)1 42 44 13 20
Philharmonie de Paris, 221 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019, Métro: Porte de Pantin; Tel: +33 (0)1 44 84 44 84
Julien Arouze, 8 rue des Halles, 75001, Métro: Châtelet; Tel: +33 (0)1 40 41 08 98
Villiers, Boulevard de Courcelles, 75017, Métro: Villiers
Gare Montparnasse, 17 Boulevard de Vaugirard, 75741, Métro: Gare Montparnasse or Montparnasse Bienvenue
Related Links
Need tips for where to eat with kids in Paris? Have a look at this useful guide from Paige Bradley Frost.
The Jardin du Luxembourg is a great kid-friendly zone. Discover all that it has to offer here.
For more kid-friendly activities in Paris, check out this article from The New York Times.

Apart from being romantic, Paris is also marvelously family-oriented. Despite this, it can be tiring traveling en famille. My son, Storsh, is far more tourist-tolerant if he knows some “kid time” is just around the corner. So instead of making the whole day about the kids, why not plan your days with several bursts of kid-time in between what you want to see? I’ll even give Storsh a few city facts, explaining that I’m going to quiz him on them before his next “kid-time,” and watch his ears perk up a bit. Here are some of my favorite kid-friendly activities, all of which are free or cost less than 5€.


What’s better than free fun? Smack dab in the middle of town is the gorgeous Palais Royal, with Daniel Buren’s stripy stumps that any Parisian kid has raced through. Or there’s always the forest of columns at either end of the enclosed gardens, once Cardinal Richelieu’s residence, where my family and I play a quick game of hide-and-seek when passing through. Make the outside of the Louvre your playground (before making the inside their treasure hunting ground with a THATLou!).The Louvre’s fountains have wonderful iron fish faces and countless soaring lights, so have the kids count how many they can find across the Cour Napoleon, the courtyard with I.M. Pei’s pyramid, whilst sharing the story of how it housed dynasties of French monarchs before becoming a museum in 1793 under Napoleon. The stunning Cour Carrée, the center of the Sully Wing, is also a go-to for hide-and-seek.

The slanted place facing Paris’ modern art museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou, has been a magnet for street entertainers since built in the 70s by architects Rogers & Piano. Let the kids run free as you sit alongside Parisians taking in the inside-out architectural façade. Pigeon- and bubble-chasing is Storsh’s favorite Pompidou activity, but there are also buskers, mimes, and jugglers who’ve kept him entertained for long stretches. Incidentally, the Pompidou also has the best atelier des enfants on the lobby’s raised mezzanine, as well as phenomenal views from the top floor, though they aren’t under 5 euros.

While in the area, don’t miss the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain by Swiss partners Tinguely and de Saint Phalle, where each family member can choose their favorite creature and pose for a photo impersonating these swiveling, water-spouting figures.If your children are happy to sit still for half and hour and zone out (or tune in!) to some lovely free classical music, there are a few wonderful options in the area. The neighboring 17th-century Church of Saint-Merry has an afternoon series every other Sunday at 5:30pm and the 16th-century Saint-Roch (296 rue St-Honoré) also has a free classical music series on Tuesdays (12:30-1:45pm). If your children are music-oriented (and you’re willing to dish out more than 5 euros), Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris offers a weekend kiddie music program.

One of Storsh’s favorite activities– and probably any boy of a certain age whose favorite word in English is “gross”– is window gazing at any one of the city’s fascinating taxidermy shops. Deyrolle, located on rue du Bac, is the most famous. Another gorgeous option, often with a stuffed polar bear (which does make me wonder), is Design et Nature in the 2nd arrondissement. But if you want to get authentic – especially if your kids saw the film Ratatouille – there’s also the gruesomely gross Julien Aurouze pest control shop, whose storefront is filled with dangling dead rats in all sorts of contraption traps; its perfectly aged façade reads “Destruction des Animaux Nuisibles” (Destruction of Harmful Animals).


There are carrousels all across town, but I recommend heading to the oldest in Paris, designed by Opéra architect Charles Garnier and located in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Another 19th-century number, which is especially fancy, is the double-decker carrousel – the largest in Paris – at Hôtel de Ville. Alternately, you can find more modern rides, like those at the Villiers metro station near Parc Monceau, or artier carrousels, like the one located near Gare Montparnasse, where Impressionist paintings by Monet, Renoir, and Manet lining the center panels.
Finally, for scaled-down versions in practical locations, there are also plenty of siren-ringing, traffic-shaking firetrucks or motorcycles that rattle around most covered markets and run one euro/ride.

Deyrolle, 46 rue du Bac, 75007; Métro: Rue du Bac; Tel: +33 (0)1 42 22 30 07

Design et Nature, 4 rue d’Aboukir, 75002, Métro: Sentier; Tel: +33 (0)1 43 06 86 98

Church of Saint-Merry, 76 rue de la Verrerie, 75004, Métro: Châtelet; Tel: +33 (0)1 42 71 93 93

Church of Saint-Roch, 296 rue St Honoré, 75001, Métro: Tuileries; Tel: +33 (0)1 42 44 13 20

Philharmonie de Paris, 221 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019, Métro: Porte de Pantin; Tel: +33 (0)1 44 84 44 84

Julien Arouze, 8 rue des Halles, 75001, Métro: Châtelet; Tel: +33 (0)1 40 41 08 98

Villiers, Boulevard de Courcelles, 75017, Métro: Villiers

Gare Montparnasse
, 17 Boulevard de Vaugirard, 75741, Métro: Gare Montparnasse or Montparnasse Bienvenue

My Insider’s Guide to Paris with Kids

When people think of going to Paris, they often think of it as a romantic destination (which it is), but it is also a fantastic place for families and if you’re planning a spring getaway over the Easter holidays, then a quick hop over the channel could be just the escape you need. I’ve lived in Paris for 12 years now and have explored it exhaustively with my 5-year-old son Storsh, who loves this wonderful city as much as I do. Here are some of my favourite family-friendly gems in Paris for you to explore too. You never know, you might even have time for some romance….


Parc de la Villette

Up in the 19th Arr., straddling Canal de l’Ourcq, which hosts the Paris Plages (city beaches) in the summer months, is the reclaimed industrial landscape-turned-futuristic Parc de la Villette. There are plenty of imaginative kid-friendly pieces here, from an enormous dragon slide to a verdant bamboo maze and it is a fantastic place to wander through in spring.

While you are there, don’t miss the amazing interactive children’s museum, Cité des Enfants (closed on Mondays; buy tickets in advance), which sits on the west side of the canal. If you ever manage to drag the kids away, there is an enormous Géode cinema just outside, which shows most of latest I-Max films in an English version too. Also nearby is a real submarine for the boys in your family to explore – my son Storsh’s favorite part!

A new addition to Paris’s cultural landscape is the Philharmonie de Paris, built by Jean Nouvel, which has some great children’s programs (from 3 months-3 years (sound & instrument discovery), to 7 & up (“From Beatbox to Mozart”). It’s worth checking out their website ahead of time (http://lavillette.com/) to find treats such as the Villette en Cirques complete with magicians, acrobats and the lot (Running till 17 April, tickets range from 10€ to 26€).

Metro: Corentin Carious (line 7) and Porte de Pantin (line 5).

Website: lavillette.com


Jardin d’Acclimatation

With Disneyland and the like banned from my childhood, being allowed to go to the 19thJardin d’Acclimatation always made Paris a favourite city of my youth. As it’s out in the Bois de Boulogne (the suburbs of Neuilly) it’s well worth arriving on the “Petit Train”which departs from Porte Maillot (17th Arr.). The toot of the horn and chugga chugga choo choo never ceases to delight Storsh.

The park rides range from standard modern play equipment (target games, a mirrored fun-zone) to more antiquated novel pieces (from the more acceptable TinTin section to a more historic – read possibly objectionable – jungle boat ride with colonialists in pith-helmets & natives sitting in the grass).

With plenty of picnic tables, there’s also a farm-inspired café (and a farm with live farm animals!) or more the modern Angelina for lunch. If you’re going all the way out there, be sure to allot time to Frank Gehry’s fantastic new Fondation Louis Vuitton, replete with concerts, exhibitions and estaurant Le Frank, all nestled into the Bois de Boulogne. Open 10am -6 pm, 5.90€ for entry & Petit Train ticket combined, not including rides which are 2.90€ or you can buy a carnet).

Metro: Sablons (line 1) or Porte Maillot (line 1 or RER C)

Website:jardindacclimatation.fr



Ballon de Paris

Skip the lines of the Tour Eiffel and take in a fantabulous view of Paris from a tethered hot air balloon. Getting you off the beaten-track, the Ballon de Paris rises about 150 meters, delighting kids no end. Anchored to the 1992 Parc André Citroen (which abuts the Seine in the 15th Arr.), the park also has ping pong tables and a fun water distribution fountain that kids can have a good romp through, darting around – or through — the playful water jets. Before heading down there, check the website for wind conditions though.  Fares are 12€ for adults, 6€ for children ages 3-11, toddlers under 3 are free).

Metro: Javel or Balard / RER C Javel or Boulevard Victor (the park’s address is 2 rue de la Montagne de la Fage 75015 Paris).

Website:  ballondeparis.com


Vedette du Pont Neuf

I always recommend planning a Seine cruise before or after a half-day at the Louvre (where you can also take part in one of my THATMuse family treasure hunts at the Louvre) to give the kids a rest from walking & standing. The closest boat to the Louvre has the benefit of being moored off the Pont Neuf (Paris’s oldest bridge, despite its name, “New Bridge”) where there’s a precious little patch of green, Square du Vert-Galant, right on the water’s edge, good for an energy-spending frolic before and after the boat ride – or for a baguette and stinky cheese picnic.

To play it safe perhaps pick up a Jambon Beurre (ham and butter baguette sandwich) in case the kids are resistant to being initiated to any of France’s delicious, but sometimes strong 350 (plus!) cheeses. The boat offers seating outside (upstairs) or in, both areas having a multi-lingual tour of the sites you’re passing over the hour-long tour.

From 15 March- 31 October the Vedette du Pont Neuf runs every 30 minutes from 10:30 am to 10 pm (the rest of the year it runs on the hour). Tickets are 14€/adults, 5€/kids (aged 4-12) when purchased at the dock, but better prices are available online (9€ in the morning, 11€ in the afternoon).

Website: vedettesdupontneuf.com


Jardin des Plantes

The 17th Century Botanical Gardens are brimming with well-documented plants, trees and splendid allées flanking either side of the 23.5 hectares (69 acres). For kids there’s the 18th century Zoo (originally with animals from the royal menagerie at Versailles), a delightful Art Deco Winter Garden (a hot house is Serre in French) with glass galleries of exotic plants from all corners of the globe), and of course the Natural History Museum comprising 4 main galleries (the Grande Galérie de l’Evolution, Paleontology, Entomology and Mineralogy Museums) is a dusty delight. Behind the hot house, kids can burn some energy and inspire some hide-n-seek imagination in the spectacular labyrinth of hollowed-out bushes, crowned by a gazebo.

Metro:  Gare de l’Austerlitz (line 5, RER C), Jussieu (lines 7 & 10)

Website: jardindesplantes.net

The Three Graces

Marble statue of three graces, Roman copy of Greek 2nd Century BC Statue
Roman copy of Greek 2nd Century BC Statue
Marble, H 1.19m (3ft, 10in) x W 85 cm (33 in)

The Graces, according to Seneca, stand for the 3-fold aspect of generosity the giving, receiving and returning of gifts of benefits. Three daughters of Zeus, some identified them as Beauty, Charm and Joy. Many myths had them presiding over banquets and gatherings, primarily to entertain and delight Zeus’s guests.  These are a Roman copy from the Imperial era (approximately 2nd Century AD), after a Hellenistic original from the 2nd Century BC. Nicolas Cordier (1565 – 1612) restored them in large part in 1609 for Cardinal Borghese (Did you catch that? It’s a THATLou hint… that this marvelous trio is a part of the Borghese collection). Napoleon acquired a considerable part of the Borghese collection in 1807 from his impoverished brother-in-law, Prince Camillo Borghese. 344 antiquities in total made their way from Italy to France. Yet another example of how a French monarch (don’t forget Francois Premier pulling over the Italian renaissance) reaped the benefits of Italian artistic talent — and Italian financial incapacity.

And remember during the hunt NO looking at the internet – so you may want to remember this Room 17, Ground Floor, Sully Wing address! And while I’m at giving Bonus Question hints away, who do you think is prettier, these Three Graces or the scandalous Paulina Borghese, Napoleon’s sister and Camillo’s wife?

All “treasure” per clue-manual have that up above in bold – the title, period, country of the piece, and when an artist is known, his/her name
.

In our most recent THATMuse post we lingered on an introduction to the Borghese Collection at the Louvre. Though necessary, it was honestly a bit sober. So in developing this story line (before getting to the actual crux — an item or two of the collection itself!) I thought we needed some juicy gossip. And what makes for juicier gossip than scandal? It’s hard to top the stories of Messalina, as touched on in a previous post, but Pauline Borghese, Napoleon’s sister and wife to Prince Camillo Borghese, certainly comes a close second in “shock” factor.

Marble statue of Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, at Galleria Borghese, Rome
Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, at Galleria Borghese, Rome, http://www.wikipedia.org

She was the beauty of the family, 6th of the 8 children born to Napoleon’s parents in Ajaccio, Corsica. At the age of 16, in 1796 (just as Napoleon was starting to make his mark on history, during the Italian Campaign), she fell madly in love with a 40-year old syphilitic philanderer. To distract her, the family married her off to one of Napoleon’s soldiers, General Victor Emmanuel Leclerc (whom Nappy incidentally caught her being let’s say, indiscreet with behind a screen at the Palazzo Mombello in Milano — but I get the idea he didn’t share this morsel with his family).

Despite having a son by Leclerc (Dermide, whom Napoleon, ever the control-freak, named), Pauline set herself up with many a lover. The family was posted to Haiti, which is where she may have developed her taste for sleeping with black men. It is well documented (a small bit of trivia that I remember from high school when we had to spend time at the Museo Napoleonico in Rome. Just as an aside, these completely un-useful bits of trivia is exactly how my history teachers hooked me on their rich subject) that she was in the habit of having her large black servant, Paul, carry her to the bath every day, and would spend an inordinate number of hours receiving guests from the bath – talk about being hungry for attention! She’d also apparently use ladies-in-waiting as foot servants — literally stepping on their backs.

Portrait of Prince Camillo Borghese, by Francois Gerard (1770-1837) location unknown
Portrait of Prince Camillo Borghese, by Francois Gerard (1770-1837) location unknown, wikipedia.org

Unlike either her older brother (who spent a large part of his life being her PR spin doctor, in addition to being self-appointed ‘Emperor’ of Europe) or Messalina (3rd Empress of Rome and a flagrant hussy), Pauline didn’t seem to have any ambition — her interest was pure frivolity and sex. Eight months after Leclerc died she secretly remarried the handsome Prince Camillo Borghese. This rush infuriated Napoleon (Ironically with such a sister, Napoleon tried to instill a code of good morals. Compare Jacques-Louis David’s Portrait of Mme. Recamier (1800, at the Louvre) to Antonio Canova’s sculpture of Pauline – which at her request was nearly nude and posed as Venus Victrix – 1805-8 at the Galleria Borghese). Throughout her infidelities, there was a modicum of decency and even loyalty about her. Though she swiftly cheated on Borghese — who was forced into selling a large part of his family’s art collection to his nouveau-riches self-coronated Emperor brother-in-law — she also secured Camillo the post of Governor of Piedmont and guardian of Napoleon’s prisoner, Pope Pius VII (two tasks Camillo coveted). And though she caused a lot of trouble for her brother (who adored her), she is also the only Bonaparte sibling to have supported him after he was deposed and sent to Elba.

British Embassy on rue du Fbg St Honore with french flags flying outside
British Embassy on rue du Fbg St Honore, taken from flickr.com/eisenphotovideo 

In fact according to Alistair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon, she liquidated most of her assets to go and live with Nappy in Elba and better his situation (although she kept her pretty frocks `to make him happy`). Among her assets was a sumptuous little number on rue du Faubourg St-Honore which she sold to the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo, and which since then has been the British Embassy of France. Apparently Wellington “gained the respect of the Parisians when, as the victor, he could have grabbed it for nothing, but insisted on paying the full price.

Black and white sketch of Pauline Borghese’s Paris Palace, now the British Embassy
Pauline Borghese’s Paris Palace, now the British Embassy taken from Hector Berlioz’s website

Just as a small reminder – when little morsels are randomly placed in bold, it just may mean that those could conceivably arise as answers to bonus questions. The Borghese Beauty is applicable to any number of THATLous, since the Borghese Collection has the Three Graces (Beauty), wild satyrs (Bestiary), wonderful Craters (Food & Wine), and Roman Sarcophagi (Skull Scouting Halloween Hunt), etc.

English historian Alistair Horne has written a number of great books on Napoleon and his time. And here’s a good New York Times article about the Borghese Collection au Louvre (no bonus questions – just if interested).

Last time we wound our way from considering the Prado and Spain in the general, to zeroing in on a contemporary replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s  Mona Lisa. In our last post we shamelessly lingered on poor Leonardo’s sex life (with the weak excuse of saying “hey, the Prado La Gioconda may have been by this pupil / servant / lover, Andrea Salai, so we better delve into some sodomy charges, right?”).  In so doing we also trashed Leonardo to a small extent to say that THATLou prefers plenty of Leonardo’s contemporaries. In other words, we’ve really been all over the place, from Madrid to Paris, and through Leonardo’s boudoir. Now we aim to turn a slightly more positive note, one which isn’t quite so NY Post Page Six, or Hello!Magazine trashy. And we can also shake this ‘we‘ing. What, do we think we’re royal or something, with all this smut?

Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490, An Old Man and his Grandson, Louvre
Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490, An Old Man and his Grandson, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Let’s start with touching ever so briefly on some examples of masterpieces by Leonardo’s contemporaries. da Vinci studied in Verrocchio’s Florentine studio alongside Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticcelli, and one of my all time favourites, Domenico Ghirlandaio. I won’t examine any of these three painters in depth, just want to drop you off with some of their paintings herewith. And then our next post, concerning Andrea Salai, will be the conclusion to this round-about Prado Mona Lisa series. It’s timely to consider Salai, as his paintings may just become a spot more valuable if conservationists decide that the Prado’s La Gioconda was by his hand and not by Francesco Melzi.

My favourite painting at the Louvre by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 – 1494) is constantly being lent out. I guess this is a tribute to how good it is, but I find it very annoying indeed when I find the flimsy little paper hand-scribbled by some curator apologising for the fact that it’s gone missing for another few months. It’s a great painting. Despite his grotesque nose, the Old Man’s look is so quiet and calming as he considers his grandson. You can nearly see him thinking.

Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Three Graces, 1483-86, Louvre
Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Three Graces, 1483-86, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Another Leonardo contemporary who I prefer is Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510). Though I didn’t include his Louvre Venus and Three Graces when I was considering various Three Graces in July (including the recently-discovered Three Graces by Cranach ‘s – which is just unsurpassable), I’ll take this complete non-sequitur as a chance to include it herewith. Couldn’t you picture this Venus and Three Graces in at least one THATLou? Perhaps a Ladies at the Louvre hunt, or better still the Love Hunt which is due to take place for couples and lovey-doves the evening of Friday 14 December?

Pietro Perugino, St Sebastian, 1495, Louvre
Pietro Perugino, St Sebastian, 1495, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Pietro Perugino (1446 – 1523). He’s a tricky one to choose a fave at the Louvre, because there are so many good ones. There’s always something tactile for me with Perugino. The paint is so smooth and the colors so uniform that he makes me want to stroke the canvas. Anyway, if I have to choose, I’ll go with his St Sebastian (which as a total aside, I was interested with how many St Sebastians we came across at both the Thyssen Bornemiszia, as well as the Prado. Do the Spanish have a thing for him, perhaps?).

After today’s segue-way of some top-tier Renaissance painters, the next post will take a step down (or back?) and worm its way back to the likely painter of the Prado’s version of La Gioconda – and will take a look at Andrea Salai’s paintings. That Little Devil!

The Prado’s Gioconda

 La Gioconda contemporary copy, 1503 – 1516, Museo del Prado
La Gioconda contemporary copy, 1503 – 1516, Museo del Prado, taken from Wikipedia

The other day I touched on Spain’s Span Across Europe in the general. It’s true that Spain’s reach was just so broad that it’s hard to know what to focus on at the Prado (the royal collection reflecting the crown’s omnipresence). However, what’s better to linger on than a hermetically sealed connection between the Prado and the Louvre? And what better represents the Louvre than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? It’s a painting I generally avoid – in my treasure hunts, or in person at the museum. Too much hype surrounds her cryptic eyes, too much money spent on magnets with her “enigmatic” smile – not to mention the flocks of publicists who’ve promoted a ‘famous author’, as St Sulpice refers to Dan Brown, and his tours to the Mona Lisa. (and yes I do love St Sulpice for thinking it below them to even name this famous author, resentful of the many tourists who march right past their Delacroix frescoes or Pigalle Baptismal font to find the P/S in the stained glass + Meridian line mentioned in the Da Vinci Code).

But it feels like a knee-jerk reaction to Lisa’s fame to avoid her entirely. So while trawling the internet to soak up all-things-Prado I was truly floored and excited to read about last February’s discovery of a contemporary copy of the Mona Lisa, found at the Prado.

La Joconde’s, or Mona Lisa's, eyes at the Louvre
La Joconde’s eyes at the Louvre, Wikipedia

The picture is more than just a studio copy— apparently it changed as Leonardo developed his original composition. Infra-red reflectography images of the Prado version allowed conservators to see beneath the surface of the paint, to the under-drawing. Apparently the two versions were painted next to one another and painted au même temps! Which means the copy must have been by an apprentice in his studio.

 La Gioconda’s Eyes in the Prado’s version
La Gioconda’s Eyes in the Prado’s version, taken from wikipedia

There was a dull black background that left a deadening effect on the Prado Mona Lisa (who’s generally believed to have been Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo – thus the French and Spanish name for her La Joconde/Gioconda, respectively). Conservationists aren’t clear on why the black over-paint was there, but believe it was added in the 18th century.

Photographers crowding The Prado's Gioconda
The Prado’s Gioconda created quite the stir when it was unveiled last March

In 1992 Art Historian José María Ruiz Manero published a paper called “Italian Painting in 16th Century Spain” where he surmises that the painter was Flemish and that it was probably painted in Northern France. Because the Prado version’s wood was assumed to be oak (rarely used in Italy at the time) Northern Europe was an entirely plausible guess. However, last year the panel was found to be walnut, which was used in Italy — as was poplar, what da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is painted on.

What I don’t understand is why all of the newspapers refer to it as a copy, as in this Guardian article or this Time Magazine piece… If it was painted simultaneously and developed along side Leonardo’s, why isn’t it simply thought of as another painting of the same subject, by a lesser painter?

Even more interesting than this is who painted this Prado version of the Mona Lisa. Though it hasn’t been confirmed (the discovery was only unveiled at a National Gallery (London) conference of conservators, most people seem to believe it was by Andrea Salai, an assistant to and perhaps Leonardo’s lover. More on that for our next visit!


Diego Velazquez, 1634 Medici Gardens in Rome, at the Prado
Diego Velazquez, 1634 Medici Gardens in Rome, at the Prado, taken from Wikipedia

The Prado, like the Louvre, takes a bit of context. It is a Royal Collection, and the royalty in Spain was; Well, full of stories, to say the least. The Spanish had an enormous empire, but two provinces of supreme artistic value were Naples and the Lowlands (they had the Spanish Netherlands from 1579 – 1713 – roughly corresponding to Belgium and Luxembourg).

In 1700 the mentally infirm Hapsburg King Charles II of Spain named Louis XIV’s second grandson, Philip (Duc d’Anjou), as his heir. At 16, Philip V (formerly le Duc d’Anjou) was the first of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Needless to say this forged a Spanish-French alliance to the highest degree… which of course off-set a balance of power in Europe, which in turn brought on yet another war. This one aptly called the War of Spanish Succession (1700 – 1715). I will leave a proper background to this for another time, but if you’d like just the lightest touch of context I recommend http://www.spanishsuccession.nl/ (please note the NL in this URL!). Before moving on, however, I’ll include a painting of Charles II to give you a sense of just how mentally infirm he looked, poor inbred man that he was. He looks as contorted, deranged and plain-old-scary as the Appalachians in the film Deliverance.

 Last Hapsubrg King Charles II painted in 1673 by Juan Carreno de Miranda, Museo del Prado
Last Hapsubrg King Charles II (an argument against inbreeding!), painted in 1673 by Juan Carreno de Miranda, Museo del Prado

Suffice it to say the 17th century saw an artistic surge in the Lowlands with Pieter-Paul Rubens (knighted by Philip IV), Anthony Van Dyck and a myriad of wonderful still life painters such as de Heem (as touched on in the post, Food in Art!), all of whom had either a sojourn to Spain or were directly affected by the Spanish crown.

The inimitable Spanish presence in Naples and Sicily (later called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) had a profound impact on both the Spanish and Neapolitan Baroque. To name just a few big hitters the magnificent Baroque painter Jusepé de Ribera flourished in Naples (though proud of his Hispanic roots, apparently he signed some of his paintings Jusepé the Spaniard”, suitably acquiring the nickname Lo Spagnoletto), Neopolitan painter Luca Giordano was a court painter in Spain for ten years under Charles II (after having studied in Ribera’s studio), Velazquez was sent by Philip IV to Italy, which is considered a turning point in his style.

Ribera's Ticio, 1632. At the Museo del Prado
Caravaggio’s influence on Ribera is evident with such sharp contrast in this 1632 painting, Ticio. At the Museo del Prado, taken from Wikipedia

All of this is really just a laundry list of countries that were miniscule on the scale of Spain’s global dominance (think of a small continent across the pond called South America, let alone the discovery of another small space north of those Peruvian gold mines). But both the Netherlands and Italy were hotbeds of the Baroque, and their inseparable connection and influence on and by Spain has been the subject matter of the lives and careers of many art historians.

In great anticipation of beholding each of these masters at the Prado in person, I’ve had a ball brushing up on some background reading. And in terms of my belly and our little trio alighting a plane fast as a gazelle?  I’m already packed a day in advance – a rare occurrence!

In the past few posts I’ve banged on a fair bit about the truly grisly Cimitière des Innocents. First touching on numbers of dead , then covering the business of the death all the while trying to augur the fear & horror involved in a proper Halloween celebration.

Comtesse d’Auvergne, 15th Century, Louvre
Comtesse d’Auvergne, XV siècle France, Louvre

But where’s the dough, you’re probably asking? Our fine hunters need some reward for all the reading they’ve done (although whether you know it or not you’ve been given at least two answers in the past two posts – for both the Skull Scouting hunt as well as if you’re going on an All Things Gaul hunt — as the French are so good at being Masters of the Morbid!). As we’re closer to the final count-down I will cut to the chase and just tell you that our friend Death (as seen below) is on the ground floor of Richelieu in Cour Marly, room 13 (& no you’re not allowed to read this blog post whilst playing – but Room 13 makes sense, no?).

worms and entrails fall from stomach of Comtesse d’Auvergne sculpture.

It gets better: This fine female from Auvergne (above) is in the same room as our friend Death (below). She does not have butterflies in her stomach — she’s dead. So what’s eating her up?  Yes, worms are decomposing her corpse in the grisly affair of DEATH! Man, those French! So here’s a cut & paste of the actual treasure clue, as a dead ringer (a dead give-away? — how else can I try to incorporate death in here?!?).

La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre
La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre

DEATH ST INNOCENT (La Morte St Innocent)

Alabaster, H 1.20m x W .55m x D .27m – from Paris’s Cemetery of Innocents

16th Century French, sculpture (end of Middle Ages) — Cour Marly

The plaque at Death’s foot reads “There is not a single being alive, however cunning and strong in resistance, whom I will not slay with my dagger & give to the Worms as their Pittance!” Quick take a whopping fifty bonus points with your team pointing to worms in this room – and just look at what they’re doing! Talk about appropriate for this gruesomely ghoulish death hunt! So our friend Death was originally kept in the Cemetery des Innocents (CDI), which was found smack dab in the center of Paris – abutting the market place of Les Halles. The CDI started out as a perfectly orderly graveyard, with a space per individual. But as the city grew, the small swath of CDI (just 130 meters by 65) did not. When space ran out mass burials began to be conducted – up to 1500 dead could be buried in one pit before a new one was dug. Just think about the stench as you’re going marketing right next to this grisly pit of death. Horrible. No one had the sense till Louis XVI moved it from the center of town, and in 1786 our friend Death here was moved first to St Gervais then to Notre Dame, where he is unveiled with his ominous (now-missing) dagger only one day a year. Which was? You guessed it, La Toussaint(All Saints’ Day)!


POINTS: 60


Remember if there are words in bold they may answer future bonus questions — as these treasures can apply to various themes.

Fontaine des Innocents, by John James Chalon (1823)
Fontaine des Innocents, by John James Chalon (1823)

So yesterday we pondered the dead at the Cimitière des Innocents (CDI), once Paris’s largest and oldest graveyard smack dab in the middle of town (where the Renaissance Fontaine des Nymphs, aka Fontaine des Innocents** currently is, near the RER Les Halles station). Our cliffhanger left us off with figures; when space ran out at CDI, mass graves of 1500 cadavers per pit were created. Left open till they were filled (the air must’ve been tangibly disgusting!), they were then closed off and a new one of equal size was dug. With the horror of numbers checked off, what about the business of death?

Plan de Turgot (1730)
Plan de Turgot (1730)

Income from each burial – mass or otherwise – went to St Eustache (the large church to the north of current-day Les Halles) after CDI became part of its parish property in 1303 (it was later the property of St-Germain-des-Auverrois, the church just across the road from the Louvre’s Cour Carré). The Bishopric of Paris owned much of the lands and tax rights over central Paris, which caused them to open the marketplace next to the cemetery, so to better monitor the trading and assure that they got their share from the trading. The cemetery was opened to merchants in an attempt to reclaim a part of their monopoly over Paris trade.

St Eustache church with Les Halles in foreground. Taken from WikiCommons, photo by Alfie Lanni (Flickr)
St Eustache church with Les Halles in foreground. Taken from WikiCommons, photo by Alfie Lanni (Flickr)

The living and the dead co-existed to a point where a whole genre of medieval art – the “Dance Macabre” – was created on the back wall of the CDI. From an art historical point of view this makes CDI supremely important, as the 15th century Dance of Death was the first and finest known example. Unfortunately the wall was razed in order to expand the abutting road, but there are several Holbein woodcuts as well as French and English prints of it, as well as descriptions.

One of 17 wood engravings of la Danse macabre du cloître des Saints Innocents à Paris
One of 17 wood engravings of la Danse macabre du cloître des Saints Innocents à Paris. Published in 1485 by two Parisian editors, Guyot Marchant and Verard, they distributed them across Europe. The only surviving example is in the Grenoble Library.

Since they were making hand over fist, the Church pointedly ignored sanitary issues repeatedly raised by the Crown. What overflowed as quickly as the church coffers was the GROUND. Skeletons of decomposed dead went to charniers (wall closets lining graveyards, housing bones of the dead), but the cadaver’s fatty residues remained in the earth, leaving greasy mounds that couldn’t process the dead at the rate it was being asked to.  Yet the only modification the church would make was to raise its funerary charges!

The court of Louis XV issued an investigation in 1763 of the neighboring Les Halles commerce. Inspectors recorded local stories of meat that rotted before one’s eyes, a perfumerie unable to sell its wares due to the putrid air, tapestry merchants whose rugs changed color if exposed too long and wine merchants whose barrels yielded only vinegar. Several edicts by various Kings to move the parish cemeteries out of the city were resisted till the situation came to a head in the spring of 1780 after a prolonged period of rain.

On 30 May a cellar wall bordering CDI gave way under the weight of the excessive burials and humidity and spilled a mess of decomposed corpses, thus infecting the mud. Talk about a gush of gore! No horror film could top this. The building was evacuated but not even the thickest masonry could keep the stench of rotting flesh at bay, which finally prompted Louis XVI to exile all parish graveyards outside the city walls (you wonder why Montparnasse, Montmartre and Pere Lachaise are in the outer arrondissements – there’s your answer).

tree lined avenue of mausoleums in Père Lachaise cemetery Paris
Père Lachaise, photo taken from WikiCommons

By 1786 bones of 6 million bodies were exhumed from cemeteries throughout the city and moved to the catacombs (former mines) out of town, at Denfert Rochereau (in today’s 14th Arrt). Just as a grisly conclusion – Many bodies hadn’t fully decomposed and had turned to margaric acid (fat). This fat was collected and turned into candles and soap. Guess that’ll make you think twice before washing your face with soap!

Paris Catacombs “Stop, this is the empire of death”
Paris Catacombs “Stop, this is the empire of death” photo taken from MichaelJohnGrist.com **

Fontaine des Innocents (1547-1550) was built by architect Pierre Lescot (there’s a street with his name in the Les Halles area). François 1er, and later his son Henri II had Lescot transform the old Louvre (originally a fortress under Philippe Auguste) into a palace. The Cour Carré that we see — The Sully Wing’s courtyard – is thanks to Lescot’s designs. Jean Goujon was the sculptor for both the Fontaine des Innocents as well as the Cour Carré. Both also collaborated on the roof of the church across the road, St Germain l’Auxerrois.

La Morte St Innocent will conclude our 3-part Trilogy of Death.

The grisly Death Hunt isn’t far from us.  Our Black-Clad Hunters will be tasked to find all sorts of skulls, from Death overlooking 17th C Dutch Vanitas scenes, Egyptian Mummies, Roman Sarcophagi, and there’s even a silver ‘skull clock’, as seen below. To merge the two in a single object makes sense as both time (and the fact that with each passing day, all of our time is running out) and skulls are typical Memento Mori motifs. These scary skull-clocks are a great discovery in the Objet d’Art section of the Louvre – on the 1st floor, just off IM Pei’s enormous escalator unifying 3 levels of Richelieu (oh boy, I think that might have been a give-away!). Protestant clock-making centers like Blois made a lot of these skull-clocks, a reminder that a handful of Skull Scouting treasures also overlap with the All Things Gaul hunt.

18th century Memento Mori Clock inside a silver skull, Paris, Louvre
18th century Memento Mori Clock, Paris, Louvre

So which piece of treasure is the king of the hunt, the Master of the Morbid? They’re all so gloriously ghoulish it’s hard to choose which to give-away. So as a process of elimination, which piece is inextricably tied to the history of Paris?

La Morte St Innocent fits this bill beautifully, both for Skull Scouting as well as “All Things Gaul” as he is quintessentially French. La Morte is the lynchpin of Parisian Death – the epitome of just how macabre Medieval Paris got. Apart from Death’s appearance and adjoining plaque (which reads “There is not a single being alive, however cunning and strong in resistance, whom I will not slay with my dagger & give to the Worms as their Pittance!”) his birthplace is key to setting the tone of central Medieval Paris.

La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre
La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre

Before examining Death itself, which deserves a post unto itself and will be the third of this three-part series let’s have a look at where he’s from: Cimitière des Innocents which was also the birthplace of La Danse Macabre.

Dance of Death (woodcut) Hans Holbein the Younger, 1491 (German printed edition, folio CCLXI recto from Hartman)
Dance of Death (woodcut) Hans Holbein the Younger, 1491 (German printed edition, folio CCLXI recto from Hartman)

Named for the Massacre of Innocents (St Innocents was the same name of an adjoining church, once facing rue St Denis), Cimitière des Innocents (CDI) had been housing the dead since Gallo-Roman days. Originally outside the city walls, as the city expanded it ended up smack dab in the center of town (where current-day place Joachim-du-Bellay is). It was where rue St Denis and rue Berger meet, and abutted Paris’s famed central Market, Les Halles. In the 12th century it was still a perfectly orderly graveyard, with an individual space allotted per body. By the 13th century it was the graveyard for Paris’s parishes without cemeteries as well as a dumping ground for the dead of the nearby hospital, Hôtel Dieu (which, if facing Notre Dame, is directly to your left – to escape the throngs of ND goggling tourists you can always dip into Hôtel Dieu’s peaceful plant-filled courtyard).  But back to Medieval France – With so many incoming dead CDI was starting to ooze. Soon it would grow to a festering sore, Paris’s pussing pustule emitting ghastly gasses.

old black and white map of paris with red circle showing location of Cimitière des Innocents
image taken from Cadrans solaires disparus  (michel.lalos.free.fr)

How could it not? While Paris grew, the CDI plot of 135 meters x 65 meters did not. Moreover the number of deaths due to famines, wars (100-Years War, the 30-Years War), let alone the Plague were enough to send heads spinning. During several bouts of the plague in the 14th Century an estimated 800 people died a day in Paris, the Plague of 1418 poured nearly 50,000 dead into CDI over a five-week period, in 1466 another 40,000 perished in Paris. With the swelling of such numbers, mass graves were created. They’d leave a pit open till 1500 cadavers filled each crevice, then close it off for the worms to do their decomposing jobs, filling another 1500-body pit just inches over.

Plan de Turgot, de 1730
Plan de Turgot, de 1730

Imagine the stench of your Saturday morning marketing – how could the Crown allow such (un-)sanitary conditions to co-exist? That’s your Hallowe’en cliff-hanger for the day. I’ll continue this gory CDI glory tomorrow, and shall get us back to the Master of the Morbid! Thus, hopefully, auguring the spirit of Halloween (smiley-face, exclamation mark)!

Things in bold tend to refer to bonus questions…

Going out with a bang, I’m concluding our visit to Darius the Great’s Winter Palace at Susa (which in turn sadly wraps up the Louvre Near Eastern musings which started with Ain Ghazal, the oldest piece at the Louvre) with something big! Nearly matching the Louvre’s gentle Lamassus in height, here’s one COLOSSAL capital.

Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

This COLOSSAL capital alone is 4 meters tall, 1/3rd the size of the column that it topped.  Altogether the columns  – 36 columns to be exact* – in Darius’s Apadana (Audience Hall) were over 20 meters tall (meaning about 70 feet ceilings, I think).  The hall was 109 meters squared.  Just look at the size of the beams nestled between the two kneeling bulls: they’re unfathomably large. To help put it in context, El Argentino said that the bull’s eye would be looking straight into our kitchen window – we live on the 4th and final floor of a typical Parisian building dating to 1810. The trek up the 4 flights each day, my toddler Storsh in hand, make me all the more sensitive to such lofty height.

Reconstructed face of Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

The variations of colour in the capital’s stone is due to the fact that it was reconstructed from fragments of several columns by Marcel Dieulafoy, the archeologist leading the 1884-1886 excavation. To demonstrate the unification of the different parts of Darius’s Persian Empire, influences were taken from all over. The stone masons were Greek and Lydian, and the architects Persian. The double volutes with rosettes was taken from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, yet the pair of bull protomes are purely Mesopotamian, representing cosmic equilibrium. And let’s not forget Egypt, a significant part of his 50-million-person strong Achaemenid Empire – that basket-like ensemble of palm fronds are a reminder that the Egyptians had been peed on by Darius. Again, just one capital is a Benetton of sorts, a little UN-melting pot of cultures as described in the last post, which mentions which exact room these treasures can be found in… Helpful no?

visitor looks us at Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

On the globe-trotting front, apparently one of these fine bulled capitals has found itself far far away – from Paris or Iran…  El Argentino is from the leafy hood of Palermo, Buenos Aires.  Our favourite part of the 3 de Febrero park, also known as the Bosques de Palermo (the woods of Palermo), is the Rose Garden. Though we’ve been to feed the ducks and picnic in the fragrant green plenty of times, I hadn’t noticed that they have one of these double-kneeling bulls perched in place, above a fluted column. This one is apparently from Darius’s father, Cyrus. In 1972 one of the Pahlavi Shahs gave the 102-ton column to Buenos Aires, for nuclear good-will no doubt (the Argentines had advanced nuclear technology in the 60s and 70s).  Anyway, how this behemoth passed my notice says heaps about how open my eyes are!

La Columna Persa, Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires
La Columna Persa, Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires

To close this Near Eastern Antiquities musing, I just wanted to say a word on Susa, the town where Darius chose to make his administrative capital and Winter Palace. Also known as Shushan, or in Greek Susiane, Susa shares the “oldest” element that Ain Ghazal opened our Near Eastern visit with:  Susa is among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, starting in 4200 BC. There are also traces of a village there around 7000 BC. We think of Egyptian art as old, but the first traces of it were 2000 years later, in 5000 BC.

visitor looks us at Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris
man standing in foreground for scale

Apart from making a star appearance as Bestiary (fantastical animals, such as unicorns, dragons and griffins, etc), Darius’s palace at Susa could certainly appear in plenty of other THATLous –  such as Animals in Art or Kings + Leaders, what with Darius’s reach (his empire stretched from India to Greece) as mentioned in the last post you never know!

All photos were taken from Wikipedia and Google and are in the open domain.

* And yes, when things are in bold, often that means it’s going to answer a precious bonus question!

Aphrodite marble statue, known as Venus de Milo, Melos, 100BC, Louvre museum paris

Aphrodite, known as VENUS DE MILO

Marble, H 2.02 meters

Island of Melos (Cyclades, Greece), 100 BC Statue

You can’t tell me you’re surprised we’re opening up the Love Hunt with the Goddess of Love, can you? A hands-down top ten Louvre Icon, just look on your map for her snap…

The identity of the “Venus de Milo” is unknown, as her arms were never found, nor were any attributes. Because of her sensuality and semi-nudity, she’s often considered to be Venus (goddess of love), however, she could have very well been Amphitrite (Poseidon / Neptune’s wife originally, but sadly this goddess of the sea diminished in importance at different junctures of Olympian history). Amphitrite was worshipped on the Island of Melos (Milo), where this Louvre icon was found.

She originally wore jewellery (bracelet, earrings and a headband) of which only the fixation holes remain. Traits which were typical of the 5th C BC, such as the harmony of her face, her aloofness and impassivity, lead some Art Historians to believe she was a 100 BC replica. Likewise, her hairstyle and the delicate modelling of the flesh evoke the works of the 4th C sculptor Praxiteles. But there’s plenty that places her in the Hellenistic period (between 3rd – 1st C BC), such as the spiral composition of her body, the fact that she’s 3D, her small breasts, elongated body and most importantly the thin veneer of material draped from her hips and not quite covering the top of her butt crack. It’s not the cling wrap material of Nike of Samothrace.

Closeup on fixture holes on arm of venus de milo for attaching original jewellery
Venus’s fixture holes photo taken from from Where is Ariadne? Blog

Whoever this mystery lady is, she’s gorgeous and her ‘top-ten attraction’ at the Louvre status is entirely understandable. If you’re sharp you’ll have earned another thirty points by telling us where Venus de Milo hid during WWII, as discussed in Just Do It … And another fifteen points each for 2 other treasures that hid with her — Not shabby on the bonus question front, eh?

As for the WWII Bonus answer: all of the following treasure was kept in hiding at the Château de Valençay: the lovely Venus, Michelangelo’s Dying Slaves, the Mona Lisa and Nike of Samothrace. Every time I go up the Daru Staircase I think of the photo of Nike being evacuated from the Louvre’s Daru Staircase in 1939, as seen in the Nike blog post.

* The Louvre map has photos of six highlights per floor on their map. When it’s such a “greatest hit” (my joke term for these Louvre icons) those treasures are only worth 10 game points, as there’s no challenge to finding them. That is NOT TO SAY you don’t want to find these easy-to-find Icons, because you’ll be well rewarded with bonus questions, as you see above.

When things are in bold, usually that’s a hint that they refer to bonus questions…