Update: As of July 26, 2011, “Beware Madame La Guillotine” is available for the iPhone and iTouch at the iTunes App Store! You can find more information at the App Store Link here.
I’m a lover of tales and I enjoy finding treasure, literal and metaphorical. For who does not enjoy a good treasure hunt?
And while my food allergies/intolerances prohibit me from eating many of the culinary pleasures in Paris, some of the things in which I can partake are Paris’ history and mysteries. It was therefore my great pleasure to have taken, in part, Time Traveler Tours’ presentation of “Beware Madame La Guillotine” on a rainy June afternoon along with its creator, Sarah Towle.
Here in another “Special Report,” I’ll share with you about the tour, a bit of Sarah’s story, and my thoughts on the my experience taking the tour.
To learn more, please continue reading!
What Are Time Traveler Tours? Who Are They For?
The summary on the Time Traveler Tours’ website About page sums it up best:
Time Traveler Tours are interactive StoryApp itineraries to the world’s most visited tourist destinations on your hand-held mobile device.
Written expressly for youth and the young at heart, each tour takes travelers back to a seminal moment in human history with a narrator/tour guide whose actions help shape that time.
In telling their stories, our tour guides reveal the story of their age and provide teens and tweens — and the adults traveling with them — an engaging and vivid understanding of the sites included in each Time Traveler Tour.
In its first tour, which has been in Beta production for the past few weeks and which will be available this month (July 2011) on iTunes, we meet Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d’Armont, an 18th century murderess. She was a twenty-four-year-old woman caught up in the political intrigue and oppression during the Reign of Terror in the years following France’s Revolution of 1789.
In the tour, Revolutionary Paris comes to life as we are guided around the Palais Royal in the heart of Paris’ 1st arrondissement, and then follow Charlotte to her prison, La Conciergerie, on the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine where the city of Paris was born, where she was held before being executed for the murder of Jean-Paul Marat.
Why This Kind of Tour? What Are It’s Origins?
I don’t have an iPhone nor an iTouch, the two devices for which the StoryApp is currently being developed, though expansion for Android-based phones/devices will follow. But after meeting and talking with Sarah at the David Downie and Alison Harris meet & greet at the Village Voice bookshop for their book Paris, Paris (which I reviewed here) I realized that I really wanted to experience the tour. I was completely intrigued by the idea of interactive historical tours for youth (12+) and their families. The idea of history through stories, of learning though the tale of someone living in that time, sounded fantastic. I wanted to go on this adventure, one way or another.
I contacted Sarah about perhaps taking a tour with her, and she agreed that we could meet up and use her iPhone to go on the first section of the tour, in and around the Palais Royal, a former palace of royalty in France which was transformed into the Palais de l’Égalité during the Revolutionary period. Home of King Louis XVI’s first cousin, Louis Philippe Joseph II, duc d’Orléans, it was the gathering place of every class of French society from aristocracy to the lowest of workers. Sophisticates discussed in the salons and cafés, gamblers took financial risks at tables, prostitutes plied their wares, and shoppers purchased goods at the boutiques and bookshops lining the arcades. Minus the aristocracy, gamblers, and prostitutes, in many ways not much has changed in the area. The restaurant Le Grand Véfour, established in 1784, still serves fine cuisine to its diners, for example.
Sarah and I met at the Café de la Comédie on rue Saint Honoré, just on the place de Collette at Métro Palais Royal Musée du Louvre so that before going on the tour, I could get to know her better and understand the whys and wherefores of such a project.
Here is a bit of Sarah’s story.
“This project saved my life.”
On July 10, 2004, Sarah, her husband Jim their then eight-year-old daughter Lily arrived in Paris. Here because of Jim’s job, Sarah for the first time in almost 20 years had stepped back from her own career pursuits to be a full-time mother and trailing spouse. At the beginning, for about the first year-and-a-half, Paris was bliss with museums and cafés to be frequented and French language to be learned. But soon for this Hampshire College Undergrad (in Cultural History and Social Anthropology) and Teacher’s College at Columbia University grad student (in Applied Linguistics), it was not enough, and she began to slide into a depression.
To counteract her loss of professional identity (anyone who has had a thriving career and then stepped away from it for whatever reason will know this feeling), besides pursuing language study, Sarah began to develop interactive and culturally-based scavenger hunts for various sites in Paris for Lily. She put them in a pack that they could easily grab on their way to their favorite museums, notably the Musée Marmottan, close to Lily’s school. Sarah tried to make the activities not only interesting, but story-based and developmentally-appropriate for Lily, incorporating her background knowledge as an educator and linguist to create these materials.
Prior to living in France, Sarah had worked extensively in Central America teaching language and literacy development in Freirean-based literacy campaigns; she had spent time in Nanjing, China working with the College English Teacher Training Program at Nanjing University; and she worked with both the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia Teachers College and Educators for Social Responsibility in New York. In addition, she spent five years in the New York City Public Education system teaching conflict resolution to teachers with the intention that they would share what they learned with their students, too. With such an extensive background in education, conflict resolution, linguistics, and world travel, it is not surprising that a void began to grow in Sarah despite her efforts to keep herself fulfilled by learning French and creating interesting material for her daughter to become more familiar with her cultural surroundings. As many might know, the trailing spouse of someone on a working visa in France does not have the right to work at jobs in France, although they can be designated as self-employed in their home country. Sarah needed to create something for herself to do. When it dawned on Sarah that Paris was likely to be their home for more than just a couple of years, she sought to redefine herself.
By 2006, Sarah was “going mad with the need for professional fulfillment.” It was on the sunny island of Guadaloupe during a much-needed vacation when she had the epiphany revealing the next step of her professional evolution. In that moment of inspiration, she announced to her family, “I’m going to write a book.”
An App is Born
And write a book is what Sarah did. For this part of Sarah’s journey, I am going to refer you to Laurel Zuckerman’s blog (author of Sorbonne Confidential) In a post entitled From Print to Digital Media: Why I Made the Shift, Sarah expresses how she wrote a Paris tour guide for children organized in small pochettes, pocket-sized books, containing itineraries, maps, games, and treasure hunts — all interactive and interesting – alongside historically-relevant information intended to both entertain and educate children visiting Paris. Reminiscent of Lily’s pack, the project’s objective was to “illuminate history through story.” The post on Laurel Zuckerman’s page explains how the idea for the book in print transformed into an interactive StoryApp.
Another key to the development of Sarah’s idea for the StoryApp tours can be found on Time Traveler Tours’ webpage under the tab named “Origins.”
One day, Sarah was crossing the Seine from the Right Bank near Châtelet when she heard an American man describing the Conciergerie to his two tween sons. Thinking erroneously that the Châtelet medieval prison was also around and about, Sarah corrected him, and let him know that it had been torn down during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Empire. Watching the eyes of two bored boys glaze over, Sarah kicked things up a notch as she began to describe some of the gore and horrors which happened at the Conciergerie, immediately engaging the kids, who then asked their dad, “Can we go there?” The mother of the boys responded to Sarah as well, “I wish we could hire you for a day.” She explained that all the boys had wanted to do was get back to Facebook and their video games, and that this was the first time on the vacation that the boys had been this engaged. As it says on the Origins page, “Just like that, the Time Traveler Tours were born.”
What Was The Tour “Beware Madame La Guillotine” Like?
I loved it. When I was doing the tour, I kept thinking, “This is like Professor Layton meets French History!”
For those of you who are not familiar with the Nintendo DS games called “Professor Layton,” they are, just like this tour in many respects, interactive, problem-solving treasure hunts in which the goal is to solve puzzles and mysteries in a progressively-revealed story. In “Beware Madame La Guillotine,” we are guided through Revolutionary France with the aid of Charlotte Corday and an interactive map. There are games, treasure hunts, and problem-solving activities along the tour, which make it fun and accessible to youth. But I, as a 43-year-old woman had a great time doing the tour, too. It is by no means so childlike that an adult cannot have fun and learn something during the tour. It’s a sophisticated and smart tour.
The tour is divided up into 24 chapters, each of which reveals a piece of Charlotte’s story as it unfolds during the year 1793. Right now, you can find the core content of each chapter on the Time Traveler Tours site, starting with Chapter One of “Beware Madame La Guillotine” here. As release of the app approaches, Sarah intends to share each consecutive chapter with us to give us a taste of what the tour content is like. Interspersed amongst these chapters are interactive elements — games, puzzles, treasure hunts, and map quests — to offer a break between chunks of information, engagingly narrated from the point-of-view of Charlotte Corday.
I only went on the first part of the tour, the section at the Palais Royal, because that is what Sarah and I had time for that day, and the weather was also cloudy and rainy. While it was still enjoyable, the weather did put a slight damper on things. The tour is designed for a full day: morning at the Palais Royal, lunch at Le Café Procope (famous in part for being the place where coffee was first served in Paris), and the afternoon passing through the Left Bank to La Conciergerie, where Charlotte Corday was imprisoned. However, the single tour could just as easily be divided into two half-days.
We began in the forecourt of the Palais, the cour d’honneur with the (in)famous columns by artist Daniel Buren lining the open area.
We continued into the gardens and around the shopping arcades as the story of how Charlotte Corday came to murder journalist Jean-Paul Marat was revealed.
Because we were using the Beta version of the StoryApp, there were some glitches, but the good news is that is exactly what Beta-testing is for: to reveal those little things that need to be fixed for the final product. We found a few that Sarah added to her “hit list” of fixes to make before the final product hits the virtual app shelves later this month.
I think that if you are someone who wants to take a creative and interesting tour highlighting an integral period of Paris and France’s history, and if you have an iPhone or iTouch device, this would be a wonderful way to uncover some of the mysteries of the Palais Royal (and the Conciergerie as well, as I am sure that portion of the tour follows its predecessor in quality). I’m hoping that eventually I can finish the entire tour and discover what happened to Charlotte after the murder of Marat: her imprisonment at the Conciergerie and execution by guillotine on the 17th of July, 1793, 218 years ago this month.
How You Can Help Out
To learn more about the StoryApp from the creator herself, and also learn about how you can contribute to the project (with rewards!) head on over to Kickstarter.com. Contributing at least $1 can help ensure that this product sees the light of day on iTunes and that a bilingual version 2 will be produced as well. Pledges get you STUFF, good stuff, too, so head over to watch a video of Sarah narrating a detailed description of the tour and learn how you can contribute.
As of July 26, 2011, “Beware Madame La Guillotine” is available for the iPhone and iTouch at the iTunes App Store! You can find more information at the App Store Link here.
A Personal Note in Closing
In my previous post about photographer Chloe Lodge, it came up from readers in comments about how while they have enjoyed the “Special Reports” I’ve been posting about once a month since last November (2010), readers miss my more personal musings about my own daily life. I commented that I have missed them, too.
There have been multiple reasons for my going this route in the past 6+ months, some of which are closely personal and not blog fodder. It’s also because the amount of time I have to blog these days as compared to when this blog was born on July 5, 2009 (Happy 2 Years, Blog!) is much less. My life has changed and evolved. Some of the things I am doing and experiencing are“tricky” to blog about, yet very much a part of my daily life. It’s stuff I would like to be blog fodder, but don’t feel comfortable about writing at the moment. I hope if this blog is going for another two years that I one day might be able to write more about some of those things openly. I’ve been doing a lot of good growing here in Paris, though, and meeting up with and doing lots with others. Part of this growth is simply that I am a helluva lot more busy than I used to be! This is a very good thing. Less time for navel-gazing, which (in large doses) can become self-destructive, and is definitely a bent of mine! Sometimes this propensity can make for good writing. But it also means I am doing more than just taking photos out my dining room window, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. In the meantime, posting reviews and activities such as this has been my “solution” about needing to write and to keep this blog going without going into details about the thing about which I enjoy writing most: my life.
Still others have asked me with these reviews or reports I do if I am receiving any kind of income or recompense for them. Nope, and nope. The Special Reports I have put here are because I WANT them to be here. Yes, in a couple of cases I have received books from the authors or publishers, gratis, as review copies. But if I did not believe in or have positive thoughts about those books, tours, people, and places, I would not write about them. These posts are about people I have happened to meet here and there, often at events to which other bloggers go here in Paris, we connect, we get to talking, I like what’s going on, and I ask if I can write about what’s going on for my blog. That’s it. I do this because I want to, and it is good practice for me with a more journalistic and professional style of writing. I like doing it.
Some people ask if I receive money or pay, or if I make my living, from this blog, in general. NO. (Definitely NOT! Haha!) I created this blog because like Sarah Towle in her story, I was going to go mad if I did not have something to do with my time here in Paris. I was not in a good way my first year here, something I may get the inspiration to write more about one of these days. By July of 2009, I realized I needed something to do to keep my head busy and get out and see more of Paris. Also, when I discovered it would not be possible for me to legally have a job in France, I realized I also needed something to keep my mind active since I would not be able to do so in a working environment. Since I already had been keeping private blogs since 2004, especially getting into it by 2005, having a more “formal” blog about my life in Paris (instead of the “here’s how I’m feeling today” journal-type of entries I had been keeping) was a natural extension of what I had already been doing, and has turned out to be a very productive thing in terms of having a life here in Paris.
In fact, this past week, I received the honor of recognition by easyJet Airlines on The Ultimate Paris Travel Blogger List 2011. Thank you, easyJet! You have been the only airline I have ever flown from Paris to Nice and back to see my best friend, and to be recognized by you is really cool. I appreciate it. It also makes me realize that I have a commitment here, even if unpaid and solely a labor of love.
I have one more Special Report that I am planning for next month, which will be posted in absentia since I will actually be in the Canadian hinterlands at that time. I’ll be gone most of the month, and not able to check email or post on the blog during that time (no electricity! Only the essentials such as the refrigerator and range are powered by propane. There is solar power support as well as a generator for going online once every couple of days so that Paul’s parents — it’s their place to which we’re going — and we can keep in touch with civilization via a satellite Internet connection, but when you have more than six people vying for computer/online time for the hour or so the generator is on, only the bare essentials can be attended to).
Come September when I’ll be back in Paris, I would like to challenge myself to be more blogworthy, and perhaps set up a schedule for myself to post more of my own personal stories. I’m feeling them returning to me even as I type here, so let’s see if I can’t develop something and see it work for more frequent, personal posts as before.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate it when people do, very much so. And don’t be shy to leave a comment, either! It’s nice to know who is reading and what you have to say as well.
Over and out.
I’m your —
Alien Parisienne, Paris Karin