In the town where I grew up, there was a small, mostly underwhelming children’s science museum. The best part of it by far was its taxidermy Bengal tiger, which was positioned—perhaps strategically—just around a sharp turn in a hallway.
If you turned the corner unaware, it would inevitably scare the bejeezus out of you. And even if you knew it was there (as I did), rounding that corner was still a heart-pounding, adrenal experience. What if the tiger is alive this time?
I can only imagine that for children experiencing Paris’s Deyrolle for the first (or second, or third…) time, there is a similar mix of utter enchantment and mild terror. The store, which dates back to 1831, contains an astonishing mélange of curiosities: preserved insects, fossils, science books, gardening equipment, and of course, a vast assortment of taxidermy animals, both large and small.
Even as an adult, I find that the store messes with my fantasy-reality boundary. Much like rounding the tiger-corner once did, ascending Deyrolle’s spiral staircase to the second floor gives me that rush of impending danger. Suddenly, I am face to face with a motley pack that includes a grizzly bear, a water buffalo, an elephant, a wolf, a peacock, a lion, a bobcat, and the list goes on.
Instinctively, I hold my breath as I cautiously approach them. Hands trembling, I always want to touch them, but I fear the snap of their jaws—maybe they are alive and they’ve been faking all along. It’s more than a suspension of disbelief; it’s a true internal argument that I have with myself. The grown-up half of my brain knows the animals are frozen in time, but the child half of my brain (which is alive and well in contexts like this), says “If it looks like a tiger and acts like a tiger, it’s probably a tiger. Duh.”
I’ve spent many a rainy afternoon walking stealthily among Deyrolle’s upper rooms, daring myself to get near the bigger beasts and then retreating to the butterfly room for respite. When I finally step out of the shop onto the Rue du Bac, I feel like C.S. Lewis’s four siblings tumbling out of the fabled wardrobe—I’ve just been somewhere that has nothing to do with this quotidian reality.
Alas, the majority of life does not consist of encounters with wild beasts, but it’s a great comfort to know that Deyrolle is there when your imagination needs a good romp, and to know that even if you’re too old to believe in magic, you know it when you see it.
Deyrolle, 46 rue du Bac, Paris, 75007, 01 42 22 30 07
- Breakfasts in Paris visits Deyrolle
- If Deyrolle sounds like your cup of tea, le Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris would be worth a visit as well
- Vanity Fair tells the story about rebuilding Deyrolle in Paris after it went up in flames a couple of years ago