On one of our days having lunch at La Rose des Vents Snack, the co-owner of the restaurant Frederic gave us a tip on a museum that we hadn’t yet seen, the Natural History Museum. He explained that part of the fun is that the exhibit is old – stuffed specimens of wild animals from many decades ago – and while efforts have been made to preserve the collection, even update it, there are some glaring signs of neglect that make it charming or perhaps even comical.
Frederic gave us directions on how to get to this museum – it is further north, outside of the town center, on Rue Beauvoisine. But the truth was that we had already been to its sister museum, which is literally right next door to it (in the same building even), the Museum of Antiquities.
I had mixed feelings about this museum. It is macabre, even disturbing, to see so many of these taxidermy specimens of animals, no question. It is a remnant of a time that was, I guess you could say, simultaneously more innocent and more barbaric than where we are today. Except for a handful of hunters (I will withhold judgment), there are not too many people today who would want to capture animals for the sole purpose of stuffing them and putting them on display. Then again, even if someone wanted to start a collection like this today, they couldn’t do it, because (a) so many international humanitarian laws would stop them (I am guessing) and (b) a huge number of the animals preserved here are extinct (I am sure about this).
Anyway, for all its bizarre-ness and barbarity, it is a fascinating collection in a way. And besides the cases full of (for example) stuffed specimens of every bird you can think of, there are also displays of things from other aspects of culture. The painted ostrich eggs are extraordinary, for example, and the preserved Japanese doll costumes were one of our favorite things to see.
The day we visited this museum was right at the end of our two weeks of exploring Rouen on our own – the next day we would head to Paris to pick up our friend Faith and begin a week with her. It was definitely a case of “ok, what else haven’t we seen yet?” Visiting the Natural History Museum was perfect in that respect – this was a place where we could spend an hour or two looking and pointing and exclaiming “OMG!” and feeling simultaneously amazed and appalled, delighted and horrified. And oh, we did see a stuffed lion Frederic had told us about, who looks for all the world like someone gave him a bad haircut. Unfortunately, a troop of French teenagers got in the way of me taking a picture of this most beleaguered king of the jungle. Oh well.