The Skeleton Garden of Paris

Justin E. H. Smith in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_724 Jul. 17 08.14I am at the Jardin des Plantes, in the Fifth Arrondissement on the Left Bank of the Seine. Here we find one of the world’s oldest zoos, still officially called a “menagerie,” various greenhouses and rows of brilliant dahlias book-ended by statues of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. We also find the various galleries composing the National Museum of Natural History. These include, not least, the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, a two-floor exhibition hall built in preparation for the 1900 World Fair, where the skeletons and preserved tissues of thousands of animal species are on display: the massive jaws of sperm whales, cross-sections of elephant molars like great petrified mille-feuilles, countless miniature bat skulls under tiny glass domes.

It is here, among the many bones, that I have been drawn since my arrival in this city, as if it were the true center of Paris. I sometimes have trouble explaining or even understanding why I moved here, I who care nothing about fashion or fine cuisine or shortened work weeks, who loves wine but is happy as long as it is red. I love art, but I can barely survive 30 minutes in an art museum without my cafeteria-homing instinct kicking in.

Why do I keep coming back to this bone menagerie? What pull do the skeletons have that the artworks lack? How do they call out when the living beasts across the garden, in spite of their barks and howls, remain silent to me? I return at every opportunity. I offer to give out-of-town visitors a private guided tour, which, after dozens of iterations, is now taking on the quality of a bravura performance.

More here.