Friday 26 June 2009

Hidden Treasures

Next Saturday (4th of July) the streets of Paris will be alive with treasure seekers as one of the biggest Treasure Hunts in the world takes place. This event has given me the opportunity to talk to Benoît Leoty, one of the team at event organisers Ma Langue au Chat, about the philosophy and practicalities behind the organisation of such events.

When I ask how such an original company as Ma Langue au Chat came into existence, Leoty is slightly troubled. The principal behind the company business is very simple, the organisation of treasure hunts, mostly in urban environments and primarily for business clients, but who could have found the idea for such a niche industry in the first place? Leoty first checks with Charles Carmignac, the company founder, that he can tell me the story, and once permission is given, he relates the charming tale.

Charles Carmignac met a girl at a party and they got on really well. For the first date afterwards, she organized a treasure hunt around Paris, with the objective being to find out exactly where she was. For the second date he did the same, and it continued on like that afterwards. The story has not finished yet either, as they are now engaged to be married!”. Ma Langue au Chat was born when Charles Carmignac told this story to a group of people one evening and was then asked by one individual to organise something similar for a team at his company.

Ma Langue au Chat has now been in existence for over 5 years with the real turning point towards success being the day that they won the tender for the Paris Treasure Hunt. The event has now mushroomed into a day which needs upwards of 6 months of preparation and a team of 15 staff to run it (not counting the 120 volunteers, the numerous actors situated en route and the 300 shopkeepers and artisans who will be taking part on the day). For everyone involved, the event is looked at as being a chance to meet people, discover Paris and simply to have fun. Is this the objective of all their Treasure Hunts though?

It depends on the client” says Leoty. “We have a package of standard pre-tested events, but many clients want something particular. In these cases, the treasure hunt is a medium, a way to communicate a message”. Whilst all events must have an element of fun and humour (company rules at Ma Langue au Chat!), the final message can be something serious, with sustainable development being a regular theme.

I’m also interested to know whether there is anything particular about Paris that incites such activities. For Leoty, Paris is their chosen area simply because it’s the place they know best and because most clients are based in the region, but they have also organised successful events in Barcelona, Shanghai and Morocco. “I love Paris and now see it in a completely different way despite having lived here all my life” Leoty explains, “however, the basic themes could be organised in almost any city”. Nevertheless, Paris with its old and new structures, secret passages, underground tunnels and buried rivers does retain a true air of mystery.

I ask whether this need to discover secrets and find treasures in a city environment is linked to a primeval fear of the urban, but Leoty doesn’t agree. “I think deep down we are all children and this activity helps us to rediscover our childhood. The city is normally a dull, bleak environment, somewhere we work and commute, and this helps us to see it in another light. It’s as if the city puts on a mask and suddenly becomes playful”.

Masks and play-acting are a central theme to Ma Langue au Chat’s activities. Actors are recruited to help teams begin the search and give assistance during the event, and will always be present when the treasure is discovered. Founder Charles Carmignac also wants the participants to see themselves as actors too, and to feel like they are discovering the plot as they go along. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction from the participants therefore comes from this feeling of being an actor in the city, and not just a simple passive inhabitant.

Finally, we come to the most important point, the goal and the grail – the treasure. “The treasure is absolutely essential” agrees Leoty, “it must be a huge moment involving a trick or a special challenge. It must solve the mystery and give the participants an immense feeling of satisfaction”. Jungian psychologists speak of the ‘grail legend’, in essence man’s search for what makes life meaningful, and perhaps seeking and finding treasure in this way helps us to satisfy an inherent need.

Ma Langue au Chat see their events as simple, fun activities, but perhaps they have stumbled across something that goes much deeper into our psyches!

The Paris Treasure Hunt:
Thanks first of all the MLAC team for their time and for the photos used in this post.

10 different districts of Paris are taking part in the event and the basic idea is that you choose one and pick one of the hunts on offer. In total, 80 different hunts are taking place, with one in each district being in English. Each hunt is expected to last for between 2 and 4 hours.
For more details, visit the official website.
I also recommend that you take a look at Ma Langue au Chat’s excellent and mysterious website!

An Exclusive Secret!
I asked Benoît Leoty if he could give my readers an example of a mysterious place in the city to check out for themselves and he gave me a suggestion. He gives no guarantees that you will find treasure though!

Go to Rue Lepic in Montmartre, then find the number 45. In fact, you will see many number 45s on the wall. Push open the large double doors and you will find yourself…in another street! This old cobbled courtyard is a throwback to an older era, and is a part of the city that was swallowed up when the city expanded”.


TresFrench said...

This looks like it could be great fun! Has anyone done this in previous years? Did you enjoy it?

Starman said...

Several bloggers in Paris did this a year or so ago and posted about how much fun they had even though they didn't win any prizes..

ArtSparker said...

This is lovely. There is a big one in San Francisco every year which takes place during the Chinese New Year's parade in that area.

Cergie said...

Quelle est la définition d'un trésor* ? Un lieu secret est déjà un trésor.
Par rapport à ce pan de mur, où se trouve le n°45 ?
Ce pochoir n'est-il pas aussi un trésor ? Qu'est-il devenu d'ailleurs depuis deux ans ?

* Près de chez ma fille dans le Beaujolais il y a un magnifique village. Par tradition, à Paques ses habitants cachent des oeufs dans les rues.

Ken Mac said...

happy hunting!

margaret said...

This is so totally cool! I really love activities that get people to engage more deeply and richly with the places where they live. Whether or not you win the prize, I know you'll find treasure.

PeterParis said...

I have the answer to what's behind 45 rue Lepic, even made a post about it!

So, will you participate? Do you already have a team?

Adam said...

Peter: Somehow I thought you would have! Do you have a link?
I don't think I'll have time to do the Treasure Hunt myself this year unfortunately for the banal reason that it is the last shopping day I will have before I go on holiday!

Owen said...

Fabulous post Adam, hadn't heard about this (too provincial I guess)

Wish I'd read this earlier, was in Montmartre today walking around very close to there... guess I'll just have to go back...
Cheers !

Therese Cox said...

I am unspeakably envious! I'd love to be there to join the hunt. On a similar note, I went on a little treasure hunt like this in Venice, courtesy of a book from a place called the Save Venice society. A great way to spend the afternoon, even if it was just two of us.

Urban treasure hunts - I could spend my life doing nothing but going on these. Thanks for sharing this.

cv said...

Great was as thought watching a movie..thanks dude!

French CV template

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