Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paris: la Villette and the Jules Verne carousel.

The park at la Villette, where we finished up after the morning's boat trip, with all it's big open airy spaces, elevated walkways, concert halls, prestigious science museum, is a bold attempt at making a really generous public, cultural open space outside of the very centre of Paris, and must be much appreciated by many. It's not difficult to get to, and has so much to offer, yet for some reason I don't find it quite sympathetic, so much about it rather gives me agarophobia. Not all, I loved the Cité de la Musique in the evening, not only the hall itself but all its interior and exterior peripherals, but it seems to me that the best bits are where they've ended up enclosing and hiving off parcels and elements of the larger space into more intimate smaller ones. 

The adjacent neighbourhood, on the Pantin side anyway, is in no way ugly or bleak or threatening, the people are quite varied, some smart prosperous professional looking types alongside artisan-ish people and some fairly mixed urban youth. But it's rather dreary, big streets and buildings without being imposing, lacking in much variety and interest and ever so slightly, well, lairy. It probably isn't really, but that was our perception of it, after quite a long morning, looking for somewhere to have lunch in a limited time, not wanting too much, or much of what was on offer. There were endless scruffy sushi places, which seem to be the default low budget eateries and takeaways everywhere in Paris now, and a fair bit of couscous, which we're not great fans of, and a pricey shiny office type restaurant further towards the Buttes-Chaumont, which is another area I'd quite like to explore one day. In the end we found a modest bistro down a side street with a relaxed and varied clientèle which seemed to reflect the local population, Tom had a chicken tajine with some recognisable vegetables in it and frites instead of couscous, and I had a beef brochette with very juicy chunks of steak and proper home made creamy-crispy potatoes lyonnaises which were very good . All of which was far more than we meant to eat so we didn't want much dinner that evening. The owner was rather bumptious, a bit of a wide-boy, and teased and joshed us in rapid-fire ways I couldn't pick up on quickly enough, but the atmosphere was cheerful and friendly.

So, we didn't take many pictures (lunch was tasty but not the kind you stand on your chair and set up the lighting to take a photo of). However, on the way back and waiting for the boat, my attention was drawn to the Jules Verne carousel. There were several fairground things, a swing ride and a pêche aux canards ( a thing where you try to hook up ducks for prizes, I think), but none of them were in action, presumably because of the wet weather that morning. I wondered if the Jules Verne roundabout was something unique and perhaps antique, but on researching it, it seems that these carousels are everywhere, there are big and small ones in Nantes, Montpellier, Laval... there is even a company that will rent them out to you in various sizes. While in the style of early 20th century fairground attractions, they are usually modern, for obvious safety reasons. In fact I do remember seeing them aound now, but didn't really take note of the theme: the actual ride-on elements, covered up on this occasion against the weather, as well as the classic horses and other animals, are (loosely) taken from Jules Verne stories. There are steam trains and ships and biplanes and early motor cars and bicycles, and always Captain Nemo's submarine, a Montgolfier balloon and a moon rocket. And always around the canopy there are painted vignettes of scenes from the books, and also of Paris and of other world landmarks.

Those from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea seemed to be especially favoured; it was fun trying to spot and remember the references.

I used to enjoy Jules Verne's books as a child, and liked these quirky, fantastical little paintings very much, wondering about the person who executed them with such care and enthusiasm, what we used to call a commercial artist, I suppose, the kind of painter in a British context who would have painted pub signs.

In amongst them, around the central shaft, were also these relief Melusines, I'm not sure what, if anything, they have to do with Jules Verne, they seem to have rather more of the traditional fairground about them.

The rain cleared, and this passed the time until the boat returned.

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