Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Jardin d'Acclimatation

I hate amusement parks. Eloise loves them. For her, they are pleasure palaces of excitement and gratification. For me, they are money grubbing, soul destroying hell holes. Yesterday, as we were driving around a blissfully empty Easter Monday London, a representative of the Global Association of Theme Parks (or something like that) was on the radio extolling the virtues of her employer. “Theme parks are wonderful places for multi-generational experiences … where families have a chance to communicate … if you calculate your spend per hour, it represents excellent value for money.

“Dear God”, was my agitated response, “as a species, we are doomed.”

But then I remembered our experience last week in the Jardin d’Acclimatation. Located just outside the walls of Paris in the northern part of the Bois de Boulogne, the Jardin d’Acclimatation offers exactly what that disturbing woman on the radio suggested parks could provide. It’s the kind of place where lovers of nostalgia (me) and fans of Nintendo (Eloise) and everything in between can enjoy themselves. Even our 18 year old son, Mac, had a pretty good time accompanying his sister on this expedition.

Let me set the scene. The park was opened in 1860 by Napoleon III and his Empress Eugenie and if you squint a bit, you get a sense of the original belle époque atmosphere. There are canal boats in a “Peter Pan like” lagoon, elegant wooden horses which “canter” along a large ring, an old fashioned house of mirrors, a puppet theatre, zoo animals and more thrilling rides such as a roller coaster, bumper cars and twisters for the older children. Even the ubiquitous “shooting gallery” seemed more benign, and the attendants less like “carni folk", than in other places. The landscaping is lovely, the atmosphere bucolic.

As was the case all week, Eloise was impervious to either the aesthetics or the history lesson but she thought the Jardin d’Acclimatation was first class. She enjoyed the rides, ate some junk and tried to win something in the shooting gallery, which, of course, she did not win. Mac sauntered along, sucking on his beloved Coke, demonstrating a jolly tolerance for the old fashioned quaintness of it all. Jeff paid the bills in a better mood than he normally is in when shelling out cash( after all, this is France and the place is subsidised by the state – well, what isn’t in France?) We were there when the French children were in school. The place was empty. It was fabulous.

After our visit, we drove out to visit friends in the lovely western suburb of Villennes-sur-Seine. “So what did you do today, asked Claude?” When he heard we had visited the Jardin d’Acclimatation his eyes grew misty. “I love it … ah, the little canal boats … it reminds me of my childhood … how charming.”

And so, dear disturbing lady of the airwaves, I’ll buy your argument in so far as it extends to one old fashioned amusement park on the outskirts of Paris. Spare me and my family the pre-packed “multi-generational” experience. Give me, instead, a glorious afternoon in the northern corner of the Bois de Bologne that can remind us all of the delights of being a child, even if we have not been one for decades.

Jardin d’Acclimation
June to September daily 10 –7; October to May daily 10-6
Located in the Bois de Boulogne 16e
Tel: 01-40-67-90-82

Admission €2.50 (rides are extra) free for children under 4

Take the little train from Porte Maillot through the Bois de Boulogne which leaves roughly every 10 minutes when the park is open

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