Thursday, 28 February 2008

Science: making things work

We went to the Parc de la Villette in Paris with La Fille to have a look at some of the highly recommended workshops and entertainments for toddlers. Unfortunately we did not think to buy tickets in advance and it was sold out. Still, the park, running alongside the Canal de l'Ourcq, is full of grass you can walk on - unusual in Paris - and interesting follies. La Fille particularly liked the old-fashioned wooden horse merry-go-round which turns for a full four-and-a-half minutes each go, a good deal more than some other merry-go-rounds we frequent. I know it was rather retentive of me to have timed it, but I was curious.

The 55-acre Parc de la Villette, the biggest park in Paris, sits on the north eastern side of the city on the site of the former meat market and central slaughterhouse. You can still see the railway lines which brought trains carrying cattle into the glorious iron and glass former livestock hall to be turned into steak. In the 1960s enormous amounts of money were spent building a giant new abattoir at La Villette, but new refreigeration techniques developed just before it opened meant it was redundant before it went into operation.

The theme of the park, opened in 1986, is music and science so we went to the City of Science and Technology, which looked fun. Unfortunately the 'science and technology' did not extend to the basics: half the the escalators, walkways, lifts and loos were out of order. I am not sure there is any excuse for this. The Natural History Museum in London is, unlike the Parc de la Villette, a very old Victorian-era construction and a very marvellous one at that. (It is worth visiting for the building alone). The animals on show look a little worn but then you can hardly go out to shoot and stuff new exhibits these days. The touchy-feelie animations for children are also a bit basic in this age of computer animation, but they are almost charming for being so. The bottom line is you may have to physically turn a handle or wiggle something, but they work, which is more than can be said for the toilets at the Parc de la Villette.

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