School holidays in Paris; it has to be a trip to the zoo. "Yippee! Youpee! Hurray! Hurrah!" trumpeted La Fille demonstrating that even in excitement her bilingual skills know no bounds. "Don't get too excited," I cautioned. "We don't know what's there."
Everyone had declared the Paris parc zoologique to be "a sad place". Of course it's sad, I thought. What do they expect? I mean, when was the last time you saw baby giraffes frolicking in a city centre. Zoos, even the very best, are inherently sad places for sad people who cannot think of better things to do with their children then go see stir-crazy animals that shouldn't be in captivity but roaming the savannah and the jungle and the swamps, but that have forgotten where they come from. In some you have to pay a fortune for such sadness. London Zoo for example charged £8 entry the last time I went and it was only when we had parted with our hard-earned cash and were through the gates we discovered the really interesting animals were either dead or had been moved to the countryside. The thing is, every one of those people who said "Don't go" to the Paris zoo admitted they hadn't been near the place for, let's see, at least 30 years and were only repeating what they'd heard. So off we went for a spot of fact checking.
It was an unpromising start. A big sign by entrance announced that the zoological parc is closing this winter - officially for three years but probably longer - that the elephants and bears had been taken away and that the baboons were not on view because of an unspecified "technical problem". What sort of technical problems might baboons suffer, I wondered? Tail swing malfunction? Perhaps their batteries had run out. Still, entrance was only 5 euros - a snip compared with London - and the zebras, giraffes and penguins were still in situ.
La Fille of course loved it. She is of that wonderful age when all animals are a revelation, even ants. Once I had dragged her away from a tame cat, not one of the exhibits, she squealed with excitement at very ordinary donkeys, domestic goats and shaggy llama. I expected her to almost wet herself when we found the giraffes - a couple of self-satisfied males outnumbered by young mums standing around chewing the cud while their offspring gangled around - but she was more interested in a dozen gigantic fish in some very dirty water. To be honest, this was the saddest part; the general dirtiness. However, what made the entrance fee worth every centime were the various excuses for this. By the penguin enclosure a permanent plastic sign announced that on account of it being the "love season", the area had not been cleaned so as not to disturb the birds. Clearly there had been some complaints about the hippo pool because the permanent sign by it was even better and worth a full and faithful translation.
REGARDING THE COLOUR OF THE HIPPOPOTAMUSES WATER
The water in the hippopotamuses pool is changed (2 times a week) and yet it is still dirty.
In fact, hippopotamuses don't like clean water.
No sooner is the basin cleaned, they go and soil it with their excrement...it's their way of hiding and of marking their territory: they are saying "This is my pool!"
Hmmm. Did the hippos say they liked wallowing in their own poo? La Fille and I stood upwind.
The move to France was only supposed to be for a couple of years, not forever. Then I met The Frenchman. Then I had La Fille. Now there's no way back. But La Fille, to whom a horse is a cheval and a frog is just pond life is still half English. So before the Gallic nation claims her for its own, sprinkles her with garlic, sautés her and swallows her up whole we make regular escapes on the Eurostar. And we have discovered the grass is various shades of green either side of the Channel.