The sky looked moody and metallic yesterday so my friend and I took our children to the Paris Aquarium. What a good idea that turned out to be. The place was so welcoming, so well organised, so pleasant and so clean we nearly fell off the high-heels we were not wearing. It is often the case that those who work in the French public services, and that includes aquariums or aquaria or whatever, can err on the side of grumpiness. I am trying hard not to be negative or racist here, but it is so often the case that the Frenchman would be the first to agree and indeed complain about it. At the Paris Aquarium they were to a man and woman, pleasant, friendly and welcoming.
The fish were fantastic. The girls squealed with an almost hysterical combination of delight and fear every time a particularly large ugly mug fixed them with its beady eye and were so excited that one of the crocodiles moved they almost wet themselves. Some idiot had thrown a coin onto the back of one of the crocodiles and it had stuck there; why do people do that? Still, these reptiles have been in the aquarium since 1948 so I imagine they have become inured to the spectrum of human stupidity. Been here more than half a century, seen it all, eaten the t-shirt. La Fille skipped from tank to tank jumping up and down going: "Oh look it's Nemo, it's Nemo, it's Nemo,"..."Oh look it's Dory,"..."Oh look it's the one from Shark Tale"..."Oh look..." as if real life was one big rolling Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks production. Meanwhile, my friend was saying to her daughter: "Oh look it's a clown fish like the one in your favourite book."
There was more astonishment to come. In the corner of the entrance hall there was a café, actually it was more of a large counter, offering salads, sandwiches and drinks. Not only was the man behind the counter extremely friendly, but the food was good and as the sky had cleared we sat outside on the terrace enjoying the tenuous sunshine. Then one of the girls wanted the loo. This is the moment you wonder whether it might be better to find a quiet corner of a nearby street rather than use the public facilities. Again surprise, surprise; modern, super-clean, working loos. Couldn't ask for more really.
On the way home my friend and I laughed like drains over a sign in a local brasserie for "Milkshakes with or without alcohol". She said: "Do you think we could ask for a milkshake without milk?"
Later I told the Frenchman about the aquarium. He seemed genuinely surprised. I said: "Do you know I think those toilets were the cleanest public ones I have seen in the whole of France. You could have eaten your dinner off them." The Frenchman who was in fact eating his dinner at the time, almost choked.