CAROUSELS OF PARIS – A SHORT STORY BY KIRSTI WISHART
It is unlikely the true reason why many of the carousels of Paris turned feral and left the City of Lights for dimmer locales will ever be known. Notoriously, they are the most fickle of fairground attractions and the rationale given by one will inevitably be contradicted by another. Their contrariness may provide part of the answer, however. In these division-ridden times perhaps they decided to show the futility of boundaries, how borders should be challenged and fun freely shared, geographical restrictions mocked.
Some have speculated the strange turn of events might be related to the decision to remove several from city squares to be placed within the confines of the Musée des Arts Forains. While the intention behind this venue was entirely for the benefit of the rides, ensuring their preservation in magical surroundings, it is hardly surprising such playful apparatus should begin to feel imprisoned. Additionally, due to a lack of ticket sales, the museum could only be visited by those making a private appointment. This could have caused a fit of pique, a growing sense that to be truly appreciated, they should seek out those who would not take their charms for granted. The crowds who attended the Musée when admission was granted for free during Christmas and Epiphany would have left the machines in little doubt they would be appreciated beyond the locked doors and high walls if let loose.
Another theory is that the exodus was a protest against the number of rides being packed up and shipped to the States to feature in shopping malls. The proliferation of indoor attractions could have led to a fear amongst carousels out in the wild that they may soon face confinement, a threat they would have found horrifying. An intrinsic part of their appeal is to give parents a reason for getting their children out of their appartement, to have the fresh air turn their cheeks pink, to feel such joys as the sight of the spinning, dancing pink confetti of cherry blossom breezing past them in the spring months, the white of twinkling snowflakes in winter along with other outdoor pleasures; the scent of candyfloss or roasting chestnuts.
For those not previously imprisoned in the Musée, it has been noted the other escapees are largely the older, established models; empty round patches of ground have been left in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Tuileries, an absent photo opportunity beneath the Eiffel Tower, beside the Sacre Coeur. Some have suggested a possible link between their abrupt disappearance and the gift made by the Mayor last year of twenty-five additional carousels over the Christmas holiday period. Scarcely a public park was without a gently spinning wheel, some modernised to feature spacecraft, racing cars, speedboats, modern-day Disney characters.
It might be harsh to assume the grand old dames of the carousel world had stormed off in a huff, crowded out by these updated interlopers. Instead the decision to leave may have been a positive one, the release of a feeling that the city wasn’t dependent upon their presence to create perfect childhood memories, that a new generation was available to take over. This allowed them to travel to places where the languages of the tourists asking their children to wave while being videoed were spoken every day, without feeling racked with guilt. There could also have been an altruistic desire to give those poor, deprived American, Japanese, German, British, Chinese, etc., children serious training in play, a feature of childhood that Parisian offspring take for granted. Surely it can be no accident that a city utterly devoted to the beautiful, aware of the importance of making small pleasures as perfect as they can be, should have within glimpsing distance of every street corner machines carefully crafted, beautifully painted, dedicated to the creation of enchantment.
The reason behind each carousel’s flitting could be as individual as the rides themselves. The one formerly in the Jardin des Plantes, for example, featuring rare or extinct animals including the rhinoceros, a dodo and Tasmanian Devil may have a political motive in spreading its message of conservation, warning against the destruction man wreaks on the natural world. Whereas the grey, once blue elephant of the Jardin du Luxembourg could have, out of a sense of hurt pride, persuaded its fellow animals on the city’s oldest attraction to seek out a new level of fame having once provided the inspiration for no less a personage than Rilke.
We will refrain from speculating why a ride that goes round and round endlessly for no purpose should especially attract a poet. Yet the game of catching steel hoops by the means of a small wooden lance practiced on many of the carousels must have a profound psychological effect, perfect training for the mind-set necessary to pursue such endeavours as writing or painting or making music or playing sport. These tasks require a period of intense yet playful concentration and have no guarantee of any reward other than the satisfaction of achieving a goal which is, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately pointless albeit enjoyable. Having been developed following the death of a young prince during a jousting tournament, the game’s intrinsic message is that tragedy can become play, pain, suffering and loss translated into a shared experience of love and happiness. This lesson can only be beneficial for the soul and is now being spread world-wide.
For those of us still astounded and mystified by the carousels’ means of transportation, their sudden vanishing and random reappearance in a golfing range in east Birmingham, a retail park loading bay in Rotterdam or a disused swimming pool in Bruges, it should be remembered that they have always been at the very forefront of technology. They were used to demonstrate such scientific advances as steam-power or electricity, showing how they could be used for purposes other than the purely utilitarian. Research will reveal the answer eventually, no doubt, perhaps proving wormholes in time and space can be unlocked by the powerful levels of psychic energy generated by fixed points of enjoyment.
Whatever the theories, currently Parisians simultaneously mourn and celebrate their loss and join in conversation with distant others who have the chance to share their memories. Strong friendships are forged between bands of carousel hunters roaming the world, tracking down and attempting to tame and corral their favourite to bring back home. Before normality is resumed, the rest of us should make the most of this chance for unexpected wonder. It is possible to spend every waking moment aware we could be on the brink of witnessing the impossible, of stumbling on the truly fantastic. On a late night bus ambling home through the suburbs or on a drive through a Highland glen, walking along the white sands of a deserted beach or searching for our car keys in an underground carpark, suddenly we could be dazzled by the sweet-coloured lights, the glow of reproductions of scenes by Impressionists, be transported by the barrel organ music, the soft chink of another brass ring skilfully caught. The whole world has become a fairground, the shadows held at bay by a slowly spinning circle of light, turning us dizzy with delight. We can only speculate on the plots of rollercoasters, tremble when we take up our seats on the ghost train, guess where we’ll find ourselves at the foot of the helter-skelter as the pace of the Ferris Wheels quickens…