Parisians Mob Model Show

The model ship bassin

Popular Salon Bursting at Seams

Paris:- Sunday, 6. April 1997:- The Easter holidays in the Ile-de-France started Friday, the model and game show started yesterday and on this beautiful Sunday, the grand Hall 1 at Paris-Expo is full. Chock-full.

This salon runs nine days, until Sunday, 13. April, and I think all of last year's 203,000 visitors came today. Of course, it doesn't help that I mis-timed it; to arrive just as every size and age of Parisian finished lunch, because all of them are lined up to get in.

I squeeze in past the edge of the last door and head for the press reception, where there is chaos-total. They've sent me the brochures, but forgotten the pass. The lady has no idea what Internet is and never heard of me. The lady who might, isn't here. She never is. The first lady gives me an entry all the same, just like two years ago.

It is not a question of being able to afford the entry fee; it is to avoid the lines that are stretching out beyond the doors. Inside, it is full. Concorde airliner Even though the visitors look like they are all ages - and they are - but school holidays plus Sunday means families with baby strollers that you don't see until you fall over them. It also means lots of teenagers and this means getting bumped. It is like an annual half-price jeans sale at the only Tati in town.

Luckily, within four metres of the entry there is a huge model 'Concorde.' No matter how many times I 'do' this show, if there's a 'Concorde' in it, I will shoot it and run the photo. It is my favorite airplane; it represents the effort to 'do it better,' and by that I mean, faster. How old is it now? When is the update coming?

Judging from some of the high-tech stuff, briefly glimpsed over shoulders, between heads, the builders of the next 'Concorde' are probably here. I have never been in a submarine and don't believe in the principle upon which they work - regardless of Jules Verne - but at this salon I see a submarine about as big as a baguette surface and dive, turn corners and take torpedo runs at a deep-sea tugboat, which seems to be steam-powered and radio-guided. How does the submarine do turns underwater? Satellite navigation?

Same thing with helicopters. Here there are mini-models that fly, hover, fly backwards, land, and swoop around. I got into gear-shifting a long time ago but I remember the trick of it - one foot down and the other up and move the lever without taking the hands from the steering wheel or falling off the seat.

But a helicopter? To fly one, you need the co-ordination of all of the above, plus the ability to juggle five oranges and one banana at the same time. At this salon, it is all done by a guy on the ground with a TV remote control. Mine won't even change TV channels.

And these teen-agers are looking - there's cars, trucks, trains - there's a train set that runs on a scaled-down version of the SNCF's software for running the entire French railroad system, including the freight. And the teen-agers, man, are not blasé about this - but it costs money, and a lot of it.

Everywhere you look, there are these... creations... made by hand. In an age when the average household Mr. Fixit can't find, can't buy, a decently made pair of pliers; any sort of household tool that doesn't look like it was made out of poorly-engineered scrap-metal - these modelers have... exquisite tools. In miniature, in half-size, even full-size.

There are model sets, with disassembled pieces for the modeler to put together and decorate. Some of these are injection-molded plastic, showing every Balloon in display case rivet. Other sets contain a block of wood and some plans, and the modelers have to supply the rest. There are nearly prefabricated models that you can buy off the shelf; and then customize with high-value replacement parts and accessories, just like in real life - but in 1/24th scale here.

It seems to me, that today's model 'industry' is a bit like our own industry 80 years ago. Small manufacturers made various parts you could buy and assemble into a car, and put your own nameplate on it. If you could sell enough of them; then maybe you'd consider building your own motors or axles.

The Model Salon is like a toy store at Christmas. Real toy stores are dull by comparison - almost devoid of any imagination; you wouldn't be in them except under the pressure to fill the Christmas order list, generated by weeks or months of TV-ads.

Of all the salons in Paris I attend, this is the salon that seems to spark the most intense and more varied ranges of interest. If you place yourself near some stunning object - it doesn't matter what it is exactly - you will see that out of the flow of visitors there will be those who focus on this particular object, and I mean in way totally unsimilar to the way a beautiful cow may be admired at the Salon de l'Agriculture, for example.

If you see a really nice car on the street, you can dream of owning it; but it is only a dream. It is too expensive to buy; it would be too expensive to own. But a model of it is a different matter. No money? You can buy a block of wood and a knife and carve it. You are not frustrated by price; you expand your imagination to fit the size and complexity of your dream.

If I wasn't me, I'd say I am off my rocker here. You may be thinking it now.

But I keep thinking of what we used to do - make physical things - and what we mostly do now - consume non-physical things - like moronic ideas 'Meccano' Tour Eiffel presented by TV, and then I look around at a salon like this - and see all these people here today, who have levered themselves out from behind their TV sets to come down here on a perfectly fine and sunny Sunday and pay good money for admission, in order to stumble around in a huge crowd, getting nicked in the shins by baby strollers and jostled by stout teen-agers, and I see a lot of these people dreaming - not of something abstract like winning a free bonus built-in and fitted kitchen - dreaming of creating a reproduction of something in miniature. Maybe the entire 'Grande Armée' in 1/50th scale, and setting it at the outskirts of Moscow.

Before you say, nah, all crazy stuff, consider this: the biggest reproduction of all is Disneyland, especially if all its branches are counted. Do not be fooled by its off-scale; it is modeled after many things, some of them larger than it, others smaller - and parts of it are reproductions of itself, at different rates of scale.

The way to really get into modelling, is to start with something small that you are pretty sure you can finish, but a little harder to do than your skill level - and then when its done, you work up to bigger things.

'France Miniature' is doing this out in nearby Elancourt. If they keep on expanding the way they're going, they are going to take over all of Yvelines. They'll need all of the Essonne department for a parking lot.

Tune in again next week, when there will be another report from this salon. During the week I will be out at Paris-Expo looking for the smallest, the biggest, the fastest, the best and the most unusual of all there is to see, at this year's 'Salon Mondial de la Maquette, Modèle Réduit et Jeux.'

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