A Multi-Theme Park

photo: cite des sciences & geode

Vast spaces, full of stange structures and very small people.

Science, Culture and Rock At La Villette

Paris:- Friday, 30. July 1999: - While doing last week's 'Scene' column I became aware that more and more events seemed to the programmed for the Parc le la Villette. In my former life as a suburban-lizard - 'banlieusard' - it was a long ride away; thus the park has only been featured twice before in Metropole.

Last night's TV-weather news has promised another day of temperatures in the neighborhood of 30. Although unstable conditions threaten from the channel and the southwest, the sun is blazing and it is hot when I arrive at La Villette, via the métro Porte de Pantin.

There is an information office just outside the métro exit and I hit it first; getting a half- kilo of brochures. Everything about the park except for what's on in the Cité des Sciences itself.

La Villette is 52 hectares of park, science and culture; culture from low to high, if you count the various simple attractions such as water and grass, up to the Cité de la Musique and the Conservatoire de Paris.

Architecture is also a feature of the park, as well as lots of space. There are circular spaces and triangular spaces and a canal running through the middle. In the area of the 'Prairie du Triangle' - wherephoto: pompiers folie the outdoor movies are shown - there could be more water, but then it might not be a prairie. A pathway leading to the rock- concert hall, the Zenith, is lined with tidy trees.

In case you have a tendency to overlook architecture, there are 26 bright red 'folies' - including a 'Quick' hamburger joint - scattered around the park.

One ofthe many 'folies.' This one houses the firemen.

The Cité de la Musique is zoomy, the Géode looks a giant silver golf ball and the Cité des Sciences is a extra huge klotz sitting in a hole, surrounded by a moat with some sprinklers in it. The Grande Halle in contrast, is a 19th century renovated iron and glass leftover built in 1867 when La Villette was the area of Paris slaughterhouses.

A long, ripple-covered walkway links both halves of the park, so it is possible to walk from one end to the other under cover in both winter and summer, like today. To walk past the Grand Halle seems to take 20 minutes.

Just when I expect to expire, there is a café - in the Grande Halle - or a waffles and crêpes stand. Just behind this last, there is a giant dragon with a slide coming out of its fierce mouth. Morephoto: waffles, crepes kids are on this than in the kid's Jardin des Mirrors and Jardin des Dunes, which has different arrangements for various ages - but more shade for babies than older kids.

An ordinary waffle-wagon, with an unordinary ripple-roofed pathway behind.

There are two bandstands. I see the Kiosque à Musique, but the 'Hot Brass' is far away, somewhere near the Zenith. After the Kiosque there is an area for circus tents, followed by the Cinaxe.

Starting - or ending? - at the locks on the Canal Saint-Denis, which runs along the whole west side of the park - there is a winding path - snakelike! - that 'tours' the green areas of the park in a very roundabout way. I do not take this because it probably takes more time than to pass the Grande Halle.

Other items I don't particularly notice are the Théâtre Paris-Villette, the Paul Délouvrier pavilion, the Charolais/Tilf pavilion, the Hall de la Chanson - hidden behind a 'folie' - the sono cylinder, the Agronaute - which is a real submarine - and the place for pony riding way off on the outskirts. I also don't get close to about 18 of the 'folies.' No two are alike, judging from the five or six I do see.

Everywhere there are these huge spaces, so there are some things I see which aren't on the map; some I don't see, and some are unused or to be renovatedphoto: grande halle or have not yet discovered their function. But there is so much space, it all doesn't seem like much.

The Grande Halle is really very large, rather than 'grand.'

La Villette's literature says this park and its attractions are unique in Europe. When I suggested that it is a 'Parc des Attractions' to the info lady, she said, 'yes, for science and culture.' This is true, but when there are outdoor bandstands, dragon slides for kids, waffle-wagons, all the 'folies,' and the inflatable screen for the outdoor cinema - then I say it is a 'Parc des Attractions.'

La Villette lacks two things. It needs some sort of year-round aquapark, and more running water in general. It does not need any theme-park 'characters' and cookie-cutter 'minders.'

Events at La Villette, From North to South:

Maroc, l'Esprit de l'Eau - is an exhibition about water in Morocco, which is a country without much of it; but has an artistic history of it all the same. Perhaps less 'artistic' than scientific, because this show is at the Cité des Sciences. Until 7. November.

Cinemas and Halls - a variety of these are found within the Cité des Sciences building as is the planetarium, while the Géode and the Cinaxe are exterior structures.

Géode - is the name of the silver ball containing a 180 degree hemispherical screen of 1000 square metres, with surround-sound of course. This summer it features three thrillers; 'L'Egypte des Pharons,' 'Alerte aux Requins' - man-eating sharks - and 'Le Grand Frisson,' which is a virtual thrill ride somewhat safer but just as scary as the real thing. The films alternate every hour, from 10:30 to 21:30 and to 18:30 on Sundays. Info. Tel.: 01 40 05 79 89.

Cinaxe - is another cinema, featuring 3-D and seats that move with the movie. This summer see 'Le Maléfice de Toutankhamon' from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11:00 to 18:00 daily. Info. Tel.: 01 40 05 12 12.

Chien Cru - Cirque Bâtard - the Cie Cahin Caha presents a melange of French formality and American 'roughness' in thisposter: bals, concerts show featuring three performing artists and three circus artists; part French and part American. This 'raw dog of pure beef' starts in mid-July and continues until 4. September. From Wednesdays to Saturdays, at 20:00, in the Espace Chapitaux.

More Musical Villette, More Fun - this time it is 'bals' and concerts at the 'Kiosque à Musique' - every Sunday starting at 17:30, until 22. August. 'Ska-Rock German-Latino' is featured next Sunday in case you are curious. There is no entry charge.

The Eclipse! - All Over - the planetarium is on the Cité des Science's 2nd level and this has a show, 'Le Temps d'une Eclipse' for kids daily at 14:00; Saturdays at 12:00. There are also exhibitions in the space for kids and in the médiathèque. On the day of the eclipse, 11. August, everybody present gets the special shades and observation areas will be the 'prairie nord' within the circle behind the Géode, and around the lion fountain, in front of the Grande Halle.

The Canal de l'Ourcq - runs through the middle of the park. The items above are north of it; the nearest métro is Porte de la Villette. Viewing the 'eclipse' is on both sides. For the items below, south of it; the nearest métro is Porte de Pantin. Crossing the canal is easy because there are some bridges.

Drive-In Movies, Without Cars - it's outdoor movie time again out at the prairie of the 'Triangle.' This is to the east side of the Grande Halle, which can't be overlooked. Europeanposter: cinema en plein air, 10 ans productions with American themes will be the main features this summer. Bring your own popcorn, and an umbrella just in an unlikely case. Entry may be free, but deck chairs are available on the spot, for 40 francs. From Tuesday to Sunday at 22:00; until Sunday, 29. August. Info. Tel.: 08 03 30 63 06 or 01 40 03 76 92 for the program.

Action, Music, Boris Vian! - later in the month, before the evening's movie, there are two shows featuring the works of Boris Vian. One is a musical show, with music and words by Boris - who nearly single-handedly 'invented' post-war Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The other is a life-exploits exhibition of this 'celebrated pataphysicist.' They begin Tuesday, 17. August and continues until 3. October. The music and show are at 19:30 from Tuesday to Saturday and at 16:00 on Sunday. The exhibition - 'Le Vrai Boris, 1920-59' - is free and open from 14:00 to 18:00, as well as to the show's spectators. At the Grand Halle de la Villette, in the Espace Charlie Parker. Info. Tel.: 08 03 30 63 06 or 08 07 50 75.

La Cité de la Musique - has a permanent collection like any other museum, but also has performance areas; including themes for children. I see now I've picked up the program for September 1999 through to July 2000, and I suspect the centre is taking a month off while everybody takes in festivals elsewhere. Walk around the ten theme gardens and whistle to yourself instead. Note: at the Zenith, Red Hot Chili Peppers are scheduled for Thursday, 26. August.

Le Jardin Planetaire - will be a exhibition showing the relationship between mankind and nature, which will effectively turn the Grande Halle into a vast greenhouse. This show begins in September and continues until January 2000.

Parc de la Villette, 211. Avenue Jean Jaurès, Paris 19. Métro Porte de Pantin. Info. Tel.: 08 03 30 63 06. For the Grand Halle, the summer cinema and the Cité de la Musique. Info. Tel.: 01 44 84 45 45.

Cité des Sciences, 30. Avenue Corentin-Cariou, Paris 19. Métro: Porte de la Villette. Open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 and 19:00 on Sundays; closed Mondays. Info. Tel.: 01 40 05 80 00.

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