Every age has its pleasures. So does every age. If the manifestations of pain are generally identical, those of joy differ profoundly according to individuals, latitudes, races or times. Boisterous or measured, ardent or juvenile, they reveal souls. We could adapt the saying: "Tell me how you enjoy yourself and I'll tell you who you are! "What could be more significant, for example, of the evolution of modern morals than the transformation of popular "festivals"? Do you remember the debonair and peaceful appearance that their shops lined up on the fringes of our suburban avenues or outer boulevards once had?
A few merry-go-rounds, operated by an old horse, to the sound of a plaintive barrel organ; nougat merchants, innocent games of skill, open-air lotteries; under a rickety portico, a few escarpolettes; behind a curtain, phenomena of all rest: a circus with its monkeys and its learned dogs; an egg or clay-pipe shoot and, for lovers of lively sensations, a roller coaster that would be no more than imperceptible undulations for us. What a change! The dazzle of electric lights has replaced the paraffin flickers; motors hasten the infernal round of the monstrous rides, multiply the din of the mechanical orchestras.
Gaiety is measured by the intensity of the noise, by the frenzy of movement. What is brutal only attracts: the Steam-Swing that rips out the entrails, the ring and its boxers, the bullfight and its wild animals. Such are the demands of the modern crowd.
It is, no doubt, as a sample of this modernism, rather than of an art that is hardly decorative, that the Paris Exhibition has been embellished with a "park of attractions". The one at Wembley had already become famous.
We could not remain in the dark about England.
There is about the same difference between these attractions and our old fairground entertainments as between the music hall and the old café-concert.
Americanisation has come and gone. A sociologist or a psychologist would have no trouble unravelling the various elements that have contributed to the conception of these new emotional machines. They use the resources of electricity and the perfection of mechanics. They borrow from violent sports their habit of speed and, even when it is only an illusion, their taste for risk. They proceed by massive effects and sudden reactions. The patient who confides in them loses his human value. He becomes, depending on the case, a bolide, a parcel or a spinning top, which is rushed, shaken, whirled or twirled, bewildered by the surprise, by the ruptures of equilibrium, by the vertiginous falls. This is where the obscure instinct of a new generation blossoms, whose emotionalism needs stimulants. It is to satisfy this instinct in children that toy manufacturers have invented the "disaster railway". A touch of cruelty is not absent. It can be found in some of the almost nasty games that the public rushes to play, or in the slightly crude humour of others.
But is this tone well suited to talk about amusements that are, after all, quite simple? Those who bring their liveliness and joviality to it -- it should be noted that there are almost as many of them on evenings of relative elegance, when admission to the Exhibition costs ten francs, as on Saturdays and popular Sundays -- do not look for so much malice. No doubt: and does not this very candour, this absence of intellectual complication, this ingenuous facility for pleasure still bear the mark - the American film is there to testify to this - of the Anglo-Saxon mentality?
The amusement park stretches along the Seine, on the left bank, between the Pont des Invalides and the Pont de l'A1ma. In the evening, at least, the brightness of its lights designates it as an island of exuberance and joy.
First of all, as soon as you enter, there is the Manège de la Vie Parisienne. It was designed by Paul Poiret. This signature is a patent of originality. The usual fairground fauna - horses, pigs and other papier-mâché animals - has been replaced by a series of types borrowed from the street show and rendered in the cubist style: the four-season merchant, the little telegraph operator, the town sergeant, the midinette, the delivery boy, the bourgeois, the stoner, the apache and ten more. You climb as best you can on the pastry chef's basket or astride the bank clerk's satchel.
Fortunately, iron spikes allow you to hold on, if you can. Because the saraband takes you along in its deafening tumult, with its unexpected turns and serpentine zigzags. You come down from there with your head capsized, your hands clenched and, from the ground, it still seems to you that the whole Exhibition, having broken its moorings, is swinging around you...
But already the Cascade is calling you, with all the persuasion of its salesmen. There are two attractions of this name. That is enough to say how popular they are. To fully appreciate their flavour, it is better to be ignorant of what they have in store for you. You are introduced in single file into a dark corridor whose shifting floor slips under your steps, opening up imaginary precipices. This is only an appetizer. You soon reach, amidst a frightful clatter of iron, (the clanking of chains, in a narrow cabin where you are pushed without mercy, two or three of you. Your prison is locked on you. Suddenly, one of the walls collapses, the bench where you were sitting collapses under you and you roll in a heap on a carpet whose undulations imitate the swell of the waves. Your backs are bruised, your distraught hands try to catch the hats, the canes, the little bags that have been thrown about. From below, a compact crowd watches you and confirms the grotesqueness of your posture with its hilarity. The men get away with ridicule. As for the women... With the current fashion for short, narrow skirts, the mere fact of sitting decently in public has become an art. This is a gesture that has disappeared from our customs.
On the contrary, it is necessary to pull ceaselessly on a sparingly measured fabric to force it down below the knee and, in this unequal duel, the owner of the dress does not always have the advantage. One can judge by this what a disorder of dress the tumultuous arrival at the bottom of the Cascade offers the spectacle... But the victims immediately have their revenge: from actors, they become in turn spectators and join in with the laughers, without indulgence.
The Dodgem, with its fiery sign, was already in the Luna Park before the war. It does not seem to have lost its appeal, as two tracks are reserved for it. It is an unexpected adaptation of the automobile. Circular, two-seater tubs, with a solid iron frame protecting the base, are steered by a steering wheel and a pedal, which takes the electric current from the metal grooves in the floor.
But the steering is misleading and throws you to the left when you think you're turning right. When you press the pedal, you move backwards instead of forwards, or you whirl around in on yourself. The tubs, as if unleashed in a mad circle, collide with each other, bumping heavily against each other. Would you like to add to your pleasure? Football will give you the opportunity. Here, four tubs are firmly attached by a steel rope to a central platform that rotates rapidly. The centrifugal force throws these four projectiles, like a slingshot, which meet the other free tubs, crushing them against the outer walls of the circus, in short, making their occupants taste the torments and sometimes the bruises of twenty collisions...
In the midst of this violence, the slide is just a peaceful slide. It has the particularity that, to reach its starting point, a special lift, a sort of rack made of juxtaposed seats, brings the incessant flow of applicants to the top of the platform without fatigue. No sooner had they reached the top than two sturdy men, reminiscent of the executioner's helpers, grabbed them, squeezed them into the narrow wooden slide and left them to the vicissitudes of the hazardous descent. At the bottom, a circular bowl, with smooth, high walls, collects their disorderly fall. A recent engraving in L'Illustration showed how, at Wembley, the most illustrious figures in England did not hesitate to risk their composure and dignity in such an adventure: Admiral Jellicoe himself, Viscount Scapa, in his morning coat and top hat, allowed himself to be photographed. Other countries, other customs: so far, neither Marshal Pétain nor M. Painlevé have honoured the Exposition's slide with their clientele. But the curious, who form a quadruple hedge around the Magic Bowl, have enjoyed other picturesque scenes.
The Caterpillar is made up of a series of waggons whose course undulates according to the whims of a circular and eventful track. There is room in each of them for two people. The temptation is all the more charming as a shell mounted on steel circles comes, along the way, to cover completely with its protection and hide the comfortable couples from prying eyes.
Deceptive security! An infernal gust of wind suddenly sweeps through this closed corridor, and the carapace rises again just in time for the gallery not to lose any of the disarray thus created.
Have you crossed the oceans with impunity, mocking the unfortunates who are tilted livid over the rail by seasickness? Here is something to break down your superbness. Take a seat in one of these cars arranged concentrically, in the form of spokes, on a rolling carousel. Spring-loaded turnbuckles move each car in a jerky motion from the centre to the periphery and back again. Meanwhile, the merry-go-round turns and turns... There are heroic hearts who, when they get off, take a new ticket, to start again...
If your tastes are more sedentary and attach you to the shore, - to the shore of this Seine illuminated as in a fairy tale, - you will perhaps be content to test your skill at one of the games which solicit you. You are spoilt for choice. Photographic shooting, for any bullet put in the dark of the target, triggers a flash of magnesium in front of a photographic shutter placed in profile. The good shooter is given his "snapshot", which he has taken himself. Not far away, two languid young women lie in a bed, which a net envelops like a mosquito net. A target - tricolour, of course - towers over them. You have five bullets at your disposal. If you place one in the centre of the target, the bed tips over and the lady in her pyjamas is thrown to the floor. This is called "Sleeping Beauty".
To the wood of the bed, probably. Do you want a variation? It's called "Negro in the water". Sitting on a plank over a deep pool, a dull-eyed negro waits for the clever amateur to make him do the plunge. On hot summer evenings, this may be a pleasure for the negro himself.
But there are cool evenings, cold evenings... Then, after two or three dips, the nigger is seen to wrap himself in a bathrobe and, giving way to a comrade, to take refuge in a gallery where, it is to be hoped, a brazier has been installed. There is a Protective Society for animals: there is not yet one for little ladies in pyjamas or for negroes...
However, above your heads, an infernal din, similar to the roll of thunder, has not ceased to deafen you. It is the Scenic Railway or, if you prefer, the "Paris Race". It is also the highlight of the amusement park. This railway is said to be the most impressive of its kind. It carries about sixty intrepid people on each trip. From a height of about fifteen metres, it launches them at a speed of up to 100 kilometres an hour down an inclined plane at some 45 degrees, then lifts them to a new summit, and throws them down again, five or six times in a row. Screams of horror are heard, people cling to the support bars which, fortunately, prevent you from being thrown out. The refined have secured a place in the front row, where the impression of an irretrievable fall is most vivid. Originally, at the most critical point, the train of cars in madness was supposed to meet a wall, which automatically opened up to let it through. It was feared, no doubt, that there would be heart patients among the passengers... The suppression of this amenity did not prevent the Paris Race from having adventures. On one occasion, a carriage derailed, broke the frail wooden fence and remained suspended in the void. The fire brigade had to be called to rescue its prisoners. More recently, a broken bolt prevented the braking system from working. The train collided with another train as it returned to its siding. There were a few injuries, fortunately mostly minor.
But public opinion and the authorities were moved. The "Course de Paris" was closed. Is this a definitive stop? The operating company wisely pointed out that since the opening of the Exhibition, it had already transported - if one can use this word - nearly five hundred thousand passengers and that few railway or taxi-cars companies could boast such a low percentage of accidents. Who is right?
©L'Illustration - 1925