I CAN STILL REMEMBER it very clearly. It was June 2nd, 1953, Coronation day. That day’s newspaper headlines told us that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had conquered Everest and in London, Queen Elizabeth II was to be crowned amid great pomp and ceremony.
As a small boy, Mount Everest and indeed London, despite being only 150 miles from where I lived, seemed to me to be so far away that I found it difficult to imagine either. I can though remember thinking that the conquest of Everest seemed to be much more exciting than a coronation.
As part of the celebrations to mark the Queen’s coronation we had a street party with lots of flags and bunting and, despite Britain still being in the grip of post-war rationing, there was more food on the tables spread along the centre of the street than I’d ever seen.
Also as part of the celebrations a travelling fair came to town and during the afternoon of Coronation day I was taken to it. The fair was set up in a field and right in the centre of the field was something the like of which I’d never seen before – a fairground carousel, or as we called them in those days, a merry-go-round. The brightly painted wooden horses suspended from twisted gold-painted poles bobbed up and down as they went round and round and gales of laughter from excited children and music from a mechanical organ in the centre of the carousel filled the air. The sights and sounds of this incredible spectacle thrilled me and I can remember asking myself, ‘Why can’t every day be Coronation day?’
Over the sixty or so years since that day I’ve learned much more about Hillary and Tenzing’s ascent of Everest and I’ve learned more about the Queen’s coronation but I’ve never lost my sense of childish wonder at that magical carousel. Perhaps because of that sense of wonder no other carousel has had quite the same impact on me as the one I saw on Coronation day.
Living in Paris though means that I’m not short of carousels to see.
The first carrousels (carrousel is French for carousel) appeared in France in the second half of the nineteenth century and soon became highly popular with Parisians. Today, the modern carrousels look very similar to the original ones.
In Paris there are carrousels in the collection at the Musée des Arts Forains at Cour Saint-Émilion in the 12th arrondissement as well as others scattered across the city. Perhaps the most visited of these, not least because of its location, is the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel.
Sounds of the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel:
Whilst small children may look at carrousels with a sense of wonder, for their owners carrousels are a business.
The original Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel was set up by Roger Alliot in 1986 directly across the street from the Tour Eiffel, the city’s most visited attraction. After occupying this lucrative location for twenty years, Monsieur Alliot received an eviction notice from the Paris city authorities claiming that the carrousel was there illegally and they had a court judgement to back their claim. Much wrangling ensued and the carrousel stayed until the cranes eventually arrived to demolish it piece by piece.
Shortly after Monsieur Alliot’s eviction another carrousel appeared to take its place. Behind this was the celebrated showman Marcel Campion. He, with the assistance of the engineer Pascal Pouzet, modified an existing carrousel and installed what is hailed as the first ‘green’ carrousel in Paris consuming it is claimed up to twelve times less energy than a conventional carrousel.
Although this carrousel still uses traditional power this is supplemented by the use of solar panels, photo-sensors and pedal power. The horses and some of the other vehicles on the carrousel are equipped with pedals that turn a wheel, which in turn generates energy. For those who do not ride the carousel, there are several positions with recumbent bikes off to the side that to help generate the power.
This carrousel comes at a price of course. It is reported to have cost some €700,000 to build and install, considerably more than a conventional carrousel. It’s likely to take some time to recoup this investment especially without increasing ticket prices relative to other Parisian carrousels, although the prestigious location at the foot of the Tour Eiffel helps.
Unlike Monsieur Alliot’s carrousel, it seems that this carrousel is deemed to be legal. The owners were granted a ten-year concession in return for a fee payable to the Paris city authorities of 20% of turnover, some 12% higher than previously. With an estimated revenue of more than €1 million per year that seems like a nice little earner for the city.
Sitting by the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel and recording its sounds on a beautiful spring day in 2015, I couldn’t help being transported back to Coronation day in 1953. Back then ‘renewable energy’, the ‘Tour Eiffel’ or the machinations of Parisian city politics would have been as completely beyond my understanding as Mount Everest or even London.
But sharing the delight of small children seeing a carrousel for the first time was a powerful reminder of my memories of the same experience although, unlike me back in 1953, they were also able to savour the majesty of the Tour Eiffel.