A canicule across France this week with temperatures topping 100 degrees. People may be near hallucinating from the heat, but certainly I did not hallucinate this.
Today, I lunched along the Canal de L’ourcq at an impossibly cute venue (possible post later) with friends from NYC passing through town. After, despite the chaleur, I decided to stroll my old ‘hood while they went in search of air conditioning.
As I approached the Villette, I saw first one, then another adolescent jump into the canal. Green, and with bits of garbage floating in it, the questionable nature of the water proved no deterrent for energetic teen boys needing to cool off.
I don’t wilt easily in heat, but I was feeling faint and knew it was time to head home. How happy I was to cut through the park and come upon a scene!
Several people in khaki uniforms were scaling and rappelling (!) from it, and naturally, a small crowd was gathered.
Qu’est-ce que c’est ce truc? I wondered who I could ask what this thing was, but I waited patiently in the sun to learn more.
One of the uniformed people was making a show with a separate contraption. Affixed to the contraption were regular party balloons, which it seemed he wanted to launch into space using the strange device. After much ta-do and several turnings of wheels…a cord snapped and instead of being launched, the balloons stayed right where they were.
“That’s never happened before!” he said.
More adjustments were made, and finally he freed the balloons from the machine with a scissors. He held the balloons aloft then let them go. They floated into the sky. The audience applauded.
What’s going on here? I have a new question now, and I scan the crowd for someone who seems most likely to have answers. I see a white-haired woman speaking to a few teenagers. She’s nodding confidently. I scoot closer to her. She looks like one of those people who makes it her business to know other people’s business. Just the kind of person I’m seeking.
“…it was in Madagascar,” she’s saying, as I slide closer to her.
“No!” says a young woman. “That’s where I’m from. That’s far away!”
“And it will fly to Iceland next,” she continues.
Two young men laugh good-naturedly. “No, Madame. That’s not possible.”
“That’s what they said. I live right across the street. I didn’t see it one night. Then the next morning, it was here! It landed!”
“No,” look at it. “It’s decor, Madame. Decoration!”
As I look closer at the installation, I find myself siding with the boys. The spare parts look like some sort of steampunk sculpture. For her conviction that this thing was going to take off, though, I was kind of rooting for her, too.
After listening to the back and forth about the “flying greenhouse,” I go around to the other side, where another uniformed personnel is speaking to a man with his arms crossed. Less gullible, I think. Let’s go see what’s being said over there.
The man with crossed arms is asking technical questions: how much does it weigh? What’s the fuel? Where do they get their water?
Lighter than you would think and methane from the plants are the initial responses. To the third question, the uniformed man juts his chin up. “Look at that cloud. Up high enough, there’s enough humidity for our water needs. We go inside a cloud like that, get naked, and wash ourselves with the water.”
The guy asking technical questions nods as if this is very reasonable.
What is this thing and what’s going on? Still, my questions remain unanswered, but I’m delighted by this performance. The general wonder at this contraption, the vacillating opinions of whether this is vrai or faux.
If you’re in Paris this weekend, the expedition vegetale by the French company La Machine will still be at La Villette (near the Porte de Pantin metro exit, line 5) before it takes flight for other destinations.
Here’s a little report (in French) on the installation if you want to see it in action.
And now, my question to you. The Aeroflorale machine: do you believe? 🙂