19 December 2010

Silent zoo

Marseille has a zoo, the Jardin Zoologique. It's not huge, but it's a beautiful park in a city that doesn't have a lot of green spaces. You enter through the Palais Longchamp. Zoo entrances don't come much more grandiose than this:

Inside is a well-manicured park with numerous little asphalt trails looping through the grounds. There are many old trees, and lawns that are actually legal to sit on. That's very rare in French cities, normally a uniform will rush at you whenever you look like you'd defile their sacred lawns by setting foot on it. There is a playground, families with children, joggers, and a generally tranquil setting very far away from Marseille's bustle.

The one thing that Marseille's zoo doesn't have is animals. None. At all.

Even dogs aren't welcome. There is a small space set aside for dogs, like smokers at airports, with a sign on the gate that carefully categorizes dogs as legal, illegal, and very illegal. All those looping paths are completely pointless, they go nowhere and loop back on themselves as if to say, oh well, never mind, what was I thinking.

And that's a good thing. Because before the zoo closed in 1987, they did have animals, and there are still a number of rusting hulks of cages. Very small cages, and very depressing. When they built them in 1854 they were probably state of the art, and old pictures show ladies in big floor-length dresses with hats and parasols enjoying themselves, but no animal larger than a cockroach could lead a decent life in one of these cages. Some of the walls have paintings of what the artist might have considered a natural environment, but only animals with extremely poor eyesight could have been fooled by them. Somehow they make the whole thing even more depressing.

The old reports don't say what happened to the animals when the zoo's money ran out. Probably went into a bouillabaisse.

The Palais Longchamp today houses the Natural History Museum. It's the old kind of museum, with many rows of antique display cases filled with insects and bats, carefully pinned to hand-written cards with latin names in beautiful century-old handwriting; tons of fossils and stuffed birds and fish, and a room with giraffes and other exotica. (Hm, maybe those are the zoo guests that escaped the bouillabaisse.) The museum's presentation is more interesting than its contents, but they are certainly trying.

No comments:

Post a Comment