Thursday, 16 September 2010

Un tour de manège

There's a manège up the road at the moment; we stopped to look at it for a while today, but the boys didn't want a go. They went for the pêche aux canards instead (hook ten plastic ducks and win a piece of tat), and then Fingers couldn't choose what he wanted as a prize and I got snappy. It's been that kind of day; fractious, discordant. I looked back at the manège as I herded them away, grumbling, late for a doctor's appointment for Lashes (searingly awful, incidentally), a little wistfully. Manège is one of those words I only really know in French. I used to say 'roundabout' in English - as in the Magic Roundabout - but I think merry-go-round might be more accurate. Or is it a carousel? Every manège I see in Belgium (except these beauties, of course) is the same; a hydraulic spider with ten or twelve gaudily coloured vehicles at the end of its legs, one of which might ascend jerkily skywards some small number of feet, if the button happens to be working. Fat, coloured bulbs flashing along the full length of each limb, and on the struts supporting the canopy that covers the riders. A low studded metal platform surrounding it, a supremely bored man or woman in a booth, amplified generic pop music, a few plastic chairs scattered around the perimeter for parents. They spring up now and then in the neighbourhood, when there's a brocante, or a fair, or an r in the month.

They're getting a bit big for the full manège experience now, my boys. They'll watch, appraisingly, eyes narrowed, especially if there are things that go up in the air or have some other kind of bells and whistles. You can see the struggle in their eyes, if it's a good one. Can I still? Maybe they'll allow themselves if it's butch enough, or if there's a pompom. Le pompom is a mangy piece of cloth, or ancient soft toy on the end of a rope, dangled by a stonily indifferent teenage boy. If he lowers it above you and you manage to grab it, you get a free turn. It requires decent reflexes and a moment's inattention from the teenager. If there's a pompom, surely it's still ok to have a go if you're 8, wonders Lashes, indecision hovering, visible around his brow line.

I want to urge them, thrust tickets into their hands, though of course that would make no difference; they're too old to be bounced into enjoying themselves against their will. Of course you can go on the bloody manège, I want to tell them. Go! Good god, enjoy your two minutes of .. what? I don't know, can't remember, it's been too long since I tried it myself. It seems such a sedate thrill to the observer, uncomfortably wedged into one of those flimsy plastic spectators' chairs, but it still draws them in, just, for now. The ritual of buying your token, watching as the previous riders slow, your eyes fixed on the seat - the only one you want - willing it to stop near you, the single-minded dash, musical chairs style, to take your place as it finally stops. The wait, surprisingly long at times, token in hand, strapped on, or in, for your turn to start. They look extraordinarily serious at this point, children on manèges. Such concentration. It always seemed an odd, grave, sort of enjoyment, seen from the outside; riders tend not to laugh or smile. Bar the odd screamer, face crumpling in terror or distress for whom the manège would be brought to a premature halt, the whole business is conducted in silence. I wave, cheerily, show I am still watching, am still there. It's sometimes greeted with a serious nod of acknowledgment, sometimes not.

I have been standing by manèges for, what, nearly seven years now I suppose. It started in Paris. Paris was a solitary succession of manèges and cake shops; me, a pushchair, and a baby strapped to my chest. The Parc Monceau, almost daily, a swift, no frills number forever associated for me with darkening October or November skies, night falling around that squat green roofed structure, illuminated yellow and and red. It's always dark in my memory, the park is emptying and if we are lucky, the manège is still open, lights visible through the thinning autumn trees. A couple of muffled figures standing by the green railings watch their charges, similarly muffled, for heaven help the Parisian child who goes out without coat, scarf, mittens on the mildest autumn day. For months on end, I would watch Lashes, aged 2, revolve, face set in a mask of concentration, in whatever car, or fire engine, or motorbike, had caught his eye that day. I remember his bright yellow Petit Bateau cirée, remember the awkwardness of manoeuvring a toddler into his chosen spot with a truculent baby attached to my front, remember those couple of minutes of, not peace exactly, but respite, maybe. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other solitary, unspeaking parents, grandparents, nannies. It was the place where Fingers - aged 10 months, or so, first accompanied his brother on a manege, wedged in his plump toddler arms, initially sceptical, finally smiling.

There were others, of course. The manège at the end of the Rue de Lévis street market, where it meets Boulevard de Courcelles, which I recall as having a certain eighties retro splendour, with a canopy for poor weather and some outlandish Night Rider style cars. The Jardins d'Acclimatation (the place I first encountered the pom-pom phenomenon), which is a whole succession of low-tech rides, including the famous petits chevaux that process in a stately fashion around a wide loop of scrubby grassland in the Bois de Boulogne. I would find the hot pink plastic tokens in my pockets, or in the corners of handbags, for years after we left. I could probably tell you fairly accurately where I could still find a couple in the CFO's house. There was the manège at the foot of the Eiffel tower with proper painted horses, which you can watch turn from the top, then go back down and have a go yourself, staring back up at that gigantic pylon. I did that with Lashes on our only Christmas in Paris, setting off in the pale sun of a wintry morning, striking out across the city yet again, desperate to do something memorable. During the same week I remember watching a freak snowstorm through the plate glass windows of the Cité des Enfants, and coming out to a sudden white-out, building a tiny snowman in the shadow of that big shiny ball, the Géode. Tiny snatches of joy in a bleak year. The Jardin des Plantes manège was small but brilliant, with giant turtles and dinosaurs to ride on. Square des Batignolles, beautifully old fashioned, usually shrouded in green tarpaulins you could peep under; occasionally, thrillingly open (it's the one in the picture up the top).

Such big parts of my life spent watching as the revolutions gather momentum, watching for their faces to spin past, waving. How many more tours de manège, how many chances to use up those plastic tokens? I might have a few more months, as much as a year perhaps, if I'm lucky. I'd like it to last a bit longer. It's such an easy way to say 'I want you to be happy, I want you to do this thing that pleases you, and I will stand and watch and wait'. I'll need to find other ways, but for now, I think all three of us could do with a few last spins.


redfox said...

This was quite lovely, and very effective at giving me a big lump of premature nostalgia, as well.

Laurel said...

Sniffle ... indeed, redfox!

My older (son) is just 3.5 but already he is "too big" for some things. Bob the Builder cartoons, and he won't let me take photos of him right now. So already I have these surprising and saddening intimations, even though he still wears diapers at night.

WrathofDawn said...

Ah, the bittersweet nature of them growing up. "Hurry up and grow up enough to do X by yourself. But don't get to old for Y."

It was ever so.

And now, I reveal my pathetic North American inability to have really absorbed any language but English. " pêche aux canards "?

Duck peaches? Fish in the ducks? I am stumped.

Anonymous said...

Manège...caroussel. Favorite one here in Grenoble, FR but my 8 year-old now refuses to ride it... "I'm too old for that, but if I weren't I'd ride in the carriage or in Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey." He gave his tickets to a 4 year-old. Sigh...At least, he's sharing.

ganching said...

"searingly awful" appointment sounds serious. A very poignant post.

Jaywalker said...

Ganching - no, there's nothing very wrong, I must reassure you. He had to have a small procedure but he screamed and screamed and screamed, refused to cooperate and ultimately punched me in the mouth. Then I got cross and we had a stand off, excruciatingly, with the doctor sitting there watching. We both cried afterwards. I felt hideously inadequate. Which of course, I am.

WoD - I have added a bit of explanation. You fish for plastic ducks who have points on their bottoms. The man adds up the points. However well you do, you never get enough points for what you really want.

Alison Cross said...

So glad you explained about the doctor's appointment - was a bit worried for Lashes there.

It's been said so many times, but you write so beautifully, it brings a lump to my throat.

Ali x

zmkc said...

"Tiny snatches of joy in a bleak year." Beautiful

Roos said...

Wow... beautiful post!

Just a few weeks ago I took my boys (1 & 2,5 jrs) on their first "manege" ride, on our holiday in Tuscany. The sun, music and tacky decor - it all added up to the experience. I had my baby strapped on and my toddler next to me, all three of us in a small chariotlike vehicle. I cried. Sad childhood memory tears mixed with happy tears for being so blessed with these kids. Who happen to have a PB cirée as well ;-)

Do keep writing these parenting posts. And don't ever call yourself inadequate anymore, please!

Laura and Ben said...

Manège = carousel

I think a merry-go-round is the thing in a park that you spin round on really fast until you're sick. Although, this could just be called a roundabout??

Anonymous said...

ma·nège also ma·nege (m-nzh)
1. The art of training and riding horses.
2. The movements and paces of a trained horse.
3. A school at which equestrianship is taught and horses are trained.
[French, from Italian maneggio, from maneggiare, to manage; see manage.]

Not knowing anything about Belgium, except from what I learn in your estimable blog, I think it very Belgian to call this delightful variety of entertainment by the serious name of Manege (see definition googled above)!

Here in the Antipodes, we call them Merry-go-rounds. In past times Roundabout may have been used, but that term has been hijacked by the traffic designers and means anything from a poached egg in the middle of an intersection, to a full-scale 3-lane prangfest!

How lovely to have many kinds of manege available to ride on! Down here the travelling summer fairs & A & P Shows bring them but occasionally to each town.
I used to love Merry-go-round rides, but alas the adult inner ear doesn't like the swirling anymore.
H in NZ

Anonymous said...

Oh look here for wonderful American carousel horses for sale! (If you've got a stash of serious cash)
But lovely to look at!
I have a calendar with these lovelies on from 1990 - I've framed some for long-term enjoyment.
H in NZ

From Belgium said...

The last time I rode a manege or a 'meuleke' as we dutch speaking call them I was 8, last week I rode one with my daughter. It was trilling

From Belgium said...

Oh and if you want to state that someone is crazy you can say :
'il a fait un tour de trop sur la manège'. (he took a ride to many on the merry-go-round)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post - thank you for sharing these memories.


Jessica said...

You absolutely remember. Crystal clear compared to me. And it's beautiful.

Em said...

Beautiful x

I can tell you that they will come back to these sorts of things - except they will call it ironic. And they will try to keep a blank face but there will still be a sparkle in the eye and a rush to get on first.

Bryony said...

how lovely - will never forget my now nearly 17 year old aged 20 months on one in Grasse and the beaming smile on his face as he came round the first time and every subsequent turn Bx

Jeannie said...

That was so poignant and beautiful it just left me teary-eyed. I felt so much of what you're going through since my boys have already grown up.

Your descriptions are out of this world. If you wrote books, I'd buy every last one more than once. That was a phenomenal post.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Very, very beautiful, Wafflette... A++ x

Bramblymouse said...

What a beautiful, lovely thing you have written.

irretrievablybroken said...

You lived in my old neighborhood in Paris, where I was an au pair--I lived at 26, Avenue de Villers.

Took my charges to the Parc Monceau constantly.

Lovely essay, again.

irretrievablybroken said...

VillIers, c'est à dire.

Catherine said...

Gosh you write well. I'd never thought of maneges like that. My kids get a spin whenever they spend time in Britanny or Paris. The one in Concarneau is always tacky, but there is a pompon; the one in Le Pouliguen is the works: wooden horses, Alice's cup of tea, two storeys.

ellen said...

Too sad how quickly they become too old for the merry-go-round. Of course like me they will soon be thinking "Why was I in such a hurry?". Lovely post.

Madame DeFarge said...

Very touching, unexpectedly so. Enjoy your last few spins.

WrathofDawn said...

Aha! A duck pond!

She said, 10 days late and a dollar short. Having survived both a computer crash AND a hurricane.

Thanks for the explanation!