Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lunch with a Peacock (Zoo Pont-Scorff)

What could be better than ice cream on a sunny day while a tiger takes a nap behind you? Few things! The kids and I headed out to Zoo Pont-Scorff today near Lorient (a city I am more and more interested in visiting since it was dubbed "the orient" in honor of its extensive trade with... the Orient - also, a gentleman from there named Monsieur Frazier brought back the fraise (which was named after him, which means "strawberry") to the French). Zoos are oddly universal, aren't they? Of course there are differences here and there (interesting ones, too), but overall, as Oliver pointed out "all these animals speak the same language." And it's true that seeing an elephant here, you hope to think that if she met the one from the Indianapolis Zoo, they'd instantly know each other. Like most adults I know, I love zoos because I loved them as a child, and though I find them more problematic today (the cages, the spaces, the pacing), I love to watch my kids jump up and down and call out and imitate sounds and be amazed at what they see. Or, as the Zoo Pont-Scorff literature says: "de l'émotion naît la compréhension" (from emotion comes understanding). I would actually rather translate the French "émotion" as "wonder" - and there was plenty of it today!

The thrill was immediate as the very first enclosure we saw contained wallabies, with baby wallabies still in their mums' pouches! You have to look closely, but there's the little one just peeking out - some of them were "walking" along on their front legs, barely keeping up with hopping mom. They all came right up to the fence - the dad, too, who was noticeably bigger and on guard (some grunting). The kids were duly impressed!

Most of the shots that I took are of dark blue, light blue and purple parkas and wonderful animals. Here, in front of the ring-tailed lemurs, I actually got the kids to turn around for a second. But it was just to do their King Julien interpretation (Madagascar fans unite!). Lemurs really are funny, though, and they will hop up and down and look fussy and weird. One was on his back taking a sunbath in all his glory, and all of a sudden leaped up into a tree. Am I right that lemurs are indigenous to Madagascar only? And they're not Darwin's discovery are they? (I always have him on the Galapagos Islands). Ooo, their Wikipedia article states that the word is "endemic" (i.e. yes, they are unique to Madagascar), but doesn't say when they were discovered - perhaps very early on by the first people to settle there? And who knows when that was? (c. 500 A.D.) In any case, Madagascar being a French colony, it's important to know these things. All right, if I Wikipedia every image, we'll be here for days. So, here come some highlights and random/pithy comments.

Perhaps it's the proximity to Lorient, or perhaps it's that this zoo was built in 1973, but there's a great deal of the Colonial Imaginary at play here. The crocodiles and snake house is guarded by these Egyptian figures reminiscent of the grandeur of the Nile. Part of me checks this off as a colonial fantasy, the other part of me is gladdened to see the kids recognize Egyptian figures and, well, recognize Egypt as a grand place. Here they are hamming it up - Eleanor, especially, playing up the fear factor of a house full of impressive crocodiles and snakes.

Not sure why the giraffes are licking the walls of their Moroccan palace house - Eleanor ascribed it to how neurotic Melman is in Madagascar. Hmmm.

Lunch was an absolutely amazing experience, with a peacock deciding to put on a show for the kids. We ate in the gazebo behind where they're sitting and it walked about and made its (really loud) call and shook its feathers out. It didn't seem particularly aggressive, so maybe it was feeling amorous. As soon as they were done eating, the kids pulled up their front row bench and just watched Monsieur le Peon strut his stuff. Mesmerizing.

There was a playground nearby (yea!) so the kids played for a good while, and I checked out the multiple breeds of owls, and herons and egrets all around. Oliver is seen here asking Eleanor if she's ready for a "great ride" - she acquiesced, of course, and they had a blast. I loved this little consultation before the romp. It was after this playtime, that the ice cream stand appeared - yea, ice cream on a sunny day. And then, I saw it.

This is why I love France. Even in a zoo, which is ostensibly for kids; even in a zoo in late-March, which is still considered the low season as the bigger restaurant and gift shops were closed; even on a day when the zoo has just us and five or six other families in it, there is a gorgeous, fully functional espresso machine ready to go. That "petit café" made a huge difference in my afternoon. Thank you, France!

And then, the awesome bird show. This shot was pure luck, as those birds swooped in and around us with flair, speed, and agility. They're been trained to thrill, let me tell you. Oliver yelping "Oh my!" cracked me up. This is the "émotion" part of Pont-Scorff: they have a series of shows that they put on (in the high season, there are something like seven of them) - we saw three today, the first being the parrots and their like. It was just fantastic - first some smaller birds flew back and forth and back and forth between two trainers on either end of us spectators; then three enormous bright blue and red macaws swooped in front of us in huge arcs - the backdrop being the lush green Breton forest, of course. And then...

... the trainer asked for a volunteer and guess who jumped up?

Yea, Oliver! The bird jumped back and forth between he and another little girl's arm, and then between their heads. Oliver became turtle-boy at that point - all good!

I couldn't really resist this Breton farmhouse presided over by a sheep. This was in the not-so-exotic farmyard animal section, but I always love a good, colorful rooster (having been well-educated by the Putnam County Fair!).

After that, it was the "Oiseaux Marines" (sea-faring birds?) display - it included birds of prey (falcons!) as well, but the kids went nuts for the pelican.

I think that you can see why!!!

And last, but oh no, not least - the seal show. Here they are kissing! Smooch! It was raining pretty heavily by this point, and the zoo was closing, so we headed on home - I think that all three kids were asleep in the car before I got out of the parking lot. I, of course, was feeling peppy thanks to that much-welcomed espresso! Omelettes for dinner, a Baby Pink Dragon (complete with lemurs and pelican) for bedtime, and thus endeth another beautiful day in Brittany!

For you sweet dreams, here is the sound of one of those enormous macaws imitating a human laugh (it can also whistle suggestively and say "Bonjour" - vive la France!).

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