When people ask me what I like most about living in New York, my answer is always the wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods within reach. If I want Arabic food, I have dozens of options on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. If I want Greek, I head to Astoria, where I can buy a dozen varieties of feta. And so forth.
But a traveling exhibit on Governors Island of antique French carnival rides provides not only the opportunity to experience another culture, but also another time. Fête Paradiso, which will leave New York at the end of this month, brings together a collection of late 19th and early 20th century carousels, flying swings and a pipe organ.
A short, free ferry ride from Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge Park brings New Yorkers away from the city and to an island where time seems to have stood still for decades. Take a short walk to Nolan Park, and suddenly you’re traveled back more than 100 years, to 19th Century Paris. From Fête Paradiso’s website,
The extraordinary festival of artisan-crafted, vintage carousels and carnival rides – like a French film miraculously come to life – is the first of its kind to appear in the United States. Among the classic attractions, which come from the collections of Francis Staub and Regis Masclet, is a bicycle carousel from the late 19th century – one of only two in the world that were created in Paris to encourage the use of what was then the new mode of transportation – the bicycle. (The only other bicycle carousel can be seen in the feature film Midnight in Paris.) Fête Paradiso will also include an early 20th century Music-Hall Ball Guzzler, a carnival game that features life-size caricatures of Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin, the Fratellini Brothers and other celebrities of the time. …
To further enhance the nostalgic, dreamlike experience, a bumper car pavilion from 1900 has been transformed into a beer garden and special event space with food reminiscent of a French carnival prepared by New York’s legendary French bistro Le Gamin. In addition, a 1930 children’s carousel has been repurposed into a music kiosk, where performers will entertain visitors with period music and side show performances to heighten the Fellini-inspired environment.
The bicycle carousel dates to 1892, and riding it was quite an experience, physically and mentally. Those riding the carousel are expected to pedal, first forward, then backward. I left the ride out of breath, eager for a cold refreshing $4 lemonade from the concession.
As the carnival attendant, dressed in black-and-white striped shirt, warned us to mind our iPhones and other valuables, I thought back to the makers of this 121-year-old ride. As they fashioned the intricate metal bicycles and painted beautiful scenes around the top of the ride, they hardly could have imagined that more than a century later and a continent away, little children and grown adults, all carrying tiny telephones that doubled as video cameras, would be enjoying their handiwork. To those who built this ride with an eye for detail, beauty and enjoyment, I extend my appreciation. I am thankful as well to the collectors who had the foresight to preserve this collection of nostalgia and the imagination to assemble it into an attraction for New Yorkers to enjoy.
Fête Paradiso is here until Sept. 29 (when Governors Island all but closes to the public for the season), though one of the carnival workers said the rides may return here next summer after visiting warmer sites in the United States for the fall and winter. For more information on Brooklyn and Manhattan ferries to Governors Island, check out Governors Island’s website.
Below are some photos from my trip to Fête Paradiso last Sunday …