Back in the UK, when the docks of a shipbuilding city close we attempt to rejuvenate the area by building museums and concert arenas. Here in Western France in the city of Nantes they decided to construct a giant mechanical elephant and a 3 storey carousel inspired by the works of Jules Verne. Seems to be doing the trick, because we visited today to film there.
When we arrived in the early morning the elephant, which is about the same height as a 4 storey block of flats, was resting in its shelter, which I assume used to be some sort of dry dock for ship building. Pretty soon it was being loaded up with eager tourists paying 5 Euros a pop and and was off tromping round the barren industrial wasteland. It’s been incredibly well designed and you really do trick yourself into thinking its alive (despite the fact that you can clearly see the three giant wheels and driver controlling it). Its movements are almost impossibly accurate, especially when its flailing trunk unleashes a mist of water on any passer-by who gets too close. We met up with it as it deposited its first cargo of human beings at the carousel on the opposite side of the site, which is like a fairground merry-go-round on steroids, full of insane vehicles that look like they’ve fallen out of one of Salvador Dali’s dreams.
We were filmed riding around inside and on top of the elephant, alongside 25 or so other punters, and then I changed into some 19th century clothes to perform a sketch dressed as the 19th century novelist, poet and playwright Jules Verne, shouting my head off in an outrageous French accent that all the locals seemed very tolerant of. Currently dotted around the site are bits and pieces that are going to make up a giant 40 metre metal tree with monsters and walkways built into it. It should be ready in 5 years and I can’t wait to come back and see it.
Art is clearly something that people in Nantes consider important, as our afternoon was spent recording a song about “Le Voyage a Nantes”. It’s a green line painted on the ground that runs 15 km round the city, and if you follow it you pass by various installations and points of interest that make up an art trail. Michelle and I got dressed up as Daft Punk and spent a few hours singing about how we’d come to Nantes to “get arty”, posed in front of various bits and bobs. While we were being filmed kicking a ball around in a specially constructed football shed I managed to accidentally boot it into the back of Michelle’s head and smashed a filter on the front of our camera which is going to cost a few hundred quid to replace. Oops.
Highlight of the day: This morning when our soundman Nat was introduced to our guide from ‘Les Machines de L’ile’, Jennifer. He meant to say, “Hello, what is your name?” Instead he said, “Bonjour, je t’aime”, which means “Hello, I love you.” We’re not going to let him live that down for a while.