Saturday 01 August 1998
Occasionally, it was possible to discern magic amid the mayhem. Undoubtedly, the most entrancing sight was the very first display. It was a large vertical glass cylinder populated solely by swirling clouds of medusa jellyfish - lazily pulsing parachutes trailing clumps of gelatinous tentacles. The swimmer's terror became a spectacle of extraordinary, translucent beauty. Nearby, there was exactly the same thing in miniature, a column of baby medusa, like animated shirt-studs. The razzmatazz of the tropical tank was another winner, but I sympathised with the leopardskin-print angelfish, sadly stuck with last year's fashion. I was, however, rather less spellbound by a murky display devoted to "3,000 metres sous la mer", where Plasticine worms and a few lengths of hose-pipe unconvincingly impersonated the denizens of the deep.
The Gallic obsession with technology was much in evidence. There was a plethora of interactive gubbins. Escalators soared and plummeted at unlikely angles much like their unnerving counterparts at Charles de Gaulle airport. A 3-D cinema thrust leaping dolphin, wobbly bubbles and vast skeins of kelp into the faces of a boggling audience. Despite all this hi-tech razzle-dazzle, the engagingly quaint translations of the display captions must be utterly perplexing to younger English visitors. "Some very odd parlour games!" tittered the caption over a pelagic shoal. "What a bunch of tricksters!"
But the most distinctively French aspect of this attraction is its obsession with food. Unlike the new London Aquarium, where the only maritime comestible at the time of my visit was an unappetising tuna sandwich, Nausicaa boasts a substantial fish restaurant and shellfish bar at the entrance. A second large snack bar overlooking a tropical pool caters for any visitors finding themselves a bit peckish at the halfway point. Similarly, many of the displays are predicated on the principle that the staggering multiplicity of oceanic lifeforms came into being with the sole intention of ending up on a French dinner table. In an overhead tank, we observed a row of tuna peering down on us like a disapproving jury. The silvery flanks of mullet and sea-bass shimmered provocatively in nature's briny marinade. In a fish farm devoted to "le fameux belouga", whiskery sturgeon poked their mole-like noses out of the water. (An accompanying caption, "Les bons mangeurs font les bons vivants," was mystifyingly translated as "Hearty eaters make hearty fellows.") However, judging by the sour hoodlum mouths of the occupants of the very last attraction, a glass tunnel through a swirling squadron of sharks, the normal gastronomic relationship between man and fish could easily be reversed. If, by some mishap, one or two little froggies should provide a snack for the sharks, it would indeed be a tragedy - but that's the food chain for you.
All this Godzilla stuff is old hat for the Weasel family. Yeah, sure, we saw the world premiere of the saurian schlockbuster at Madison Square Garden on 18 May. To be honest, we saw it from our yellow cab as we made our way to catch Woody Allen tootle his licorice stick at the Hotel Carlyle. The film was a little hard to ignore in Manhattan at that time. It seemed that every other office block bore a painted arrow running its entire height, accompanied by a sign which screamed: "He's as high as this building!" No wonder half the film's total cost of $240m went on marketing.
Surprisingly, a tiny Japanese restaurant near our hotel on West 23rd Street was a real-life victim of the giant lizard. I discovered this strange fact on my way out, after consuming a small mountain of sashimi. Pasted in the window were two letters from a law firm with an address on the Avenue of the Stars, Hollywood, Calif. The first pointed out with a certain bluntness that the rights to the name Godzilla were held by Sony Pictures under licence from the Toho Co of Japan. Therefore, the restaurant had better change its name from "Godzilla" and pronto. The subsequent letter, equally abrupt in tone, noted that "Zilla" was not an acceptable contraction. Better think again, pal, or else. The new name of the establishment where we so agreeably dined was "Monster Sushi". Considering that the movie has turned out to be such a monumental turkey, the restaurant ought to send heartfelt thanks to the attorneys of Tinseltown.
Coincidentally, film and food also came together at the South Bank last week. On a balmy evening, the National Film Theatre launched a season called "A Feast for the Eyes" sponsored by the New Covent Garden Soup Co, who provided guests with a selection of delicious potages (fortunately chilled). The NFT's upcoming treats include Ang Lee's sublime Eat Drink Man Woman and Peter Greenaway's stylish The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Personally, I'm tempted by a collation of wartime shorts, including All About Carrots (1941), Eating Out with Tommy Trinder (1941) and How to Cook a Cabbage (1943). Forthcoming attractions from the NCGSC include Potato, Leek and Lavender, and Tomato Borscht. No slurping in the stalls, please.
Though a bit late in the day for us, I have found myself enthralled by a slender work called A Practical Guide to Alternative Baptism and Baby-Naming, by Kate Gordon (Constable, pounds 6.99). After the toe-curling ideas for alternative ceremonies ("Spirits of the West, hear me; we ask for your blessing on this child. Water bring emotion, instinct and feeling. Old moon, bring wisdom, peace and contentment ... "), the book offers a wonderful array of unlikely monikers to bestow on tots. Some unfortunate gels will doubtless be saddled with Clear, Gaia, Chilali and Kezia, not forgetting, of course, Chelsea and Eugenie (the Ferguson offspring). The origins of some names are appropriate for certain personality traits. Kim is from the South African diamond-mining town of Kimberley, while Tallulah is a native American word for "waterfall". Suggestions for geezers include Elmo, Homer, Izzard, Lory, Paxton (Latin for "peaceful place"), Raleigh, Zak and Zadok. Anyone contemplating Yancy should be aware that it is a native American term for "Englishman", and, therefore, probably impolite. Thanks to Ms Lumley, Purdy may sound sexy but it means "hermit, recluse" in Sanskrit
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