Friday 19 March 2010

Pushing Buttons

This is a cautionary tale wrapped up in a cautionary reminiscence.

At some point when I was seven or eight, I learned about nuclear weapons. (I think it was probably from watching War Games with my brother. I also learned about modems and Matthew Broderick being cute from that film, so all in all a very educational experience.) I became obsessed with the idea of a man in a bunker somewhere with his hand hovering over a BIG RED BUTTON. One touch of the button and the world would end. This caused me no end of sleepless nights because of my own, personal mania for pressing buttons. I never saw a button I didn’t want to press – so how would the man in charge of the nuclear arsenal be able to resist? I could see it so clearly: one night he just wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation any more and – almost of its own volition – his hand would reach out and … BAM! Nuclear winter.

But if they were recruiting for the nuclear-button-pusher’s job, I would now be in a position to volunteer. Because I am cured.

As advertised on Wednesday morning, I paid a visit to the Musee de la Magie et des Automates. I thought this would be an interesting, whimsical, very Parisian experience. A museum full of automatons – what’s not to like? (Automatons, by the way, are any kind of machine that moves without electricity – from cuckoo clocks to clockwork toys.) The idea is that you move through different rooms showing different types of automata: in front of each one is a button to press to make it go. So I pressed buttons, and pressed buttons, and pressed buttons … and got really bored of pressing buttons. The machines essentially do two things: move up and down or move from side to side. There’s a special sub-genre where things move up and down and from side to side to reveal women’s bottoms.

I suspect part of my issue with the museum is that seeing so many takes away from the novelty: I remember loving the (single) automaton at the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, where you put in money and some strange looking creatures flashed their eyes and moved.

So was there any redeeming feature? Well, there was a magic show, which was fun. And the room of optical illusions was pretty cool. Oh, and I liked the zoo machine where you put your hands in two holes and then you feel something furry brushing them and a lion jumps out and roars at you. (All very innocent, I assure you.) However, a combined ticket for the two museums is €12 and I can’t honestly say that it was worth it. (Oh, and they wouldn't let me take photos.) But then, I go to these museums so you don’t have to.

So, the moral of the story is – be careful of over-indulging childhood passions or you may go TOO FAR.

And instead of going to the Musee de la Magie, go the carousel along the street, beside the Hotel de Ville. Carousels are a passion I haven’t killed, and this is a particularly good specimen.

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