Sunday, October 31, 2010

Joyeuse Toussaint

Instead of Halloween, France has La Toussaint, or All Saints Day. The benefit of the substitution is that it comes with a national holiday on Monday and thus an extra day of sleeping-in on top of the hour we already gain this weekend for daylight savings. The drawback is that it's sadly lacking in the candy, costumes and drunken frivolities that made the holiday one of my favorites back home, so we connoisseurs have to get creative in France. Last year I zombied it up and hit the streets of Paris moaning for braaaaaiiiiinnnns. This year, I kicked things off early with a visit to the Catacombs: the dark, bone-paved, dripping tunnels that wind their way beneath Paris and serve as the final resting place for more than 8,000 skeletons disinterred and restacked (by someone with an artistic, albeit morbid, sense of feng shui) during a plague epidemic in the 18th century.

Nothing like real skulls to get you in the Halloween spirit, eh?
However, the main event of my Toussaint weekend was a trip to Disneyland Paris. As a Disney fanatic, this has been on my to-do list for a while, although my disdain for the kind of Americans that come to Paris only to seek out Starbucks and McDonald's gave me a guilt complex that had thus far prevented me from going. Having now spent a year in Paris and having accomplished most of the main "French" things one must do/see, I felt entitled to finally indulge, and Halloween seemed to be a good excuse.

I wasn't disappointed. Despite the crowds, Disneyland was as magical as I remembered, and it was fun to find the one haven for Halloween in France. The whole park was decked out with pumpkins, cobwebs and Nightmare Before Christmas memorabilia for the occasion, and spooky spectaculars and costumed pumpkin people joined the normal roster of events and characters. In the spirit of the holiday (and to avoid boring you with too many details), I provide here a short guide to the day's spookiest attractions.

Disappointingly not scary: The Haunted Mansion attraction, which paled in comparison to its American predecessors. They did have the grounds decked out with pumpkins and creepy figures for Halloween, though, so I'll award them a few points for effort, or at least employ some vintage photo effects to help them out:
Not as scary as I remembered it: The Rocky Mountain Railroad ride. This was my first-ever roller coaster when I rode it as a wee tot, and my recollection of the experience is of clinging terrified and screaming to my mother's waist, convinced I was about to go flying out from underneath the not-nearly-low-enough lap bar and tumbling down the artificial mountain. (Admittedly, this would have perhaps been a more authentic mining experience. That, or having the ride get stuck in one of the underground tunnels for two months). As an adult with a little bit of a pain au chocolat pastery pudge, the mostly-unnecessary safety bar is a bit more snug, and the ride itself pretty tame. The eerier part was the translation of the accompanying Americana music, videos and signage into French, and the transplantation of the park zone of Frontier Land (which seemed so natural in Califronia) to a Métro stop right outside of a major European capital.
scary: The Disney Indiana Jones ride. Not only does it lack the badass boulder and the scary don't-look-or-you'll-die evil eye (of sauron? now that I reflect I don't remember exactly why something not in the movies featured so prominently in the ride) and rolling boulder of the Annaheim Disneyland original, but the French title, "Le Temple du Péril" just doesn't have the same punch as "Temple of DOOM".
Not too scary (but still pretty cool): the dragon hidden in an unmarked cave underneath Sleeping Beauty's castle, that came to animatronic life every few minutes to growl menacingly, blink its slanted yellow eyes, and lunge around the cave as it blew dry ice.

Surprisingly scary: Space Mountain: Mission 2

Like many Americans of my generation, I was lead to believe by naive parents that the original Space Mountain was the end-all be-all of terrifying roller coasters. One of the world's fastest coasters, they warned, and entirely in the dark. When I finally worked up the courage (and the inches) to hesitatingly enter the ominous dome myself, I was disappointed with the uninspired track and the gray semi-darkness that couldn't mask its slow turns and drops.

The Parisian park features a newer version of the ride that. Thinking myself wiser and braver for my childhood experience, I embarked upon "Mission 2" without a second thought. Turns out that Space Mountain has had a 21st century makeover (much like the newly-politically correct "It's a Small World") and is now a pretty legitimate thrill ride, with an explosive rocket beginning that violently shoots blasts you through a pitch-black (except for rather disorienting spacey lasers) maze of 360 loops and twists.

And the winner, for most HORRIFYING Halloween experience: The woman sitting in the adjacent booth during my morning Métro ride to the Park, who was equipped with a set of nail-clippers and used the 40-minute ride to thoroughly clean and clip each of her nails individually, leaving behind a pile of yellowed half-moon slivers that remained stuck to the knee of her jeans until she finally stood to exit the train. Ew ew ew.

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