Monday, September 06, 2004

Paris, France—Day 219

This morning I ventured over to the Parc Zoologique de Paris (a-ha! The zoo I needed yesterday!) which I found DID exist via the internet. So, upon the recommendations of some strange website (not the zoos), I took the metro out to Ponte Doree Station and was soon at the gates to the zoo.

The zoo looked completely closed and based on the graffiti type banners that were hanging over it, all exclaiming something in French, I thought for sure that the zoo was really closed, if not for today but for good. But I walked up to the seemingly deserted ticket counter and a woman showed up. I bought my ticket and headed in, feeling like the only person in the zoo.

As I walked to the hippos, I found that really, I was almost the only person. I only saw one other girl, who actually looked quite like me, which was bizarre. Perhaps she is on a world-tour photographing giraffes.

I found the hippos and there were two of them in an outdoor pool but based on the looks of things, the hippos were not getting along. The smaller of the two had all sorts of bleeding cuts on him (or her) and was chomping away at some hay while the larger of the two seemed to keep watch over the other hippo from the water.

I stopped and got out my camera and was able to get some good pictures of the smaller one—the one out of the water. The larger one was proving to be more difficult.

I heard some rustling noises coming from behind a closed off area so I thought for sure that a keeper would come out and be able to help me. One did but as I approached him and asked him for his help, he literally waved me off and said No, no! and kept walking.


I stood there in disbelief for a long time while I waited for some other sort of official looking person to walk by. Eventually one did, so I stopped him to ask if he spoke English and could help me. He didn’t speak English, but he did offer to help (or at least, I think he did!). He started asking me things and I just didn’t know what to do and then Mr. No came back with a large wheelbarrow. Mr. Nice and Helpful stopped Mr. No and they started talking about me, and eventually Mr. No got on his walkie talkie and paged someone to come down and help me.

Then Mr. Nice and Helpful turned to me and (I think) said that someone would be here shortly to help me.

I smiled and thanked them both and stood there and sure enough, a girl approached on her bicycle. She introduced herself as the curator of the hippos—what luck! And she spoke wonderful English. She was able to tell me about Poupouille (the smaller of the two—the son) and Pelagie (the bigger—the mother) and said that there was a third hippo, Rodolphe (the father) inside. She told me that Pelagie was starting to reject Poupouille, which was evident based on his wounds. Poor Poupouille! Turns out also that originally they thought Poupouille was a female (up until like May—and now he’s about three years old) so they are worried about Poupouille liking his mother a little too much, if you know what I mean.

I felt so bad for poor little Poupouille. All he wanted to do was be close to his mother (and not necessarily in that sense) and his mother would not have it. It took her quite a while to even let Poupouille close to the water and to let him get in. It was quite a spectacular and sad thing to watch really.

Julie, the curator, took me behind the scenes to see Rodolphe who was in an inside area. I tried to get some pictures of him, but indoor shots are really not great. Rodolphe comes out at nighttime and the other two during the day. Julie told me that they are most likely going to try to send Poupouille to the Thoiry Zoo (where I will go!) in the next few weeks and exchange him with another male since Pelagie the mother is rejecting him so early and so forcefully. She also told me that the state of the Paris Zoo is uncertain because the design of the zoo includes these massive rock formations (that aren’t real) but everything in the zoo is either built around or in them. And the rocks, after seventy years of no upkeep, are literally falling off making it quite a situation for everyone involved, especially the animals! Julie speculated that there might not even be a Paris Zoo by the end of this year and that they would have to close it.

We then headed up to Julie’s office where she gave me some more information about the hippos (Poupouille is three, Pelagie is around 25-30 years old and Rodolphe is 31 years old) and gave me her card. I thanked her for her help and set back out to get another glimpse at the hippos and promising Julie that I would be back at the zoo around 5 o’clock in the evening to perhaps get a glimpse of Rodolphe in the open enclosure.

I then headed out of the zoo and spent most of the afternoon doing much of the same as yesterday—lots of wandering around different streets of Paris and sitting in Jardin des Tuilleries reading my book. The weather was much more agreeable today than the past few and I was happy to be sitting outside in the shade. I wandered around trying to find a cheap pair of sunglasses (and finally did for 3 Euros! Haha!) and marveled at everything over 100 Euros, which seemed to be just about everything in every shop!

I eventually made it back to the zoo, albeit 15 minutes late. Despite losing my original ticket, I weaseled my way back into the zoo without having to pay a second time using Julie’s card. They let me in and I raced over to the hippos where I found Julie waiting for me. It was clear that things were not going well with Poupouille and Pelagie—the keeper was trying to round them both up inside and every time Poupouille tried to follow his mother (a natural thing for hippos), she would turn on him and chase him back into the water. Poor Poupouille!

Julie told me that Rodolphe would not be making an appearance this evening and would be staying indoors because they were going to change the water in the outdoor pool. She told me that she would email me a picture of Rodolphe so I thanked her and headed back out of the zoo.

I sat down in the park near the zoo which was really quite nice—they even had row boats that you could rent before heading out to find some dinner.

And where did I go?

Why the Hippopotamus Restaurant, of course!

For all of you who don’t know, there is a chain food store here (much like Denny’s really) that is called, well, Hippopotamus. It was too good to be true. To top it off, I knew that there was one in the Bastille area—literally hippos storming the Bastille. I set out on the metro and found the restaurant with no problem.

I sat down and looked over the menu—my choice ranged from the “Hippo Mixed Grill” for dinner to the “Hippo Banana” and the “Crème Brule Hippo” for dessert and even the “Cocktail Hippo:” and the “Sangria Hippo” for drinks. I couldn’t find it in myself to order anything with hippo in its name (too close for comfort really) so I got some Tandoori chicken salad. Probably a bad move on my part—I’m sure the hippo dishes are their specialties. But it was fine, and I even pocketed the hippo place mat and the drink stirrer in my bag while the waiter (wearing a “Hippo Team” t-shirt by the way) brought my food.

He came back most amused when he saw me writing down hippo named items on the menu and probably wondered what on earth I was doing. And I was pretty amused at myself and at the other people who were actually eating at the restaurant! You would think, ok, you’re in Paris—one of the most beautiful cities on earth and you’re going to eat WHERE?!?!

Perhaps they too have a little hippo love inside.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.