Vive la France! Vive l'Empereur!
Vive l'Empereur's French theme park?
Oui! Just as some U.S. politicians today are busy venerating "American exceptionalism," the French are apparently having, as Times staff writer Devorah Lauter put it, "something of a Napoleon moment."
And in the town of Montereau-fault-Yonne, she writes, scene of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's final victories -- over Austrian troops and their allies 198 years ago -- that fervor has sparked plans for a theme park "complete with snowy battle reenactments and a ride in the shape of Napoleon's famous arched hat."
Oh boy, you can't say the French don’t know how to have fun. Still:
The idea is not to vaunt a bygone glory, [Mayor Yves] Jego insisted, but rather "to give a little pride to France, to show that the figure of their history has an international dimension," and to use "innovative" ways to illuminate his unappreciated sides.
Well, OK, if you say so. Because his other sides are pretty well known, and somewhat less savory:
Yes, the hero's grandiose ambitions led to war after war, countless deaths and, finally, the collapse of his empire.
Now here in California, we know from theme parks. We've got Disneyland (which has been exported to France, of course), Knott's Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios Hollywood, to name a few.
But we just honor cartoon characters, and movie creatures. Sometimes we do take note of famous American leaders -- like Abraham Lincoln at Disneyland -- but no one much cares. Kids today would much rather throw up on Space Mountain than listen to a robot that looks like Lincoln "perform."
Sure, Jefo can argue that Napoleon was "a legal authority of great standing, an extraordinary conqueror, an incredible soldier, strategist and a romantic."
"I think that history should be shared with the people," he said. "And visiting a historic park is more enriching than visiting a park about a cartoon character, however great he is."
But Jefo obviously hasn't ridden on Space Mountain or King Kong 360-3D lately.
No, if he wants his Napoleon theme park to succeed, it had better be more "Austerlitz: Kill Zone 360" and less "Hello, Josephine, My Little Buttercup."
Instead, although details are sketchy, Lauter writes:
One sketch shows a giant N-shaped water feature running through a landscape sprinkled with carefully trimmed parks typical of the period, castles, a cathedral, a small mountain range and a likeness of the Sphinx.
Which, except for the Sphinx, just sounds like a smaller version of France itself.
Heck, I've visited the country twice. The whole place is like a theme park already. I mean, Mont St. Michel is way better than Cinderella's Castle. Most of Paris is far more charming than Universal CityWalk. (Although much of the country does shut down every day from noon to 2 for lunch -- and for all of August, naturally. On the plus side, you can eat dinner all night long.)
This is the Old World, though, so of course there's this "never miss a chance to rub it in" critique from across the English Channel:
"A country which can still partly revere such a man surely has a problem," wrote Stephen Glover of Britain's Daily Mail, describing Napoleon as "a man whose actions led to the deaths of millions of people -- and whose defeat paved the way for British 19th century supremacy, reducing France to the rank of a second-rate power where, let us be honest, it has remained."
Which is pretty funny when you think of it: A columnist from a second-rate power calling out another second-rate power. And one from a paper that's busy celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of that ultra-modern institution, the British monarchy.
No, I'm not so ready to kill Mayor Jego's dream.
And especially not when Napoleon's tomb was one of my favorite stops in Paris.
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Photo: Montereau-fault-Yonne Mayor Yves Jego with performers dressed in Napoleonic uniform. Credit: Devorah Lauter / For The Times