Finding Zen in Disneyland

On Tuesday, my cousins, my uncle’s father, and I woke up early to spend the day at Disneyland Paris with a few of my  uncle’s relatives. It was very foggy when I woke up…

…and also when we arrived at the park, where the post-Christmas crowd was already amassing.

We walked down the aeonian moving sidewalk with hordes of multinational folk.  My cousins were cheerful, but not quite as excited to be there as I imagine I would have been at their age.  While we waited to pick up a stroller for the youngest member of our troupe, we took goofy pictures in “Main Street USA,” which is supposed to model the wholesome American charm of Walt Disney’s turn-of-the-century childhood. 

sass

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ZOMG!

We snacked on ham sandwiches and examined the park map.  

But the girls had a hard time picking out what they wanted to do, so after some deliberation and weighing of options we sashayed over to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

The storybooks were in French. My cousins, Sarah and Nina, could not have cared less about reading about La Belle au Bois Dormant and instead snapped pictures of the windows and tapestries.

Of course, no visit to the castle would be complete without a few minutes spent staring in awe at the dragon in the dungeon below.  Sarah wanted to ride on an Indiana Jones-themed roller coaster in Adventureland, but when it we made it to Frontierland she spotted a diamond-mine-themed ride.  The 65 minute wait did not break her resolve and we split up the group so that she and Grace, one of my uncle’s relatives, could wait in line.

Nina and I had other ideas, though.  Hoping to avoid the queues that snaked out from each ride for miles, we boarded a steamboat ride, which took us in a little circle around the artificial bluff on which the mine roller coaster was built.  

It turned out, despite the cheesy Proper-French-to-American-Southern-Drawl translations over the loudspeaker, the steamboat was a departure from what I gather to be the usual Disney experience of lights and sound and stagecraft.  With nary a big-headed fluffy character in sight, we bobbed around the mist-covered artificial swamp, repopulated by marauding gulls that swarmed up from the banks in anticipation of crumbs thrown overboard.  

In the midst of the mass-market mechanized hoopla, here was something thoroughly impromptu.

We walked back through the center square, a route which took us directly through the gates to Adventureland, modeled on classical Islamic architecture, but surrounded almost immediately by bongo drums and tiki torches.  I’ve heard all the frustration over how racist and discriminatory  Aladdin is and it’s difficult to know where to stand.  Should it all be seen in fun or is it a shameless plasticized reappropriation of ancient and beautiful traditions already so badly misunderstood?  As a westerner, do I have to pick one of two extremes, either gravely boycotting my popcorn-filled reruns of a childhood favorite or taking it as a harmless part of the prejudice that takes up so much western airspace?  I mulled this over to myself while we walked through, at least mentally hi-fiving myself for having seen the much grander “real thing.”

Half of the experience for me is coming to appreciate not the place itself but the people who come to inhabit it for an afternoon.  Even with tri-corner-hatted “pirates” stomping around and bouncy elves jingling their toe-bells, the majority of my experience was with fellow park-goers.  The 56,000 of us (according to a park maintenance employee) will never share the same space ever again, a theme that repeats many times throughout my travels.  If you consider the physical space, be it a room, an airport, or a road a vessel for an estimable numbers of human beings at any given time, how many individual souls have shared my space?  Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?   Who knows.

What matters is the people with whom I’ve shared my space now, with whom I can consciously build relationships and enjoy our time together.

So when we walked back through Main Street and a whooshing and twinkling sound began playing on the loudspeakers, I could forget that what was falling from the sky was fake snow made of foam and instead take joy in the delighted reactions of other park-goers who laughed and gasped at the beautiful (if fabricated) sight.

A breeze of fake snow and fanned air picked up mylar Mickey Mouse balloon from some child at the end of the avenue, who, realizing his loss, began immediately to whine for a new one.  I watched the balloon fly up and up and out of sight above the fog, a last exercise in the beautiful impermanence of another day at Disney.

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