Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fete Paradiso: A Little Bit Of Paradise On Governor’s Island!

By: Anne M. Raso

I was lucky enough to attend the opening day for Fete Paradiso on Governor’s Island this past weekend. In case you haven’t heard, it’s the first-ever festival of vintage carnival rides that date back as far as 1850. All the rides come directly from France, courtesy of the collections of Francis Staub and Regis Masclet. Included in the collection are numerous carousels, bicycle rides (where the riders supply the manpower since it is non-electrical), flying swings, an early 20th century Music Ball Guzzler and a carnival game that features the images of celebs popular in France circa the 1930s (Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin and more).

All the rides—at least in my eyes seem to be dated between 1850 and 1930 except for one featuring the coolest of vehicles from the 50s including a convertible with wing tip lights! There are a few more games and rides still be assembled so be sure to stop into Fete Paradiso a couple of times. Let me add that there are wonderful crepes being served—so if you’re a foodie, be sure to check out the ham and cheese crepe. It’s no ordinary crepe—it features top quality fresh baked ham, Gruyere cheese and a buckwheat (as opposed to a regular white flour) batter is used. Attendees get to eat under a beautiful and ornate vintage bumper car pavilion with picnic tables set up on the floor.
The operators of the rides are wearing classic retro French garb from every era from the 1890’s to 1960’s, so that definitely adds to the quaint and colorful atmosphere. It is hard to pick out favorite rides, as they are all so unique and decorative. I do have a soft spot for the flying swings (although they have been updated with hand painted cloth banners that were made in recent times). It gives the biggest thrill of all the rides (except possibly the dragon ride) but since people were tinier back then there is a 175-pound weight limit. The dragon ride is colorful and fun and apparently was built as the predecessor of what has been known as the Swiss Bob at Jersey Shore amusement parks for the past 45 or fifty years. The earliest ride seems to have no name on it—people working at Fete Paradiso just call it “the boat ride” but it is comprised of a few suspended handmade wooden boats that moms and dads had to push their kids back and forth on.
You can tell that these rides were one of a kind and built by artisans who really cared about what they were doing. This kind of detail is no longer seen in rides, whether it is woodcarving or hand painting details on a carousel horse or car. I will be honest and tell you that the games (featuring wheels and ball throwing) are not any easier than the games at ocean boardwalks and fairs these days though, LOL! I did not see a single sole be able to throw a small ball (that resembled a plum) into a life size clown or old-school celebrity’s wooden mouth that opens and closes like a ventriloquist’s dummy! There are scattered pieces of different carousels and other incomplete rides used for decorations along the park in Governors Island that invite closer inspection since the details on them are nothing short of spectacular.

Fete Paradiso is open every Saturday and Sunday through September 29th and hours are 10:30 to 6:30 daily. Free ferries to Governors Island leave every half hour from Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 at the foot of Atlantic Avenue and from the Battery Maritime Building. For more information, go to www.feteparadiso.com

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