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Afternoon Delight: The Island of the Machines

by Jerome Weeks 30 Aug 2012 12:59 PM

You want to showcase your town as a major hub for innovation? Get a couple of designer-artists and have them build giant animatronic wonders. It’s what the French did, inspired by Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci – and Walt Disney.


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to knuckle down to work. Check back weekdays at 1 p.m. for another one.

The city of Nantes is near the Atlantic coast on the Loire River, the sixth largest city in France, and is considered a major hub for innovation. To showcase this, the city has transformed its former shipyards, called the Isle of Nantes (Ile de Nantes), into an incredible tourist attraction, a giant park of artistic-mechanical wonders. I thought of it because of Stage West’s current production of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days — which, at one point, has the five-actor cast assemble an elephant out of available stage props.

In fact, the Isle of Nantes’ animatronic goliaths were developed by designer-artists François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice — partly in the spirit of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci. These two videos provide brief, different visits to the park. The one above doesn’t really highlight footage of the remarkable, 40-foot-tall, 45-ton, steel elephant that can take 50 people for a ride around the Isle, so I added the video below.

And you don’t need to know a word of French to be amazed.