Come Up With Another Way To “Make A Difference”
What is it with Ferris wheels all of a sudden? I mean, really. As carnival rides, I like them as well as the next person. But to stick them up in the middle of otherwise beautiful, scenic, iconic, and often historic areas? Not so much.
Examples of “pleasure wheels,” devices on which passengers rode in chairs suspended from big wooden rings turned by big burly men, go back as far as the 17th century. The modern wheel with which we are familiar was constructed by a bridge builder named George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. It is often referred to as the “Chicago Wheel” because Ferris erected it for the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition held in that city. Since then, the Ferris Wheel has been a staple at fairs and festivals all over the world. And that's fine. I've got no problem with that. The thing was built as an attraction for a fair, and that's where it should stay. They're great fun to ride, okay, but they are ugly as sin. Great spindly monstrosities dominating whatever landscape surrounds them. And people have suddenly started planting them in the middle of the aforesaid beautiful, scenic, iconic, and often historic areas. All for the sake of attracting tourists.
Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park may recall that many years ago, when the approach to the park via SR 66 and US 441 became so cluttered with hundreds of screamingly garish billboards that marred and obstructed the breathtaking views the tourists actually came to see, city administrators in Sevierville, Tennessee erected a small sign near the city limits apologizing for the unappealing billboard clutter.
So perhaps somebody should apologize for “The London Eye,” that horrid blemish on the historic face of Britain's capital. Looming over the city from its prominent position on the South Bank of the Thames, the “Eye”-sore now dominates London's iconic national timepiece, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. Economically, it's a wonderful attraction, catering to millions of tourists who ride up, go around, and come back down. Whoopee! Aesthetically, it's like a party hat on the Mona Lisa.
Many Parisians are none too fond of what's been done to the ancient and beloved Louvre. I.M. Pei's glass behemoth has been called “an annex to Disneyland,” a “gigantic gadget,” and a “despotic act.” And those are the milder critiques. Imagine what will happen when somebody decides to stick a Ferris Wheel behind the Eiffel Tower. Oooops! That's right. Somebody did. The “Big Wheel” ruins the scenery on the Champs-Elysees near la place de la Concorde, but so far only seasonally. The giant mobile rig has been a fixture at Christmas since 2000. But the city is getting sick of it, accusing its owner, fairground king Marcel Campion, of illegally occupying a site of historic interest and ordering him to take it down. Defending his gaudy blight, Campion says the Big Wheel “contributes to the city's fame.” Yeah, kind of like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre contributed to Chicago.
And now Pisa wants one. And they want to stick it right in the center of the city, a five minute walk from the world-famous Leaning Tower that has defined the image of Pisa since the 12th century. The city's idiota cultural commissioner, Andrea Ferrante, has actually signed off on this lunacy, saying he hopes this will show people “there's more than just the tower – the whole city is beautiful.” I agree. It's beautiful just the way it is. The last thing it needs is an ugly carnival ride marring that beauty. I have friends who toured Pisa recently. They sent me a great picture of themselves standing in front of the iconic tower. And now some deficiente wants to put a Ferris Wheel in that picture? No-o-o-o! Say it ain't SO!
The proposed wheel will be nearly as tall as the campanile itself. Boosters enthuse that visitors will be able to “see the Tower from a unique angle.” They'll also be able to catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean coast as they loop around. Doesn’t that sound exciting? The current plan is to build the “attraction” in what is now a parking lot and leave it up for a three-month “trial” to “assess its popularity.” If enough stupid tourists pour enough euros into it, they'll make the thing permanent, no matter how many locals slit their wrists. Critics, including the cultural advocacy group, Italia Nostra, fear an ugly modern wheel wouldn't complement the city's medieval architecture. No! Ya think? But a so-called “heritage council” member named Salvatore Sanzo persists, “We can't keep getting by with the Leaning Tower alone. A giant wheel could make the difference.” The sheer stupidity of that statement leaves me speechless. By that logic, Florence will want a wheel, too. It can stand right behind the statue of David. Maybe Rome can erect a wheel inside the Colosseum. And Venice can get two: one on either end of the Grand Canal.
And why should the wheel mania stop there? Don't you think a Ferris Wheel would look great atop the Acropolis? Surely a wheel would bring more visitors to the Taj Mahal. Picture a Ferris Wheel spinning among the Egyptian pyramids or standing alongside the statue of Christ the Redeemer above Rio de Janeiro. There's lots of room on the National Mall in Washington, DC. A big wheel would look great between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, don't you think? Or maybe mount one sideways on top of the Washington Monument! Wouldn't that be an “attraction?”
And why limit ourselves to Ferris Wheels? Roller coasters are great fun, too. We could knock down that creaky old Golden Gate Bridge and a build an exciting new roller coaster across San Francisco Bay!
I know times are tough. And I know Italy's national and local governments spend billions every year preserving the country's rich heritage. But there's got to be a better way. I'd hate to think we've become so creatively bankrupt that erecting eyesores willy-nilly has become our only solution. Let's leave the carnival rides at the carnival where they belong and come up with another way to “make a difference.”