Small World

Last week I awoke in the middle of the night to the soft sound of wheezing. I was jostled from a dream where I was very far away. I don’t remember the details, but it was one of those dreams where coming back to consciousness is momentarily disorienting. I sat blinking in the darkness. My hands touched my throat. Was this my breath? And then I remembered : the wheezing sound was, in fact, my dinner.

For the past 10 days I’d been eating primarily in my sleep. The evolution of my disease has been a creeping constriction of my digestive track. And considering that the average length of the small intestine is already a labyrinthine 22 feet, you can imagine the discomfort if a knot were to get tied somewhere in the middle.

And so, to give my whole eating apparatus a rest, a small pump machine doles out — with a rhythmic, soft push and wheeze — drop after drop of a white nutrient-rich liquid meal through a big-vein catheter implanted in my chest. This means of nourishment is hopefully temporary, and I am grateful that it exists. I am particularly grateful that it can be administered at home. I feel like a hybrid experiment : plugged in at night; unplugged and ready to roll with a full tank 12 hours later.

The frustration, of course, is that eating this way is a tether. I’m literally tethered to tubes and an I.V. pole. But I’m also tethered to a schedule. I have to be home when the nurse comes at seven in the evening. I am confined to home until she returns in the morning.

I am not yet debilitated by my illness. And when I can — no matter how short the stretch of good days I have before me — I like to get away. In France this is relatively easy. Drive an hour-and-a-half from Paris and your new surroundings are the iodine air and D-Day beaches of the Normandy coast or, if you go south, a chateau in the Loire. When we lived in New York City, the same time investment in driving put us in… New Jersey.

I was very pleased, therefore, to learn that there is a way to spend a leisurely day in Normandy, the chateaux of the Loire and 150 other historical French sites — and still be home in plenty of time for an evening I.V. feed.


Less than an hour from Paris in a suburb close to Versailles is France Miniature, an odd but ingenious theme park cut in the shape of France and presenting some 150 1/30 scale models of almost every notable historical site and monument in the country.

A well-marked path guides visitors through the park and starts with a little Savoyard village that, while intricate in detail, veers a little too far toward kitsch. When I visited, someone had tipped the little cow figurines and a sort of Sound of Musak played over speakers ad nauseam.

But as the visit continues, you quickly come to appreciate the effort — and wonder at the obsessive compulsiveness — necessary to build these miniature re-creations. The bay of Saint Tropez is splayed out in faithful realism. Every door, roof tile and window seems to have been studied and reproduced with exact precision. The same can be said for the Roman arena in Arles, the Sanctuary of Lourdes, the chateaux of the Loire and, of course, the main monuments of Paris. Even more remarkable is the fact that the park’s five hectares of land is mapped in the exact shape of France and includes nearly every aspect of everyday life. Over 60,000 figurines populate the scenes. There are 20,000 miniature trees; a car-packed autoroute in the direction of Marseille, and three miles of railway tracks traveled by 19 model trains.

At 1/30 scale, the size of some of the exhibits remains daunting. The Eiffel Tower, for example, is still 33 feet tall and the Chateau de Versailles and its gardens are a masterpiece as impressive — in their own way — as the original.

Most memorable, at least for me, is the model of the 81,000-seat Stade de France (France Stadium), the real one having been completed in 1998 to host the World Cup of soccer, won by France that same year.

The model stadium is not just a reproduction of its architecture. It is filled, to the rafters, with thousands of figurine fans. There is a rapt energy. All these hopeful people, focused on the playing field and the goal, expectant, waiting for something to happen.


France Miniature
Open daily from mid-April through August. Consult web site for off-season hours and ticket prices.

  1. David said:

    Hi Andrew,
    We are so happy to be a part of everything you are going much as we wish you didn’t have to be a part of it.
    We think about our faraway travel friends of long ago and still feel so connected to you.
    Thank you for putting all of this into words.
    We love you.
    Dave, Allison, Sydney and Emma

  2. Di said:

    Really think you’re putting your feelings into words can’t help but be a healing process for you. Keep writing! You’re also helping others traveling a similar journey to yours.

  3. MDTaz said:

    This is serious whimsy. How you take your nourishment, these days, is serious. Then it’s juxtaposed with this toy-like, playful, miniature world. What an interesting way to make me smile.

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