Let’s get one thing straight: a “league” is a not a measure of depth. A league is equal to three miles. As Jules Verne would have it, twenty thousand leagues was a measure of horizontal distance under the sea, a journey that would’ve gone on longer had Kirk Douglas not interfered.
Go ahead: ask me anything about Jules Verne. I had already read most of his novels before we traveled to Amiens, France—Verne’s home town. (Also the home of the écureuils, Amiens’ professional sports team. Go Squirrels!) You can imagine my enthusiasm when Louise suggested we travel there to see his home.
Alas, even Disneyland has more Verney stuff than Jules Verne’s house. Instead of submarines and flying machines I saw a bourgeois home, richly appointed and huge: three stories, a winter garden under glass, an attic, and a spiral staircase enclosed by a tower. The man had money, most of which was made writing magazine articles. The novels came later, and only in America are they considered children’s books or sci-fi.
And that’s my point: hoping to find the house of a recluse, bearded and bizarre, I found an upper-middle class home in the ‘burbs, with adjoining neighbors and a parking problem. Where was the Proustian cork-lined bedroom? Or Salinger’s shotgun? And speaking of shotguns, where was evidence of Hunter S. Thompson’s obsession with clay pigeons and Wild Turkey? Disney had his mouse, Trump has his tweets—but Verne? Not even a pet squid.
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As for a Verne’s lifestyle? Well, it’s evident that he hoarded knowledge like … um … a squirrel, but while he researched everything from life on the moon to the Mexican navy, he was mostly a stockbroker, lawyer, city councilman, and family man with a wife and kid. The only evidence of lunacy (aside from the moon thing) were the comic operas he wrote for the fun of it.
My enthusiasm expended, we departed Verne’s house only to run smack dab into the Squirrels themselves. The Squirrels are Amiens’ roller hockey team, and the day we were there the city held a day of celebration to honor them. They appeared in uniform—including skates—and brought resounding cheers as they raced around the city like Formula One in Monaco and almost as fast. There wasn’t a kid in the crowd who wasn’t wearing “rollers,” as they’re called, no matter the language.
The irony of the day: the computer that was to take our money and record our visit to Jules Verne’s house? The only evidence of technology in the home of the man who foresaw travel to the moon and an underwater vessel that didn’t need to come up for air? The computer in Jules Verne’s house? Broken. Inoperative. Kaput. They had to admit us for free.