Although I grew up in a smallish town, and now live in the countryside, I like to think of myself as a "city" person -- by inclination, if not location. Whenever I entertain fantasies of moving to London, my husband and children respond with varying degrees of horror: House prices! Noise! Filth! Crime! Traffic!
But wouldn't you miss the countryside and your garden, my friends say, with all of the scepticism of country converts. Well, yes; but mostly no. This morning, as I weeded and fed my many rose bushes -- a thankless and thorny task -- I thought longingly of Queen Mary's Rose Gardens in Regent's Park. I was there just a week ago, admiring the vigour and health of hundreds and hundreds of shrub roses. Unlike my straggling, deer-chewed specimens, these bushes are beautiful -- and they aren't even blooming yet.
Frankly, I don't need ownership of rose bushes to delight in them. In fact, it may be the other way around. I am content to wander through a public garden and enjoy the fruits of someone else's labour -- not to mention taking in the sights of people out and about. A park is a great place to be alone, or to walk with friends. It allows for all of the pleasures of anonymity, and yet there is something companionable about it, too.
On the first fine day of spring, when the pale city-dwellers throng the park, the feeling of solidarity is almost palpable. A park exists for no other reason than the human need for leisure -- and the emotional/physical benefits of fresh air.
These boys had flung down their backpacks in order to play football at the gates of Luxembourg Gardens. I don't know if it was a lunch-time break, or if they were playing hooky just because the sun was shining. Remember when running and kicking a ball was pure pleasure?
In the wilder, "English garden" section of the park, the older generation take the sun with their daily dose of news. The bright yellow forsythia was in bloom, and drifts of narcissus were just emerging.
When I was in Paris at the end of March, the forecast was for rain: one solid string of dark clouds. Most fortuitously, on the day we planned to visit the Luxembourg Gardens, there was an unexpected break in the gloomy forecast.
Just out of sight of these three are Jenni and I, sharing a jambon baguette and a quiche lorraine. Lunch from the boulangerie is a veritable bargain . . . and you can splurge your savings on some ice cream, later.
Do you think these French gentleman rendezvous daily for boules?
It was warmer on that late March day than it is now, in early May. If you double-click on the picture, you can see a coat-rack -- where some of the men have hung up their jackets.
Although my love for city parks is genuine, I will confess that I wanted to visit Luxembourg Gardens because of a book. Several years ago, I read Adam Gopnik's brilliant tribute to Parisian expat life: Paris to the Moon.
Gopnik writes this: There are two kinds of travelers. There is the kind who goes to see what there is to see and see it, and the kind who has an image in his head and goes out to accomplish it.
I'm both kinds of traveler, but I went to the Luxembourg Gardens in a sort of emotional homage to Adam Gopnik and his young son . . . who spent many hours riding the carousel in the park. Adam and Luke Auden's visits to the Luxembourg Gardens become the emotional timeline of this wide-ranging book -- which covers philosophy, history, politics, family and cultural differences. When the Gopnik family first arrives in Paris, Luke Auden is just a toddler -- only fit to ride in one of the "safe" inner chariots, with his father as protector. By the time they leave Paris, five years later, he is a confident boy -- reaching out for brass rings.
Unlike many things in life, the carousel in Luxembourg Gardens was just as Gopnik described it. I could almost see the cautious baby face of Luke Auden in this young girl. Unsure about the experience, she kept looking for her mother. Meanwhile, on a horse nearby, an older girl crowed with satisfaction each time she managed to pick off a brass ring with her little stick. Childhood pleasures and progress are so welcomely predictable.
Gopnik describes the children's playground as a "designated bacchanal," and I thought of that rather fanciful description again when I saw statues of Pan and Baudelaire amongst various queens of France and Marie de Medicis. A park is an outlet for controlled chaos.
''There, there is only order and beauty,
Luxury, quietness, and pleasure.''