Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Luxembourg Gardens

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.''

(Charles Baudelaire)


Sarah Laurence said...

I love the Luxembourg Gardens, and your photos capture what I enjoy the most – the people watching. The joyous boy playing football was my favorite. The opening shot is so obviously French –perfect!

Queen Mary’s roses are gorgeous, but I didn’t enjoy living in London with kids. How about Oxford as a compromise? Wolvercote was a delight.

David Cranmer said...

Luxembourg Gardens is indeed beautiful and your pics are marvelous.

But I am with your family. Country is best!

Anonymous said...

Oh, oh, oh!
But I long to own plants and nurture them and fiddle with them and have them be my creation......
Your garden is a delight and I would be happy to work in it.
I think I will need a garden pretty soon.
Watering the concrete in the dog park is simply not doing the trick....
Weather vile here as in England but even colder.JA garden eminently satisfactory.
Have you been to the Botanical Gardens in Oxford? Near Magdalen, where the Deer Park is a nice rural walk.

Lisa said...

Be still my heart.

I want to live where I can walk to places like this. The country life has served us well, but soon...

willow said...

The thing I would miss the most, if I had to leave WM would be my secluded patio with all my plants. The tweaking is the part I enjoy the most.

The carousel is so elegant and romantic. Sigh. We have nothing like that in these parts, as you well know!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I good friend just recently gave me Paris to the Moon. I now want to read it more than ever.

I don't know if I could live smack dab in the center of a large city. But if I could, London would be the one I would choose. I adore that city.

slommler said...

I have never been to France or England. So the glimpses you provide are welcoming indeed! And your photos are wonderful.
I live in the country and still feel like a city girl too. I love the conveniences the city can offer. I miss that! Here all the critters eat my gardens. Sigh!

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

Dear Bee,
I missed your post of May 3, somehow, and hadn't known that you were in Paris. If only Paris were that close. (I'd gladly turn a few neighboring states into France.) I think 'Paris to the Moon' is one of the best books I've ever read on Paris. I read it just before my first trip there and I found it to be invaluable. I tell everyone I know who is going to France that they MUST read that book. Adam Gopnik is one of my favorite writers.
I have a small park near me with hedges full of roses, fountains, and sculpture and sometimes it is completely empty. I feel just like Queen Mary. Nice to have my own gardener.

Bee said...

Sarah - I love the way that people in a park are all just going about their own business. I seemed to be the only person watching the others! I've never managed to catch Queen Mary's roses in full bloom, but I'm resolved to this year.

David - Well, when the sun is shining . . .

Ewix - I wish that you were here to work in the garden this week. I've spent hours in it, and so has my friend Tammy. There is a TON of stuff to be done. Off to Jane Austen's this morning . . . fond memories of last week. And yes, I have been to the Botanical Gardens in Oxford.

Lisa - Me, too. I love that walking life where you can go out on the street and have a big exciting world at your feet.

Willow - We lack that kind of patio. I can imagine its charms. As for the carousel, it would be right up your alley. Adam Gopnik says that it has been there nearly a century.

Pamela - Let's live in Bloomsbury, shall we? We can have lovely flower boxes. You MUST read Paris to the Moon. You will love it. He is an intelligent romantic.

Slommler - Yes, we have critter problems, too. It is very disheartening.

A Thousand Clapping Hands - You've hit on the crux of the matter: A public park is there to enjoy. When I sit in my own garden, (rarely), I am always aware of what needs to be done to it. I'm so glad that you know about Paris to the Moon! Isn't it wonderful? I've been rereading it and I like it just as much as I did two years ago. The writing is just superb.

Polly said...

Luxembourg and Palais Royal Gardens are the two places I never miss when in Paris. I love them. But at the same time I'm pretty convinced that I could do without the buzz of the city even if it meant not visiting any gardens on regular basis. I think I'm ready to get my hands dirty in my own garden.

steven said...

bee this is such a luxurious post filled as it is with a veritable catalogue of golden moments!! so beautiful. steven

Merisi said...

"Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté."

Quoting both from Adam Gopnik's "Paris to the Moon" and Charles Baudelaire's "Inviation au Voyage" - you really made me want to go and pull the books from the shelf and read, read, read! Read for please, that is (I am sitting here studying, every now and then my eyes wander to the tree tops outside, observing the raindrops falling teasingly on the leaves, then quickly sliding off).

I spent my childhood in the countryside, a small village that to this day seems like paradise to me, but have lived since then only in big cities. My little country girl heart has fallen head over heels for city life, but I savour each moment I can spend in a park or under trees, they restore my soul, wipe the too full slate clean and reinvigorate me.

Nimble said...

Luxe, calme et volupté. One of my favorite quotes. Did you see the itty bitty little Statue of Liberty? It's on a plinth somewhat out of the way on one side of the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I'm happy to hear that you had a bit of a break in the weather to stroll in the park. I loved Gopnik's book too. His description of trying to buy xmas tree lights in one of the big Parisian dept stores was a hoot.

I admire older ladies who live in cities, go to lectures and art openings and walk their tiny dogs on the sidewalks. Maybe I'll grow up to be one! (A chic city lady, that is, not a tiny dog.)

Dick said...

If it has to be city over rural, make it Paris, not tatty old London, Bee!

'Do you think these French gentleman rendezvous daily for boules?' Nerd response: Yes, without a doubt. But they're playing petanque!

Bee said...

Polly - this is probably a "grass is greener" question of the first order! Still, (and leaving aside all questions of weeding and lawn-mowing and expense), I DO love the people watching opportunities available in parks.

Steven - Sitting in the sun eating a good French baguette is definitely luxurious. And then we went for macaroons! I didn't mention it, but on the walk home there was a cracking great thunderstorm.

Merisi - Baudelaire's words sound so much better in the French, really . . . and you can get a sense of the "luxe, calme and volupte" without even knowing that language. Parks are so critical to city living; they do restore the soul.

Nimble - Yes, Gopnik has a bit where he describes that sort of elderly lady - with her good handbag and her tiny dog. I think that cities are good for retirement. They keep you in the swim of things AND you can take advantage of all of that Culture (so much of it free) on offer all the time. I'm so glad that you've read this book . . . and I can also add that it was a huge pleasure to re-read. In fact, for well-written, thoughtful books like this one I almost think there is more pleasure in the re-reading.

Bee said...

Dick - please explain the difference!

Kelly H-Y said...

Wonderful pictures of people enjoying everyday life! I love that there is a coat rack in the middle of the park! What a riot. Fabulous post, as usual.

Teresa O said...

I'm a country girl who longs for the city. Why can't I have a tiny garden and still be within walking distance of grand gardens, outdoor cafes and bookstores?

I'm lovin' my journey with you to Paris and England. Places I hope to go someday.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

I love city parks! We were in Central Park a couple of weeks ago and there is something special about a park set within a city.

Great shots! I love all the spring joy that you see in these places at this time of year.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

It was a pleasure to read your post. I believe I am both kinds of traveler. I also believe I am town and country. I'm just not very good with black and white, I usually see grey.

Christina said...

all these photos are so wonderful.
me too~ i am just a country girl, by heart.

Dave King said...

Hi Bee, good to make contact again. I agree with your comments on ownership and parks in general. Your thoughts very much reflect mine. There are two kinds of park, the ornamental and the more natural variety. I must confess I prefer the latter, which doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the former. A really fine post.

Friko said...

I don't know anything about you and have never read your blog before today. And golly, you have taken the words right out of my mouth.

I spent most of my life living and working in London, writing and translating, going to theatres weekly, the shops, the parks, concerts, and, and, and...

Now I live deep in the countryside in the UK, have a lovely garden, tend my roses, walk my dog and admire the scenery, and pine, pine, pine, for London and the big city fleshpots.

Sorry about the whine, but I so rarely meet anyone who allows that the big city might have something to recommend it.

Beth said...

I love how you see the world – and capture your vision not only with beautiful pictures but with your talented way with words.

JaneyV said...

Do you know I have never been to Paris? I've been to France a three or four times - but never made it to Paris. I think if I ever go it'd have to be with a girlfriend. My husband proposed to his first wife there so it doesn't hold the same kind of romantic appeal as it might for others - but culturally - I would Love it!

Did you see Lady Liberty's sister when you were in the Luxembourg Gardens?

I love the pictures Bee - you captured a real sense of the French character in them.

I too love parks. I was born in a city and we didn't have a garden when I was little so we played in the park or out on the street. It was a good life. I love living in the country but sometimes it feels too remote for me and I long for the "village within the city" life. I don't think I would miss having a garden as long as there were place I could walk in - preferably with trees.

tasteofbeirut said...

Luxe, calme et volupté! I love Baudelaire! He was one eccentric genius!
I have been to these gardens many times but never took photos; thanks for the wonderful moments you captured allowing me to relive these moments.

Meri said...

How lovely to have a walk through the park with you.

Nancy said...

Thank you for taking us along to the Luxembourg Gardens. I love parks and can easily enjoy other people's gardening skills. Especially since mine are less than stellar. As for city and country living - I am torn. I love both.

Reya Mellicker said...

Gopnik is a fabulous writer. Do you read The New Yorker? He's got a longish article in this week's mag about the historical Jesus and the mythical Jesus. Incredible.

LOVE the pics of the people in chairs. And yes I too absolutely love enjoying other people's gardens. You see all the pics I take? I didn't grow all those gorgeous roses, oh no.

I am a city person and have lived in cities all my life with the exception of two years at Lake Tahoe. Oddly, I adjusted to country life quite readily, but as soon as possible, I high-tailed it out of there, went downhill and moved to San FRancisco. Whew!!

linda said...

how i wish i could travel to the places you write of....perhaps one day and i agree, one does not have to grow roses to enjoy roses....especially where you live !

Kristen In London said...

Wonderful! I am a big fan of Adam Gopnik, and wonder if you ever read "Through the Children's Gate", all about his children's experiences in New York City? I am such a New York-o-phile that it makes me cry every time.

And don't you think part of what makes those French boys so adorable with their ball-kicking is the striped t-shirt?! It's central casting.

I'm glad you had a lovely time, and thank you for sharing your photos. I would love to learn how to intersperse my photos on my blog: perhaps when I migrate to my new server?

Relyn said...

I don't even know what to say to respond to this post. It's late and I am tired. But, still. I had to tell you that I love it. That I connected to it. That it's good to visit here with you again.

dogimo said...

That top photo just puts me there. Beautiful. Certain forms can create an oasis of solitude.