Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Parks and Gardens (by Lisa)

Look down on Paris from any tall monument and you will see that it is a very big, pretty flat, very white city. Within this are carefully planted and maintained boulevard trees, the trunks are surrounded by grates filled with cigarettes butts or hardened cement/sand where dogs like to pee and poop. So Parisians are in need of their parks. Before living here for a month I assumed dogs needed their parks too, more on that later.

We live near Park Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement. It is nicely casual--no tightly clipped boxwood hedges. It has winding paths where people run, a small lake for ducks, a playground, a restaurant and the ubiquitous Guignol (puppet) theatre. The grass is plentiful and lush. And interdit for big dogs. There is no interdit sign and no tiny roped barricade for the grass, but there are park guardiens who have kicked us off the grass two times because of our “big dog”. Little dogs are ok, not sure why, something about poop. But little dogs seem content to trot and poop on the pavement. There are not many big dogs here, but I have seen some and have to wonder, “where do they run?”

The Luxembourg Gardens are gorgeous--there is a contrast of neat and ordered paths, tightly edged lawns, fountains and plantings with more densely tree-shaded area where you can find the pony rides, a small performing stage and the playground. Here one can actually loll about on certain stretches of lawn. Cute little metal green lawn chairs are provided all over this park. The Palais de Luxembourg edges this garden and this beautiful building houses the Senate. A treat for me this time was the tour of the Ladies--12 statues of women who had made some sort of significant contribution to France. The women and the era in which they lived were all described in my June issue of Paris Notes and I used it as a guide as we made the circuit. The playground is big, well appointed with regard to equipment variety and safety. It is enclosed and costs to go in.

The Tuileries Garden, part of the massive Louvre complex, are also beautiful with neat paths that encourage the strolling of royalty. The non-interdit grassy areas are studded with groomed conifers, giving some semblance of seclusion for your picnic. However there is a price for this tiny glimpse of privacy--it smells like pee, human pee. But of course the parks have their own daily sanitation rituals, just as the streets do. The sprinklers go off without notice. Since it is summer there is a carnival set up along one edge of this garden. I managed to suppress a panic attack on the ferris wheel but no such luck suppressing motion sick on the spinning swings.

The gardens of Versaille are a living masterpiece of landscape architect André Le Nôtre. The formal layout of hedges and plantings invite strolling and appreciating the perspective. There are also untamed forests set aside for the Louis’s hunting parties. The gardens were the highlight of our trip to Versaille--the strips of color and artfully placed statues and fountains pulled at us to go outside as we were shuffling along with the crowd in gilded rooms. The grass is flawlessly unused. The plantings were very fragrant in the cool summer evening.

The Nocturne show was very dramatic. This garden highlights a concept we recently read from Adam Gopnik’s “Paris to the Moon.” He explains the difference between ‘culture’ and ‘civilization.’ Culture is what is imposed on us, what we are told is beautiful or worthwhile. Civilization is what the people determine is worth our attention. He gives the example of the odd placement of questionably pleasing art work in the expansive main areas of Musée d’Orsay, while the universally appealing impressionist works are crammed into some rooms on the upper floor, with civilization crammed there to see them. The gardens of Versailles reflect this contrast--they are flawlessly designed, attentively maintained and this results in a stunning visual, olfactory, and auditory display. But their design and upkeep completely ignore the reality of the civilization--we need to pee and we like to relax. A full bladder is a detail that lessens our enjoyment of the garden. Huge expanses of lawn that must feel great to bare feet but are interdit is just a brutal tease. So the powers that be have determined the culture of the garden--beauty is preserved by no toilettes and nothing on the grass. The woman peeing behind the statue and the man peeing into the hedge have determined the civilization.

Park de la Villette is on the northeast edge of the city and is a complex of activities and museums. The Cité des Sciences et de l’industrie is quite big and very good. We especially enjoyed the Math and Optics areas. Reading scientific principals and explanations in French kept me at a slower pace than Rick and Irie. This park is not very intimate, it is more like a collection of many things to do in many different buildings or areas. A very cool discovery was the series of canals and locks that connect this far-flung part of the city with the Seine. We took a bateau ride from the Park down through the canal, including the locks, hooked up with the Seine and docked in the heart of town at the Musée d’Orsay. The one way trip took 2.5 hrs and some of it went under the city--Les Miserables is now on my “to-read” list. On this bateau we had a real live host who provided interesting bilingual commentary. And now that we are in the swing of touring this city with an 8 year old we were well prepared with a picnic and a bottle of Champagne.

Parc Floral is on the eastern edge of the city and is part of the Bois de Vincennes, which gets into the Paris suburb of Vincennes. We entered this park through the Château de Vincennes which had a cool and very deep moat (empty!). This château could use some attention, but with so many châteaux there must be some rivalry for the funding. The Parc Floral drew us because of its free classical music concerts (though you pay to go into the park). We went this past Saturday and Sunday because it was so relaxing. The flower gardens are more English in style--drifts and drifts of color. Most flower pictures were taken by Irie who spent most of the concert running around barefoot.
The lawn areas are for lounging (beware of goose poop) and there are dedicated garden areas for plants to be viewed close up and perhaps learned about (butterfly garden, cacti, irises, etc). The first day we rented a Parisienne which caused the song “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” to stick in my head. The second day we played mini-golf amongst tiny versions of the Parisian monuments. There are no putting greens, it is cement. This park became my favorite, probably because all senses received hours of respite--classical music instead of sirens, fresh air instead of exhaust, rainbow swaths of color instead of the ubiquitous white stone, bare feet on grass instead of in sweaty shoes clicking on pavement. I guess taste was the only thing we didn’t need to give a rest--we are pros at finding delights of the palate.

Rick: Here's the photo gallery of Parc Floral. Irie shot almost all the flower photos, running around taking pictures while we relaxed and listened to the music. She seems to have a very good eye and took such beautiful shots that I would love to choose a dozen or so, blow them up, and hang them in the house when we get home.


Mom & Dad Browne said...

Lisa; Thanks for the info on the parc's. I beleive we will be near both Luxumbourg and des Plantes.
We will have to visit at least one of them
Keep up the excellent, informative blogs.
Mom & Dad Browne

Missy said...

Hello! I am trying to get caught up on your blogs. Just had to comment on this one! Miss Irie is quite a photographer already! Great job on the flowers! Maybe you will continue your worldly adventures as a professional photographer some day! Love to all of you! -Missy : )