Is it unforgivable to suggest Paris is little more than an assemblage of gardens? A unique, creatively wrought and highly imaginative sprawling collection to be sure and, one which includes as representative examples, the over-sized, the small, the ornate corporate and pedestrian, the well-trodden but also –and here’s where you need hyper-vigilance, the private, hidden, and the seemingly open yet well camouflaged ones secreted away in plain urban sight.
The City of Light is actually a cornucopia of pleasing gardens, be they some well-arranged diminutive patch of turf with a statute or two and an old rusty kettle cum bird bath or the tree-canopied Elysian shaded oases which seem to adorn every second street or avenue. There are the pocket-sized parks throughout the Capital, many gated, which close at night and are essentially open to all (assuming you have that NASA GPS stuff….).
In any given Arrondissement you can find parks the size of a New York minute. In the 14th there’s one so narrow your outstretched arms can almost touch both ends of it. I kid, not. Living in Paris is tantamount to rejoicing in knowing that on any given day you can win the Garden Lottery: in the midst of flying from Appointment A to B, reality grabs you and reminds you of why you chose to live here.
Sauntering home along the serpeitining (my word) rue St. Jacques from a meeting (a guaranteed way to discover unknown Paris!) in the 5th I came across the impressive and stately Paris American Academy with its ‘you’d better be hip’ dress code implied in the architecture… (the Academy abuts Val-de-Grâce church, and is a clear Q.E.D. of Poratta’s Paris Law #24: ‘Deliberately Get Lost’!).
The Academy’s history aside what you must do is walk through the main entrance, through a short tunnel to emerge in a realm devoid of time frames. Keep those eyes peeled as just off to your left suddenly appears a small slit of magic: an attractive pavée /pebble garden with hidden touches scattered slyly about, plus a few small (soggy on my visit) tables and chairs.
(Look closely for the carved wooden duck). Here is a hidden garden, an enchanted refuse, used by students and staff.
A quiet burbling fountain of sorts…leaves suspended in the chilly waters…everything says “slow down, look, see..”
I dry a chair, sit and peer skyward, and am awed by the massive and majestic tower of Val de Grace looming above all and sundry like the imposing mid-section of a battleship proceeding into Harm’s Way!
I look down on the tables, and notice the rain-filled ashtrays sublimely reflecting the commanding Val-de-Grâce tower next door. “Were it not raining…” I think.
Often in life and especially in Paris, you must act without knowing the ‘why’ beforehand, secure in the knowledge that the value and soundness of your actions will only surface later. Standing in that garden, utterly absorbed by it, was the most perfect thing I could have done that day. That week.
These images stay with me for some time. is there a message here for me? Something I am destined to see, …to do?
Outside the garden in the Cour Privee, along a lengthy blistered and cracked wall, its ancient yellow bricks exposed like a bombed-out house, are upbeat examples of what we assume to be student artwork…colorful and talented splashes of life to counter the drab surroundings.
A prof? A student and his pet?
“I’ll finish the rest later, right now I’m late for my charcoal sketching class…”
The mute pavée seem antediluvian and are unerringly uneven. (Women coming and going in heels do so with the aplomb and focus of a Wallenda on the high-wire…).
well…not exactly….even the cats were parking their bikes nearby…
.the mood is completed by the finely wrought wavy iron fence designs.
In a church window visible just above the long wall, something seemingly odd catches my eye: two large Jewish stars. Another day, and another tale, that. Stay tuned.
Note: Thanks for visiting my site. I love Paris and enjoy sharing my stories with anyone. Please spread the word! I’m thrilled to answer any Paris questions you may have. This website is for people who have visited Paris, and want to keep that connection alive. It is also for those who have never visited but want to! And, for those Parisians (and aren’t we all Parisians to some extent) cast about the planet who need the occasional dose of home. Cheers! DP