‘It was a fine morning. The horse-chestnuts trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom. There was the pleasant early morning feeling of a hot day. I read the papers with the coffee and then smoked a cigarette. The flower-women were arranging their daily stock. Students went by going up to the law school, or down to the Sorbonne.’ Ernest Hemingway
Must have begun with the purchase of ‘A movable feast’ at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, but since that moment, Paris has become synonymous with Hemingway, particularly on the left bank in the 5th and 6th. This is the place of writers for as long as writers met and wrote in Paris.
Small cafés smell of cigarettes and controversial ideas. A certain intimacy of bodies too close, prattling in the rolling sounds of their local language. The coffee is strong, papers crunch and smoke always hovering above. And I pass these on my way to the gardens, or the ‘luco’ as the locals call it. I cannot visit Paris and not spend time there, gorgeous, quirky, traditional and possibly the sexiest park in the world.
The oversized teddy bear is the lasting relic of a pandemic that locked the world in for over a year. Now children want to take it home, others simply pass it to the waiter and sit down. The world is opening again.
Entering the park, the men are planting, preparing for the winter, and possibly, next spring. I like to see workers in the parks, in this garden, it makes it real, all the planting, the mowing of grass and raking of pathways. One sees the work behind the perfect finish and often we forget the long term planting for the ideal display of colour, of compatible plants, of seasons.
It’s the crunching of fine gravel underfoot. Puffs of stone and sand rising, covering my shoes. The last smell of summer lingers through the early, decaying leaves of the trees. Lined trees, limed trees, clipped and straight, like soldiers guarding the Palace. The Luxembourg Palace, once the Florentine inspired home of Maria Medici, wife of Henry IV, mother of King Louis XIII, was first commissioned by her in 1612. She was tired of the Louvre and wanted a palace built in the fashion of the Pitti Palace in Florence, her childhood home. It took five years to complete. The initial garden was smaller, until extra land was bought to extend the gardens, designed by Jaques Boyceau de la Barauderie. Grand designs left to neglect by subsequent royalty and during the French Revolution the palace was used as a prison. The Germans turned the palace into a barracks during WWII. Fortunately now, all restored.
The grandeur is intoxicating. Wide paths, the long basin to stroll around, children floating boats on the water. Statues are dotted throughout the walkways, legendary characters mute and silent witnesses to passing love, war and betrayal, history and decades of weather. A few notable figures are Maria Medici and other French queens, Beethoven, Delacroix, Chopin and a smaller copy of the statue of Liberty. Like the language, I may not know them all, but this does not detract from gazing upon each one and wondering the life they must have led. They will be there when I return, I hope.
The Luxembourg gardens are not just for a casual flâneur or impromptu picnic but a modern. living space. Tennis courts, chess games, very serious chess games if you judge by the concentration of players and spectators, are played here. Children from the local school run laps around the symmetrical green space to the whistle of their teacher. They run past us a few times as we feast, sitting on the grass in dappled sunlight. They leave clouds of dust in their wake. Some of the trees are covered with a fine grey silt, washed away in the next rain storm. Though the gardens are large, each space feels quiet and secluded, reached via a winding path, through an alley of trees.
Before leaving, my favourite place in the gardens. The Medici fountain, built in 1620. It has changed over the many years, added too, moved about, but the gorgeousness and classical elegance is still there. A grotto, a whimsical folly, watching the Giant Polyphemus spying on Acis and Galatea. Many come just to sit by the water’s edge, watch the reflections in the liquid or meet up with friends. A little taste of heaven in the heart of Paris.
This is one of my places of love, of nostalgia, a little melancholy, but also a sanctuary, a quiet space, a thing of beauty in a mixed up world. For a garden lover, there are many splendid parks and gardens in Paris, and this one is unforgettable. And yes, I see Hemingway here too …