July 30, 2013

Happiness: a Chair and a Book in Les Jardins du Luxembourg

When I knew I was returning to Paris, my first thoughts were not of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, or the Arc de Triomphe. I really wanted to relax in the Luxembourg Gardens and read a book. The first few days of our stay were too hot to sit in the park, but by midweek we had ideal weather. Off we went to “les Jardins du Luxembourg.”

History of the Gardens
Marie de Médicis, the wife of Henry IV, ordered the Palais du Luxembourg built on this site in 1612 shortly after she was widowed. Born in Florence, she wanted a palace and gardens that reminded her of the Pitti Palace in Florence . . . which is why these gardens seem Italianate.

The gardens are surrounded by the Left Bank neighborhoods where so many American writers and artists took up residence in the 1920s. Hemingway once told a friend that the Jardins du Luxembourg “kept us from starvation.” He related how in his poverty-stricken days in Paris he would wheel a baby carriage through the park. When the gendarmes were otherwise occupied and he spied a particularly plump pigeon, he’d scatter corn nearby, grab the bird, wring its neck, and pop it under the blanket in the baby carriage. “We got a little tired of pigeons that year,” he added, “but they filled many a void.”

When John Baxter was writing his book about Paris, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, he asked his friend, the writer Michael Moorcock, to name his favorite walk. Moorcock sent Baxter a photo of himself seated in his wheelchair in the middle of Luxembourg Gardens.

Our Visit to the Gardens
As soon as we entered the gardens near the palace, I followed Moorcock’s lead and claimed a chair in the shade overlooking the gardens. I encouraged my fellow travelers to explore the gardens on their own while I sat and read more of Baxter’s book . . . and watched the passing parade of parents with children, tourists, and students from the nearby Sorbonne.

When my companions returned an hour later, I suggested lunch at La Méditerranée on the nearby place Odéon, because of this passage from Baxter’s book:
In 1960, Jean Cocteau had lunched here with friends and was preparing to depart. I could imagine the camel hair coat drapped over his shoulders, the soft felt hat being molded between those long white fingers, ready to be placed on that leontine head; the only sight more impressive than Cocteau entering a restaurant was that of him leaving. Before bowing him out, the management asked him to sign the livre d’or, or guest book. Ever flamboyant, Cocteau never just signed anything. Instead, he decorated an entire page with a drawing so striking that the restaurant redesigned its linens, crockery, and marquee to incorporate it.
Here’s one of the plates we used during our lunch at La Méditerranée:

After lunch, my companions went off to see more of Paris, and I returned to the Luxembourg Gardens, plunking myself down in another of the many spots filled with book readers.

Unfortunately, I annoyed a camera-shy young lady:

So I returned to reading Baxter’s The Most Beautiful Walk in the World in one of the most beautiful gardens in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Leaving the gardens, I found its iron fence displaying massive blowups of this year’s Tour de France and earlier races.

My kind of day!

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