my jardins botaniquesWalking. I dearly love to walk. Of everything I have done in Paris unto this point, I can faithfully reveal to you that walking her gardens and streets has been and continues to be my blissfully coveted pleasure above all others. Now my beloved readers, a note on a subject many have brought to my attention: perhaps you are all correct, and I have a fairytale life for a year with little responsibility, few hours devoted to French grammatical review; a life comparable to that of the Bennett sisters in which my day consists of matters of colorful hair ribbons and neighborhood gossip. Jane could most certainly write a novella of my days. If that is true, then I count my blessings in praise for it. And I promise you I will not let the days slip without exploitation, for while I do often doubt myself and feel the haunting guilt of idleness and fear that there are other matters I should be doing in this world at anyone time, I realize you too would wish to be given this. I won't have this year again, perhaps, ever. This year of selfishness and solitude is just me--just me. Just me in the morning to say, what shall I do today? It is wearing to be alone, but more rewarding than any words will ever lead you to believe. We have to know how to answer what shall i do today? before we can answer what shall we do today?---and today, and tomorrow, i shall go for a walk. Then, perhaps the next, or many after the next, when these shoes are worn out, we will go on one together.
Busy shopping avenues, buzzing neighborhood boulevards, and quiet residential streets and alleys are perfect for absorbing the "French essence" both environmentally and socially, and that just by strolling. Never take the same alley home. Risk being lost. I often leave the metro two or three stops prematurely to faire the remainder of my way home on foot. Too much is overlooked when cramped underground in the dark like rats. And as there is no one awaiting my return, there is nothing pressing and pulling me home in any haste. Except, of course, that one tiny pest--Mr. Rain. Though I must say leave your wallet at home if strolling the streets, or, make for the many fanciful parks and gardens that give breath to the city.
The Luxembourg gardens, Jardins de Plants, Tuilleries--their paths have ceased to dub my soles as strangers. However--there is always the one garden that is visited above the others, and more times than not it is precisely based on location. My garden park is but 20 minutes walk, and therefore I find myself drawn there every weekend. It is my botanical escape; and as a lucky resident of the 16eme, my gardens double as classic neighborhood park, and a tropical paradise encased in glass--a welcome escape into humid warm green houses after briskly strolling through the winter-barren lanes of trees and sorrowfully naked rose beds. My local gardens are the Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil--one of the four pole botanical gardens of Paris.
My quartier of the 16eme is quite near the periphery of the city, located to the southwest at the Porte d'Auteuil bordering the Bois de Boulogne. This area is grouped as Auteuil-Neuilly-Passy, (Auteuil and Passy are in the city, while Neuilly is a Perret suburb) and is characteristically known as the calmest and most financially well-off districts of Paris. After four months I have greatly grown to appreciate its tranquility. Auteuil is home to the Parc de Princes, the football stadium where the Paris-St. Germaine team plays. Located just a stones throw from the stadium is the stadt Roland-Garros, the infamous site of the French Open. A giddying fact to ponder as one passes its fences daily or weekly on the way to the market or other affairs. My botanical gardens are located between the two--a fact that has led me to bestow them the epithet princess court. Figure it out.
The park is modest, a small field (though most of the grass you actually are not allowed to touch), towering ancients trees, circling paths, a small play area with swings and a slide for the many children who come tout les weekends with their parents to giggle and chase after papa while maman clicks the camera. A Victorian drinking fountain and white marble statues remind you where you are, and myriad signs forbidding the fondling of grass reaffirms the, ah yes notion; I am in France. But then--an escape from France? At the end of the park is a gate leading to the botanical greenhouse gardens.
The Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil were built in 1895 under the fashion of the epoch for all things foreign and exotic. The age of politically and commercially driven colonialism and economic imperialism left its mark in the imaginations of those who dreamt for the distant deserts and jungles of the world. The architecture of the greenhouses is classic of the XIX century, reminiscent of many others found throughout Western Europe. Keeping with the symmetrical theme found in all gardens in Paris, the serre has a main pavilion in the center rear (esthetically reminiscent of a train station) known as the palmarium in which is kept the variety of flora found equatorial throughout the world: central and south America, central Africa, southeast Asia and Indonesia--over 150 different species from their original habitats (as well as a menagerie of tropical birds and fish) it is apparent I spend too much time in here. I have begun naming the birds.
There are also smaller (though symmetrically pleasing) greenhouses scattered throughout the grounds including the Chinese collection, Azalea collection, and Plateau collection. The fresh air grounds are made of a classic French garden, Japonaise garden, English garden, row of "remarkable trees" (exact translation) and ancient rose garden. Though not nearly as breathtaking in the dead of cold, the structure and layout of the paths make them enjoyable anytime of the year. Though on mornings hovering at and under that little zero mark it is much the relief to tuck into the tropical hide-away behind the heavy glass door.
Once through the door you are squished into a jungle, squeezing down the narrow aisles as branches and leaves stick in your hair and grab at your back almost as if begging you to stay. It is claustrophobic and private. The birds and sloshing of the 50lbs fish are the only sounds to be heard, and the only light that which is coming through the wilting glass ceiling from the rising sun. As strange as it sounds, I am reminded of Spokane and the Maniteau park gardens, whose greenhouses (though modest compared to these) also felt like a little escape from the familiarity around. Though in Spokane there was an orange tree--at Auteuil, though there can be found apricots, figs, and berries of many walks--no oranges.
These are my gardens. Well, one, of my gardens. Paris is the walkers paradise with her many parks, but then where in the world can one not walk? If there is space and a beauty that draws the eye one can walk there. Parks are pleasant, safe, and quiet, though one should never be afraid of walking off the path. Greenhouses are a mini-world condensed in a glass bubble, one with placards proffering enhancement of one's botanic vocabulary as well as a reminder that you are, in fact, in a simulation, and that it is time to go home and do the laundry and start that essay. Fairy tales--what's wrong with fairy tales. Life would be so much brighter if everyone just tried for a little more fairy tale. How to start: go for a walk. This one's for you Marius!