Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Blissful Sunday Afternoon in Paris

Secrets of the Jardin du Luxembourg

I usually dash about in Paris. The Louvre, the Grand Palais, rue Cambon, Colette, Drouot, Gallignani, rue de Seine, La Hune, rue Jacob, rue de Verneuil, Clignancourt, rue des Martyrs. I want to see everything, catch up, spend time with my friends, and make every moment rich in discovery and detail.

I’m also happy occasionally on weekends to slow down my frenetic pace and wander around, stop, and as my friend Gwen suggested, meander and linger.

On a recent Sunday, I’d swept through the Paul Bert and Serpette markets at St-Ouen in the morning (missed my friends Andrew and Erick by minutes), chatted to my dear friend, the antiques dealer Laurence Lenglade (very Mme Recamier), then headed back to the city. I had a few unexpected hours to spare before a special dinner.

I decided to go and read the International Herald Tribune in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

It’s late summer: a few clouds scudding overhead. Everything is still, 73 deg F.

I started from rue de Tournon, walking toward the neo-classical façade of Le Senat, and then turned left at rue de Vaugirard. It’s quiet, just a few young couples arm in arm.

I traversed the leafy entrance to the gardens, and in the flickering light, it was suddenly like a Seurat painting, Sunday in the park with Georges.

Dot sings: “George, Why is it you always get to sit in the shade While I have to stand in the sun Hello, George There is someone in this dress”
—Stephen Sondheim

I walk along the sunny allee toward the Medicis fountain, all the while surrounded by a blur of quiet movement. Boys on scooters, girls on tricycles, beaming grandparents, beautifully groomed parents, promenading Italians, jeans-clad teenager girls giggling, a few joggers, the Senat security officers in neat uniforms quietly chatting, and a white-haired granny or two, all somehow manage a calm choreography. It’s a kinetic crowd, but tranquil, easy breezy. A gavotte, a minuet.

I head up the stone stairs to find a little hidden kiosk beneath the trees that sells exquisite artisan ice creams, and select cassis (deeply fruity, slightly tart, perfect) and an unctuous caramel with fleur de sel. I drift beneath the shade to a century-old band rotunda where a motley and jolly brass band is just starting its oompah sound check (evidently a butchers’ union from Normandy).

As the trombones blare, I wander off in the direction of the grand central pond. It’s the perfect day for toy yachts, with a slight breeze.

Just as they did in 1908 in my postcard, children are crowding around the perimeter of the pond, waving bamboo poles, and watching their noble wooden craft traverse the water. It’s slow progress, but when the yachts reach the edge, the skilled boys push the boats back in the direction of the Pantheon and race after them. Parents seated nearby glance up from their books, contented.

“This is the most pleasant pastime for parents, sitting watching their children playing with their yachts,” remarked a handsome young French father, very Anglophile in his linen shirt and with a cable sweater around his shoulders. “I used to do it as a boy, and so did my father when he was young.”

Postcards, stamped 1908, are from my personal collection and were found over decades of hunting through flea markets, galleries, book shops, antiquaires and fairs. As you see, a century later, timeless Parisian life in the park goes on.

I’m looking for a chair in the shade where I can read my paper, but then I remembered a Longue Paume tournament somewhere up among the trees. I pass children on ponies, boys careening on Big Wheels, a tennis court, chess players over to the left, and I hear the rather loud announcements of the game. Longue Paume is the earliest form of tennis, played rather sedately with racquets but with a more complex court and rules. Serious men in suits watched as the champions battled it out.

But beyond is perhaps my subliminal destination: the petanque players on their dusty terrain. Here I would truly linger, and do nothing but watch the most repetitious mesmerizing, easy, and pleasant ball game, originally from the south of France.

Imagine, a group of old friends, nothing fancy, gather every Sunday, and throw heavy metal balls at a little plastic ball, the piglet. Teammates sitting chatting around the perimeter call out encouragement or voice dismay, there are good throws and disasters, and the game wends back and forth. It’s easy to understand and score. I take out my paper, read Suzy Menkes fashion reports, an art review, all the while watching the petanque, occasionally looking up as a shout rings out, someone swears (Merde, alors), and a few hearty souls clap or cheer or boo.

Time passes and shadows slide across the gardens. A book review. An antique show. My attention wanders.

All this petanque watching has made me a little peckish. I think about the delicious Bread and Roses café on nearby rue de Fleurus, with their fresh tomato tarts and salads, but they’re closed on Sundays.

I find a kiosk in the park with a cheerful blonde woman making crepes. I go for the simplest, just a sprinkle of sugar, and a squeeze of lemon.

I head back to the petanque. The game continues, and looks like it will be there until dark.

I walk away, past the playground, around the compulsive chess players, toward the pond, and the glorious flowers gardens. I’m in a happy daze, no idea what time it is, the sun still bright.

I find a chair near one of the luscious flower beds, fragrant with nicotiana. I open the paper, the sun hovers, I watch the white flowers flickering in the wind, a jogger makes another round. The sun is warm on my neck.

I think I’ll just stay here forever, a perfect place, Sunday in the park, the loveliness of Paris.

And I’ll be back soon, when autumn leaves turn the park golden. Beneath the trees, the petanque games will continue.

Next week on THE STYLE SALONISTE: I’ll take you on a favorite walk through the Left Bank. And give you some of my favorite addresses. See you on the corner of rue Jacob and rue Bonaparte.


Jack said...

Marvelous article, Diane. Meandering and lingering in Paris is a luscious experience.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Jack-

Great to hear from you.
I usually dash from one appointment to another--and I'd been doing that all week (including an elegant afternoon tea at the Plaza-Athenee Hotel where I saw Jessica Simpson with a large bodyguard and no-one paying any attention to her--(she would hardly be known in France)--and on Monday a lovely dinner at Casa Olympe, where Jean-Paul Gaultier was seated at the next table, and a great dinner with friends at La Cigale Recamier restaurant)--so on Sunday, doing nothing was a lovely option.The Jardin du Luxembourg is the largest park in Paris, and certainly the most superbly maintained. It's perfection. The mood is light-hearted, and it's all very comme il faut. I suggest that anyone wanting to have a blissful, tranquil afternoon in Paris should follow in my footsteps.

Adam Stoltman said...

Hello Diane --

I happened upon your blog, which is most enjoyable, quite accidentally -- in particular an item you posted in June in connection with a photograph of John Dickinson that had been given to you by Victor Arimondi after you had introduced them both. The picture -- and gift -- seemed to have some meaning to you, so I thought perhaps you might appreciate my getting in touch -- though please excuse the comment form I just wasn't sure how else to contact you -- to let you know of some of the efforts in preserving Victor's photographic work, and legacy. I have for the last 2 years been working with Victor's surviving partner to re-curate the estate. As someone who has worked with many photographers over the years and also has a long history in that industry, I have been quite captivated with the depth of his work, his skill as a portraitist and the complexities of the themes he embraced -- all while retaining a true humanistic orientation. A show of Victor's work has just opened at the San Francisco Public Library (I've just returned from the opening) and I thought you might appreciate knowing of this. I would also welcome the chance to speak with you at some point to tell you a bit more about our efforts. I have attached my email address in hopes that we can connect.......and regardless, I do look forward to following you blog.

Kind regards,

-Adam Stoltman

Unknown said...

Bon Jour Diane,

Reading your Paris blogs, with delicious descriptions and captivating photos, is second best to actually being in the most sublime city on earth. I am familiar with much of what you focus on so its like a mini visit for me. My favorite time there is autumn, there is something about the grayness, the smell of the fallen leaves in Parcs like the Luxumbourg or the grand boulevards, the dampness, I know this all sounds rather unpleasant but for me its the essence of Paris. Coming in from that chill for a chocolat at Lauduree is the perfect denoument. Thanks for the memories.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Yes, Paris in all seasons has its delights, I agree. Fall, with golden leaves from the chestnut trees, and that damp air and grayness...dreamy. I also love Paris in January, in the coldest winter, with snow falling, very quiet. Late May, when trees are in bloom and women suddenly appear with tanned legs, has great energy. October is bliss. You can always find poetry.

elizabeth said...

Thank you so much for taking us on this beautiful walk with you. The photographs of the Gardens are just beautiful.Thank you!

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Another divine jaunt with DDS, delightful. GT

*Chic Provence* said...

What a lyrical tale of a perfect day in Paris! You always transport me directly to the places you are describing, and give me a "petit vacance.."

Can't wait for the Left Bank next week!

A la prochaine!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Little and Dear Kit-

I'm so happy you came along on my Sunday trip.
Be sure to come and visit next week--and we'll tootle around the Left Bank and visit some of my fave haunts.
I love to plunge into Paris neighborhoods like Sev-Bab, and always turn into a street I've never seen before to see what I might find.
A bientot! DIANE

Trouvais said...

Love to visit parks when traveling...sit on a bench and watch real neighbors interact. Trying to convince my almost 80 yr old mother to put some seating in her garden ("but I never sit")...every chair creates a view...a moment. Thanks for the view. Trish

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hello, Trouvais-

You are right. Sitting, observing--and as my friend Gwen says 'lingering' are all important.
In Paris or New York or anywhere--I do tend to dash about, to do as much as possible each moment.
I recorded this afternoon in the Jardin as it is rare for me. It was particularly pleasant--and I discovered that sometimes I like doing nothing...reading, watching a petanque game, listening to a band, wandering, eating an icecream. A beautiful counterpoint to my usual enjoyment of doing a lot.

Topsy Turvy said...

"Seeing" Paris through your words is quite a revelation and a gift. Thanks for sharing.


Unknown said...

Diane, when you mentioned Paris in January for instance, a huge memory wave flooded over me. When I lived on the Parc Monceau a few years back, one winter the snow was copious to say the least. I would sneak into the Parc late at night through a porters gate on the side and frolic on the embankments with my very large black Akita dog who of course adored this kind of freezing cold adventure, made more fun by the fact that this is a no dogs allowed park and I think he knew that! One evening after an hour or so of this fun, we were interrupted by a very stern night watchman, discovering us all alone in this cold and white setting. I assumed the usual fine at best if not more admonishment, but all he could utter to me was this:
O, beau chien, formidable!

Anonymous said...

If you don't "linger" in Paris you as well not go! Thanks for the memories,Diane.

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