Friday, June 27, 2008

wandering in the Jardins du Luxembourg

As David Downie puts it in his Paris, Paris, Journey into the City of Light, the Luxembourg Gardens are, "in their own way. . . a perfect world: sixty acres of terraced woods and walks, fountains and pools, with sweeping perspectives along alleys of surgically clipped trees. There's an old-fashioned music stand, a quaint café, a restaurant and several snack bars. City and country embrace to seduce you. A day spent loitering here teaches you more about Paris and its inhabitants than many a scholarly tome." I know I've already posted on some of the garden's floating sculptures, but I'm going to take you back there once more to show you why it's a wonderful place to spend a day, or simply wander through as you head back to your hotel, or just pop up there with a sandwich and an Orangina to refresh yourself for more shopping along St-Germain or another foray into the Orsay.

From mid-May to mid-June, the gardens' beautiful landscaping, architecture, and statuary are supplemented by an exhibition of playful and imaginative sculpture which often borrows elements from the surrounding environment. This piece below, for example, uses the park trees to riff on the exhibition's theme for this year, Du vent dans les branches. It was a bit too literal for me, yet it's surprisingly effective in situ when the wind turns it into performance art. I love this photo, though, for the so-typically-dressed French children riding their scooters.

If you've visited Paris, you'll know that these scooters are also used as pedestrian transport for less likely suspects -- adults, often well-dressed, even professionally so. Businessmen in suits can be seen zipping home on them. Although this women appears just to be walking hers, I swear she was riding it just before I snapped the photo. I didn't really feel I could keep snapping after that, so you'll have to take my word for it. (Plus look at the height the handle's adjusted to!)Shall we contrast some of the older statuary, nestled into the mature landscaping,

with some of the newer, temporary pieces?

This sculpture, IP: 26, is by Nicolas Sanhes.

Here's another permanent sculpture, Le cri, l'écrit (In French, these two words sound very similar, in English they mean The cry, The Writing) by Fabrice Hyber. Permanent, but not traditional or conservative. This sculpture, as its accompanying plaque explains, was inaugurated by Jacques Chirac in 2007 to ensure that we remember the history of slavery and its abolition.It's inscribed all over with words representing this history And let's see another of the permanent, more classical sculptures, here Dalou's rendition of Le Triomphe de Silène:Which could otherwise be titled, Don't Drink and Ride Your Donkey!Some of the same ribald spirit attends this contemporary sculpture, the one by Robert Combas called Pôt de Jambes en bouquet de pieds et de mollets (Pot of Legs with a bouquet of feet and calves) -- the sculpture which featured on the posters and signage for the exhibition. Here we go, just another potted plant, ho-hum!Or even closer up:
Zany as it is, the sculpture has something of the mythic, no? But not as much as does Le Prophète by Louis Derbré. This sculpture fits magically into its temporary home

whether viewed from far, or nearAlso magical, to me at least, is the way the sculpture pictured at the top of this post, La Cage de Lumière et de vent, by Jordi, a Montpellier artist, borrows the dappled light under the trees to blend beautifully into its surroundings and enliven them.

Perhaps not magical, but an important amenity in the gardens nonetheless are the very clean, well-attended toilets, well worth the 40, 50 or 60p (oddly, we found different prices posted depending which ones we used -- there are several in the park). I said as much to the male attendant sitting at the door of the one I used. He smiled delightedly at my comment about the cleanliness, and I recognized his good nature from the previous year. I was struck again by this aspect of French labour culture which is not yet contracting out such jobs to the lowest-paying bidder, but rather maintaining them as positions that pay decently and allow dignity and pride in simple, but important, work. If I saw him elsewhere, I would have guessed he was anything from a salesman to a manager to a soccer coach to a teacher. A well-dressed, attractive man in his early to mid-40s who at least appeared very content greeting those who use the facilities that he keeps scrupulously clean. So many values are affirmed in this situation other than financial ones -- I hope this doesn't change anytime soon.

On the way to the Seine after leaving the jardins, we made a very lucky find of a charming, simple, little-adorned crêpe restaurant opposite the 4-star Hotel Luxembourg -- first a savoury (ham, mushrooms, cheese), then a lightly-buttered-and-sugared for me and a melted-chocolate for him, a bol of cidre each, and finally our espressos, and we were ready to continue our wandering.

And later that afternoon, wandering past the art galleries around St. Germain, we were caught by a poster in a window and got up enough nerve (they seem rather intimidating, these galleries with someone seated at a desk) to go check out the work, and ended up buying a lovely pastel nude on canvas. But that's another story, and this post has gone on long enough.

Hope you have some good weekend plans. We're finally expecting some sunshine here, and my daughter and son-in-law are bringing her growing tummy over for a visit. . .


  1. Lovely photos! We always think of Paris as an "old" city, but there is also probably more modern art and sculpture on public display there than any other city I've visited in recent years. Jardins Luxembourg is one of the sights we missed on our first visit (I know! I know!) but it's firmly on the itinerary for October.

    Interesting thoughts about the French respect for labor of all kinds. We have such a disposable culture here, and that includes our attitude toward work and workers. I'm so tired of the "dog eat dog" mentality that seems to have taken hold, especially here in the US and wish there was a higher priority placed on the dignity of a job well done, regardless of what that job is.

  2. Pseu: I'll be interested to hear your feedback on the JL in October -- they might not be quite as appealing if the leaves have fallen, but then again, they might offer up a completely new-to-me side.
    And you "get" exactly what struck me with this bathroom attendant. We've contracted out cleaning services at my university, and we're paying the price, ironically, for saving bucks!


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