July 08, 2010

A Promenade with Clive.

“Smoochers.” This was Clive’s observation of and in the Luxembourg Gardens. It was February. Clive was six. His Family had moved to Paris for the year. The day had a desolate winter beauty. Earth and sky were the same gris de perle. We were making our way down a long allee of plane trees.

We could see the pitched green roof of the carousel through the bare branches, but it was not in use. The tennis courts were empty, the fountains dry, the waffle stand was shuttered, the courts lay under a crust of snow, and the only evidence of life was, in fact, the passionate young couple-if, indeed, they were young-an assumption one shouldn’t make of the lovers in Paris parks. Clive studied the two fair heads and the four slim legs, intrigued but a little doubtful.

There are no rules about people hugging in the Luxembourg. Two of you may share a single garden chair, entwined like the figures in a Moghul painting. You may also pull two chairs to make an impromptu divan. You may strike the classic cinematic pose, in full view of the Senate and its armed guards. You may stop suddenly, in the middle of a path, in the middle of a sentence, to fling your arms around each other, obstructing the passage of strollers-who will make a silent, uncomplaining detour around you. You may kiss and snuggle at a café table, perched on the rim of a fountain, or astride a balustrade, or pressed against a chestnut tree, or on a bench inside the children’s playground-provided, you have paid your entrance fee, and you have a child with you.

You may not, however, take any sort of pleasure, innocent or guilty, onto the grass.

When the trees are bare, the Luxembourg has the air of a vacant summer palace. Even in summer, the precise allocation of space, and the maniacal tidiness and symmetry are, somehow, those of an interior-a very grand, very formal French salon where, as a guest, you are invited to have a good time, but when you are also on your best behavior. The Luxembourg, you will note: is a jardin. It is not a bois or even a parc. Have I ever seen a dandelion? An untidy hedge? A statue streaked with droppings? I don’t think so.

The tulips grow in perfect weed less beds.

The lawns are as smooth as cashmere. Clive could tell you what happens if you dared to dip a foot-even a little six-year old foot-into one of those inviting, forbidden pools of green. “Policemen blow whistle!” Yes, a guardian in a smart blue uniform, with gold epaulets, and a little blue legionnaire’s hat, is instantly upon you, scowling under his moustache, wagging his finger. The presumption, under French law, is always of guilt: “Vous savez bien, madame, que la pelouse est interdite!” (“You know perfectly well that the lawn is of-limits!”). We knew. We knew.

I was surprised when Clive nodded to people. The pony driver, the ticket seller in the playground, an old man playing chess, and shyly would say “bonjoo.” He could also say merci “bowcoo,” pompiers, donne-le-moi, pain de chocolat, en garde, and touché.

Did he remember that year in Paris? I ask. He said that he did, he would dream of the Luxembourg, and when he returned, the smell of hyacinths, waffles, and gitanes, jogged his memory.

One of the delights of having played in the Luxembourg Gardens as a child is the Proustian glamour of being able to claim that one did so.

Clive, thanks for the memories.


Clive said...

no, thank YOU.

Anja said...

that lucky boy

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