The Art of French Gardening

I’ll spare you the suspense: this entry will contain absolutely nothing about real French gardening, which has always seemed to me a rather typically French and also ultimately futile attempt at rationalizing the environment. The ordered geometry of nicely trimmed hedges and strategically placed decorative fountains is alright, but somehow fails to lift the soul if left to its own devices. The gardens that get my seal of approval are either rundown affairs on the border of being reclaimed by the wilderness, or gardens which look thoroughly loved and lived in, where people come not only to walk among statues and trees with impeccable foliage, remaining always on the edge of being there, but join in the inner rhythms of the place and bring their own to it.

Take the Luxembourg Garden- there is a splendid history to it, dating back all the way to the early 17th Century, and as ever so often, a bored queen, in our case Marie de Medici, and you can read all about that in the thoroughly documented Wiki entry dedicated to the place. There are plenty of fancy statues too- listed in the Wiki as well, but the thing that convinced me to enter this time was, ode to all the weak minded out there, a brass band playing the tune of Ghostbusters.

It happened to be a wonderfully sunny Saturday afternoon- and let me here mention the fact that, as it lies at the western edge of the CET time zone, Paris gets much longer evenings in summer than Budapest- so a rather numerous crowd was assembled around the band’s kiosk. Despite the consistent attendance, some empty chairs were promptly located and I camped at a reasonable distance, with the secret hope that the band might at some point play the Imperial March. Sadly, they did not, or at least not in the bit I got to listen to, but in the meantime I could elaborate some of those super scientific observations that are my specialty.

Like how French women wear towering heels in the most casual manner, and when they cross through the gravelly paths of Parisian gardens, they do not scratch their heels. In my case wearing any sort of shoe that is not a sneaker will have devastating effects even on asphalt, not to mention rockier terrains, so my respect and awe at this talent are boundless. Furthermore, the French do roam about randomly carrying baguettes and they read a lot- carbs and books, I feel love swelling in me for this grand, but often divisive nation. Not only do they read, but every so often you will find them engaged in taxing tomes of essays or philosophy.

When they dine al fresco, which in this glorious summer weather they do a lot, they often sit straight on the grass (I assume this does not involve any green stains whatsoever on their crisp linen pants) and eat charming nibbles while sipping light white wine- because, as explained to me kindly by a colleague, drinking strong red wine with salads and certain cheese is absolument inacceptable, especially when it’s hot outside. They also play petanque- I always though it to be more of a cinematic device, as you could have conversations on a variety of topics and move the story along while having your characters doing something ultimately French. It does however seem that they actually do indulge in this activity, albeit conversation does seem to be more fundamental than the hoisting of the balls themselves, especially when it blooms into a polite but firm argument about who’s winning.

The garden is also well adapted to solo activities- besides the already mentioned reading, there’s runners aplenty, antisocial sunbathers and the odd soul dedicated entirely to just being. Incidentally, the Luxembourg Garden is featured on the cover of the Tame Impala album Lonerism, one of its many cultural references, such as being the only thing I remember from Les Misérables and a place where poor Ernest Hemingway spent a lot of time being hungry. The latter can be said of many public places in Paris, except the bars, where Ernest spent time being both hungry and drunk. I shall however discontinue this somewhat uncalled for questioning of the great novelist’s character and, with a final flourish, invite you to indulge in some French gardening (here a synonym of being in a garden and doing next to nothing) of your own next time you happen to be in Paris. 

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