More oh-so-French gardens

Paris, France. (Don here) Continuing my pursuit of Paris public gardens during the peak flowering season, I spent the afternoon strolling around the Jardin du Luxembourg. First laid out in the early 17th century to accompany the new Luxembourg Palace (now the home of the French Senate), the garden was opened to the public after the Revolution.

Following the formal plan seen at the Tuileries, the garden features vast open spaces, long allées of shaped trees and hedges, pools with fountains, weedless lawns and meticulously groomed gravel areas. There’s a band stand that today featured a large “symphonic band,” meaning a large ensemble of wind instruments with many reed instruments like clarinets taking the place of string instruments. The band played rather somber classical music instead of the type of upbeat marches or pop music you would expect on a Saturday afternoon in a public park. The French audience was enthralled.

While all the geometric patterns of sculpted hedges and trees and the allées offering great focused views of the palace and surrounding Paris scenes were spectacular in their intent, I was searching out flowering wonders like I had seen yesterday at the Jardin de Bagatelle. I knew that the Luxembourg garden had a rose garden. But it wasn’t shown on the garden map and everyone I stopped to ask had no idea where it was — and that included park employees. Finally I stumbled upon it.

The garden of the roses, however, features about eight climbing roses, albeit of old origin. The rest of this garden had been leveled years ago and turned into a children’s playground of different geometric levels surrounded by more of those closely clipped hedges that the French seem not to get enough of. There was a sign that said that the garden areas around the few roses that remain are going to be replanted in a “prairie” style. A modern nod, I guess, to the success of the landscape approach seen in New York’s High Line and many other places in the last few years.

The only other flower beds were found circling the bases of the many statues in the gardens. These plantings, however, are all annual bedding plants — like geraniums and begonias — all lined up like little soldiers in a specifically tight pattern

In the “wild” section of the garden, there were some spectacular mixed shrub borders, featuring mostly non-flowering shrubs (of various leaf colors, heights and leaf shapes) and mostly evergreen. But even here you wouldn’t consider these borders “wild.” They were rigidly controlled and sometimes had little borders of bedding plants or with small perfectly trimmed hedges protecting the viewer, it seemed, from the “wildness” of the shrubbery behind. This is when you really see the difference in approaches between the French and English concepts at work. Rigid order rules at the Luxembourg (and Tuileries) garden.

Yet this garden accommodates all sorts of leisure activities, from bocce courts to a marionette theater to tennis courts and picnic areas. I liked how some lawn areas are marked by signs inviting visitors to use them and other lawns are marked off limits. And the signs are honored.

The day was marked by frequent sun showers. The rain was fairly heavy at times, but I couldn’t find the clouds. Very strange. You needed sun glasses and a rain jacket or umbrella at the same time.

Food Corner

There haven’t been many outstanding meals on this trip to Paris, but yesterday we made a pilgrimage to one of the city’s cafe legends — La Coupole on the Boulevard de Montparnasse. Built in high Art Deco style in 1927, this café, or, more accurately, this brasserie, was one of the places to be seen during that era, attracting folks like Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Sartre, Picasso, Edith Piaf, etc., etc.

The interior remains beautifully preserved and the food and service almost comes up to the surroundings.

Jo had French onion soup, properly prepared in a traditional way, and something that was described as lobster ravioli, but it was more like a deconstructed ravioli with lobster meat piled on top of a layer of ravioli-style pasta. A rich sauce separated the lobster meat from the pasta.

Although I know that June does not contain the letter “r” in it, I went for a platter of six oysters. French oysters, to my taste, are the best. A very subtle taste of the sea. The last time we were in Paris I indulged in a tasting platter of several different oysters from different parts of France. Then, I could really tell the difference in the various small oyster beds and how, like wine, geographic locations can affect the oyster quality.  The six oysters I tried were very fine indeed. (We didn’t try raw seafood like this when we were in India, despite having had hepatitis vaccinations, so it’s been a long time without these delights.)

For my main course, I went with a simple chicken filet that was broiled to perfection and placed on top of a rich ratatouille.

All very nice. Very civilized.

Afterward, we went downstairs to look at the legendary night club area of the cafe. Again, all is intact with dazzling Art Deco touches like a long bar, spectacular light fixtures, a bandstand and dancing/performing area in the center. Josephine Baker would have performed here. You can still sense the ghosts in the room.

We noticed at the entrance to the restaurant that a young Indian man with a stylized turban was standing next to a large domed silver trolley. We saw on the menu that one of the specialties of the house was a lamb curry but didn’t know until later that La Coupole introduced Indian lamb curry to Paris and ever since 1927 this dish has been served from this silver cart by “by an Indian in a sumptuous costume.” In 1927 this must have seemed exotic. Today, however, it seems a tad patronizing and racist. Jo chatted with the young man at his station next to the silver cart for a few minutes and he was thrilled to hear about our recent travels to India.

Now I wish I had ordered the lamb curry to see how this serving ceremony was carried out because it can’t last forever.

He wasn’t very busy…

2 thoughts on “More oh-so-French gardens

  1. I think I prefer the helter skelter English gardens to the neat and tidy French. Thanks for the comparison coverage. I absolutely loved La Coupole. It looks as though even a glass of water might be a trifle expensive. Such is life.

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