A people-watching trip to the Jardin du Luxembourg is all that’s needed to get an injection of unmistakably Gallic charm.
It’s immense; the look of concentration, the tunnel vision of an athlete in the starting blocks for the Olympic 100 metres final. Eyes, mind, body; all focused on one thing. He rubs the ball, perhaps to ensure it has no sand on it to deviate the flight, perhaps for luck, then tosses it between his hands.
Staring out his quarry, he launches his boule into the pit, looping through the air, a flick of the wrist ensuring it doesn’t roll off too far upon landing. It clunks down right next to the little red target, and he rises slowly, a look of smug satisfaction upon his face.
The whole thing is wonderfully French. There’s no whooping and hollering over the success, just a typically Gallic quiet air of superiority and an acknowledging nod from the vanquished. Forget your Eiffel Towerand your Louvre – this is what Paris is really about.
One thing that will never be said about Paris is that it is a green city. Surprisingly small, everything is crammed in, leaving barely any space for a small expanse of grass, let alone a sprawling public park.
The Jardin du Luxembourg, a short walk from the south bank of theSeine, is an exception, even if the first thing you see as you walk in is a collection of diggers, sat idle after churning up the main pavement. In fact, the place isn’t even that green; much of it is gravelled over or occupied by sporting facilities.
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It’s still an oasis, though, and a beautiful one at that, heaving with people even on an exceptionally average Sunday afternoon.
The centrepiece is the boating pond, which is approached through amphitheatre-esque terracing. That it is called a garden rather than a park is a deliberate statement, the emphasis being on delicious floral displays rather than vast expanses of lawn. The lake is surrounded by pots filled with vivid pink blooms which could pierce through the greyest of days, whilst it is flanked to the right by the Palace in which the French senate meets. It’s a view to make you fall in love with the city instantly, particularly when you start looking at the detail.
On the lake are little wooden boats, colourful and simplistic. They seem to be moving of their own accord until you see the children with sticks at the water’s edge. The joy that comes from simply pushing a toy boat around with a wooden pole is a tribute to the imagination of childhood. From the looks on faces, these kids are fearless navigators, sailing the seven seas to unknown lands.
Every little stretch is seemingly taken up with a different activity. There are tennis courts, which star a bizarre mix of all-comers; those dressed in white, unleashing Federer-esque cross court returns on the court next to the teenagers hopelessly slapping the ball into the net and stopping for a bottle of Coke.
Most of the noise is coming from opposite the boules arena, though. It’s a wonder that the group of middle-aged men – and one old woman with the craggy face of a coal miner – are not being driven to distraction as they solemnly pace, analyse and lob. They are playing out their deadly serious, if somewhat sedate spectacle to the backdrop of a huge adventure playground.
It’s something to be looked at through jealous eyes if you’ve grown up in a small town where a perpetually broken set of swings was the limit. For those of a certain age, this is heaven. There are rocking horses, bikes, tractors and space rockets, and climbing frames of every shape and size, all absolutely teeming with children, like ants on a sticky cake. Rows and rows of swings are manned by exhausted dads, being exhorted to push faster and higher, and the big kids are making the roundabouts go a bit too fast for the little kids sharing the ride.
You’d be hard pushed to find a better people-watching arena than this. A basketball game getting overly competitive, boys showing off to impress girls… Football with chairs for goalposts, and subsequent arguments over whether it’s in off the post once hit… A couple throwing a Frisbee to each other in lieu of striking up conversation… It’s magical in the most simplistic way, and if you can’t fall under Paris’ charm here, watching happy children rubbing the manes of their donkeys as they ride, then heaven help.
This post was kindly funded by All Paris Apartments
All-Paris-Apartments.com is part of the Open House Group, a company that has been providing quality short-stay apartments for 15 years. While managing properties in ten European cities, the company still strives to maintain that local touch, with customer service at the top of the agenda. Their website features nearly 500 short-stay apartments in Paris, ranging from budget to luxury.