Flower-Gazing in the Parc Bagatelle

lalanne fish with window
The Lalanne animals seem right at home at Bagatelle.

What I Would Do If I Had Days Off

Paris:- Wednesday,22. April 1998:- Looking out the kitchen window, I see it is bright outside, but I don't trust it. Over-optimistic last time it looked good, I almost got a fatal chill.

So when I go out the door I have on my usual t-shirt, shirt, sweater and good walking socks, the ones for happy feet, and my regular winter coat. Just beyond the shade of the building and up the little hill, about 25 metres from the door, I think it may actually be warm. Halfway across the parking lot, I know it is.

To catch the next train, there is no time to turn back. Also I've been tricked before, and it may snow in an hour. After the climb through the cemetery, and the rest of the uphill sprint, the inside of the train is really warm. I am cooking. The school guys sitting opposite are wearing short-sleeved shirts; but that's probably what they've worn all winter.

On the ride in, my weather station over Suresnes shows a very good and clear sky over Paris; a grade-eight sky. At La Défense, on a whim I decide to go by way of Suresnes and go across to the Bois de Boulogne by the bridge there.

This means taking the new tram. Modern trams are neat, because they are comfortable and quiet and they also have the old-fashioned advantage of having their very own tracks. On the Val-de-Seine line, therebagatelle entry are no overhead or underground cross-overs either; just a path across the tracks. When you see the tram's rear-view mirrors fold into the body and hear the discrete 'bing,' you can leap clear with ease.

A sizeable line, but it moved quickly.

On this one, there are a massive number of ticket controllers. They seem to be running a school for it. The tram cars are as new as nails, but the ticket-punch boxes have a reluctance to take the ticket and you have to give it a good push and being at the eye-level of a six-year-old is not helpful. The controllers are showing passengers how to do this.

There is a lot of sun in Suresnes and really a lot on the bridge, which has a lot of fast traffic on it. The brown water of the Seine is high and moving fast too. I turn off the bridge and follow the Allée du Bord de l'Eau to the 'Camping Paris Ouest.' I get directions here to follow to get to the Parc Bagatelle.

Once away from the traffic on the Allée, cutting across the huge training field is a peaceful stroll in the sun. Except for the sandy paths where the horses from the nearby Polo Club have made their morning rounds, the ground seems to be surprisingly dry and the grass is very green.

It is a big field, with maybe a dozen soccer pitches and a couple for rugby, and there are groups of pick-up players running off steam. I get to kick a ball that comes my way and the thing is as hard as a rock and my 'boot' is kind of feeble.

On the other side of the field I can see a long wall and there are a lot of cars parked there. I cross the road and follow the wall until I come to an entrance, which has two conical towers, with conical roofs. There are 30 garden fanciers waiting in line to pay the entry fee of 10 francs.

I have three reasons for being at the Parc Bagatelle today. It is the first sunny day in a long time, it is supposed to be anbagatelle classic statute interesting park and garden, and there is a sculpture show on display - the goofball animals done by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne.

The classical sculpture at Bagatelle is year-round.

Some of these are outside, but the rest are inside the Trianon and the Folie, and the entry to these is 25 francs, which I didn't know when I came in. The brochure I picked up has no details about the odd sculptures and the report that was in Le Parisien has been recycled long ago. The 150 pieces will be on show until Sunday, 2. August.

I look through a window in the Folie to see an antique piano in an 18th century drawing room, surrounded by a herd of sheep.

There is another flock of them in a nearby pasture and somebody unseen is blowing a whistle at anybody who gets too close, or too much on the grass. I'm not entirely sure about this because I can see no whistle-blower, and everybody else is trying to figure it out too.

There are a lot of people in the park. It is not like the Foire de Paris will be next week, but it is a long time since being able to be outside and it is being taken advantage of by people of all ages.

Although I have missed the flowering of the magnolias by about a month, I could make a mental date to come and see the 'furtive' flowering of the peonies and irises about a month from now. About two weeks later, at the beginning of June, climbing plants take over and near the end of the month the place goes crazy with roses, which are supposed to be famous. This goes on with various types until early November.

Somehow, a 70-page guide to Paris' gardens became stuck to my hand somewhere, and it features some details about all the gardens and their events during the year. It is probably available at the Paris Tourist Office, or possibly at the boutiques in the various parks.

But Bagatelle is like an industry. In addition to its cycles of flowerings, there are also a series of conferences offered, with subjects as varied as 'Gardens of the Middle Ages' to 'Grottos and Nymphs.' The charge for these is 35 francs and the Info. Tel. is 01 40 71 75 23.

If you are a freelance garden stroller like I am and many others here today seem to be, youbagatelle plant house can forget all this scholarship and just take a walk in a park. Many trees are well into green but others remain starkly naked.

Lots of benches and lots of sun, in front of the formal garden.

The grass is ultra green in today's light. Some of it is cut and in other places it is fairly long. In parts where it is not like lawn, there are sprinklings of little flowers, some like a haze of purple dust, with super vivid tulips in the foreground. As I walk, the bare tree trunks stand out like black slashes against the hyper-color, which slides by with ever-changing compositions with each step.

The paths wind around, seemingly endlessly, and one panorama merges into another, with changing depths of field, foregrounds, backgrounds, and the colors in them. As usual in Paris parks, especially ones built for Louis XVI, there are trick gizmos of little mountains and bird cages for people - in which there are people and their kids.

Some of the sculptures are not. A three-year-old is attacking a peacock which is not disturbed because it can put out a noise like a strangled goose, which knocks the kid over. Ducks look either startled to see so many people or proud of themselves to have made a perfect landing in a small pond.

Some moms are yelling at their kids who know nothing of 'keeping off the grass' but this is not much or often. Some benches offer good south-side exposure - by the rose gardens for example - but not many are taking advantage of them.

There are a lot of tulips around - I think nearly all flowers are tulips - and even though many are a bit past their prime, they still have some shockingly unreal colors, as if they stepped out of one of those ads for hyper-color film.

I happen to pass the restaurant on the way out and I am slightly startled to see it has an outside garden which is fulloutdoor resto garden of people. It looks a lot like a beer garden but too many customers have white hair and there are too many little green Perrier bottles of the tables.

Like a scene from a recent century.

The waiters are working with dispatch, carrying large round trays loaded with drink and there is a fair hubbub of conversation. The restaurant is called 'Les Jardins de Bagatelle' and the floor boss tells me reservations are really necessary on a day like today.

This is not any sort of kiosk or snack-bar, and the menu is 270 francs, without wine. There are large dining areas inside and the restaurant is open all year and it can handle receptions. Resa. Tel.: 01 40 67 98 29.

The restaurant's garden is the only really crowded part of the park, so there is plenty of room for everybody. Getting to the Bagatelle is a bit more tricky, as I found when I decided to walk up to the métro at the Pont de Neuilly.

The rue de Longchamp is a lot longer than the mental picture of the map in my head showed. When you come out by the twin towers, just walk towards Neuilly, about 500 metres, and take the bus number 43 which will take you up there in a couple of minutes.

To get to the Parc Bagatelle, just do the reverse. Get out of the métro at Pont de Neuilly, and look for the 43 bus. While making the change, look at all the fountains and the strange, un-Parisian skyline of La Défense, across the river.

It looks shockingly metallic today.

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