'Golden' - A Month Late

photo: tuileries: round basin
Around the round basin, only a few catch the sun.

November In the Tuileries

Paris:- Tuesday, 17. November 1998:- It is around midday and the sky is very clear and deep blue and it is near freezing or two degrees above it. It is a working day in Paris and people in the city are blasted by a lot of brittle slanting light or they are absorbed in the deep shadows, which gather in dark pools behind every northern face.

What it is, is 'Golden October' in November, today. Some effect of the weather has retarded the leaves. A lot of them are still on the trees and some of them are still green, although their edges look singed.

The leaves are coming down slowly enough so nobody is getting into a big sweat clearingphoto: tuileries: pond, cafe, louvre them away. At this time of year, with all the trees in the city, there are crews who do just this - get rid of the leaves day after day.

One of two ponds, each with a terrace café and a view.

In the Jardin des Tuileries most of the leaves still on the trees are yellow or orange or brown. With its open face to the south, the garden gets all the sunlight there is and maybe more leaves are on the ground here than in less exposed places, but there are still some on the trees.

There is no wind. In the sunlight, it feels warmer than it is. Is it real or is it perception? A few people believe it is real and they are by the round basin, opposite the entry by the métro Tuileries on the rue de Rivoli.

A very few other people have discovered they are warm enough, sitting on metal chairs, facing directly across the river towards the Musée d'Orsay. The sun is very bright this way and the trick is not to look directly at it while chewing on a baguette.

It is not only bright, but the air is very clear. It is almost like my eyes have been exchanged for better-quality lenses; the Obélisque at Concorde is sharply defined and the Arc de Triomphe a long way behind it at the top of the Champs-Elysées is almost as clear. Altogether, it is rare for it to be this clear so far from mountains.

With a lot of the leaves gone, there is more space to be seen in the gardens. They are big - a good 300 metres wide by about 700 meters long - and they are near the city's centre, just a bit downstream from its actual zero-point on the Ile de la Cité.

It is strange in the garden. Cars, trucks and buses are racing up Rivoli on one side towards Concorde, and another river of them are flowing down the other side, along the quai des Tuileries towards Châtelet; and across the Seine there is more yet heading west past the museum. In between,photo: tuileries: lines of trees there is the river traffic too. Yet, in the garden, it is quiet. Or it seems quiet, maybe because of the space.

This too, is in the middle of Paris - about 200 metres from the rue de Rivoli.

Although Paris wasn't big in 1564, Catherine de Médicis told Pierre Le Nôtre to make her a garden at the same time as she gave the order for the construction of the ill-fated Château des Tuileries. Until 1664, the garden was separated from the Château by a city wall and a 'sordid' alley, and a local wit wondered if it were fashionable to have a city townhouse with its garden out of town, out in the 'faux bourgs.'

Parisians liked it because they had access; and it was the city's first 'outside' place to show off their 'inside' finery so it was also a marvel.

When Louis XIII gave a western part, previously used for city defenses, to Régnard in 1641, it was turned into an elegant playground for 'les riches' - with an early kind of casino, with fancy decor, lots of tapestries, mirrors and paintings, as well as very famous clients.

This highlife continued only until 1664, when Colbert engaged André Le Nôtre to re-do the whole garden. He laid out pretty much as it is now. He had the wall that separated the garden from the Louvre knocked down. The central avenue of the garden pointed directly towards the Colline de Chaillot, which was absolutely nowhere in those days - a long way out of town! - but is the Etoile and the avenue des Champs-Elysées today.

Until fairly recently, there used to be an ancient chestnut tree near the round basin and the central avenue. It was famous for being the first tree in Paris to show green, always on 20. March of each year.

Some said this was due to the dead bodies of Swiss guards buried beneath it around 1792 and others said it was due to cooking fat thrown away by Cossacks who were camped near it in 1815. In fact, it was due to nearby water.

Quite a few scenes from the Revolution were staged in the Tuileries, involving both Robespierre and the hapless Louis XVI. Later, Louis-Philippe took over the part of the garden closest to the Louvre, for the exclusive use of his family. Other royal families let their kids playphoto: tuileries: cafe terrace on the Terrace du Bord de l'Eau. In 1848, Louis-Philippe fled from the Tuileries, by way of a doorway leading to the place de la Concorde.

A switched view - from one of the two terrace cafés.

Today the garden is nearly empty in the midst of an everyday city. The two terrace cafés by the two basins on either side of the central avenue do not have many customers. There are no hordes of joggers, not even dribbles of them.

Yellow and orange leaves drift down and garden workers scoop them up with their machinery. The sun is low and bright, the sky is high and deep blue and the other distances are long.

Since I can see everything from where I am, I take the short walk back to Rivoli. The arcades across from the garden stretch from west to east. The traffic flows from east to west and I can't be sure the drivers can see anything as the sun slants more into their faces.

After the sun-blitzed green man on the walk-sign says I can cross, I look back from the stone side. There was no 'golden October' to speak of this year, but it is gold in the Tuileries today in November.

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