The Day Before the Dog-Days

photo: light shade, luxembourg, observatoire

The Luxembourg's contrasts, and Marie de Médicis' palace.

Shades of the Luxembourg

Paris:- Wednesday, 23. August 2000:- It is what we've all been waiting for, the 'dog-days.' Actually these are not today. It is not quite hot enough - by my definition, by the definition the TV- weather news seems to have, which seems to demand temperatures over 30.

I think it must be one or two degrees short of it. 'Caniculaire' is based on Latin for 'little dog' or the period at the beginning of summer, which is supposed to be very hot. We all know this wasn't the case in Paris. July was the month of all the rains.

According to last night's TV-weather, today is a day before the 'canicule,' which will be Thursday and Friday, and then afterwards the rains will be back - with violence, the TV has promised.

Somehow I believe the TV-weather for once. If it says the rains are coming back, they might even come early. I will therefore go where Parisians go when it is too hot - even if it isn't - to the Jardin du Luxembourg.

This big green paradise of a park is only about six stops by bus away from where I live. You might think this is unfair. I almost think it is a swindle to have it so close.

The park lies on the border between the 5th and 6th arrondissements and takes up a large portion of the latter; on the map, colored all in green.

It is cheating to take the bus. After Denfert, it could be mostly in the shade on foot. A long greenphoto: boules pitches finger of the park is called Avenue de l'Observatoire and it starts right after Port Royal. It is like an antenna of the park, pointing dead south.

Under the natural parasol of tree leaves, boules are played all afternoon.

I take no chances of a fast fade-out and ride the bus down the Boulevard Saint-Michel to the Rue Auguste Comte, because it is August, and the day before a predicted 'caniculaire' day. I am not far off, because there are very few other bus riders.

At the park's southernmost iron gates the sun is pounding on the flagstones of the little place and banging against the gates. Outside is all glare; inside it looks impossibly green - just as the map has hinted.

The green extension of the Observatoire 'finger' points at Marie de Médicis' new 'country' house, which was supposed to remind her of growing up in Florence. Split in half by shade, Parisians grill on the sunny side and act 'sportif' in the green shadows.

A bit further to the west there are spatters of relaxing residents, arranged on chairs on paths, divided by leaves and greens, shadows and light, statues and flowers, in the old tree nursery area. If blurred, it is impressionistic.

One path has a shortcut to another area where pedal-cars are for rent and have a defined area for manoeuvre. This area of natural dirt, light brown in color, extends all the way down to the park's iron fence along the Rue Guynemer.

In the same allée, between the fence and a north-south asphalt path, are the permanent boules courts. Trees are high and their leaves provide all-day shade here, and it is not dense.

There is a minuscule kiosk in the park's typical dark-green style, with a minimum of necessities for the pétanque players and their spectators. Otherwise, there is no commerce. Half of the defined playing space is unused.

The other half has some young Germans not being too serious, and two Parisians groups of players, being semi-serious.

While iron chairs painted green are all over the park, and are being used for as supports for various serious occupations; some chairholders without any excuses for doing nothing have stationed themselves close to the pétanque matches in order to appear as if they are, at least, active spectators.

The Luxembourg gardens do not belong to Paris. The city has its own 421 green spaces - including cemeteries - at the service of all, with a program of more than 40 different guided visits to them. In the Luxembourg, you are on your own.

Well, not quite. From the past you are with David, Delacroix, Baudelaire, Kessel, Modigliani, Zadkine, Chateaubriand, Chopin, George Sand, Victor Hugo, Balzac, Gide, Sartre, Rilke, Hemingway, Lenin; the plotters Tallyrand and Bonaparte and members of the Resistance; and the original of the Statue of Liberty, by Bartholdi.

Most simple maps of the 'Luco,' as it is known locally, show its major paths as a right-angle grid. In the park, you will find that there are diagonal ones too.

Leaving the pétanque area, I skirt tophoto: small kiosk, luxembourg the left of the enclosed kiddie play-park, between it and a big kiosk with attached terrace, and stroll more or less straight over to the western steps overlooking the basin in front of the palace.

Low-toned commerce is a convenience for park visitors.

On the way I pass one of two 'flying saucer' buildings; the one I pass houses the park's polite guardians - who I think are gendarmes. To the left of this, in another allée, are the Shetland ponies and their handlers and their mob of potential riders.

From the top of the balcony overlooking the basin, there is another diagonal path leading northwest towards the area west of the Petit Luxembourg, where there is a special area for moms or nannies with babies, an orangerie, and the area for the chess players.

Since it is the day before the 'canicule,' I am not going to cross the huge area around the basin because it is too exposed and its potted palms, although large, count nothing for shade.

It is the kind of day when sun worshipers are not lining the south wall of the orangerie, as they might do on a bright day in winter. I go through the shade around to the left and take the Rue de Vaugirard exit.

The Musée du Luxembourg has its own entry here at number 19. It is not on the Paris list of museums, so I guess it is a national one - or belongs to the Senat, which amounts to the same thing. The French Senat sits in Marie's palace. I think the gardens belong to it too.

The reason I have passed by the museum is I am looking for an outdoor exhibition, which has been sponsored by the Senat, and is supposed to be hung from the iron fence surrounding the gardens. But it is not here. The museum has a show of its own.

After a bit of a tour around behind Saint-Suplice and down to the Carrefour de l'Odéon and up Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, I get to the exhibition, which is hung on both sides of the garden's fence along the Rue de Médicis.

Called 'La Terre Vue du Ciel,' the 150 photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand were supposed to come down on 18. June, but a huge popular success has prolonged the exhibition until the end of October.

Taken from altitudes between 30 and 3000 metres, the pictures are of the earth in 75 countries; selected from a collection of 175,000 photos taken over a period of 10 years.

It is an astonishing spectacle - the line of giant photos, hung on both sides on the gold-tipped iron fence, with crowds of open-air gallery visitors both inside the park and outside it on the sidewalk.

I must have heard of it before, because it is mentioned in a Metropole article written on Friday, 5. May, three days after the exhibition began. Yet I have only seen it mentioned again, for the first timephoto: loungers, luxembourg gardens I can remember, in Le Parisian's edition of 12. August.

If there have been posters for it, they have been overlooked. Well, better late than not at all; the free, worth-it exhibition runs for another two months.

Some of the various stages of relax in the Luxembourg gardens.

Except for the pure-sun crazies around the Luxembourg's basin, the park has been an quiet oasis of shade on this day 'before the canicule.' The enthusiasm of the viewers of the exhibition is a bit at odds with this.

It is too warm to be actively enthusiastic. I get around the crowds clogging the sidewalk. After a short wait, the 38 bus gets through the place to the bus stop. It is full but I find enough space to get on it anyway.

One of these days, I'm going to treat myself to a chair and get myself good and parked in the Jardins de Luxembourg; for a period of time longer than short. 'Un de ces beaux jours.'

Maybe my time will come in the brief period between the 'dog-days' and the beginning of the rains.

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