'Spring' Arrives

photo: merry go round, luxembourg

Moms and dads on holiday watch their kids twirl around on the Luxembourg's antique twirler.

In Time for Summer

Paris:- Friday, 11. May 2001:- It's pretty nice out today. I hope nobody expects me to work. Good weather was a great surprise on Tuesday too. Even more amazing, it was a holiday. Wednesday and Thursday were only so-so - warm and dry, but with the boring type of smaze clouds up high.

But today is more than fine. It is nearly perfect. Parisians are sort of weather-shocked. On seeing fine weather on Tuesday they bolted out of their still-heated apartments and filled up café terraces and the parks. In the Luxembourg, it was standing-room only.

While Americans are 'sick-to-death' of discussing 'how to dress' in Europe, Parisians merely took off their water-roof hats and coats, stripped away their thermal underwear, and went outside in what was left.

This doesn't mean they've stripped down to the bare minimums. Going to this extreme isn't done all at once - the shock would be too great. Both for the wearers of nearly nothing and for the observers of nearly nothing. This needs easing into.

As a result of the beautiful day on Tuesday, I got the camera tanked up with most of the new posters and other standard shots. So when it was cloudy on Wednesday I went to the library to see what I could find for feature material. How does 'Boulevard du Crime' sound? There is something about 'Apaches' too.

I'll keep it around for a couple of weeks, just in case. Saturday's forecast is for another winner of a day, butphoto: orangerie, luxembourg Sunday's is not so terrific. I won't 'do' crime on Sunday - what I mean is, this weather to too good to be true. I am going out in it right now.

If asked - 'yes' - Paris does have palms. Right outside the Luxembourg's Orangerie.

While I am riding the elevated métro line six above the sunlit 15th arrondissement to Etoile, let's go back to Tuesday. Even though it was my weekly 'day off' and a holiday, I quickly did my usual chores and got out to catch some rare radiations.

Which way to go? North on Boulevard Raspail to Vavin or on the Boulevard Denfert-Rochereau to Port-Royal? I decided the east side of Raspail might be sunnier, so I took it.

I was not in a hurry to get to the Luxembourg gardens. I went past places that I've written about in Metropole - the Passage d'Enfer, the Rue Campagne Première, the building with the old Acacia in front. There are a lot of minor sights on Raspail - hotels, shops, corners - and a lot of history.

Same thing at Vavin, where Raspail crosses the Boulevard Montparnasse. Le Dôme without, and La Rotonde with its terrace. The Luxembourg is northeast of Vavin, but I forgot like I usually do, that it's best to go further down Raspail and turn right at Rue Brea or Vavin. Being lost for 15 or 20 minutes was no great hardship.

The last, narrow part of Rue Vavin was like the narrow part of a funnel, through which crowds were flowing towards the park, past shops with high prices for little kids' shoes.

The Rue d'Assas gate to the park is not big, and half-closed, it was the narrowest part of the funnel. I think it is the 'English' part of the park, with looping paths, lots of grass in sunlight and lots of Parisians lounging in the metal park chairs in the shade under the trees.

The colors were bright. The flowers are more than ordinary, the grass is fresh, and tree leaves are still lighter than they will be later. It is beyond the first of spring - everything is in its full-color midway between budding and summer's slightly dull maturity.

Slightly to the north is the Luxembourg's kids' paradise. First there's the rough peddle-car area and beyond it, the compound with all the climbing, twirling, and sliding gear.

To the left are the pétanque or boules pitches. The trees leaning over them have small leaves which are light green and airy, above the shadows made by the buildings along thephoto: arc de triomphe Rue Guynemer. People passing down from the Assas' entry stop and watch for a minute, but mostly the players and the spectators are in their own world.

Friday at Etoile, with thousands taking free looks at the Arc de Triomphe.

The kid's area isn't far away and there was a lot of racket from it. There must have been 500 kids in it, yelling with abandon after being locked up all spring. Some parents, who must stay outside the compound, were trying to exercise some control, but most knew it was impossible and hoped the monitors would catch them when they fall off the climbing rigs.

There was a long line of moms and dads waiting to get their charges into the compound. Another was formed at the merry-go-round, another at the nearby buvette and a few were waiting for the marionette theatre too. These are all close together.

It looked like all of the inhabitants of the Quartier Latin were arranged around the pool on the Senat's south side. I didn't go closer than the western balcony, which I leaned on for a while. It is a big, open scene and the people are very tiny in it.

Then I cut across to the northwest, towards the Orangerie, with its terrace of palms, facing the sun and a play area for very little kids. Beside this there is a roofed porch for the chess players, but they were nearly all under the open sky.

On the Rue de Vaugirard a line was formed to get in to see the 'Rodin en 1900' exhibition in the Musée du Luxembourg. Towards Saint-Michel and the Rue de Médicis, all the cafe terraces were full and the awnings were rolled back.

It was a great 'day off' for me. The 38 bus when it came, was jammed with everybody else having a great 'day off' too. If people hadn't been sitting on the café terraces at Denfert, they would have been giddy.

Today, I come up out of the métro's darkness at Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe's top is lined with sun worshipers. The top of the Arc is the first thing you see coming up the escalator to the Champs-Elysées.

If anything, it is a brighter day than Tuesday was. Near the Etoile it seems like visitor central, with the red open-top buses and all the people milling around. But the Etoile is a big place and there is only a concentration in this one part of it.

In the middle of the avenue I stop at the small safety-island and shoot down towards Concorde because thephoto: champs elysees clemenceau air is pretty clear. Then a visitor is waving his camera at me and I shoot him with it with Concorde in the background, and do it again with the Arc in the background. My day's good deed.

Yes - this is the Champs-Elysées too - with hot dogs, but no tables.

After a minimum wait I get my turn in the Paris Tourist Office. I get what I need and the pleasant bit of chit-chat that follows does not result in any 'scoops.' The PTO's absence from the Gare du Nord is mutually regretted. Invited to add a comment about this in the visitor's book, I do so.

Many of the avenue's restaurants, both 'fast' and slow, have terrace areas on the wide sidewalks, and they are all full - even on the shady side, where there are fewer 'fast' places.

On the sunny, north side, there is the long view down to Rond-Point, with its two lines of trees and its hundreds of thousand people. If your eyesight is okay, you will see this better than any camera.

From near Etoile it looks very crowded, but this is partly optical - your eyes are acting like a telephoto lens. Walking down it is not really as elbow-to-elbow as it looks.

People who haven't gotten places on terraces, are sitting and drinking and eating on the avenue's benches, or sitting on the edges of the métro's entries. It's almost like the biggest outdoor café there is.

The centre of the avenue is filled with bikes, motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses, and these race from stop light to stop light. Along the sides, the police and traffic people are energetically removing illegally parked cars and delivery vans - but it seems to be like in another world, removed from the sidewalks.

Crossing from one side to another puts you in enemy territory. Some drivers are not good about clearing crosswalks, and they look hot and mean - as if pedestrians are an annoying and total nuisance. These are probably the same drivers who won't give a centimetre when it is raining and they are inside and dry, listening to the radio.

I can remember that driving up or down the Champs-Elysées is usually over too soon, with too much traffic hassle to relax and enjoy it. Since I no longer have a car, I'm not against the city making it into a toll-road.

At Rond-Point, there are a couple of ways to get around its half-circle. On a day like today, I take the fountain route, which is shortest, with the flowers in the shade behind the fountains spraying their white jets of water at the blue sky.

From Rond-Point to Concorde, both sides of the Champs-Elysées are park-like, away from the sidewalks and the avenue. Patches of sunlight are splattered on the uneven ground between files of trees. On the north side there is a long, irregular park running behind the trees, following a sunlit path called Allée Marcel Proust.

There are some snack kiosks scattered along here and even public toilets, and many benches on the path. It can be as if the avenue and its traffic doesn't exist and some people are passing time here. Is it 'lost' time?

The Place de la Concorde is big and it is all pavement or stone. On the centre island the sun has its way without interference, unless you find the shade of the obelisk.

The southernmost Fountain des Mers, the restored one, is spouting - shooting its jets of water in big arcs at itself. It hasphoto: peniches, pont neuf nearly no audience, but I feel that it is amusing itself anyway - while all the cars and trucks swirl around it in bursts, and get clogged when they try to cross the bridge, going towards the Assembly National.

This fountain is totally without commerce. There are many angles from which to view it, without having Concorde's big wheel in the sky. It seems strange that nobody is renting deck chairs, selling soft drinks and postcards or playing accordions near it.

From the Pont des Arts to the Pont-Neuf, with peniches in between.

Crossing Concorde, some people come down to the fountain and have their photos taken. They hang around, look it over for five minutes, and continue on their way. It is one of Paris' better free shows.

If you change your viewpoint, then you will see Concorde's big wheel. If it wasn't for all the carny activity at its base, it could be elegant in itself. But it seldom twirls for long, and ends up being like a sort of broken fan-wheel filling up too much blue sky.

Getting past it takes nearly no time and entering the Tuileries puts it behind, like getting rid of the Tour Montparnasse by going through the Luxembourg from the southwest.

The first pool inside the garden has fewer loungers around it than I expected. This pool is surrounded by a huge area of nearly white, fine gravel, and it is very bright. This turns into a wide path running straight through the Tuileries, and it can be desert-like if you walk down the middle of it.

Both sides of this path are flanked by rows of trees. The ground is uneven beneath them, but the shade is easier on the eyes. There are buvettes under the trees. Not all of their chairs and table are full.

I think more people have taken the park's free chairs that are scattered all over, and are using them for important tasks such as reading newspapers and books, listening to portable music through headphones or are simply doing absolutely nothing.

The some than have chosen to do this beyond the shade are soaking up the sun's rays and heat, so they are not wasting time exactly. The Tuileries seem to very low-key today.

By the Carrousel arch there are the usual numbers having their photos taken. In the bright light, this arch looks fine because its subtle colors are showing. In its patch of white gravel, it looks a bit informal too - without any flag-waving. Here's the arch. C'est tout.

Across the way, the Louvre's Cour Napoléon is snoozing through the afternoon. Maybe there is dust on the steel and glass Pyramid - maybe it's the empty pools around it - it feels like mid-August. Maybe a couple of palms are needed here.

The Louvre is 'on strike' again today. There is a short line of visitors waiting a short time to get in for free. The strikers have two reddish flags by the entry. Every few minutes one of them picks up a microphone and announces the free entry. Between announcements, a CD-player puts out Latin music. Everything seems pretty relaxed.

This is where I finally lose the lady I've been sort of trailing since entering the Tuileries at Concorde. I saw her marching in - as opposed to strolling - and wondered if she might be on a cross-town hike.

I didn't stop to take any photos in the gardens, but I did stop to look around. When I'd get going again I'd see the lady further ahead. Sometimes she disappeared and I'd be surprised to see her again, sometimes closer than expected.

After the Pyramid's red flags, in the Cour Carée the lady is gone. There are three exits here and I take the one leading to the Pont des Arts.

It seems brighter than usual, with the shadow of the Institut on the left bank looming over it. On the quays below, beside the still high Seine, people are sunbathing and some are playing a bit of music. Bongo players like it here.

In front of the Institut, three or four men are working at repaving the entry place with stone paving blocks. It is always good to see that there are alternatives to asphalt. The stone probably costs more, but it is easier to fix and lasts longer. When it is patterned it look better too.

I go up the Rue de Seine, still stopping and looking. The café La Palette seems to be in too muchphoto: fountain des mers, concorde shade, as if its customers have no need of sunlight. It is a good place just after sundown if its awnings are rolled up and you have the evening sky for a roof.

Hot and harassed drivers ignore the Fontaine des Mers and it ignores them.

Originally I meant to quit this at Châtelet. To shorten matters a bit I go up Rue de l'Echaude towards the boulevard. But I remember the café at Buci and wonder how its renovation came out and backtrack to see that it seems to be restored to near its original self - with maybe only a change of name.

The city has widened the sidewalk in front of it, so its terrace sprawls further out. The cafés on the Boulevard Saint-Germain still have their narrow sidewalks, and all their terraces are full.

It might only be the fourth day of 'spring' in Paris, but it almost feels like summer. It is time for me to find a terrace and sit myself down and let somebody else do the walking.

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