Paris:- Wednesday, 23. October 1996:- It is really bright again and not at all cool; very comfortable, and there are still a lot of leaves on the trees. Some are faded green, but a lot are going from yellow to ocher. With the drought they talked about in the papers, you would have thought they would have been dead months ago.
It is a tremendous fall in Paris this year. There have been a couple of rainy days or foggy mornings, and then there are bright spells - that last for days. Any of these may be the last one, so each time I'm out, I figure it is a bonus day. Paris is not a bad place to have bonus days even if it does not have real 'Indian summers.'
I am following the unwritten non-métro part of Dana Shaw's memory from the métro station Notre-Dame-des-Champs on the boulevard Raspail. I am trying to imagine the rue Huysmans in black and white, in 1955. When I look above the cars, it can be done, except for the blue sky. [See also Lounging Around the Luxembourg Left Bank Island of Tranquility and Play, Vol. 1, Issue 10]
Rue Huysmans runs into the rue Duguay-Trouin and this comes to an end at the rue d'Assas. There is another one of the Malraux billboards facing the rue Duguay-Trouin, and the quote is, "La jeunesse européenne est plus touché par ce que le monde peut être que par ce qu'il est." I wonder if this is true these days.
I turn left in front of the billboard and walk the block down rue d'Assas to the rue Fleurus and turn right, towards the entrance to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Some of the signs fixed to the gate could date to 1955. Otherwise there is a lot of color; the leaves on the ground running a full spectrum of yellows.
Inside the park, the tennis is to the left and the balls are popping back and forth and the children's area is to the right, as is a park café with a few people sitting at tables on a carpet of fallen leaves.
The park guardian has a whimsical building out of Alice - an upsidedown coffee cup and saucer for a roof, and there is actually a 'guardian' sitting at a desk inside. There are police outside, in ones, in twos - many more than you see on the streets. There are moms and many children and none of them look dangerous, or in danger.
A fellow has a mini-rodeo with a flimsy-looking coach and a small herd of stout Shetland ponies and there are a crowd of kids waiting their turns. Moving away, I almost pass without noticing an artist painting the scene of the coach and ponies, because he is surrounded by a tightly pressing audience. A passing policeman tells the group to let the fellow breathe and they all take half a step back. The painting is done enough so you can see what it is, and it is not bad.
At the top of the steps, overlooking the sailing pond, with the Panthéon in the background, there is a wide and bright scene that seems very sharp because the shadows are crisply defined. There are many people in this scene - walking about, sitting on the free metal chairs; mostly facing the sun that fills the whole place.
I listen. The people here make no discernable sounds, but there is a background sound of traffic and it is annoying to me, but I am listening for it and I might not hear it at all if I was sitting in a metal chair and reading a book or a newspaper, and facing the sun and feeling comfortable.
The sailing pond has sails on it and there are still boats available to rent - 17 francs - but the pond puts me off because the water is brown. Not so brown as in the summer, but it does not reflect the sky like clean or deep water does. The pond's man-made octagonal shape is too formal for my taste, but it is in a formal area in front of the Palais du Luxembourg, and it was all decided a long time ago by the former owners.
The space is so large that I can see all the individual people, from the terrace on the east side, overlooking the pond. It reminds me of those old etchings that show a formal garden, with little groups of people scattered about - even though there are many more than a few people here today. From a certain angle, I can see the renaissance-like towers of St. Sulpice to the right of the palace, and they seem to add a bit of anarchy to the formal scene.
Many people are on the terrace, pointed like the shadow of a sundial. They too know it is a bonus day, before the grey of November arrives. The other outdoor café, up here, has more custom than the first. Even in the long shade under the trees it is not cool.
Not much sun is getting through to the pool in front of the Médicis fountain where thousands of leaves are floating in the black water, as others drift down from above. The water is absorbing the light, but small shafts of pure sun sneak through to turn small highlights into pinpoints. With a carpet of leaves underfoot, the readers and dreamers sitting in the metal chairs ignore the rumble from the nearby boulevard St. Michel and the rue de Médicis, lost in the solitude given off by the still water.
As I lean against the smooth green moss of a thick plane tree, noticing only slowly that the roots do not permit comfortable leaning, I watch an older man carefully taking photographs of the sculptured figures that decorate the, what? - the 'false-front' of the fountain. He uses a flash, probably to heighten contrast, as most of the stone figures are dark grey. He takes several shots, then holds up for examination a plastic sleeve containing diapositives. Are they some sort of guide? I am too lazy to ask.
One of the chairs is free so I give it a try. They have generous seats, so it is possible to get into a good slouch, and it would be good to put the feet up on the ornate railing - ah - but that would be too informal, too comfortable. The girl in black on the other side of the pool finishes her yogurt, relaxes a bit, looks around and up to the tops of the trees, and leaves - walking up the slight bank behind that is deep in fallen leaves, all still crisp.
The pigeon that is sitting right in the middle of the top of the lowest water-crest, just behind the highlighted fall of water, looks like it is awake - but it has not moved the whole time I've been here.
I pull myself together and walk around behind the fountain where there is a water-spout and the inscription, and pull the book-store card out of my bag as I cross the rue de Médicis to the shop where I'd put a deposit on 'Paris - à travers les âges' by M. F. Hoffbauer. I pay the balance and walk out with another big book full of the long history of Paris.
When I get home I'll weigh it and see if the lady's estimate of four kilos is right. I hope the print is not too small to read easily.
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