In the poem “Memory of Maria A.”, Bertold Brecht recounts how he would have forgotten the face of his lover and her kiss if it had not been for a tall white cloud present in the sky that day. I have had the same sort of relationship between memory and things because if it wasn’t for the Jardin de Luxembourg, I wouldn’t remember walks and encounters in Paris that my memory would have otherwise blurred.
It was a spring back in ancient times when I came to Paris for the first time. I don’t think I knew then that the Jardin de Luxembourg existed, but ended up staying very close to it in the Latin Quarter. Excited to have finally reached the “City of Light”, I threw myself into its streets and almost automatically descended the Rue Soufflot until I reached the great gate of the Jardin. Going in, I still remember the exact place I sat and the conversation I had with a beautiful American tourist. They were my first minutes in Paris, but the desire to lose myself and explore the infinite labyrinths of every arrondissement came to a halt in the presence of this mysterious beauty and the peace of the Jardin de Luxembourg.
The Jardin de Luxembourg’s attractions never cease, and throughout the seasons there is always something to see, with its riotous colors in spring and melancholic colors in autumn.
Over the last century, composers and singers including Marc Berthomieu, Joe Dassin, Denise Benoit, Stef Bos, Jean Pierre Como and Bruce Irving have all penned or sung songs entitled “Jardin de Luxembourg”, making perhaps the strongest argument of all for the deep symbolism and iconic status of the Luxembourg Gardens.
The innumerable metal chairs of the park scattered about are transformed into a work of art, and the contrast between the relaxed visitors sunbathing and reading, with the park’s frozen and elegant statues, is always a creative inspiration. A series of statues of the 20 queens of France and other illustrious women of history are erected in the two semicircles of the central rotunda, receiving the gazes of passers-by in abiding silence and grace. Almost hidden in a central niche, the Medici fountain is guarded by columns as at the bottom of some mountainous grotto. It has at its feet a bucolic pool of sleeping water and stones and is lined with vases and flower pots overflowing with garlands and ivy.
Honoré de Balzac strolled through the Jardin de Luxembourg in the company of his first love, Madame de Berny. Baudelaire, Guy de Maupasant, Chopin and Verlaine did it too, and the revolutionary Danton was a prisoner in its palace.
In the Paris setting of Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch he said: “We walked without looking for us but knowing that we were to meet”. I imagine that Cortázar, after walking one soft rainy afternoon through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter behind the Pantheon, might have gone down Rue Soufflot until he found the green of the Jardin and his muse “La Maga”. Whispering in a low voice, he would have pronounced the words of Alfred de Musset: “The dreamer with his laziness, The lover with his lover, They enter him as in a Paradise”.
Pablo Munini Milan, © January 2022