To Paris With Love
By Theadora Brack
Paris will survive. The City of Light has been through thousands of years of barbarian invasions, plagues, religious wars, sieges, and Nazi occupations, and always comes through. In fact, the city’s heraldic symbol is a boat on waves surrounded by a motto that says something to the effect that no matter how rough it gets, she keeps on floating, “Fluctuat nec mergitur!” A 14th century mantra: “Tossed by the waves but never sunk!”
And Paris will keep on floating and cha-changing with the times.
My musician friends have already started spreading the word about their upcoming gigs in concerts halls, big and small, and parks, bars and cafés, too.
“The beat must go on,” my bass player friend Jeff wrote.
So this week, let’s also gently, gently sail forth with a stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries, one of my favorite havens to rendezvous, rain or shine. Created by Queen Catherine de Médici with a slight Italian flair in 1564, the Jardin des Tuileries (literally, “the tileworks”) was built atop the clay pits of the former city tile factory. Here Catherine and her courtside “flying squadron” of ladies-in-waiting threw many a fit, fête and soirée.
A few decades later, King Henri IV grabbed the reins. With the help of gardening gurus Claude Mollet and Jacques Boyceau, the king of the urban-redo revamped the royal grounds, replacing the old-school checkerboard patterns with floral boxwood designs. Deep in the scrolling embroidery-like parterres en broderie, the petal-pushing king horsed around with his friends, entertainers, and mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrée. As Henri liked to say, “Great cooking and great wines make a paradise on earth.” O, Henri!
Ahead of the curve he may have been, but very little of the dream team’s original makeover still survives because some sixty years later, the Jardin de Tuileries was given yet another redo by landscape architect André Le Nôtre, during the Sun King’s reign. After the Big Wigs’ big move to Versailles, it became one of the first public parks. Sadly, this was also where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were held prisoners during the French Revolution. At that time, due to years of neglect, the gardens were rampant with duckweed, prostitution, and angry mobs.
Today the park is back in the budding business. Here you’ll find beaucoup hideaways, perfect for reading and whispering sweet nothings. There’s never a shortage of café terraces, goats, flowerbeds, benches, shady trees or views of the Eiffel Tower. Here is where I often dance with sculptor Aristide Maillol’s voluptuous bronze beauties. With their infectious tranquility, this statuesque entourage of eighteen femmes has never failed to repair this flâneur’s heart. The statues have been holding court here at the Tuileries since 1964, thanks to a generous gift from Maillol’s muse and model, Dina Vierny.
Seeing evening come to the Tuileries, I am reassured once more that this city is still a special place, a very human place, and a place for the whole planet to cherish and celebrate. This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve all needed to be reminded of this. Amid the smoking rubble of the Premier Guerre Mondial, tourists with copies of M.V. Vernier’s pocket-sized 1918 edition of “How to Enjoy Paris” in hand would have read these passionate words, urging them to keep visiting:
“The spirit of Paris gradually takes possession of you and permeates you never to depart. From now on, wherever you go, it will re-awaken you. You will be drawn back to it with irresistible force, like the moth, at even-time, to the flame. There is no other cure for Paris-itis—save a little three week trip across the ocean and tropics. And at the end of the voyage is found the long-sought-for-oasis, the delicious and magic fountain where lost attractiveness is found again, and the most capricious whim is satisfied.”
Standing by a fountain in the Tuileries, I think yes, Paris may change a little—but then again, it always has. After all, that’s what made it what it is today. Just remember that, like the old French adage says, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
So stay safe, I say, but carpe diem anyway! Keep on traveling and definitely keep on dancing.