On the importance of green spaces

 

In large cities where high-density apartment living is common, there needs to be enough green space for people to escape from their dwellings. This is especially the case in Paris when the weather gets hot, as most apartments do not have air-conditioning [mine included]. Paris has no shortage of greenspaces. Ones known to everyone living outside of Paris include the Tuileries, Jardin de Plantes & Jardin de Luxembourg, to name a few. These public gardens attract people all year round. In winter the trees may be bare, but this can highlight their pruned shapes – as the image below from the Jardin de Luxembourg shows.

JardinDeLuxumbourg

There are many smaller parks & gardens that dot each arrondisement. There is also a ‘greenway’ – a 4.5 km walking/running/cycling trail called La Coulée verte René Dumont based on an old railway line that was closed in 1969. The trail crosses the 12th arrondisement – from the environs of the Place de la Bastille to La Porte de Vincennes [for a map see https://www.francedigitale.com/randonnee/information/58 ]. The trail is really cool because it runs ~7 metres above street level, giving the observer a very different perspective to the streets & buildings of Paris. Different parts were opened at different times – from the 1980s to 1993 – as it was renovated & built up in different stages.

LaCouleeVerte_09

There are lots of roses & other flowers in bloom right now – so it is a beautiful place to take a stroll & literally take some time to smell the flowers…

Poppy

The trail also crosses the Parc de Reuilly – a lovely public park with a public ‘fountain’ where people can drink & also fill containers of both still & sparkling water – something unique in the city. There are park benches where people can sit & read or contemplate life. The grass provides a comfortable spot as well.

From the Coulée verte some really whimsical buildings can be seen. This one [see images below] is the quirkiest one that I have seen in Paris so far. It was designed by Spanish-French architect/urbanist Manolo Nuñez-Yanowsky & channels Michaelangelo’s sculpture ‘The Slave‘. The human motif repeats 15 times across the top of this corner building! The building project was completed in 1988 & it actually a police station – believe it or not… [http://www.nunez-yanowsky.com/works/project/police_station].

Fortunately the Coulée verte does not look ugly from street level. Part of the reason for this is the Viaduc des arts – a stretch of 60 artists & artisans studios, that were renovated & established in the 1980s [see http://www.leviaducdesarts.com/].

The parks & greenways provide a wonderful way for Parisians to de-stress & relax, to keep fit & to spend quality time with their families in a beautiful outdoor setting. I have taken to going to the park closest to me & sitting for a while to read as well as well as taking strolls to look at the trees & flowers. I also have access to spring water: there is a source in our neighborhood that has been tapped down to ~ 600 metres! The water is cold & has a subtle taste – not as minerally as I expected. Rumor has it that a local boulangerie [winner of last year’s best baguette in Paris award] uses this water for its baguettes. The baker purportedly gets on his bicycle to fetch the water at some ungodly hour of the night. [Baguettes take ~5 hours to make from start to finish.]

Formal green spaces are a real form of art in France – historically formal gardens have been appreciated by nobles & kings for centuries. Places like the Tuileries in Paris were originally constructed so that members of the Royal Court could take a stroll when they got too cooped up in the palace. Similarly, the gardens of palaces such as Versailles and Fontainebleu were probably constructed for the same purpose. Woods or forests nearby were sometimes set aside for the exclusive use of the king for the pursuit of hunting activities, for example Le Bois du Roi near Fontainebleu. There are many others throughout France.

In the Loire valley some of the many Chateaux there also have beautiful gardens. Chenonceau is one of those, also with a neighboring forest. It is a very unusual chateau, in that it is built to straddle the river Cher.

Chenonceau_Loire_09

Chenonceau_Loire_18

I was fortunate enough to visit friends last weekend who live in the area. We were able to enjoy those woods, which border the chateau & the river Cher. Remarkably, there were very few people walking along the river & in the woods that weekend. The place was quiet, but for the beautiful bird chorus that could be heard in the trees. Delightful!

The image below show a small little rivulet where the water is almost completely still – as evidenced by the almost perfect reflection of the forest canopy in the water…

Chenonceau_Loire_17

The woods also house the tomb of Madame Dupin [1706 – 1799] – a previous owner of the castle [https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madame_Dupin]. Her claim to fame? It is a long & convoluted story, but in a nutshell she was an illegitimate child who grew up in a very well-to-do household in Paris who married into money. This reported beauty supported the arts & the humanities – having had a salon in the chateau at Chenonceau. At the start  of the French revolution she left Paris for the chateau – moving there permanently in 1792. She chose her own burial place & it is located in a beautiful spot in the woods – to be reached via a side drawbridge [an entrance/exit that is no longer used].

There are so many chateaux in this region that it is impossible to see them all. I have previously been to this region many years ago now & have visited some of them. This visit we went to the Domaine Chaumont because every year it hosts a festival where artists of various disciplines – not just horiculturists – participate in a competition where the garden exhibits are open to the public for a large part of the year. One can catch glimpses of the chateau from these gardens:

This year’s exhibit theme was ‘Jardins de la Pensée’ [‘Gardens of Thought’], as shown in their promotional material below & on their website: [http://www.domaine-chaumont.fr/fr/festival-international-des-jardins/edition-2018-jardins-de-la-pensee] The exhibit is open from April to November.

JardinsDeLaPensee

The exhibits were very creative & interesting, as I hope that the images below show. Some of my favorites were ‘Le Jardin des Voyelles‘ [‘Garden of vowels’] where a poem was represented by the consonants only – the vowels consisted of plants. By June the plants are getting larger & are partly beginning to hide some of the consonants too – so reading it was becoming a challenge! The exhibit was the brainchild of a French group called OULIPO [OUvroir de LIttérature POtentielle] formed in 1960 to develop new literary forms by delving into mathematics & science among other things.

Chaumont_JardinsDeLaPensee_10

There was the ‘Avantgarden‘ where a trees trunk & roots had been transmuted into a something like a set of blood vessels – presented in bright red, which provided an interesting contrast to the green vegetation around… A path of bright red mulch completed the picture & captured everyone’s attention. This Russian exhibit came from Olga Podolskaya [an industrial designer], Margarita Syrtsova [founder & director of the Arteco Casa agency] & Olga Cherdantseva [landscape architect & chief curator of the gardens of the Russian Museum].

A post-apocolyptic theme was evoked in ‘(R)évolution‘ – where vegetation prevails over the man-made stuff… with the misting devices making a surreal ambience. The designers of this French exhibit were Camille Lacroix [scenographer], Christine Monlezun [director] & Philippe Bertrand [landscaper & teacher].

Chaumont_JardinsDeLaPensee_16

A striking minimalist exhibit was that of ‘La Possibilité d’une île‘ [‘The possibility of an island’] where German architect Ulli Heckmann asks the question: can a tree grow in a body of water? This is timely given the increase in extreme weather events & flooding in so many places in the world. In this exhibit a solitary Japanese maple sits in a pool of water surrounded by chips of shale. The photo I took does not do this exhibit justice…

Chaumont_JardinsDeLaPensee_06

Finally, no garden art exhibit would be complete [in my opinion] without a work from Dale Chihuly, a Seattle-based glass artist. I have seen a lot of his work previously – one particularly memorable exhibit at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh comes to mind… This time it was a blue glass sculpture that is 3 metres high. Apparently this work was originally created for an exhibition for the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2006 & was also shown in Denver [2014] & New York [2017].

Chaumont_JardinsDeLaPensee_17

Overall, we had a wonderful afternoon looking at the almost 30 exhibits. The weather was threatening – there were some strong thunderstorms all around us & we could hear the thunder. By some incredible stroke of luck the storms missed us – we just got some rain instead. There was so much more to see in the gardens themselves, including a valley of mist [‘La Vallée de Brumes‘] where, if you are lucky, sunbeams will come through the mist… There are also lots of ponds of waterlilies in all sorts of colors…

Chaumont_LaValléeDesBrumes_02

So do you have a favorite green space near where you live? I have to say that my overall favorite is my own garden – something that I have sorely missed while living here. That said, I have tried to make up for it by spending lots of time outside in the lovely green spaces that mean so much to French people.

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