Friday, May 29, 2015

Palais-Royal Gardens in Paris in May

The month of May is about over.  It is one of my favorite months when the trees have tender shades of green and flowers are bright.  The weather in May is warm but not sweltering and the nights are still cool.  Later, under the warm Georgia sun, the flowers will fade, insects and mosquitoes will abound.  On May 10th was our little granddaughter's second birthday.  On May 11 was our niece (the granddaughter of my husband's sister) 16th birthday, and on May 12th would have been my mother 105th birthday had she lived (she passed away in 2002 ages 92.)  May was the month of my late father-in-law's birthday.  It is the birth month of my son-in-law and of my sister-in-law.  In addition, at the end of last week, on 23rd May, our eldest daughter became engaged to a very nice man - a happy month for all.  Below are my granddaughter, niece and my mother on her birthday, when she was 68 years old.

May is the month to celebrate mothers.  In the US, Mother's Day was on May 10th and in France it is celebrated on May 30th.  On that day, I usually would buy my mother a hydrangea plant or some roses.

My mother and I would often visit the gardens of Paris.  One of our favorite gardens was in the Palais Royal - the roses and other flowers were outstanding there in May.  Last year, in 2014, my husband and I spent several days in Paris in May, but it rained often.  The time before that, in May, the days were sunny and very warm and I took him to the Palais-Royal.  We stopped at the Metro station Louvre-Palais Royal - the Louvre Museum is across the street.

I was surprised to see the fancy bead-work around the Metro entrance.  Years ago, I had a summer job in a little shop in the galleries of the rue de Rivoli and the Metro entrance was plain.  In October 2000, for the centenary of the Paris Metro, artist Jean-Michel Othoniel created two cupolas called "Kiosque des noctambules" (Kiosk of the night owls) - one representing the day, the other the night.  The canopies are made of multi-colored glass ball garlands and aluminum.  Below the canopy, at the back of the fence is an aluminum bench.  (Photo of the Metro station courtesy Wikipedia - Click on collage to enlarge.)

The area around the Metro is called Place Colette in honor of the well-known novelist Colette (1873-1954) who lived in a spacious apartment in a building nearby.  She had a superb view of the gardens.  She lived there from 1938 until her death on August 3, 1954.  the Catholic Church refused to conduct religious funerals for Colette, but she was the first French woman granted a state funeral by the French Republic.  This took place on 7 August 1954 in the courtyard of the Palais Royal with more than 6,000 Parisians in attendance to pay their last respects.

The history of the Palais-Royal is long and tumultuous, just like the city of Paris itself.  The Palais and its gardens were built between 1633 and 39 for Cardinal Richelieu - at the time it was called "Palais-Cardinal."  Upon the death of the cardinal the palace and gardens were bequeathed to King Louis XIII.  When Louis XIII died in 1643, his son Louis XIV was only 4 1/2 years old.  His mother, Anne of Austria, took young Louis and his brother to live in the palace so they could play in the gardens.  Thus the name was changed to "Palais-Royal" (Royal Palace.)  Although when he was 5 years old, Louis XIV almost died when he fell in the garden pond and was saved at the last minute.  Below is Louis XIV painted by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) and some old engravings of the Palais-Royal in the 17th century (courtesy Bibliotheque Nationale de France.)

Since this building was constructed in the 17th century, its history has been quite long and varied.  I'll sum it up as I believe that it is always interesting to know the background of a monument - glimpsing at its yesterdays brings it more to life today.  Various branches of the royal family lived in the palace.  This is also the place where a young lawyer, Camille Desmoulins, jumped on a table and gave a passionate speech asking the crowd to take up arms for freedom.  The date was July 12, 1789.  Camille's speech energized the crowd and riots spread throughout Paris culminating on July 14, 1789, with the storming of the Bastille prison.  (Click on collage twice to read better.)

One of the royals had the arcades built with exclusive shops and restaurants.  Later the gardens were modified.  After the Revolution, Parisians would assemble in the Palais-Royal gardens to party, talk, and walk.  It was the hippest part of Paris - the "in" place to be.  It was also a place of debauchery, wild parties as well as rendez-vous for writers, philosophers (and ladies of the night.)  There were cafes, gambling dens and houses of ill repute.  A small 1784 cafe "Cafe de Chartres" was renamed "Vefour" by its new owner, Jean Vefour, in 1820.  It became a top luxury restaurant patronized by Bonaparte and Josephine, Victor Hugo and "le tout Paris" (Parisian smart set.)  The Grand Vefour restaurant has Belle Epoque frescos and mosaics in a sumptuous decor.  It still is one of Paris top exclusive restaurants - the gastronomic place for "haute cuisine."  The prices echo all this.  Apart from their "pleasure menu" at $335 (298 Euros) each not including drinks, they also offer a special set lunch at $110 each (98 Euros.)  (Photos courtesy Grand Vefour.)

The gardens are shaded by red chestnut trees planted in 1910 and double rows of linden trees planted in 1970.  These trees were added to the already 466 trees there.  Below are vintage postcards of the Palais-Royal along the years.

Before France imposed Greenwich Time in 1911, a small cannon installed in the gardens would thunder on sunny days.  A magnifying glass cause the wick to burn at noon.  Many Parisians came to set their time watches by the firing of this cannon.

Today the Palais Royal and its garden have mellowed.  It is quiet, peaceful, and the gardens are closed in the evenings.

During the day, workers bring their lunch and sit on one of the many benches to suntan, relax or read.

Locals walk their dogs or talk about their dogs.  Mothers bring their children.  It is a little tucked away from view, so few tourists come to the gardens.

In 1985, under the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, Daniel Buren, a French conceptual artist  (born 3-28-1938,) designed an audacious and controversial contemporary art titled "Buren Columns."  The 260 black and white striped columns, of different heights, are placed in the inner courtyard of the Palace.  In 1985, another contemporary art had been placed south of the garden: chrome balls, on horizontal fountains, moving up and down with the rhythm of the water.  These kinetic sculptures were made by Belgian artist Pol Bury (1922-2005.)

It was quite a warm day in May when we visited the gardens.  Sitting by the large basin, watching the ducks, had a cooling effect.

While I was busy taking pictures of the lovely roses and flowers, my husband sat in the shade on a bench.  He decided to share his leftover baguette with the pigeons.  They heard the invitation ...

The Palais-Royal houses now four state institutions: la Comedie Francaise (national theatre,) the State Council, the Constitutional Council and the Ministry of Culture.  These cannot be visited but I found some pictures on a French Government virtual tour.  It certainly is an elegant working environment and sophisticate decor for French government employees ...

We rested in this little garden oasis in the center of Paris and imagined the atmosphere of yesteryear.  I was reluctant to leave such pretty roses and to walk back into the Paris traffic.

Here in Georgia my wild rose shrub flowered at the beginning of May.  It climbs very high in the trees.  The roses are a pretty splash of pink against the numerous trees in our yard.

I'll end with the Latin motto on the sign near the little cannon in the Palais-Royal gardens - it is good for the month of May but also for all the other months of the year.


"Je ne compte que les heures heureuses."

"I only count the happy hours."  



Elephant's Child said...

Informative and beautiful as always. Thank you for the research and work you put into each and every post.

Paris Rendez-vous and Beyond said...

What a beautiful post dear Vagabonde.

And do you know that the Palais Royal Garden and its surrounding areas (including those fabulous Buren black and white columns) is my absolute favourite spot in Paris! Yes, it is always very quiet, away from the madding crowd and tourists!!! I have wandered those gardens many a time, watched Parisian gentlemen playing boules, walked under the colonades, browsed in those luxurious shops along the arcades and enjoyed un vin rouge in a nearby bistro! Voila! Le Palais Royal est Magnifique!!!



La Table De Nana said...

You are having a GREAT month of May!

Congratulations on your daughter's engagement to a nice man:)

DJan said...

Thank you again for such a beautiful and informative post. I knew nothing about the Palais Royal Garden before today and if I ever make it back to Paris, I will remember it. Your wonderful flower pictures are stunning as well. I love roses. :-)

David said...

Vagabonde, Now I know who wrote Gigi! Loved the movie... After a little research I understand why the Catholic church had a problem with Colette. She was a busy, busy woman! Thanks for all the information about the Palais Royal and its gardens... What a beautiful gathering place for the locals. I'm siding with the traditionalists re: those striped columns. They look out of place in that setting. Nice photo of your husband feeding the pigeons. We love to feed birds as well...and we've had the most fun feeding sea gulls. We have 2 different wild rose bushes in the front yard and they really do a nice job of helping us welcome spring. Great post! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Rosaria Williams said...

As usual, you enrich us with your generous accounting and narratives of a life well lived. Happy Mother's Day, dear friend.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Poor Colette.....the Catholic Church would have been LUCKY to have her!!!(My dear friend Betty and I were adapting the play "Cherie" into a Musical---it's about Colette and one of her young very special lovers.....It had played on Broadway with the fantastic Kim Stanley and---if memory serves---Alan Deloin(?--Spelling not right).....

These Gardens are so BEAUTIFUL and I love seeing your husband feeding the Pigeons.....They really LOVED him, didn't they......As always, I see things in your beautiful posts that I have never seen and won't ever see, like the Palais.....Magnificent!.....Thank You So Much, my dear Vagabonde

claude said...

Une publication qui me ravie, Vagabonde. Tout comme toi, j'aime cette ville. Aznavour chante "J'aime Paris au mois de Mai " et il a bien raison. Moi, j'irai voir Paris le mois prochain. Cela ne doit pas être mal non plus.

Pat said...

Thank you for that Vagabonde.
Having just visited some European capitals I realise that no capital could ever touch my heart like Paris does.
Oh to be there in springtime.
Your roses are stunning.

Denise Covey said...

How beautiful Vagabonde. I love wandering around the Palais Royal. I have some of the same pics of the metro stop where I wandered around thinking about Colette. We have pics of the fountain frozen in winter. So very different. Not many flowers in winter either.

What a lovely trip!

Denise :-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vagabonde .. Paris has some amazing gardens in the city and nearby ... I love the Marche aux fleurs ... while the memories of your month of May for the ladies in your family - are special ... as too your roses in your yard.

We are being blown away here today - thick rain and heavy winds ... good for the ground and the plants are being tested ... cheers Hilary

Jeanie said...

A fascinating and simply beautiful post! Your photos are terrific as always and the info even more so.

I also found the Mother's Day poignant -- you know, it made me think, I really can't remember how my mom and I celebrated that day, it has been so long, more than half my life since she died. I know we all went to dinner but I can't remember where. I'm sure I gave her a present but I can't remember what. I wish I could have those times over again.

Mae Travels said...

I love your collected historic drawings, postcards, and photos, documenting the history of this beautiful oasis in the midst of streets full of traffic and commerce.

I read that Raymond Oliver (1909–1990), the chef and owner of Le Grand Véfour, would sometimes bring lunch or dinner up to Collette's apartment near the restaurant when she was unable or not willing to go out. Then they would sit and talk or gossip about the old days while she ate her favorites.

mae at

Carol Crump Bryner said...

I so enjoyed this post, especially the photos of Colette and her balcony, and the glorious roses. I love May, and you have given us a beautiful celebration of the month, and of our mothers. Thanks Vagabonde!

Christine said...

I was in Paris when this post came through. I so agree with you about the beauty of these gardens in the spring. We often take time to eat our lunch there and watch the world go by so it was interesting to learn about its history. I will try to visit it in November and see the changes!!!!!
Thank you for another interesting post.

Kay said...

This post is full of so many wonders. I would love to go back to Paris someday. It's just incredible to see so much history, beauty, elegance and accomplishment in France.

Ginnie said...

Have you ever thought about writing your own book about Paris, Vagabonde, including all these fabulous collages of pics and postcards??? I'm quite sure Paris (and France) would thank you forever!

Vicki Lane said...

Another wonderful post! I always learn so much when I visit here. I love the story about the little cannon!

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