My Reminiscences of events, old and new, and travels, far and near
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.