Late spring rain storms have left Paris a bit dripping and damp the past few weeks. But suddenly, the sun blinked its bright eyes over Paris. The weekend brought blue skies and earnest Parisians eager to make up for lost leisure. I followed the swift crowd from Notre Dame south to the 6th arrondissement – the grand arrondissement that includes both districts Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter.
The 6th arrondissement yields such historic prominence: it is, in fact, the very home of the famous expats, the after-war intellectuals, artists, and writers. The very people I look to with complete awe: Gertrude Stein made her home in the 6th and Hemingway wrote novels at the iconic Café de Flore. Strange to imagine his busy pen behind the Café de Flore glass as I walk down the same streets.
The 6th arrondissement features Paris’ second largest public park: the illustrious Jardin du Luxembourg. I like to think of Hemingway taking his famous walks through this age-old park: carrying his notebook gruffly to his side and creating entire worlds of thought on the way. The Jardin du Luxembourg was built in 1611, some three hundred years prior to Ernest’s strolls, and some four hundred years before my strewn picnic blanket, my still-warm baguette, my Brie cheese, and my bottle of wine picnic. Not so difficult to imagine, then, that the gardens remain completely the same today as they were in Hemingway’s day. Time has perhaps left this vibrant garden alone with its own wiles—unlike much of the rest of the city bursting with the world into the 21st century.
Most of the Jardin du Luxembourg finds pathways of gravel between enormous lines of great elms and apple trees, beautiful hedges, sculptures, and fountains. This is the same style featured in the Jardin de Tuileries, directly next to the Louvre, and also in the Versailles gardens. Essentially, the Parisian park style allows for clean lines and proper pruning. Usually, you are not allowed to walk on the grass, therefore the gardeners create appropriate pathways in full view of the natural world.
In this world of anti-grass, however, the patch of grass in which my picnic took place was the greenest I’ve seen. Jardin du Luxembourg gives you a great green plain in which to eat and play on the south side—just a football field away from the fountain in front of the Luxembourg Palace. I sprawled next to chipper Parisians; small babies waddled throughout the grass freely, blowing bubbles that reflected the never-ending cloudless sky. Two great lines of elm trees fenced us on either side. Parisians have embraced the picnicking life like no other culture. They sit calmly in the wake of the grand, Italian-inspired Luxembourg Palace—the palace built in 1611 by Marie de Medici, Henry IV’s widow. Marie de Medici longed for her Florence home and commissioned several builders and gardeners to construct a palace and appropriate gardens to remind her of home.
The sixty acres of the Jardin du Luxembourg allows for an entire after-picnic afternoon of recreation. I walked to the round fountain directly before the palace and found children rushing around, pushing great toy sailboats into the water to blow in the wind. Others operated remote-controlled boats; the toy boats scurried quickly from side-to-side, surrounding the more majestic toys. A stand to the side offered the sail boat rental for a small fee.
Parisians popped tennis balls from racket to racket in the Luxembourg tennis courts, hopping to and fro in fashionable tennis skirts on the west side of the park. Old men in flopping hats played a tense game of bocce ball, while others stroked long beards over chessboards throughout the area. Additional west-side activities brought child-friendly puppet shows and pony rides. A large child’s playground was divided between older children activities and younger children activities; parents watched in reclining green chairs dotting the perimeter. Walking beneath the shadowed trees to the children’s pony rides was fantastic: almost like some sort of fairytale. The park is truly layered and perfect for imagination.
I was lost in my afternoon at the Jardin du Luxembourg: lost in thought and lost in awe for what the Parisians have preserved with this immaculate garden. The great green plain gave me long hours to stretch in the Parisian sun and indulge in France’s best cheese and bread.
Allison Krupp is a Midwestern-born traveler who ran away to Paris when the snowstorms swooped in. These days find her exploring Paris’ arrondissements, speaking poor French to people she hopes appreciate the sentiment, searching for the best bottle of wine and discovering all the mystery of this historical city she now calls home.