Next month marks my birthday, along with those of two former French queens, so why not celebrate April in Paris with a little regalicious pomp and circumstance at either Catherine de Médici’s Jardin des Tuileries or Marie de Médici’s Jardin du Luxembourg?
Jardin des Tuileries
Métro: Tuileries, Concorde, Palais Royal/Musée du Louvre, Pyramides
(Tip: I recommend Concorde because it’s located near two English bookshops!)
Size: Sixtysomething acres on the Right Bank
Peeks and Valleys: Created by Catherine de Médici during the 17th Century (with a slight Italian flair), the gardens were given a redo by landscape architect André Le Nôtre during the Sun King’s reign. After the Big Wigs’ 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 park was rampant with duckweed, prostitution, and angry mobs.
What’s in a name? The Jardin des Tuileries (literally, “the tileworks”) was built atop the clay pits of the former city tile factory. Back then, most of the buildings were roofed with tiles.
Multi-taskers: It’s a tile’s throw from the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (former Royal tennis court), Musée Les Arts Décoratifs, the Musée de la Mode et Textile, the Musée du Louvre, and the Musée de l’Orangerie!
Lust for Life: Swanky cafés, chairs, and over one hundred statues (including many by Maillol) seductively tempt. Writer Henry Miller made no secret of his profound love of the voluptuous bronzes. “Dashing here or there like a bedbug, gathering [cigarette] butts now and then, sometimes furtively, sometimes brazenly; sitting down on a bench and squeezing my guts to stop the gnawing or walking through the Jardin des Tuileries getting [suggestive term deleted] looking at the dumb statues.” It’s Miller, after all. Ooh, la la.
Where to buy reading material: Pick up a magazine or book at W.H. Smith at 248 Rue de Rivoli, or at Galignani at 224 rue de Rivoli. (Both have plenty of books in English.) Also near Place de la Concorde, you’ll find the Jardin des Tuileries Bookshop, specializing in garden books. Browse deeply. Your plants back home will thank you.
Study the masters: Prepare for your visit by getting an eyeful of Manet’s “Music in the Tuileries.” At the Lourve, you’ll find Eugéne Lami’s “Entrée de la duchesse d’Orléans dans le jardin des Tuileries.” The Jardin des Tuileries has also played muse to photographers Atget, Brassaï, and Doisneau.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Métro: Notre-Dame des Champs, Odéon, Port-Royal, Rennes, or Vavin
(Tip: I recommend the Notre-Dame des Champs Métro station because, Cheapos, as you meander your way to the park, you’ll pass a grocery store and a string of funky boutiques.)
Size: Sixty-something acres on the Left Bank
The hoedown: Created by Marie de Médici and garden theorist Boyeau de La Bareaudière with a Florentine twist during the 17th Century, it opened to the public in 1778. Rumor has it that Hemingway hunted for pigeons here during his lean salad days. He wrote:
“When you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de L’Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard.”
Multi-taskers: It’s conveniently near the Musée de Cluny (Museum of the Middle Ages) and the Musée du Luxembourg (currently closed).
Garden of delights: The Jardin du Luxembourg boasts a hefty collection of over 100 statues (showcasing former French queens and female saints), the Medici Fountain, the octagonal Grand Bassin surrounded by raised terraces, Bartholdi’s original State of Liberty prototype, a school for training bee keepers, and a théâtre des marionnettes! There are also pear and apple orchards, flowerbeds with gillyflowers and dahlias, orange, date, and pomegranate trees. Games include tennis, running, chess, toy boat racing, boules (lawn bowling), donkey rides, and a carrousel where kids can try to spear golden rings with little lances!
Where to buy reading material: San Francisco Books at 17 Rue Monsieur le Prince (Metro Odéon) specializes in used books in English.
Strike a pose: Luxembourg flirted with photographers Atget, Brassaï, and Doisneau. Painter Watteau paid calls too. It also had a reoccurring role in Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Misérables.”
And so Cheapos, in the words of Henry Valentine Miller, “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware: joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware!” So keep your eyes peeled!
[Editor's Note: Happy birthday, Theadora! We hope you celebrate like a queen!]