Parc de Bagatelle is one of the many gardens that graces the Bois de Boulogne, the large park on the west end of Paris. Paris is, in fact, sandwiched in between two huge wooded parks. Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes. Living in the 16th arrondissement, I am ten minutes walk from the Bois de Boulogne. Last summer, during a phone call with a friend, I learned about a formal rose garden within the boundaries of the Bois. The search for this rose garden led me to and introduced me to Parc de Bagatelle. This beautiful garden spans 59 acres (24 hectares) in the north-western part of the Bois. Hidden away, it is an idyllic and quiet place to discover, away from the noise and the crowd. Not only does it have a formal rose garden but an informal rose garden, an iris garden, a potager, and fields that are planted with bulbs and bloom with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and most other bulbs from early February thru the end of April. May is the month of the Iris. You probably can get the idea that this garden shows off seasonal flowers. Something is blooming all year long.
There are also sentient beings in the parc. Cats. At last count I’ve found thirty of them. Depending on the day of the week and how many people are wandering around, one can see many of them…. or not. There are peacocks that talk all day long, are curious, and will walk right up to you. There are mallards that mostly stay in the ponds but on days when there aren’t many people, they wander the parc and plop themselves down wherever and make sure you understand that this is their parc and you are the guest.
I wanted to know more about the cats. There had to be a reason for all the cats–mousers, maybe? Grandchildren of a famous cat–think Hemingway’s cats. I googled and found one reference to an association “l’association La Féline Du Chlojolie” that feeds and cares for all the cats in the Bois de Boulogne. According to the association, there are about fifty in Bagatelle, another thirty at La Cascade, and the rest wander the trails and hide in the woods of the Bois.
“In 2008, Marie-France created her association La Féline du Chlojolie which has about thirty members, a few donors and four volunteers who don’t count their time devoted to these kitties.
“Every day, we prepare 10 kg of croquettes and 40 boxes of pâtés”. Véronique (Photo above) is one of them. “Our paths have crossed. And for seven years I have been totally involved in this action”, assures this inhabitant of Clichy who comes three to four times a week to Bagatelle park, without any remuneration other than the affection of the cats that surround her. Two other people share the task at the Cascade or in the different sites of the wood.”
“Not only do we feed them, but we also monitor their health. All the cats are castrated, tattooed and followed by a veterinarian”, specifies Marie-France who herself adopted four cats, “desperate cases”, who came back to life. “It’s a colossal job,” she adds.” –le Parisien.
Marie-Claire’s personal adventure began with a walk with one of her granddaughters in Bagatelle park. “I then met Madame Dorfmann, the wife of the producer (Jacques, editor’s note), who had been taking care of the Bagatelle cats for years. Eight months before her death, she made me promise to take care of the cats in her place”… And the the rest is history.
And that’s it. That is all I found about the cats of Bagatelle. I really wanted a story, something folksy that’s passed down through families. But no, these cats are strays and if it weren’t for the good will of Marie-Claire and her volunteers, they’d be scrawny, mangy things carrying all sort of insects on them. The peacocks, mallards, and people would be keeping a great distance. As it is, people smile when they see the cats. They stop and watch them. Sometimes, they will walk up and pet them. I’ve walked by and seen a cat fast asleep on the lap of someone reading and relaxing. Something fascinating is that these beings seem to have territories. When I am walking towards the east end of the park, the cats all stay on the path or in the brush to the right. The peacocks all stay to the left of the path. Very few exceptions.
When I hear the word Paris, my brain always goes in one direction before it hits a fork in the road. That first direction, the knee-jerk response to the word ‘Paris’ is romance. Not romance in the sense of falling in love with a person–although Paris is certainly famous for being the ‘City of Love.’ Pull up photos of Paris on the internet and you will find the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and a couple kissing, arms wrapped tightly around each other, with an iconic Parisian structure in the background. No, for me the romance is the feeling the city instills in one almost immediately. I remember when I first moved here, I would walk the cobbled streets and the quais along the Seine, and my heart would feel so full, it often felt like it would burst open. Uncontainable. The beauty of the Haussmann buildings with their iron terrace railings, the light, the fact that no building is allowed to be over six stories high so one can always see plenty of sky. From almost anywhere, it’s possible to see Sacre Coeur and Montmartre sitting on its hill over looking Paris. There is life lived out on the streets. There is a heartbeat, a bustle to the daily activity. It literally pulses around me–even now two years after the start of the Pandemic, the streets and the sidewalks of Paris are alive.
The fork in the road?: I live in the 16th arrondissement. I am ten minutes from the Bois de Boulogne with its many gardens, Parc de Bagatelle, the two lakes near the Porte de Passy. The Bois is not the first thing people think of when they hear the word ‘Paris’. My shopping area is Avenue Mozart. I walk one direction and come to the neighborhood of Auteuil where my hyperCarrefour is. I walk the other direction and come to rue de Passy with the fancy stores that have migrated over from the Champs Elysées which no longer has any designer shops. If I’m lucky, on a clear day as I get close to Passy, I can see the top of the Eiffel Tower down a side street. The 16th arrondissement is not touristic. There are no iconic buildings that shout Paris. Only on walking down to the Seine and looking north and east, do I remember on a visceral level where I am.
Then there is the Pandemic. For two years, almost all my ‘networking’, getting together with friends and book clubs has been on Zoom. People my age have been very cautious about going out especially in crowded places. I was at a wonderful expo ,”The Morozov Collection” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a couple of weeks ago. I was listening to a guide give a short talk on the paintings on the first floor. We were packed around each other, leaning in with one ear closer to her than the other. I suddenly remembered reading an article on the risk of catching Covid in Paris. The article said that in a room, a closed space, that contained fifty people or more, the likely hood that someone had Covid was 98%. In a space with thirty people, the likely hood was 65%. I jumped back from the crowd listening attentively to the guide as if I’d been burned. I walked to a place where I could be six feet away from others. I felt angry. I knew there were other options for getting information about this expo but Covid was stealing this particular option from me.
I spend 75% of my day inside my apartment, I can stand on my terrace and look out over the courtyard. At night, on the hour, the lights from the twinkly Eiffel Tower bounce off the windows of the apartment building across the courtyard from me. I remember I’m in Paris. Paris is opening up but, after two years, it feels like it takes a cattle prod to unearth me and push me out to go Paris Centre and see all those sites that once made my heart swell to bursting. Fear of being around too many people has become ingrained in me. I’ve not kept track of how many tourists are here and whether the centre is crowded the way it once was. Walking near Notre Dame was like doing slalom skiing, a curly queue road to getting anywhere. I used to love it.
Having returned from Oakland, California where there is so much space, where I live in a home with a backyard, where neighbors walk together all the time, I’m struck by the contrast. They follow the rule of two out of three. A mask, social distancing, outside. One tries always to do two out of the three. It is easy to walk or hike in the many parks mask-free. Free being the operative word. Such a freedom to not be afraid all the time. Cautious yes, but not afraid. And iconic?: my bedroom window looks out over the San Francisco Bay. I can see the Golden Gate bridge, the pyramid building, the fireworks from Crissy Field on the fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.
Would I move back to California? To the US with its insane politics, mean and cruel treatment of “others”, a polarity that has caused people not to entertain interesting discussions in fear of distressing someone? Would I leave Paris? And immediately the Paris of romance jumps into my head. It sets off a longing that is physical. And I’m right here in Paris! I long for the pre-Covid Paris. In truth, for the foreseeable future, there will only be ‘Paris in the time of Covid’. Until everyone is vaccinated, and I mean most everyone in the world, this is our lives. I read recently that Fauci was quoted saying that by the end of this thing, most of us will have had Covid. More and more people that I know are getting it–breakthrough cases.
For almost two years, I’ve woken up accepting life in the time of Covid. That was before three months in California with all that space, the ease of getting together with others, speaking the native language, the wonder of the state that I have lived in (excepting the past eight years) since 1971 and re-experienced the beauty of that area. So what is troubling me? What would stop me from fantasizing about a permanent move back to California? Two days ago, Sunday, I met my friend, Barbara, out in the western suburbs. She took me to a park in Le Vésinet that she had just discovered. It was a beautiful sunny day, still cold. It is February in northern France after all! We meandered around the park, a wide open space with an island in the middle of the river that ran through it. Then we walked over to a canal with a trail that changed names three times as it crossed over streets and other walking paths. I couldn’t help comparing it to my Friday hikes with Jeanni and Rocky while in Oakland. It compared very nicely. I turned to Barbara at one point and said “this is the happiest I’ve felt since I returned a month ago.” It’s not the same as California and Oakland but Paris and France has plenty of wonderful spaces to walk and to hike.
No, it’s the language. I took French as a middle schooler. I flunked it. My french teacher would preach to me, “stop thinking in english, you must think in french.” I could barely think an interesting sentence in english much less in french. I stared at her sullenly as I had no idea how to respond. I took French again in college and even won a place to spend 4 months in Dijon during my junior year. I lived with a french family who told the college administrator that I was far too “timide” and refused to speak french with them. That timidité has never gone away. I’ve taken immersion french, I took weekly classes and I have improved. I understand street french, meaning I can converse with shop owners where no more than a couple of sentences is required. I can follow a conversation with about 75% understanding. But I couldn’t go to a dinner party and give my normally quite opinionated views on the world. I’ve conquered so many things here: french administration, getting a bank account, getting the Carte Vitale so I have health coverage, apply for and renewing my residency card every year, having to declare monies to two countries every year. But unless one learns the language well or one is completely inconsiderate of living in a country that speaks a different language, only learning the language will make one completely comfortable. It is said if you move here and want to speak fluently, get a french lover or work in a french business or both! I’ve done neither. I’m trying to push this 74 year old brain to “keep at it” on will-power and an on-and-off desire to be a good citizen.
More on France/Paris vs California/Oakland next week!!!
When I first moved to the 16th arrondissement (which is the most western part of Paris before one crosses the Périphérique), I wrote about the Bois de Boulogne. What I didn’t know about this amazing park would fill a book. “It is the second-largest park in Paris, slightly smaller than the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern side of the city. It covers an area of 845 hectares (2088 acres), which is about two and a half times the area of Central Park in New York, slightly larger than Phoenix Park in Dublin, and slightly smaller than Richmond Park in London.”–Wikipedia. The 16th arrondissement is the largest arrondissement in Paris and goes from north to south on the west side of the Seine across from the Eiffel Tower. The Bois de Boulogne runs almost the same length but on the other side of the Périphériqe which is the ring road that circles Paris and is made up of the busiest 35 kilometers in Europe, with around one and a half million vehicles per day.. From my apartment, I walk due west and after crossing over the Périphérique, I am in the Bois at the Porte de Passy.
When I first started walking in the Bois in 2017, I’d come in and walk around one of the lakes or both of the lakes. The upper lake, Lac Interior, has an island that sits in the center and houses a small Chalet. A small shuttle boat will take one over for tea or snacks. Further up, during the summer months, one can rent a row boat and leisurely row the length of the lake watching all the promenaders meander the dirt path that rings the lake, the loungers sitting by the shores having picnics, and the periodic wildlife depending on the season.
At the most western part of the Bois is the Parc Bagatelle which I just discovered this summer. I was on the phone with a friend talking about some of the gardens I’ve come to love and she asked me if I’d visited the formal rose garden in the Bois de Boulogne. Not only had I not visited it, I didn’t know it existed. So the next day, I set off to find this rose garden. “Bagatelle Park, located in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne, is one of the four poles of the botanical garden of the City of Paris. Created in 1775, the park and its castle were built in 64 days following a bet between Queen Marie-Antoinette and her brother-in-law the Comte d’Artois. Bagatelle Park is a place to walk and relax. In addition to gigantic trees and varied flora, small bridges, rocks, caves, mirrors and man-made waterfalls add charm and romance to the place. The 19th century Chinese pagoda is one of the park’s curiosities. The visitor especially admires a magnificent rose garden of 10,000 roses from 1,200 different species. The park regularly hosts exhibitions and events, and organizes classical music concerts in summer.“–official site of Tourism.
Also during the summer, I received an invitation to attend a Gala at Le Pré Catalan, a very upscale restaurant (three michelin!)also in the Bois. The invite said it was next to the Shakespeare Garden. Again, another garden close to me that I’d never heard of. In my defence, two of the years I’ve lived here, we have been in some form of lockdown and when we weren’t, the motivation to go wandering wasn’t great. Now that France is leading the world in vaccination rates (over 90%), I feel safe to wander as I please, especially in areas that aren’t so crowded. So I set off to find the garden and the restaurant. Both are a thirty minute walk from my apartment.
The Jardin de Shakespeare abuts the area that the Pré Catelan sits on. If one is sitting in the terrace area of the restaurant, it is easy to peek over the hedge and see parts of the large garden. I’m told that in non-pandemic times there is actually Shakespeare in the Park every summer. I found a ticket booth for the performances but was unable to find the stage itself.
Once I realised what a treasure trove of small parks, gems, lakes, waterfalls, and hiking areas was located so close to where I lived, I began to spend afternoons exploring, what to me, seemed like hidden gardens from classic old English children’s stories. I took endless photos. As reported in my blog from last week, the majority have refused to be uploaded. I keep getting a dialogue box saying there is no content. So I have borrowed from various sources to try and show the variety and possibilities found in this amazing park. I think my photos are far better.
One can’t leave a discussion of the Bois without mentioning the Fondation Louis Vuitton. FLV, opened in 2014, in a building designed by the architect Frank Gehry. In order to promote artistic creation …….
I have visited LVF many times. At first, the building itself far acceded the curated expositions as the piece of art to ponder and contemplate. Then curious installations were placed in various parts of the building. Then the bi-yearly shows got more interesting. But always, it was the wandering in the bowels of the building which looked like the innards of a ship that caught my attention. At first, I couldn’t understand why something so modern would be placed in one of the oldest parts of Paris. From only one spot, can one see the Eiffel Tower. It is much easier to see the modern buildings of La Défense. I would emerge from these early trips onto the Mahatma Gandhi road and have to shake my head, get my bearings, and remember that I was in Paris, France. I have fallen in love with the structure. It is fascinating in its endless ways of coming and going, its areas of pure light to deep, deep dark. It comfortably embraces and houses installations that one can stand and look at for hours. They mean nothing in the historical sense of representation. But the fact of their existence, the curiosity pulled out of every visitor to learn more, and more often than not, just to stand and let one’s senses take over and appreciate, that is the point.
I’m sure I will return to various areas of this piece of heaven as the seasons pass. For the time being, it’s enough that I got a blog up and am accepting that I had to use photos from others sources. And you, dear reader, I hope acceptance is in your vocabulary as we continue to battle the many questions and often answers we don’t like of Covid-19. I get my Booster shot tomorrow. Fingers crossed for no side-effects.
If you look on your map of Paris, you will see that the 16th arrondissement is huge. Many map books divide up the 20 Paris arrondissements into quartiers (neighborhoods). Very sensible for the 16th. On the East is the Seine, on the north is Avenue Marceau going up to Etoile and Ave de la Grande Armee going all the way to Porte Maillot. And along the entire length of the west of the 16th is the Bois de Boulogne. To the south is Porte Saint Cloud and Boulogne Billancourt.
I’m just a smidge further than half way down and two blocks from the Bois. Sunday morning, I put on my sneakers and went exploring to see what I could see. Within five minutes, I had crossed over the Porte de Passy and was in the Bois. Another five minutes and I was at the Hippodrome d’Auteuil which is large. On one end is a golf course. On the other is a swimming pool. I’ve been thinking that I should start swimming again, that my hip would thank me. It was a Sunday and I saw no one to ask so I left that investigation for another day.
I came to Lac Superieur. I started to walk around it. Runners were everywhere, many doing the Lake circuit a number of times. And as often happens, everyone seemed to be going the same direction. This time it was clockwise. I was walking counter-clockwise. Arriving at my starting point, I began walking down L’Hippodrome. Signs kept telling me that Les Grands Cascades were in that direction. I don’t see them on my map.
Walking, I was mostly alone on this wide tree-lined street. The trees had grown into an arbor over the road. It felt like Fall. A lot of leaves had fallen so there was green, yellow and that tannish brown that leaves get when they aren’t in Vermont but haven’t drowned in rain. In spite of the runners, it was very quiet. Surrounded by trees and beauty produced a calm. There was hardly any wind so the stillness seemed complete. One could walk and think, solve a few problems, pay attention to what is around me and feel at total peace for a few minutes.
I passed dirt paths telling me that if I walked north I’d arrive at Porte Maillot where I lived all May and most of June. Porte de la Muette was northeast. I now shop there. Porte de Passy is the next one after La Muette. Two of my buses stop there and are often easier than taking the metro. You have to picture Paris before cars. Those who could rode horses. If you left Paris, you came back in through one of the gates. These are the Portes that circle the city today. They are often entrances onto the Peripherique which is the major through-way circling the city. You have to get on it to go anywhere unless, like in days of old, your road takes you up to the Porte and you keep going because you are already in the right direction.
I walked for over an hour and was barely inside the Bois. Just before I entered, I saw a long stand of city bikes, known as Velib’. Next week, I will rent one and see how much of the Bois I can cover.
I am not ready for summer to end. It all goes too quickly. So though it looked and smelt a lot like Fall during this walk, I’m crossing my fingers that we still have hot days ahead of us.
I received a lovely e-mail from a reader this week telling me how much she is learning about Paris and France from reading my blog. She urged me to do more posts. Thank You lovely reader.
After waiting almost two months, I have finally moved into my new apartment in the 16th arrondissement. The view from my window is extremely soothing but not very interesting to a Paris tourist. I overlook a Courtyard and garden. The amazing thing about this apartment is that it has a terrace. Everyone in Paris would like a terrace, it is a premium commodity. I don’t have just any terrace. I have the equivalent of another room! With a table and chairs for eating, a chaise longue for reading and room to start a small Parisian terrace garden if I so choose.
When one walks around the 16th and looks up, it’s impossible to miss all the terrace gardens with so much lush color and different shades of green. If you are standing up high in an apartment building, you can see that almost every roof top has a terrace that is home to a garden–with trees, bushes, sometimes benches. I don’t know if this is unique to Paris but it’s a wonderful aspect.
My street is very quiet. Even the church bells across the street are quiet unlike the bells of the Catherale de Notre Dame which announce themselves throughout at least 4 arrondissements. My street dead ends into Boulevard Beausejour. After passing through a path for pedestrians only, I am two blocks from the Bois de Boulogne. The Bois de Boulogne is the smaller of the two parks that sandwich Paris from the West and the East. There are lakes and bicycle paths, boathouses, the Jardin d’acclimatization which has a wonderful playground for children. I once saw a small camel there giving rides! The extraordinary Fondation Louis Vuitton is next door.
The other end of the block crosses Ave. Mozart, a wide street with small, very Parisian little stores: a bakery, vegetable and fruit market, fish market, etc. The metro 9 is one block from my street. The closest grocery store is Monoprix which is quite a walk down Ave Mozart. I was very spoiled in the 6th where I lived. Everything I needed and more was at most 6 blocks away.
The 16th arrondissement is laid out differently than many of the others. It goes from north to south and is long, bending with the Seine as it turns south from more central Paris. The streets are wider, everything is greener. Along the Seine are some important organizations such as Radio France. I’ve only gotten to know a small part of this area from Michelange-Auteuil up to La Muette and Rue Passy which has the beautiful clothing stores.
Please stay with me as I explore my quartier (neighborhood) of Paris that most tourists don’t come to.