I am in the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris. Sun is glowing through the branches and leaves of the horse chestnut and plane trees, between the wrought iron fences that have golden spikes on their tips. There are murmuring pigeons circling and strutting near the green metal park benches and chairs. Crunching footsteps go by on the dirt pathways.
I have a sweet roll and a cup of coffee in a sack and I am sitting facing the Senate building at the North end of this large formal park. The garden before me is planted with new flowers. No gendarmes in sight, but I know they lurk, keeping order and calm.
A group of school kids, probably 13 and 14 year olds, cluster briefly around a sitting woman wearing a green cardigan. She speaks in French to them. They are wearing casual street clothes. They are handed pieces of paper with instructions that they read. Then they set off in twos, threes and fours, running. Three boys angle over in front of me, step across a border of flowers, look back, then dash across the forbidden lawn to a statue in its middle. They run to it, stop, examine it, keep running to another. Other kids are running to other statuary in the area. They run everywhere.
The kids are slender and seem very familiar with each other. A girl sits on a green chair like my own. A boy comes and sits on her. She yells at him to stop, he continues, she yells louder, he continues, she yells and squawks for real and he jumps up. She's fine.
The woman provides no snacks or water. The kids run off again, and again, always running hard and shout about the treasure hunt they are set on. There are no cell phones, no walking, no complaining, no obesity.
I don't understand enough French to know what it is they are looking for, but I can see these 15 kids who look energetic and healthy in the large clipped formal garden in the midmorning sun.
After I've finished my sweet roll and coffee, I get up and walk through the park. There is a steady trickle of incoming visitors. It is a favorite park in the city for many. A Chinese man is doing tai chi by himself, his own interpretation of it that looks more like Kung Fu and dancing combined. He's focused and intent, though. He's on the bandstand under large shady trees, moving and grooving.
There is something about sounds in Paris that I can't quite put my finger on. The blend of tiny sounds that always have a backdrop of louder traffic sounds seem less intense here. The loud police and ambulance wee-wah-wee-wah is the loudest, but it is not ear shattering like American fire trucks are. Many cars are electric, and buses run on an alternative fuel. I don't hear jackhammers or loud motorcycles. No Harleys or leaf blowers, thank God in heaven. No, it is definitely a quieter, less jarring city to move around in. Thus, it feels safer. However, traffic moves quickly and lanes can be narrow, so attention must be paid. I have managed not to get myself into any trouble, but I am always reminding myself to keep my eyes open - not easy with so much visual distraction, i.e., shop windows and old buildings with flowers gushing from the window boxes.
I don't have any intention of driving in this city. I've heard people describe it as a nightmare. Walking around these neighborhoods is a very easy thing with signage for walkers separate than signage for drivers. There are separate lanes for taxis and the buses. Gutters are flushed out every morning with a reverse-flow system where water actually comes out of spouts in the gutters, flowing downhill, carrying away trash and junk. What a good idea.
It's night time now, and the neighborhood down on the street is full of the rise and fall of many conversations. A little telltale jingle sounds; a bicyclist has just passed by. No more walking for my tired feet today, but I will be ready tomorrow.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way