(Les Grandes Serres)
We build attachment through events and memories, but when we arrive in a new place, everything is pure necessity and the struggle of the instant present. In Paris I found a city that belonged to someone else, filled with places that were heavy with signification for other people. Walking through the Jardin des Plantes over ten years later though I’m reminded that the first attachment I made to this place was at the Grandes Serres.
Looking at these magnificent, metal boned beasts today is like seeing locked up memories I can’t quite release. The Jardin des Plantes has become my favourite place in Paris, but can I remember all the times that I have visited these gardens? I remember my first visit, walking alone in silence through the heavy, humid atmosphere of the Jardin d’Hiver, then into the arid dryness of the Serre Mexicaine. I don’t remember when they closed, but these structures seem to have been shut for repair now for many years. Although these are houses of glass, it’s impossible to see inside, with ghostly foliage forms, backlit by the setting sun, the only things visible on this sparkling cold winter afternoon. Are these glass houses really as I remember them the day they brought me closer to Paris?
All memories provoke melancholia. Bad memories bring pain, but good memories make us regret time passed. This part of the Jardin des Plantes, surrounded by living, breathing, growing nature, exudes a timeless history which brings an instant lucidity to my thoughts. With no visual or aural pollution I felt an instant, individual connection to this place, but each time I return now I sit with care because the clarity that this site affords me can take me off on parlous voyages of pensive reflection.
Near this spot in the garden is a small maze. In the centre is a gazebo, offering a view over the twists and turns below. We rarely get the chance to have an arial perspective of the map of our lives, and if we are not careful, we can get lost in labyrinths of memories, misconceptions and regrets. When two roads diverge we are sorry that we cannot chose both, but after setting off in one direction we cannot help wondering if we made the right choice. On leaving these gardens on one of my previous visits what would my life be today had I taken the path off to the left rather than to the path to the right?
When I leave on this day I’m dragged back to the pressing present, and on to thoughts of shopping lists and upcoming projects. I learn later that the Serres are due to open again in 2009, so I’ll soon be able to transform these memories into new experiences. I carry on along my chosen road, reflecting that there are other memories in our lives that we should probably keep locked up forever.