Friday 14 November 2008

Paranoid Park

(Square Alex Biscarre, 75009)
Parisian parks and gardens are another classic example of the French paradox. Often heart-breakingly beautiful, they are also often fantastically impractical and over-regulated. Like many aspects of the city, they are there primarily to be looked at, and not somewhere that you can run around and enjoy yourself. In case you should be in any doubt about the purpose of these facilities, the city of Paris displays a full list of rules and by-laws to explain exactly how you should be using them at the entrance of each park. Unfortunately once again, although the frame in which this list is displayed is wonderful, the protective grill covering the tiny characters makes it impossible to read.

The Square Alex Biscarre is a classic case in point. It is a tiny, tidy pocket of peace, hidden away behind a metal fence, but push through the swing gates and the first thing you see is the list of reglements. Just what by-laws could you possibly break in such a small space? In fact, this garden only seems to have two purposes. To the right as you enter, a small, sandy play area gives young children somewhere to burn off energy, but the rest of the park is simply a circle of benches where people can sit and observe a patch of grass.

This garden is a mature one with trees dating from the 19th century, testament to the fact that these were once the private gardens of the Hotel Thiers. This fine building was destroyed by the Communards in 1871, but later rebuilt and it now houses a library which calmly overlooks the park. The city deciders obviously felt that it resembled an English garden and thus honoured it with the word ‘Square’ when they transformed it into its present form.

The choice of this English word though is somewhat ironic. France and England are less than 20 miles apart at the narrowest point, but somehow the ability to grow and maintain grass has not managed to cross the Channel. In France, grass cannot be both admired and used, so it is simply reserved for the eyes. How can the grass of London parks survive football matches and picnics, but Parisian grass be so delicate? In this particular Square, the grass is the principal attraction which the lunchtime benchwarmers gather around. They observe the lush, green fenced in feature as if it were an exotic beast in a zoo.

Today though when I visit, it is the scene of a revolution. Sitting in the middle of the grass is an old, sponge football. There are only two other people in the park with me, and the owner of the ball is nowhere to be seen. Has the child broken a sacred law and been whisked off somewhere for punishment? It takes me back to my childhood and the times when I looked forlornly at a miss-hit ball sitting guiltily in the pristine and forbidden garden next door. Did the owner of this ball attempt a daring rescue or simply admit defeat and go off to purchase another toy?


Nathalie H.D. said...

Hilarious post
and so true, so very true!!!

Anonymous said...

The difference between the American and French approach can be seen here : Adam looks at the extensive Règlement and concludes that the gardens are over-regulated.But I am sure most French people in this garden do not even know about the existence of the said Règlement..

As for the grass, I have seen patches open to the public in the Luxembourg garden while other areas were bearing the sign " pelouse au repos" which was dutifuly observed.
Maybe the same system goes as well for other parks.

PeterParis said...

Once more a very nice and amusing text!

However, I may not 100% agree. In most parks, the green areas are now open for playing, walking...

Often some of the smaller parks (or squares) do not allow it. It's e.g. the case with "my" park, Square des Batignolles, but here the reason is that it's full of birds (ducks, geese, swans...) and they have the priority!

If you go to Luxembourg, Monceau, Ranelagh, Brassens... you can easily walk and play on the grass!

Furthermore, as Alain Q remarks, French are fantastic in creating rules, but the first idea is then not know them, nor to follow them. Then, lawyers' speciality, is to find how you go around the rules. :-)

Adam said...

Hi Alain and Peter - English approach for me please!

I do agree that the situation is better in France these days, and I have two local parks, Belleville and Buttes Chaumont, with open access to grass. However, I'm also someone who plays football, and after years of playing on grass in England, I find it strange to now have to play on a mixture of sand and stones!

doomed to be fabulous said...

How can the grass of London parks survive football matches and picnics, but Parisian grass be so delicate?

Three words: artificial growth inducers. And consequently, ample use of pesticides.

Given that alternative, I prefer the delicateness - yet naturalness of Parisian grass.

Adam said...

Hi Mr Fabulous.

I can't speak for the parks of London, but I know all about the back garden of my childhood. All natural grass, yet it managed to survive the endless games of three children and their friends.

I think it's partly a cultural thing. For me, grass has to be used in some way. In larger parks such as Batignolles, it doesn't matter if this is for the birds, as there are plenty of other areas for children to play there. This particular 'square' though is tiny, and although I have no problem with restful, relaxing areas in a city, it somes somewhat strange here that perhaps 50% of the space is taken up with grass, and that all the benches are looking on to it. If it were a pond or a statue or some flowers I'd understand, but just grass? I can't help it, it just seems very odd to me.

Gina V said...

I love your wry sense of humour, Adam...and thank you for leaving a comment on my Parigigi site yesterday! I am glad that you enjoyed the adventures of my hot pink boxes through your neighbourhood!
[I wonder if you had a chance to read my post on the Jardin du Luxembourg titled "Luxe, Calme et Volupté" [from a couple of weeks back] that is a somewhat contrasting, but could be complementary as well to this post of yours.]
My next post is on the ghoulish Marquise de very afraid!

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