Saturday, March 21, 2009
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
We ventured to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont on this perfect first day of Spring. It is in the 19e arrondissement and it was romantic beyond my romantic dreams. And I do mean 'romantic' here in the pure sense, in the sense that I felt like I was walking in a Corot painting.
The park was built for the Universal Exhibition in 1867, a date which marks the tail end of Romanticism as an intellectual movement. As we moved through the park, I was struck by the dramatic cliffs (the park was built on what was once a gypsum quarry), heights towering above broad stretches of grass and trees and plantings and which led up to a mini-temple fashioned in classical style. All around there was water - horizontal lakes and vertical falls, all of this mixed with the signs of industrialism - railway tracks and bridges - the mark of what was on its way when the park was built.
The park was part of Napoleon III's remaking of Paris, with the help of Haussmann, of course (whom we can all thank for making Paris the city of grands boulevards and picturesque promenades during the 19th century). This particular area of Paris (the 19e) wasn't part of the city boundaries until 1860 and so the park was a way of ceremonializing the new area of the city. The park's almost savageness juxtaposed with the city hovering around on all sides is strange, almost uncanny. But it was at this moment in the history of ideas that nature was glorified and glorified precisely because for the first time there was a heightened appreciation of nature because of the presence of the city.
For a city dweller today in postmodern Paris, I am with the romantics; I love this space.
We had a picnic and soaked in the Spring sunshine.
Someone next to us took it the next level. This dude had the most active suntanning stance I have ever witnessed, almost like he was commanding the sun to focus its vigor on him. And, just to clarify, it was not hot. It was temperate, but by no means hot. Maybe 55 degrees.
A really great book on many praiseworthy city parks is Alan Tate's Great City Parks.
How fiercely, devoutly wild is Nature in the midst of her beauty-loving tenderness!--painting lilies, watering them, caressing them with gentle hand, going from flower to flower like a gardener while building rock mountains and cloud mountains full of lightning and rain.
John Muir, The Yosemite