Just Above Sunset
May 15, 2005 - A Fool for Palms

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Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (who is published in these in these pages as Our Man in Paris), offers his side of the palm wars.  This will also appear on his site on 16 May.

Paris - Saturday, May 14, 2005


Since I announced a beauty contest between Paris' palms and the tall beauties in Hollywood on Thursday the only real facts I've been able to find out is that palms have a fan club.  It turns out that I'm not alone with my appreciation for them.  There are other whackos around, called appropriately, Les Fous de Palmiers.


Just as you may think that Paris' palms don't amount to a pile of weeds, they are not having brilliant times in Los Angeles either.  There are 10,000 of them lining the streets, bending in the breezes like the necks of flamingos and waving their languid fronds, ventilating the sky when it's blue.  The best is supposed to be at sundown when the city drops into darkness and the setting sun illuminates the high crowns with gold.


But some of them are 100 years old and Lost Vegas is driving up the replacement price.  In the land of lower taxes the signature palms may gradually disappear, to be replaced by less extravagant and more practical shade.


Paris has trees lining 1400 roads, streets, avenues, boulevards and places and they have an average life of 60 years.  Every year about 1500 trees are replaced out of a total forest of about 100,000 trees, not counting those in cemeteries and the two bois - Boulogne and Vincennes.


Palms don't line Paris' streets but they could because the city is pretty temperate and there are no less than eight sorts of palms that could survive in the open air.  For example one of the most common palms is the Phoenix 'Canariensis,' not so much because it has lots of coconuts or produces a lot of oil, but because it looks swell. \It can also stand temperatures of minus ten degrees.


There are far more exotic palms to be found at the Serres d'Auteuil where they have a nice year-round hothouse.  Louis XIV was a bit of a botanist when a young lad and he ordered this plant farm into existence in 1761.  A hundred years later Paris sought a garden outside the walls and  Jean-Camille Formigé got the job of organizing it.  The Périfreak! loped a third off it in 1968, and the nurseries were transferred to Rungis and Fresnes.  Today the greenhouses at Auteuil are the headquarters of Paris' botanical gardens.


The Palmarium at the Serres d'Auteuil was completely renovated in 1999 and houses subtropical and tropical specimens that overhang a pool full of Japanese carp, while some tropical birds racket around in the fronds.  It is a warm, humid place to take a hot tea in winter while frost litters the ground outside.


For the month of Paris-Plage in the summer the city will move some potted palms to the riverside speedway transformed into a three kilometre-long urban beach, complete with sand, ice cream stands and a pool.  Given the right angle you can imagine yourself at some coastal spa, but hardly a tropical island.


If you would rather not overexercise your imagination the Senat's Jardin de Luxembourg has its palms too and some of them are much larger than the ones lining the beach along the Seine.


Marie de Médicis got tired of the stinky Louvre and moved to the left bank with the idea of having a Florentine palace built, along with a garden inspired by Boboli.  It took her a while to buy out the townhouses already there, and the one owned by the Duke, François du Luxembourg, gave the name.  Marie died before the whole thing was assembled in 1792, and it was only afterwards that a plant nursery and botanical garden was added.  Le Nôtre changed the round pool to octagonal, but left the rest alone.


Parisians got upset with Haussmann and Napoléon III but they went ahead and chopped off the nursery and the botanical garden.  The garden had been open to the public sporadically from the 17th century, and the palace was used as a prison during the Révolution.  When the city was under siege in 1870 the palace served as a military hospital - and then the Versailles Federals used it a year later when the Commune was quashed.


In WWII the palace was the Paris headquarters of the Luftwaffe and some of the statues were melted down for their metal.  French and American tanks rolled into the gardens in August of 1944 without wrecking the place.


A legend says that Ernest Hemingway used to snatch pigeons in the park to take home for the pot.  Verlaine, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir are only some of the people who used the park as a living room or back yard.  When it is not raining the park is full of students, chess players, sailing fans, boules players, tennis players, bee fans, hundreds of shouting kids, and a lot of other people who seem to be jobless most days.  On sunny days the big park even gets full.


I go there often and for many reasons but the best is when I don't have any other purpose than a desire to see the palms dotted about.  It is like the city is a woman who puts on this makeup - Mademoiselle Saint Tropez! - and even if you can see it isn't so, be polite and pretend.


Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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