Sunday, June 10, 2012

Journées de Patrimoine

A couple of times a year, in June and in September, Paris and the rest of France engage in what's called Journées de Patrimoine, essentially Heritage Days, when historic government and private buildings and gardens that are normally closed to the public open up their doors and invite the world to pay them a visit. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, these days are hugely popular with both French people and tourists from abroad.

As well as the official sites, other events sometimes take place at the same time to augment the general theme. Last weekend, it was mostly gardens in Paris that opened up their gates, and in the very public Tuileries Gardens a special 3-day Garden Fair called Jardins Jardin aux Tuileries set up shop.

We'd noticed posters all over town promoting this "expo", so before heading to one of the private gardens, we stopped by to check it out.

It was a glorious, warm, sunny day as we joined hundreds of gardening mavens who paid their 11 euros to wander amongst the stalls and mini gardens, set up just for the show. A bit like a very modest Chelsea Flower Show!

There were "delphiniums blue..."

...and "geraniums red" -- but for fans of A.A. Milne, even though I looked very carefully, there was no sign of a dormouse asleep in a bed!

There were wheelbarrows planted with sample arrangements for your garden...

...and very creative ways to display all kinds of different lawn sod, which also provided some shade from the increasingly hot sun.

Gloriously bright orange opium poppies were so vivid they almost hurt your eyes...

...and I loved the way these South African proteas were displayed against a mirror in individual little pots, doubling themselves in all directions.

Mickey Mouse was on hand, all decked out in ivy and carnations, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Disney World here in France...

...but these youngsters were more interested in learning how to pot a plant to take home with them.

As well as actual plants and mini gardens, a number of stalls showcased other products, but always with a garden connection. Every item at this booth featured a four-leaf clover!

Meanwhile at this stand, dozens of identical shoes were all planted with miniature cacti. We couldn't decide if it was a fashion statement or an innovative way of recycling uncomfortable footwear! In either case, it made for a great display.

Finally, something for city dwellers who want to encourage birds to nest on their terraces: a bamboo hanging basket, filled with "nesting materials"!

 My favorite item, though, was this glorious deep pink rose: "Madame Line Renaud", a hybrid tea rose, bred in France, with an astonishingly deep citrus fragrance that stayed in our nostrils long after we left the Tuileries Gardens.

Our next stop, over on the rue Babylone in the 7th arrondissement, was at l'Hotel de Matignon, which is not a hotel and never has been a hotel. The word simply means a "home", ie a private residence. Named for Jacques IV de Matignon and built in the early 18th century, the original gardens were designed by Claude Descots, nephew of the celebrated André le Nôtre who was Louis XIV's principal gardener (think Versailles for starters!).

The house has splendid classic lines. During the 19th century, it passed into the hands of Monsieur de Talleyrand, aka Prince of Bénévant and Vice Great Elector. His chef, the renowned Boucher, prepared dinners for 36 people four or five times a week, until growing debt problems forced Talleyrand to sell the property.

By the early 20th century, the gardens had fallen into neglect. Enter the Austrian Ambassador, who took up residence and hired Achille Duchêne, designer of the Champs-sur-Marne, to restore the gardens, saving as many of the healthy mature trees as he could.

We see the results today: a stunning romantic landscape in the style of an English National Trust garden, with sweeping lawns, stately trees in full leaf at this time of the year, and ornamental flower beds, the whole space stretching over 7-1/2 acres and said to be the largest private garden in Paris.

The present owner is the Government of France. L'Hotel de Matignon has been the formal residence of French Prime Ministers since 1935, used for official business. We had to go through metal detectors at the gate, staffed by half a dozen gendarmes. Needless to say, my hip and knee set off the bells and whistles and I had to explain that I had "une hanche de titanium et un genoux de cobalt chrome." They were suitably impressed and waved me in!

Since 1978, each Prime Minister has been invited to plant a tree to commemorate his or her tenure. This ginkgo biloba was chosen by Édith Cresson, the first woman Prime Minister of France in 1991. Appointed by François Mitterand, Mme Cresson had to leave office after only one year, following the Socialists' poor showing in the 1992 elections.

Still, her tree grows apace and her tenure is duly recorded on a little plaque. A small sign told us that the new Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, will plant his tree in the autumn.

A classic 18th century feature of parkland gardens is the "allée de tilleuls". This one did not disappoint: a stunning pleached lime allée, with its careful planting and clipping to create a false sense of perspective, it stands at the opposite end of the gardens from the house, providing a stunning point of view from either end.

Strolling through these green, tranquil gardens, with a pair of blackbirds sweetly serenading us, it was hard to realize that just outside the gates, the hustle and bustle of central Paris was at full roar. We were so delighted to have a chance to step briefly into this other world. Merci au Ministère de la Culture pour les Journées de Patrimoine!

And with this post, dear readers, I must sadly close the blog for this year. We leave Paris in under ten days! Where did the time go? In a final flurry of activity we're still managing to take in some last minute fun events...

...a dear friend, author Belinda Cannone, had a well attended book reading for her latest work at le Bibliotèque de Clichy...

...Matthew's college room mate, and distinguished philosopher Andrew Feenberg (Critical Theory of the Internet), gave a lecture at the prestigious École Normale Supéreure, on an analysis of the role and importance of the internet (with a Marxist slant) -- who controls it, who doesn't -- to a rapt audience of professors and scholars.

We even managed, finally, to see the Matisse show at the Centre Pompidou. The size of the crowds has kept us away since it opened, until we learned that if you go around 7 pm, all the tourists have gone and you can really make your way through the galleries at your own pace. Some 60 paintings illustrate how Matisse would repeat the same basic composition again and again, varying color, scale and arrangements of objects and models, and technique, before being satisfied with the result. It was a stunning exhibition.

Some of us (ie moi!) enjoyed watching the Diamond Jubilee celebrations on television, despite the soggy nature of that crazy English climate. God Save the Queen!

And we just had a lovely visit from the London Robbins, who came over for a few days to say goodbye.

We head next to Brooklyn, New York, to spend a few weeks with the adorable Miss Clio Ines, now four months old! (We'll be spending time with her parents as well)

So, a fond adieu to all, a big thank you for following our exploits, for the emails and for the comments. The blog returns January 2013!

À bientôt!


  1. What a marvelous finale! Every image and every comment was greatly appreciated...and if Miss Clio ever needs a home, put our names on the list! She's tres adorable!!
    Bon Journee!

  2. How sad that the blog has to stop. Can you not continue with a blog about life in Inverness? I'm sure you find equally interesting things to do there. Ytf, Mrs L

  3. Oh the last blog!!!! Will miss your blogs - as usual so interesting and amazing pictures - safe journey to USA x

  4. Thank you, dear Janet, for all your gorgeous photos and well-researched and entertaining commentary - we will miss your blog until January. And hopefully we'll see you around town in the next few months. Safe journey and we both send you love. Time flies!
    Ian and Deb McMurray