Where do I most feel at home in Paris? That was the question put to me by photographer Chloe Lodge, as part of her portrait series on foreign women making new lives for themselves in the French capital.
It didn’t take me long to suggest parc Monceau, the splendid 8-hectare public park that’s just a few minutes walk from our apartment. What is it about Monceau? Well, most obviously, it is our nearest green space, and our daughter goes to school in a building right next to the park, and plays there every day.
But Monceau for me has a magic beyond its mere proximity. As a landscape historian, I find its past pleasingly extraordinary. Much of its history is still apparent, if you know where and how to look: the vestiges of the mad 18th century pleasure grounds with their Disneyesque attractions and rumours of the owner’s debauched behaviour; the 19th century features installed when the site became a public park under Napoleon III; the reminder of the terrible end to the 1871 Commune.
Every path and feature and tree is familiar to me, from the gilded entry gates designed by Gabriel Davioud in the 1850s… …and the traditional pony rides offered for kids on Wednesday afternoons and weekends…
I love Monceau slumbering under light snow in the winter, its gates locked whenever bad weather threatens; its fresh bright colours in Spring’s lengthening days; its soft autumnal hues as the ancient trees mellow to brown and gold.
Several of Chloe’s subjects chose public parks as places where they felt most comfortable in the city: the gardens of the Palais Royal, parc des Buttes-Chaumont, the Tuileries, the jardin du Luxembourg. It’s clear that, for many of us as foreigners here, the parks of Paris quickly become proxy gardens, refuges, symbols of the city, and welcoming friends.
Certainly for me in Paris, parc Monceau is where I feel most at home.
I’d welcome comments from anyone who finds him or herself in a foreign place: have you discovered somewhere there that feels to you like home?