August 15 is the Acadian National Celebration Day. It’s also a great religious day in the Catholic church, the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. In Paris, it is a civic holiday and a day of pilgrimage at Notre Dame where thousands gather to worship. It is also the apogee of summer. To be in Paris at any time is fine, to be in Paris on August 15 is a wonder of the world. The great city is as quiet and gentle as country village.
If the quiet of the street doesn’t alert you. Nor does the desultory way the café is being opened, you know something is up the moment you board the bus. It’s not the same. There are no businessmen with briefcases, no grim faced shoppers headed off to do commercial damage. Yet, the bus is crowded. Every seat is taken and people are talking merrily. Yacking away at each other across the aisle and between seats as if everyone knows each other, as if this is a village bus. There’s laughter and ease and you think, this is strange. Where’s the tension? Where’s the city that never sleeps? And then you remember, it’s la Fete de l’Assumption and everyone’s off to the park.
Ahh, the parks of Paris. If Renoir were alive today, he would hasten down to the Luxembourg Gardens where thousands loll about under plane trees drinking tea and sodas, and eating, eating, eating, mountains of sugared crepes, ice cream and café leigeois. Oh! The sinning that goes on at the Luxembourg Gardens as people pretend they have no cares at all and dangle about on chairs, provocatively tilted back to make snoozing easier. It takes a little time to find one for yourself as they are all comfortably occupied by people sunning and reading and staring off into the distant treed sky.
There are children playing with boats in the pond as children have always done and squealing when the boat sails too close to the jets of water from the fountain. There’s a man dressed as a painter or perhaps a sculptor, anyway he’s dressed specially for the occasion as he declaims with the bell tones of the trained actor some rich lines from Moliere. Several people clap and he bows grandly. This seems sufficient payment.
Two formidably armed police officers clip clop on horses through the park with the serious look of the Republican Guard about them. They are deep in conversation and ignore the children who gaze up at them admiringly; but it is good to know if crime should break out that we ‘the citizens’ are protected.
I stop to gaze at the fountain of the Medici, named after Marie di Medici and built in the early part of the 17th century. People have been building fountains and pools of water like this since the days of the Roman Republic. The Romans called them Nymphaeum and they looked much the same, even in a ruined state they have remembered elegance. The purpose of the Roman Nymphaeum was exactly the same as Marie di Medici’s fountain. It was for people to admire, to remind the citizens their city had so much water they could spend it on nothing more than entertainment.
Nothing has changed. We the citizens are impressed as ever and stroll about Marie di Medici’s fountain framed with great plane trees. We lean thoughtfully against flower pots; sit and gaze at the cascading water as it falls and bangs and tingles over the muscular statues glistening under the sun dappled trees – and think to ourselves, there is something beautiful here. There is something eternal here and I am part of it.
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