Small Spaces of Paris

The small green spaces, the tiny unnamed parks and gardens of Paris

Ensconced in a café in a beautiful mountain town of California, my thoughts turn back to Paris. Perhaps it’s the recent outbreak of French around me. I recognize it’s French –French, not Belgian, Quebecoise, or South African. Perhaps a large family or tour group has found their way to my small mountain retreat and I’m thankful they have. My little son turned to me “mom, they sound like that other language you speak.” They do, and I’m delighted he recognizes French. Sometimes he pretends that he speaks French as well and makes up words, chattering at me in gibberish that does, somehow, capture the rhythm and flow of Paris.

I miss the tiny parks. It’s an odd thing to miss, and not anything you’ll read about in guide books and blogs when you’re planning your trip abroad; Paris has many tiny green spaces in the midst of an intersection or to “square off” a bunch of streets that meet at an odd angle. These small gardens are no larger than your kitchen, some no larger than your small bathroom. A bench, a tree or row of bushes, maybe some flowers, sometime a patch of grass- and that’s it. Some of these are named, maybe all of them are, but only a few have some plaque or memorial stone to tell tourists the name.

paris-arrondissement-17.jpg.rend.tccom.1280.960 

photo credit: The TravelChannel.com

At one point in my life I wanted to get married in such a garden. I thought it might be the height of romance to say my vows surrounded by the rush and whirl of the City of Lights. That was before I knew of all the bureaucratic hoops around getting married in France.

American cities are so intentional, we live in deliberate spaces, created for wagons (then cars), spaces for thousands and millions- such little park gardens couldn’t be a part of our city life. Paris remembers being a village, then a cluster of large villages, a middle ages meeting place, the pre-industrial commerce; Paris remembers park benches and gathering places for small groups or ten, twenty or thirty people.

Perhaps that is why I love this little mountain town, why it reminds me more of European cities than American cities- it’s small enough for splashes of green space, less touched by modern life.

And for now, it’s enough to hear the sounds of French around me. I might go introduce myself to these tourists, I have a feeling they are from Paris.