Hurrying to get somewhere yesterday, I took the time to walk through a pretty garden on the way. It is a long skinny one along a street, and as I walked, I noticed all the spring flowers nodding behind their little fence, and the nice scent in the air. But I also noticed how straight everything was, and how the children had to play in the dirt path, and the students had to sit on a bench.
A woman about 50 saw me looking at the daffodils and smiled at me. Then she shook her head. "We don't know how to make a garden in Paris!" she said to me.
Thinking she meant that the gardeners had slacked off (there were quite a few dead plants), I said, "Oh, it's still nice to walk here, don't you think?"
She shook her head again. "Rows and rows and rows. Nothing but rows [que des rangées]. That's not a garden."
That made me think back to my very first day in France, when I went to the Tuileries, excited to see this famous garden. All right, it was November, but still. I almost cried in disappointment. The "garden" turned out to be nothing but long straight lines and dirt!
Probably that makes French people laugh as I did when one of my cousins came to Paris and said of the Mona Lisa, "I don't see what all the fuss is about. It's a little bitty thing!"
Since then, I have learned to appreciate the elegance of the French model, which was possibly brought to France from Italy by the Medici queens of France. The best defense of it I ever saw was given by Harold Acton, an American-British esthete who inherited the beautiful villa La Pietra outside of Florence (he bequeathed it to New York University). I can't find the quotation, but he wrote that the symmetry of an Italian garden, with its statues, urns and cypresses, makes it beautiful at all times of year, even in the snow, unlike (he implied) an English garden.
But this is one more thing where I will never be French. I still think a big city like Paris could use some gardens where little children could play in a grassy meadow (without dog poop, unlike the Bois de Boulogne) and lovers could wander through a wood. Like these.