Grabbing the Brass Ring

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” —– John Lubbock


Today, the Luxembourg Gardens may have become my favorite place on earth. Just a few blocks away, this oasis amidst the city’s bustling boulevards is tranquil, beautiful, and loved by Parisians who flocked there on this beautiful September day.

We picked up a sandwiches of jambon, fromage, et crudités and found a shady spot to enjoy our lunch. Benches and chairs line the gravel paths and garden lawns under trees showing some signs of approaching fall, leaves a dusty green fringed with russet. The Garden is vast. The Palais du Luxembourg, now the home of the French Senate, presides over the north end, overlooking a sun drenched pond.

Along the shady paths, we came upon chess players huddling over games. We watched a fast match, competitors’ clocks set at three minutes. Five or six  gentlemen scrutinized the board, waiting their turns. The contestants slid their pieces with lightning speed, and when one player studied the board while precious seconds ticked by, a man behind him faked a yawn and smiled at me. Then, ding! Checkmate! The winner hit a tiny brass bell; the loser gave his chair to the next player.

Next we found an antique carousel, lacking garish lights and crazy music. Children rode humble horses, giraffes, camels, or an elephant. Riders each clutched a wooden stick, and as they rode past the attendant, they tried to spear a ring dangling from a wooden club. Yes! Grabbing the brass ring! A grandmere overheard our conversation, turned to me and smiled. “I came here when I was a little girl,” she said.

On boule courts, clusters of men tossed heavy boules toward the small blue marker ball. Talking smack works in any language. When one player’s ball pushed another’s closer to the mark, the player with the advantage called out, “Merci, Monsieur!” Players must keep their feet in a red plastic ring, but technique varies: some crouch, some squat, some stand, wind up, and just throw. Do women ever get to play? I’m guessing this bastion of manhood is sacrosanct.

Schools are not in session on Wednesdays, and one lawn was covered with teens lolling about, doing what teens do — screeching, laughing, texting, and hanging all over each other. If Georges Seurat painted a 2014 version of “Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte”, he might come to Luxembourg Gardens and set up his easel.



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