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West on Books: “Hidden Gardens of Paris”

“Hidden Gardens of Paris” by Susan Cahill

By Richard West

My 2012 Too-Hip-To-Grip Marketing Award goes to those amusing hommes and femmes at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome hotel. Here’s why. You’re not there very long, eyeing the glamorous heteroflexibles and other schmooseoisie who are eyeing each other or the eye-catching modern art (isn’t that a Roseline Granet?), when you notice a delightful , omnipresent scent. Not floral, musky, with a hint of sandalwood. Or civet.  “Is it the perfume from a dress/that makes me so digress?” asked T.S. Eliot in “Prufrock.” No, Tom, no dress, it’s an airborne mystery.

But after an absent-minded query to a staffer, a mystery that automagically appeared in my room in a spray bottle from Blaise Mautin Parfumeur (“Exclusively for Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome”), so now in my simple American cottage I can mist the kitchen, and, wa la!, I’m back in one of the great city’s nicest hotels, musing about another black current mojito while contemplating one of six Ed Paschke’s really unreal paintings in the dark bar.  Genius!

But my mission isn’t sniffing out hotels. After Hamlet-like agonizing, I’m here to explore three gardens selected from Susan Cahill’s helpful guide, “Hidden Gardens of Paris.”

Jardin de la Vallee Suisse, Paris.

The first is the hidden La Vallee Suisse at the corner of avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt and Cours la Reine.  First I advise a cocktail round the corner at the impossibly lovely outdoor Minipalais Café adjoined to the Grand Palais, then to the narrow stairs leading down to the Swiss Valley that “New York Times” writer Elaine Sciolino describes as a “tiny stage set.” A small waterfall, a weeping beech tree, lilacs and maples, a wooden footbridge—the perfect edenic , quiet spot to contemplate whether the poet Baudelaire really wore a green wig.  I find that musing often leads to hunger so perhaps to the nearby Grand Palais Restaurant at the American presidential corner of Franklin D. Roosevelt and avenue General Eisenhower.

Square Rene-Viviani

Next to the incomparable Shakespeare & Co. bookshop on rueBucherie facing Notre Dame across the Seine, then a squat-tez-vous stop next door at the Square Rene-Viviani (25, quai de Montebello). It’s one of the great vista-resting spots in the world, benches, deep shade, supposedly Paris’ oldest tree (acacia, 1601), roses, watercolor painters, and a tall fountain in the center that relates the story of the nearby Saint-Julien le Pauvre church on the park’s southwest corner, the city’s oldest (1170-1240). Then a relaxing glass of wine on the opposite side of Shakespeare & Co. at La Bucherie Café-Restaurant while pondering which quai Gerard de Narval walked his pet lobster on a leash.

Square Georges-Cain, Paris

Last stop, into the Marais to Square Georges-Cain (8, rue Payenne), also an archeological depository of stone fragments from older gardens, Ms. Cahill reports, scattered around a circular garden with a sculpture called Dawn. Why Georges Cain? He was the first curator of the Carnavalet museum bordering the square. In late spring you’re engulfed in blooming rose bushes. Very private and quiet and close to several Marais museums, the ideal place to wonder if Gustav Mahler’s bust in the Rodin Museum  really is labeled “Mozart.” Ah, but that’s for another trip.

“Hidden Gardens of Paris”, Susan Cahill, St. Martin’s Griffin press, $19.99.


  Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.

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