Ducks, Mythology, and Blasé French Teenagers in the Jardin du Luxembourg
Last spring I walked everyday from Montparnasse across to Pantheon to get between my two classes. I used to traverse the Jardin du Luxembourg as a shortcut, a much needed shortcut might I add since I walk with the pace of a geriatric geisha teetering on wooden sandals. Yet somehow in all my sauntering I never noticed this majestic corner in the north of the garden until a few days ago.
The statue at the end of the row of mums is of the cyclops Polyphemus (the one Odysseus tangoed with on his way back to Ithaca) chancing upon his crush, the nymph Galatea, and her lover Acis. Presumably this is the moment before Polyphemus does as Cyclops do best and squashes his rival with a boulder. How gallant. The statue was commissioned by Marie de Médicis (Catherine’s niece? Cousin? I need to brush up on my Franco-Italian genealogy) in 1630.
Apparently there is another fountain hidden on the backside of the Fontaine de Médicis. It was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 and then was moved here during Louis Napoleon’s reconstruction of Paris in the 1850s and hasn’t been seen much of since, what with the Fontaine de Médicis stealing all the spotlight. It too has a classical Greek theme with a bas-relief sculpture of Leda and Zeus/a Swan getting friendly.
I have always appreciated this garden, not only for its historical value and year-round beauty, but also for its ability to capture elements of french society on a miniature scale that I can understand. For instance, if you go any weekday around lunchtime, you’re bound to witness a typical high school cafeteria environment, with all the cliques taking up posts in their self-designated roosts. Here we have the popular girls, clearly too cool to debase themselves by eating, drinking, or sitting on a bench like normal people. Smoking and pouting are apparently the only appropriate lunch time activities for cool french girls.