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The Paris Chairs
In every stage of my life I’ve had a special chair to fill a special need: one that helped nurse me back to health when a sickly child; one that was a sanctuary at the end of a day of non-stop mothering. In my current chair, the day’s anxieties dissolve as I look out on a beautiful view, the white wings of sailboats gliding over San Francisco Bay.
Then there are the Paris chairs. They are not mine alone; I share them with dreamers and lovers the world over. I’ve returned to them in different seasons of the year and of my life. They were always there when I needed them.
I know of no chairs that provide less physical comfort and more spiritual well-being than the green metal chairs in Paris parks. Scattered around pools and fountains in gardens throughout the city, they encourage you to make your own seating groups. It’s okay to put two together when the crowd is sparse, using one as a footrest or to hold the picnic you’ve picked up at a kiosk. It’s okay to sit alone in one of these chairs, reading or tracking the progress of ducks as they make their way around a fountain, independently or with a partner in perfectly synchronized motion. And it’s okay just to sit and stare into space.
My favorite place for sitting and staring is in the Tuileries Gardens, adjacent to the Louvre Museum. After walking the galleries of this temple of art for as long as I can stand, I sit here, my mind on overload and my feet aching, until both are restored and ready to move on. These iconic chairs made their first appearance in Paris in 1954. Locals and tourists alike have been recharging their batteries on them ever since. “Parking,” in Paris, is an essential element of life. There are over 400 parks and green spaces in the city, making it one of the most livable in the world.
As an American used to chairs in public places being firmly attached to the ground, one of the things that amazes me about the Paris chairs is, they are always there, whether I’ve been away one year or nine. They are not secured in any way, yet they don’t disappear in the night to reappear in someone’s backyard. The French treasure their traditions and safeguard their public places with a passion. While they are in the vanguard of creativity in fashion and food, their main thrust when it comes to their architecture and parks is preservation of the past. After World War II, when their destroyed cities were being rebuilt, local authorities were given the option of a quick fix using modern prefabricated materials, or painstakingly re-creating them as they were before the bombing. Most of them chose the long, slow road to rebirth. On tour, when traveling from city to city, there’s no doubt which course each city chose. The difference is stark.
When it comes to preservation, Paris is peerless. Cobblestone streets and narrow alleys, vestiges of past eras, exist side by side with today’s broad boulevards. After lunch in the gracious 18th century gardens of the Rodin Museum, a visitor may find the futuristic façade of the Pompidou Center jarring. But Parisians excel at living simultaneously with the past and in the present. On their way to market, they need only look up to see the tip of the Eiffel Tower. Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, is simply their crossing from the Left Bank to the Right. Place de la Concorde, where Marie-Antoinette met her fate at the guillotine, is their shortcut from the Champs-Elysées to Angelina’s Tea Salon, where they eat cake. Will the green metal chair, a mere half-century old, attain the longevity required to become a legacy?
What I value most about the chairs in my life is how they have helped me cope with changing needs over the years. The Paris chairs have had the easiest task of all–they simply make happy times more so. Even if they don’t achieve legacy status, happiness is nothing to sneeze at.
Cathy Fiorello writes in her bio that she’s passionate about food, Paris and writing…and, we’d add, the green chairs in Paris parks. Please click on her name to read her profile and more stories by Cathy published by BonjourParis.
PHOTO CREDITS: Small intro photo of two by Tuileries pond ©Anna Rien; top photo/autumn ©timj.b; Tuileries ©monceau; and Chairs ©Anna Bykova.