Random Paris: the unexpectedly delightful Parc André Citröen

To my astonishment, we have only five full days left in Paris. When did this happen?! It’s like those deceptive start-of-month deadlines: you spend weeks thinking, “No problem, that’s not until next month!” and then all of a sudden it’s the 27th and you realize “next month” is actually just over 72 hours away. And there’s still so much I wanted to do here… well, c’est la vie. (And a damn good vie it is too!)

I was talking to Dov a couple of weeks ago (after the Rhys Chatham concert, in fact) and he asked if we’d gone to the Tour Eiffel. I said no, and he said if we wanted a high-up view of Paris without such a crowd, we might try the Parc André Citröen, where there is a stationary hot-air balloon. I thought that sounded marvelous, especially as we’d passed up the opportunity for a balloon ride in Cappadocia in Turkey (do an image search — it’s insane). So, a week ago, when the sun was out(ish), Erik and I took the métro to the park.

I had never heard of Parc André Citröen anywhere, and indeed it feels quite out of the way, though it’s still within city limits. On our way from the métro station we peeked across a bridge and saw the Tour Eiffel in the distance, though from a different angle than what we’re used to.

View of the Eiffel Tower across the Seine

{as always, mouse over images to read my notes, or click to enlarge}

And also a small Statue of Liberty!

Statue of Liberty in the Seine

We went for the balloon, but once we got to the park, it charmed us completely, just on its own merits — which was a very good thing, because they were not letting anyone up into the balloon that afternoon. (High winds, they said. We didn’t notice any, but I suppose they must know.)

Autumnal grassy path

Acorn caps

Small flower

Tiny buds on a tree

Yellow leaves

Blue sky through trees

Paris is a city of many beautiful and appealing parks, each with its own character. This one was colorful, imaginative, and playful, though it retained much of that formal, symmetrical French-garden aesthetic. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but the layout reminds me very much of the kinds of places I designed as a child, while playing in the sand or with toys: “We’ll put a block here for a tree, and make a castle here, and we’ll carve a river through the middle.” There wasn’t a castle (except in imagination), but there were surprises everywhere.

Hedge with a gap in it

Metal plate showing aerial view of the trees

Erik in a bamboo grove

Autumn stone path

Erik on cement blocks (fountains turned off?)

In the center of the park there was a big green space bounded by water, and that’s where the balloon was tethered.

View of lawn and reflective buildings

Arch bridge

Canal and squared-off hedges

Big round hot-air balloon

We were not allowed on the grass because it was having its winter rest. (Literally, the signs say “pelouse au repos hivernal” — “lawn at winter repose.” I love that.)

"Grass at rest"

At one end of the central lawn there were two gigantic glasshouses. To my excitement and amazement, when I got close enough to see inside, they were filled with trees.

Huge greenhouses for trees

Tree greenhouses

Tree greenhouses

The one on the right (above) was closed (probably due to more winter repose), but we could enter the other one, which housed a pair of chatting security guards and many Australian trees.

Explanatory sign for Australian trees

Inside the tree greenhouse

Eucalyptus leaves

Tiny eucalyptus flower

Along another side of the central lawn, there was a series of concrete structures with stairs leading up to observation decks. We saw several joggers making their way up and down these stairs — a good way to get “hill” practice in a relatively flat city! There were also little spaces between the structures, where you could stoop and see out.

Hot air balloon

Trees reflected in canal

Concrete block with stairs going into it


From these decks, we had a lovely view of the whole lawn.

Balloon and park

Autumn leaves on green grass

Big balloon over the grass

There were more benches on the other side of the concrete structures.

Erik on wavy benches

I sat and tried a sketch. My first attempt was totally wooden.

Awkward sketch

In the next one I thought about movement: the subtle ripple of the surface of the water, the breeze in the balloon’s ropes, the birds and the grass. (And speaking of movement: Erik had to go run and down the stairs while I sketched, to stay warm!)

Livelier sketch of the hot-air balloon

As we were leaving the park, we had our Paris cat sightings #2 and 3. Yes, it’s so sad; even a week later, I can still count on one hand the number of cats we’ve seen in this city.


Black cat sitting by hedges

I don’t think I could have painted here, since it was so chilly, but I did wish I’d brought something to scribble in colors. There were so many, from soft faded tones to bright and bold.

Muted autumn colors

Vivid red leaves

I’m not sure how long we spent at the park — maybe two hours, max? — but it was a wonderful outing. The park must be truly amazing in warmer weather, when all the fountains are going and I’m sure there are flowers all over the place, and of course the balloon goes up regularly with clear views. But we still found it enchanting, a very relaxing and happy outing.

Looking through red leaves to the sky