Friday, 29 October 2010

Parisian Botany

Week 3

I missed week 3 at the RBGE to accompany Hugh to a golf match in Paris. Having looked forward to a few days of holiday, we flew off on the 13th Oct - into the face of a General Strike. Negotiating miles of CDG’s airport with conflicting advice on how to actually get to Paris, we finally found ourselves on platform 9¾ and the free train to Gare du Nord. Bonjour France!

Our little apt on Rue du Bac was beautifully located for some of the most wonderful, quirky shops and galleries of the Left Bank. Meandering through the side-streets the next day, we came across a fantastic gardening bookshop, La Maison Rustique – a veritable treasure trove of Gallic horticultural lore, replete with dictionaries of plants past and present, bio-dynamic tips and techniques, manuals on how to 'potager √† la lune' and numerous herbal preparations. Dredging my high school French from the recesses of time, I trawled through the pages of the books acquiring a new and evocative vocabulary for all things green.

(Hugh meanwhile secreted himself in another corner and found a modern-day cartoon-strip of gardening disasters and a charming DIY manual on how to fake gardening prowess: paint the lawn green.)

Further on through St Germain, we stumbled upon a tiny shop, Librarie Alain Brieux with windows displaying miscellany of an ancient Herbaria and related artefacts. In the centre of the cabinet was an exquisite 18th c Herbal journal.  8 or 9 inches thick, opened to show a yellowed page of a precious specimen, elegantly illustrated with detailed drawing of the Botanist being chased by a wild beast.

Sated for the day, we spent the next few exploring the Louvre and Right Bank, leaving a visit to the intriguing gardening shop, Dey Rolle, across the road for the last day.  

Cabinet de curiosit√© DeyrolleWhat a mistake!  Entering the shop, I had the impression of finding the French Smith & Hawken. Windows and display tables were covered with silver secateurs, fine leather gloves, terracotta pots of verbena candles, velvet and corduroy gardening aprons and seed packets of ‘tomates a l’ancien’ (£5). All bearing the crest of a lost Bourbon king or as it turns out, La Prince Jardiniere.   

Upstairs promised more of the same but upon ascending the wooden stairs, I was astonished to find myself facing a full-size polar bear – stuffed, of course – for sale (a snip at 46,000 Euros). Four rooms opened in succession beyond, filled with a Noah’s Ark of taxidermy. A baby giraffe and elephant, buffaloes, antelopes, tigers and crocodiles were followed by a room of domestic hens, geese, pigs, calves, a pony and wall of tiny songbirds. 

Mouth ajar, I stumbled on to the third room which seemed to harbour more normal activity. Children and grandparents eagerly gathered around great wooden work tables excitedly pointing and selecting their presents - beautiful iridescent butterflies and moths, neatly pinned by store attendants into attractive arrangements and secured under glass to take away.  All real, all new.

It was only the normalcy of the last room that made me linger longer than rational. A long table of books filled the space: great tomes on birds, beasts and natural history, with racks of posters on dissection and anatomy - of every living specie, vegetable and plant.  Quietly lying in the centre, I spied a oversized hardback Herbal.  Safely illustrated with pages of herbs and medicinal plants with complementary info on preparation, remedies and amusing historical anecdotes. 

But I should have known better. Just next to this was a similarly elegant herbal, but this one on deadly plants; tips on preparing and storing poisonsrecipes for violent death potions, with illustrations of Catherine de Medici dispatching her enemies.  Vive la France!

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