Exciting news for the Hidden Parks of Paris 2014!
We are honored to announce on KickStarter that Éditions L'improviste will be the official publisher of our travel book. It's been a privilege to correspond with the many supporters of our previous Hidden Parks of Paris project, which fell short of funding in April 2013. But with a publisher based in Paris, we no longer require the same funding. The plan is still the same. We will write the book in Paris, where it will be photographed, edited, designed, and printed in France. With your generosity in pledging for an exclusive KickStarter reward, you will take part in the dream of creating the first travel book dedicated to the hidden parks of Paris. We are very thankful for your continued support on this remarkable journey to fruition. Your pledge for a reward will go directly towards the cost of writing the book on location in Paris for at least two months. Merci bien tout le monde.
– Gregory Ross and Julian Darius
The Hidden Parks of Paris 2014
The Parisians have a wonderful secret. The artists who paint in the Marais, the businessmen who catch the Metro to work, the college students who walk to class all share these hidden treasures. These venerable parks, these uncovered parks and gardens and squares of Paris are growing in number and size every year. A quarter of Paris is adorned in green, crowning it the greenest city in Europe.
For 18 years as president, Jacques Chirac opened the once private, overgrown, forlorn parks scattered throughout the city and transformed them into public masterpieces of art, beauty, and nature. Mr. Chirac took his brush and painted the corners and nooks of Paris into a cornucopia of green. The chief gardner of the Jardin des Plantes, Claude Bureau, said recently of Mr. Chirac, “He took the pathetic, shabby parks, gardens and squares, and transformed them.”
The trick is to find them.
Paris is the #1 tourist destination in the world, with over 16 million people visiting the city each year. Yet there is not a single resource available that provides the answers to this puzzle. Where are these parks? What’s in them? And how can we find them?
These questions can keep me up some nights. There is a large map of Paris on my wall, and I imagine the mysteries hidden inside the countless splashes of green.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris and want to explore the famed “Swiss Valley” park, you will have to surf the internet to find its location. (Hint: it’s adjacent to the Palais de la Découverte, just off the Champs-Élysées.) The Swiss Valley is a classic example of the staggering artistic creativity alive in Paris. The architect who designed it created a miniature mountain to resemble the Swiss Alps. There is even a waterfall that flows into the Seine. The Swiss Valley is 1.7 acres of metropolitan wildlife. This includes a wooden footbridge, a pond, benches, ivy, bamboo, lilacs, maples, evergreens, and drooping flowers. There are lemon trees and a Mexican orange, and the scent of caramel fills the air. This idyll is just a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, but you would never know it. The waterfall blocks out any street noise, and the wilderness envelopes you.
Next stop is Square Blomet, just a 20-minute jaunt from the Eiffel Tower. I found this boules park by happenstance when I arrived in Paris, in 2003. I was booked right next door, in the shabby Aloha Hostel. My window overlooked the encompassing walls of the park, where four older men had gathered under the lights. I wanted to see what they were up to. Through the trees I could make out a young woman applauding. Cheers of laughter — at times argumentative and even dramatic! — filled the sleepy Rue Blomet. Walking down the hostel stairs to the street, I located a round metal gate and pushed it open. Large leaves the size of Frisbees arched over the entryway. Past the foliage I could see a circle of strangers standing in the spotlights. They were throwing large metal gourds into the air, aiming to reach a smaller target across the lawn. Wooden park benches were stretched around the park. Sculptures were hidden beneath ivy, and in the darkness they left a surreal aura, as if they too were enjoying the competition. A sign on the wall read “Union Bouliste.” I had to join in on the action, exclaiming, “C’est bien, oui, c’est bon!” to the players as they threw their gourds into the air in far-reaching, looping arches. I was transported to a village in Provence. There was no street noise, no indication of a metropolis outside the ivy-covered walls. The young woman, Caroline, was booked at the Aloha Hostel, too. We quickly became close, and on weekend mornings we returned to Square Blomet to watch games of boules, occasionally teaming up for matches against the locals, while we sipped from the various bottles of wine placed on a table in the shade.
For the adventurers and thrill seekers, we have something to get your hearts pumping. You do not need to descend into the catacombs to experience the eclectic history of Paris! The Petite Ceinture Railway is an abandoned railway built in the mid-1800s. The tracks and the occasional station still exist in the center of Paris (akin to the High Line in New York City). Since its abandonment in the early-1900s, the railway has become a beacon for exotic flora and fauna, birds (winter wrens, robins, blackcaps, sparrows, and magpies), butterflies, lizards, hedgehogs, and stone martens. Often referred to as a “secret paradise,” the Petite Ceinture Railway has scantly been written of in the numerous guidebooks on Paris, if at all. This meandering park is for the true globetrotters seeking the uncovered wilderness in the heart of Paris. Unlike most guidebooks, this railway will be covered in our guidebook. We will include maps and photographs of the best spots, detail how to get there, and divulge the wildlife we find along the forgotten tracks.
And then there is the larger, highly overlooked Square des Batignolles, located in the 17th arrondissement. This four-acre park includes a cave, river, waterfall, lake, carrousel, a giant sequoia, hazelnut trees, willows, black walnuts, Japanese cherry trees, and even a tropical palm tree within its own greenhouse. Whew! Try saying that sentence five times. Built at the request of Barron Hussmann to be designed in the style of an English garden in the 1860, Square des Batignolles is still the largest park in the 17th arrondissement. To this day I do not know a single person other than Caroline who has been there, or who has mentioned the park by name.
Tarantula Park. Not known for spiders, but for the book I read while in the shadow of its arcing trees that encompass the park’s promenade between Avenue de Breteuil and Rue de Sèvres. Follow the long walkway of grass all the way down to the shore of Champ de Mars. But why tarantula? you may be asking. It begins on the Seine. I spent the majority of my time walking the Seine, eating lunch along the river’s edge, watching the boats and the runners and the cyclers maneuver down the throughway of Paris. I was addicted to the left bank bouquinistes that sold everything from vintage postcards, matches, cards, magazines, novels, records, and trinkets of the Eiffel Tower. There was an old man with a white beard that opened his green bouquiniste every day, rain or shine, at ten a.m. In the summer business was good, and in the winter he visited his family in the south of France. I would greet my new friend with the white beard and, speaking my best French (which was no doubt the worst French he could stand), inquire upon the American novels that I had not yet discovered. "There is Hemingway", he said. "There is Pound; there is Proust and Stein; there is Faulkner and Fitzgerald, and Wilde and Bellow." The man with the white beard would hold his wooden cane and place a book in my hand, telling me to read through the chapters; and I would do just that, sitting on the steps of the Seine with books and pages flapping in the breeze. On my final weekend in Paris I looked at the old man with the white beard, his faded beret slipping down to the bridge of his nose, and asked him if he had any American poets. "Yes," he said. "I have Dylan." I thought he meant Dylan Thomas, but it was Bob Dylan. A small, thin black book with a photograph of twentysomething Dylan in a narrow black suit (his hair absent of form and meaning) stood at the camera lens, bullying me to buy his book. Tarantula. I had never seen nor heard of the book. It was in perfect condition: hard cover, with its pages perfectly crisp and clean of underlines from a previous owner. The subject matter was obscure. The old man with the white beard told me to read it. "And what is the price?" I said. "Just give me what you have," said the old man with the white beard. "I have five euros." The old man with the white beard took my bill and told me to walk back to my hostel to read Tarantula. On my way back I found Caroline at the neighborhood grocery store, adjacent to a park that had a playground of white sand and animal rides for the children. In the distance, we could see the Eiffel Tower. Some sort of illusion, I thought. But no, this was Tarantula Park. Caroline and I sat in the wide, round section of the park, beneath a row of trees, and we watched the children play with their mothers and fathers on a weekend afternoon. Some of the children rode their tricycles along the promenade, and others swung across the winding jungle gym. Teenagers kicked a soccer ball to each other, the oldest of them all played the role of goalie. And it was there on my last Saturday afternoon in Tarantula Park that I finished Dylan’s book of verse and prose, mostly odds and ends, piecemeal observations and confessions from citizens in another time and another place. Caroline fell asleep under the trees, and when the sun began to set into the horizon, a pink burst of light crept through the clouds, illuminating the Eiffel Tower and Tarantula Park for the rest of my life.
Our guidebook will be written in the vein of Rick Steves and the Lonely Planet series (with a hint of Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” tossed in). It will be organized geographically and use icons to provide readers with a quick reference to each park. A few of the icons we have in mind are: activities, wifi access, quiet noise levels, safety ratings, perfect for picnics, clean bathrooms available, panoramic city views, live music, writers' choice.
For example, if you’re staying in the 4th arrondissement, have two children, desire wifi access, restrooms, and a playground, our guidebook will answer that criteria in no time. No more guessing. No more wandering through the same 20 parks that are covered in every Paris guidebook. Once a reader decides on his/her park attributes, it will be a cinch to find a hidden park in Paris. This will be an engaging guidebook, designed to organize the parks of Paris into a logical, easy-to-use format.
We believe authenticity is imperative, and we will make it our mission to gain the readers’ trust. Our guidebook will be written by two writers who love French culture and who have lived and studied in France. Gregory Ross wrote for Bonjour, Paris, while Julian Darius holds an M.A. in French and has taught it at university. We aren't corporate authors. We're francophiles on a mission.
In order to locate as many of Paris' hidden parks, squares, and gardens, we will live in central Paris for months. We will walk through the alleyways, boulevards, courtyards, museums, and secret staircases, searching for the best parks that will offer relaxation and inspiration. I like to think of it as a treasure hunt for the uncovered mysteries of Paris. The Parisians have believed for hundreds of years that green spaces, specifically parks, have helped cure patients more quickly. This is one reason why there are so many parks in Paris, sometimes located in idiosyncratic, offbeat locales travelers do not have the time to explore. The French are increasingly urban, but they've taken pains to preserve "green space" in their cities. They believe that humans should engage with nature, just as much as they engage with art, fashion, or modern marvels. Paris has grown into a sprawling, dynamic city. Breaks from traffic, people, cars, museums, train stations, and street noise have become essential to experiencing the city as a local. To find yourself with a friend, lover, or alone in a hidden park in Paris elicits emotions of serenity and creativity.
Risks and challenges
Our biggest challenge is not the lack of parks, nor the fear in finding them, but in choosing the finest hidden parks for the book. We will take great pride in the inclusion of each hidden park for the 2014 edition. For a park to be considered hidden and worth the time and energy of our readers, we will go to great lengths in providing accurate details, safety ratings, and precise locations. Our publisher is based in Paris. With each park we review and include in our book, we will ensure that our publisher also agrees that the details are accurate and not misleading. This will be the first travel book written on the hidden parks in Paris, and with that, we want to express our guarantee to each reader that every park will be honestly portrayed, in as truthful a light as humanly possible.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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