Paris can be almost anywhere by a determined francophile – even the heart of New York. This week, I found Paris in Bryant Park, tucked behind the iconic New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. One hundred and fifty years ago, the park was a potter’s field, a place where the indigent were buried. At the end of the 19th century, the land, long decommissioned as a potter’s field, was renamed in honor of poet William Cullen Bryant. But it wasn’t until the 1930’s that the park was transformed with stone balustrades, allées of plane trees, a formal lawn, and a magnificent fountain. In 1974, the Landmarks Preservation Commission called it “a prime example of a park designed in the French Classical tradition… an urban amenity worthy of our civic pride.” Despite some low days when the park was overrun by drug dealers, it is again a haven for city dwellers who want a bit of sun at lunch hour, or any time the weather is fine, the flowers are in bloom, and the trees spread a sheltering canopy.
Two unmistakable signs of Paris were the pétanque pitch and carrousel. La Boule New Yorkaise boasts 100 members and is active in tournaments at the local, national, and international levels. They offer free lessons to spread the love of the game. The fourteen prancing animals of Le Carrousel circle to French music. I sat near it to read while I listened to tunes by Edith Piaf and the Amélie soundtrack. There are plenty of snacks to buy in the park or in near-by shops. I visited Le Pain Quotidien for my mid-morning treat while I basked in the sun and dreamed of Paris.
Today’s expression, faire le lézard (fare luh layzar), means “to do the lizard.” That’s what I did in Bryant Park this week. I sat in the sun and dreamed of Paris, like a well-contented reptile – except this lizard wears SPF 50!