Monday, August 13, 2012

Le Jardin Serge Gainsbourg, Paris

Australia is at the forefront in developing gardens, parks and open spaces which are conceived and managed as ecological green spaces. Some have that additional role of  garden as memorial, such as my local park which records the history of the coal industry, thus allowing for the value of exchange of inter-generational memory. "I remember when this was just a horse paddock" is what was told to me about this park by an octogenarian.

One of the interesting international examples of this is the garden dedicated to the singer Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) at Porte des Lilas (Paris XIXe). The garden which was opened two years ago covers some 1.4 hectares and was developed on top of a section of the Paris Ring Road (Peripherique Motorway). A gently sloping pathway links the various sections of the garden which includes water features, sport's courts, shade structures and spaces for seating. Planting is largely naturalistic using grasses, native trees and wild meadow style planting as well as small intimate spaces featuring brightly coloured flowers. It is interesting that the flowery sections feature in videos uploaded to YouTube as this style of planting is still perceived as what a garden should be all about, despite it being the least sustainable. The garden site was chosen because of its connection to the first hit song by Gainsbourg, Le Poinconneur des Lilas, a fun song from 1958 about a ticket puncher from the local railway station. This is where memory comes into play as elderly visitors to the garden may have to explain to youngsters that people actually once had jobs like tram conductors who punched a hole in your ticket to indicate your destination.Though with songs from the past often so firmly imprinted in the mind, many visitors here may get nostalgic about les amour perdues (lost loves) or les oubliettes (the forgotten).
What I like about this garden is that no attempt has been made to hide the fact the it has been built on top of a motorway .The main paths lead to a viewing platform of it and to the urban sprawl across the Plaine Saint Denis. Some bloggers have noted that the lawn areas are a bit patchy, weedy and worse for wear but this could be expected since no water is wasted in their upkeep. When the garden was inaugurated, Jane Birkin quipped that people could 'picnic on the grass like the English'. I wonder if she was being tongue in cheek given the Englsh obsession for fine turf and 'Keep off the Grass' signs in public gardens.
I like to listen to the early jazz influenced songs of Gainsbourg. The song below, En relisant ta lettre (On re-reading your letter) is fairly sardonic and bitter, but it does remind me, in an off-beat sort of way, of the wonderfully funny book by American, David Sedaris 'Me talk pretty one day' in which he attempts to get his head around the nuances of the French language.

Jane Birkin and Charlotte Gainsbourg with portrait of Serge Gainsbourg
At the garden inauguration July 8th 2010 

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