Where The Call of Life is So Strong
Turn of last century Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke lived for years on the Left Bank of Paris. Maurice Betz writes in Rilke in Paris, 2012: “Always on his doorstep whatever his address, the Luxembourg Gardens were Rilke’s preferred oasis of calm and a crucial location for reflection and reading across all his Parisian residences. The Luxembourg Gardens are the lung, the central open space in Rilke’s Paris, where the crowded tumultuous streets give way to uncluttered perspectives, quiet avenues, noble statuary and above all, light. The gardens were constructed on the order of Marie de Medicis, widow of Henry IV, in 1611 and were designed to echo her palace gardens in Florence.”
On a very sunny autumn day, it’s the gardens that are crowded and tumultuous. Parisians really know how to enjoy their parks, no doubt in part a result of all that apartment living. Jardin du Luxembourg is packed with strollers, sunbathers and children, all between the oversized statuary and under the blue sky glimpsed between canopies of yellow, orange and red leaves. Rainer Maria Rilke remarked, “For Paris, that I admire so much and to which I know I must submit as one submits to a training, is always in some sense new, and when you feel its grandeur, its near infinity, it annihilates you so violently and so completely that you must demurely recapture from the very beginning the impassioned attempt to live.”
His comment “Paris is as sure of itself as ever” still rings true as does when he continues “It is just the same, as gigantic and brimming with necessity in the details as much as in its larger forms.” We’re updating Gertrude Stein’s view in her 1940 book Paris France from the city being “the natural background of the art and literature of the 20th century” to being “the natural background of the art and literature of the 21st century”.