August 12th, 2008



The day we walked around Paris was boiling hot. The sun beat down and baked the city to a fine simmer and the white dust of the Jardin des Tuileries rose up and coated the trees silver and dusted the tourists. The Garden is 63 acres and was designed by landscape artist, Andre Le Notre in 1664 (he was also responsible for the park at Versailles); it still looks much like his original design. We entered at the end by the Place de la Concorde and walked all the way through to the Louvre.

Because it was such a relentlessly hot day, and we had already walked the length of the Champs-Élysées, shade of any kind was welcome and we walked as much as possible under the trees and stopped often to rest our feet and enjoy the atmosphere. As we approached the end of the gardens, the white-scaped expanse of the reflecting pool's area shone and shimmered in the heat. At the far end, just before the mini-Arc in front of the Louvre, was a large tree which arched out over a grassy embankment near a hedge labyrinth dotted with sculptures. Several people were already sitting there, panting from the heat and sighing in the relief of a respite in the shade. Not far away was a boulangerie wagon selling sandwiches and baguettes and several people had taken advantage of it to grab a bite and to feed the eager flocks of waiting pigeons and sparrows that fluttered about.

An elderly man stood on the edge of the slope, feeding the birds. He was like a magician, the sleight-of-hand he used with a bit of bread and his waving fingers attracting several small birds to perch on his hands and eat from his grasp. Karin and I sat and watched him for what seemed ages, and I honestly felt I could have watched him all day, he was that wonderful. Several people were gathered around, sitting nearly at his feet, and they, too, tried to persuade the birds to them with a bit of bread, but no one was able to replicate his success. He saw us watching and smiled at us, and Karin, who is normally the shyest of my children at approaching strangers, was given a twinkling nod of encouragement to come closer. She didn't have any bread, so he gave her a piece, and showed her how to hold it and how to hold her hands, arm upraised and out-stretched.

He never said a word the entire time we watched him, before and after Karin helped to feed the birds, but we smiled and nodded to him as we left and he smiled and nodded back, and I think, of all the things we saw that day in Paris, that old man feeding the birds quietly and simply, was the best sight of all.

Photos by Anders Ek