France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

June 3, 2009

The new king of the Luxembourg Garden

If France is a nation of rules, the Luxembourg Garden is where rules rule. I once made the mistake of moving one of those handy green metal chairs a few feet so that I could sit right next to the central fountain that faces the Senate building. Within 20 seconds a long shadow loomed over me; when I looked up, a tall guardian was wagging his finger at me — interdit! (Forbidden.) And then there was the time my brother Aaron, visiting with his family, refused to believe it was interdit to picnic on the little patch of grass near the Medici Fountain. “But look, everyone else is!” Wistfully shaking my head, I conceded. We’d barely had time to crack the hard-boiled eggs and pour the drinks when the whistle blew.

Why do I keep going back to this Forbidden Planet, you ask? I who hate rigid rules? For the rigid statues. So having written Saturday that life is too short not to spend more of it in the Luxembourg Garden, Tuesday, despite some heat + pollution produced minor heart pains that counseled me to rest indoors, I took the subway and a very crowded RER to the garden. But boy did my heart jump a few when I saw the monstrosity the guardians have let be introduced among the circle of limestone former queens of France statues that form a demi-circle around and hover above the fountain.

There between Marguerite of Angouleme, queen of Navarre (1492 – 1549) and Valentine of Milan, duchesse of Orleans, someone had inserted a giant, 6.5 meter tall, several meter wide bronze head. It’s called “The Prophete,” but it looks more like a bald, sleepy-eyed Tutankamen re-imagined by a mid-20th century modern artist. It’s apparently the culminating life’s work of one Louis Derbre. (You can see a picture of it here: http://www.derbre.com .) What I don’t understand is how, on the one hand, the guardians of the Luxembourg can get so upset if I disturb the equilibrium of the Senate by moving one metal chair next to their fountain for ten minutes, and on the other hand, allow this modern monstrosity to be inserted amongst the queens, instantly dwarfing Marguerite and Valentine and making them look like handmaidens to “The Prophet.” The pristine, limestone circle has now been broken. The head also now dominates the view from the fountain.

As you may have noticed, many of these queens have spikes where their crowns should be. That’s to prevent the pigeons from sitting on their heads and pooping on them. How the guardians can be so (rightly) concerned about pigeon poop and then let some modern artists plop a giant head down amongst the queens that instantly disrupts this classic and eternal picture and indeed the whole landscape of the Luxembourg at its center I just don’t get.

I have nothing against Mr. Derbre and his life-long dream. Maybe he could put it next to that giant bronze-colored flower pot in front of the Pompidou Museum, a haven for 20th century art and thus a more proper home for his achievement. But for God’s sake, save the queens, call the guardians and get that modern monstrosity out of the Luxembourg Garden.

PS: Ohp! Good news. In researching a link for an image of “The Prophete,” I see that he’s only supposed to be at the Luxembourg Garden through this month; after it’s off to the front of the Madeleine Church and then the United States. Bon voyage!

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