Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Trees along the Avenue des Champs-Elysee in May

The Avenue des Champs-Elysee is perfectly oriented so that one has views of the Place de la Concorde when strolling southeast and the Arc de Triomphe Etoile when heading northwest. Millions of biking fans see this famous avenue at the conclusion of each year's Tour de France, and it is one of the favourite places for tourists year around. Created in 1670, this avenue of nearly 2 kms is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Paris. If you continue going southeast, you enter the Jardin des Tuilieries, which provides increasingly better views of the Louvre, the palace essentially abandoned by Louis XIV.

My interest in enjoying towering enclosed spaces in the city's churches prompted me to spend an afternoon strolling under the avenue's stately trees. They have been planted in perfectly aligned rows, at times three or four rows wide on each side of the avenue, with their lower branches pruned so that people can easily walk underneath and have unobstructed views in all directions. Some trees are allowed to grow naturally, their branches forming partial arches, reminding me of a cathedral's vaulted aisles. Other trees have been pruned so that they form an enormous hedge along the avenue, at times reminding me of cathedral naves. Although the trees look artificial when severely pruned, this was the type of human control over nature that French royalty imposed on their surroundings in the 1600s and 1700s, and one happy consequence is that people have excellent views of important buildings and a sense of open spaces which are grandly displayed.

This Pentecost Monday (a holiday in France) was a bit windy, so the compacted dirt and stones under the trees at times provided clouds of dust which precluded taking pictures. At other times, the weather was ideal and people could sit on the hundreds of green benches and catch their breath or watch the world pass by. I enjoyed observing families relaxing together, individuals contemplating or sunning (the city is populated with sun worshipers), children calling out happily while riding around on their small scooters or bikes, couples paying homage to the springtime rituals of mating season, and people casually strolling and taking in the marvelous views. If only more city streets could have trees like these . . . .