This is not a guide to the neighborhood, but rather a non-fiction story about what it was like to live next to one of the most beautiful gardens in Paris, and in Paris during the Pandemic.
I have fond memories of the Jardin, perhaps my most vivid of Paris.
Every season, whether leaves were changing, falling, or flowers blossomed, I experienced and felt the presence of this scenic garden in my life.
I had life-changing conversations, reflective walks, and relaxing lunches in this green space, cherished by many, visited by more, but that I knew intimately because it was located at the end of my street.
My Apartment next to Jardin de Luxembourg
In September 2019, my partner at the time and I moved to Vavin, a stop on the 4, and a neighborhood on the South West corner of Jardin de Luxembourg.
On the fourth floor of a Haussman building with oak, herringbone floors, and windows that open from the middle, our 1 br apartment felt like our first experience in mythic Paris. This street was a filming location of Agnes Vardas’, Cleo from 6 to 9, not far from Truffaut’s Bed and Board, and more recently Emily in Paris.
It felt like a residence of fairy tales.
Located between Gare du Montparnasse and Odeon, the area was quaint, yet sometimes lively, typical of Paris, but oh so Bourgeois.
The aesthetic took no time to get used to, as the little square next to my house was picturesque, shady, and calm, but as a person of color, frankly, I never felt like I fit in.
This is a neighborhood where everyone supported “Le petit commerce” and lounged at the neighborhood brasserie, Quartier Vavin. They would eat at the Bouillon for cheap traditional fare, but spend big money on cheese and wine across the street.
They would never voice their opinion on a social matter, but by living in the 6éme, everyone knew on which side of an issue they stood.
At the end of the street, lay the immaculate La Rotonde. Macron celebrated his presidential victory in this very establishment, and later, they were the victim of arson during a string of protests against him.
Throughout my time here, menus introduced poke bowls, craft cocktails, and vegetarian items, bubble tea shops filled the empty windows, and vintage cars were regularly double parked on one-way streets.
The First Fall and Winter
We hosted a Crémaillère, and my birthday party. Slowly transitioning from standing only to “help yourself to a seat on our carpet”, we accumulated furniture and plants throughout various excursions into the city.
As Fall turned to Winter, I took to the small movie theaters in the area, and often made the walk to Saint-Sulpice and the Moose to watch Football on Sunday nights. The crowds around Rue Princesse made me feel old, even in my mid-twenties.
Together, with my partner we watched the trees in the garden shed their leaves, and the closing hours shift from 20h to 17h.
High Schoolers that once spread around the streets at noon, flooding from the delicious Joel Boulangerie and disgusting O’tacos, decided to huddle around the doors of their lycées, smoke and talk shit to each other.
The neighborhood grew silent. I left for home during the holidays.
After returning, and receiving unwanted stares, I became frustrated with this little neighborhood where the colors of the garden changed but the attitudes stayed the same.
The Pandemic in Vavin
Covid broke out in Paris around February of 2020, and due to the density of the city, it spread everywhere. Macron sounded the alarm, the closure of public spaces.
The pandemic began; my partner and I were locked in.
For months, we could only leave for groceries or short walks. Doing our best to stay motivated, I taught and took language classes online, and she worked late hours into the night.
Our apartment was beautiful, but not built for a 24-hour occupancy of two individuals. Paris was not meant to be lived indoors.
Every evening at 19h, the windows would open and we’d give a round of applause to the medical workers.
We binged pizza and consumed terrible reality TV shows from Koh Lanta to Love is Blind, and tried to find pleasure in the idle lifestyle. We would leave the apartment for a thirty-minute walk around a Paris that felt like Mars, eery, desolate.
I purchased Animal Crossing on our Switch. We spent hour-long moments of respite on our island. We’d watch Instagram stories, and connect with our friends who lived in different time zones.
When Macron finally allowed us to leave the apartment for longer periods, I found contentment on morning jogs to the Southern point of the Jardin. Others found solace in the spring sun. Calisthenics, distanced yoga, masked elders sat on unoccupied benches.
I lapped it time and time again until I knew every face, every flower, every terrace on every corner.
The boulangeries stayed open, and there was no better victory than returning home with fresh bread. Cracking open the top, the steam dissipated into the air.
Homesickness was temporarily cured with peanut butter from Bio c’ Bon, shortbread cookies, and new combinations of quiche that my partner seemed to alter every week.
Around the beginning of summer, after 3 months of strict lockdown, Macron announced the end of confinement.
The Shutdown ends in France
We were free to leave our apartments, and public spaces returned to their crowded states. Many opted to walk instead of a masked metro ride. Strict regulations kept parties privatized and restaurants to a to-go-only format.
Walking with our upstairs friends, I remember reaching the Seine, eating a sandwich, and thinking that we’d made it to the other side of this horrible experience.
A ball of homesickness swelled inside of me.
The borders were closed, and the US struggled with its collision of politics and health. Misinformation spread through social media. I watched as their hospitalities and deaths soared. And Trump continued to act how he acts.
Train travel opened up. Friends and I traveled South with masks and gel. We hit Bordeaux, the Basque region, and then crossed to Marseille and Toulon, completing the rare feat of touching both Southern coasts of France in one trip.
The further we went, the more I struggled with my mental health. I felt as if I wore a suit of armor branded by depression. I couldn’t speak with anyone, ashamed. I didn’t appreciate what I had. I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the Cote d’Azur, the power of the Atlantic coast. It couldn’t pierce my anguish, my longing for the United States, to see friends and my family.
On our return to Paris, I took the Jardin for granted. I began to view my jogs around it with resentment. I’d swear to myself that I had covid, as I was stuck, I couldn’t breathe.
When the second lockdown hit in Fall, we retreated to Lyon, and I didn’t return to Paris until Spring.
The hope that summer brought ended in Autumn’s despair.
I felt submerged by a country that wouldn’t accept me, and distanced itself with the question, “Did you vote for Trump?” “Did you vote for Trump?”
Everything became tense, sticky, and difficult to let go.
In midwinter, Joseph Robinette Biden won the election. He wasn’t a great option, everyone said, but better than the other guy. I was happy but questioned my country’s two-party system. Still, I missed it and felt alone in that longing.
I returned to Paris by myself.
The Last Spring
Around and around, I’d circle the garden on my jog. Rainwater mixed with the white gravel and my running shoes dirtied quickly.
The pandemic left us all prone to sickness, quick to fatigue, socially awkward, and frazzled.
As the spring saw an opening in the clouds, I connected with an old friend from Gothenburg over Tennis. We discussed playing one day at the mythic courts of the Jardin but settled for Americanos from un grain decalé and long walks in different neighborhoods.
He considered returning home. The lockdown in France had been tough for him.
Tough for us all. Tough on relationships, and self-esteem. Tough on careers, on families.
It spread through every facet of life.
During this time, the neighborhood was so beautiful and quiet, it felt untouchable like artwork at a museum. I knew I would never be able to be one with the artwork, only stay an observer from afar, a mixed-American guy in a neighborhood that was unchanged and unchangeable.
I was so tired of feeling isolated, and alone. I needed to leave the Jardin. I needed family, connection, home.
When the vaccine had spread enough, I was able to return. I booked a flight back to the US and left the Jardin. I was convinced that I would stay in the US.
I did return, however, to give it one last shot while pursuing a Master’s degree.
I would run around in circles, and when the garden became too small, I would run passed it to the Seine.
Leaving the Garden
The garden, like Paris in general, is more an idea than a place to me, even after the visceral experience of having lived there for so long.
Sailboats with the flags of nations float around the main fountain. Joggers circle the outer edge. In summer, Parisians bask in the Southern fields between the rectangular trees. Young couples hold hands with their children to the playground. Tourists exit the RER and enter from the Eastern gate. A crepe vendor performs as much as he cooks, spraying Nutella in a zigzag fashion across the freshly cooked batter.
Some of my favorite places in Paris reside in the garden. I recall phoning home in times of weakness. Or eating lunches in the sun in front of statues with my ex-partner. My little cousin visited, and he would leave my apartment daily to read in the Jardin de Luxembourg, or as we referred to it, Jardin Deluxe.
If you found this type of article, you might enjoy the story of my life on Canal St. Martin.