Papa and I are up early to make the most of our last full day in the City of Heat. We’re getting prepared for a day of urban trekking. First order of business – sustenance. We head to our regular spot at the corner of Voltaire and Charonne after grabbing a couple of croissants each at the boulangerie across the street. The café au lait at l’Ingénu is just the fuel we need before the morning’s expedition to l’Haÿ-les-Roses gets underway.
We’re goin’ on a playground hunt, we’re gonna catch a big one. Yes, three days in Paris and we’re spending half a day on a quest for a 1950s playscape designed by Franco-Hungarian, Pierre Székely. Can you guess whose idea this is? Papa is very good natured about it and curious too. All we’ve got are screen captures of Google satellite and map views to try and find it. Oops, not as well prepared as I could be several thousand kilometres from home.
I guess we aren’t exactly the standard father and son duo off on a play adventure. As often as we’d done this in the past, at 80 and 57 respectively, we are a tad out of practice with the old roles. But it turns out that love and the pursuit of play are ageless.
We grab the Métro at Charonne, our home station in the 11e arrondissement, and slip over to Nation. I pull us up street side here for a few minutes to see the two huge 100′ high doric columns each topped with a king. They made quite an impression on me from the days we lived in Paris nearly 45 years ago.
As we make our way around the square, we encounter three kids in a spontaneous burst of play. Already the temperature is heat waving its way to 40ºC. Partially hidden from their dad’s view, the kids are running, dancing, jumping through a sprinkler. They’re happy as he continues to chat on the sidewalk. Each moment is an extension of freedom – getting soaked one drop at a time in this small patch of green.
From Nation we do the underground zip to the end of the line at Ville Juif. Nobody we ask there is familiar with the street names that encircle the playscape. Why should they be? It’s about 2 kilometres away from the station. But really, can you believe it – Rue de la Reine Blanche runs along the perimeter of our treasure? I was beginning to think it was all Alice in Wonderland. I’m ready to throw in the towel but that’s not in papa’s plans – no playgrounds left behind….
We do get some pointers from staff in a café and transit drivers. They set us out in the right direction to L’Haÿ-les-Roses. Once there it’s a like a game of hot and cold. Seemingly we move quickly in and out of range with people looking at us like we’re aliens or saying yes it sounds familar and is somewhere nearby. Two women, a cashier in the post office and young mom pushing her child in stroller, send us straight to the mother lode.
This is what it looks like nearly 60 years down the road.
What treasures to discover – texture, form, space and Yves Le Thuaut who saved the playground from demolition and is now working with others to restore it. See the photos and videos including yours truly going down ‘le toboggan’ – the slide and not ripping my shorts. It’s right here on Storehouse – 96 degress in the shade: playgroundin’ in tropical Paris. See la gruyère, le labyrinthe, les escaliers, les vagues, les pataugeoires et le corne de brume.
Truly a successful playground hunt though it must be said I couldn’t get over it, under it, through it. In fact I just wanted to be in it.
Thanks to the as-tu déjà oublié? crew for introducing me to Székely.
Thanks to you for checking in – cheers from Canada’s far east…….