That Guy is the original energizer bunny, who likes to be out and about, continuously uncovering the musty secrets (since the newer, cleaner ones aren't as interesting) of his adopted city. He ventures out alone, but he much prefers that I go with him. What fun is a discovery, if you have nobody to go Wow! with?
Recently, after he came home from one of his forays, he grabbed my hand and lured me down to a new discovery, the neighborhood garden of the 18th arrondissement. It lies just down the street from us, just inside the Périphérique (beltway) that runs in a class-defining circle around the outside edges of Paris.
The garden has taken up residence on the platform alongside some train/Metro tracks that seem to be unused, based on the amount of tall green grass that grows between the rails.
As you stand on the platform on the North side of the tracks, and look through the fence, you can see graffiti-filled walls on the South side. As the plants in the garden begin to bloom, their colors juxtapose nicely with the graffiti.
Just over a week ago, when That Guy first took me there and I looked down upon the garden from the street above, I was in awe, as it was still trying to be spring and we were still cold. The beginnings of flowers gave me hope that spring would finally arrive. I also tried to read the signs on the gate, one of which was a big "no dogs" sign, but That Guy grew impatient. As I started to say, "Are we allowed to do this?" That Guy, who doesn't believe in permission, opened the gate and we walked down the garden steps.
We wandered along the pathways, where weathered wooden tables and French cafe chairs were nestled in between garden plots. There were some people there, as well as a film crew that was just cleaning up after their shoot. An older lady (well, like my age) beckoned to us to come up the steps to her garden level, and with my bad French I found out that the garden was run by a neighborhood gardening association. Anyone can join for 10 Euros. The garden is locked, unless one or more of the gardeners are in there working. If it's locked and you are a member, you can pick up the key from the bar on the corner. For some reason, I especially love that little detail.
I took some pictures, and did my penance, which was to say over and over again, "Yes, That Guy, you were right, this is the coolest thing ever, and there was no reason for me to be afraid to come here." Of course, this is not enough, because now he wants to get some plants and tools and go back and start digging in his own plot. Give them an inch, and they take a mile, n'est-ce pas? I, of course, need to know more about the rules.
A few days ago, in the early evening when the weather was so fine and warm, That Guy suggested that we grab some books, musical instruments and a bottle of 98 centime Champagne, push Mao into her container, and go have a little pre-dinner picnic at the neighborhood garden. I was still a little nervous, but went along anyway. We picked one of the tables and set our things down. Suddenly, a shirtless oldster with crooked glasses, loose-fitting shorts and deck shoes, literally hopped in front of us and cheerfully, but with an audible question mark, said, "Bonjour!?" as he stuck out his hand for a shake. We smiled. That Guy shook. I introduced us as Les Simpsons (inside joke, which he didn't get). Our French was bad enough that he continued to smile and then he said, "Bon. Au revoir!" and literally hopped away from us.
Phew! We didn't get thrown out! (I am SUCH a pussy.)
We let Mao out of her carrier and she ran directly into a garden plot and sat on the cool earth, under big bushes of fragrant sage, and peered out at me. I sat down to sip my cheap Champagne out of a yogurt glass, and read my book. That Guy said, "Oh! There's my cat!" and walked off to greet a big black bruiser kitty he had seen the last time he had visited the garden. He dragged the dusty old cat, and a woman, back down the trail to meet me. Mao stayed silent in her little hiding place.
It turns out that the woman spoke great English, lived in a building just above the garden, and was a singer/songwriter. She told us that there were two resident garden cats, the big boy we had already met, and his sister. All the gardeners fed the cats, but the boy cat had figured out where she lived and would come to her front door and wail if he was hungry. He rolled in the dirt, paws up in the air, delighted to know we were talking about him. The gardeners had built little boxes for the cats here and there, and that's where they lived and ate. Our hopping gardener was in the process of building an even better house for them. His hammering and sawing drifted down the pathway towards us.
The woman left, saying that she hoped she would see us again. We introduced Mao to the big bruiser kitty. Mao rolled about submissively. Bruiser cat feigned disinterest and then made some threatening lunges, but was curtailed by That Guy. No big thang. The sun started to fade, so it was getting on to about 7 or 8pm. Time to push Mao back into her carrier and head on home for dinner.
I wonder if they sell the gardening memberships at the bar where they keep the key?