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On the Left Bank, just across the Seine from Notre Dame de Paris, a garden named after France’s first Minister of Labor was dedicated in 1928. In the garden is a tree, so old that it needs support.

The botanist Jean Robin planted this false acacia (a form of chestnut tree) in 1601. Robin discovered the species in Guyana and brought it to France. If this tree could talk, what stories would be told…four hundred years is a long time to be alive!

There is a very unusual bronze fountain in the middle of the square, which was installed in 1995, the work of sculptor, George Jeanclos. Born in 1933, Jeanclos had a traumatic childhood. At the age of 10, he and his family fled into the forest of Vichy, where they hid for a year, in order to evade German capture. His work is a mix of pathos and whimsy. Note, the stags heads dripping water on all four sides of the fountain. Talking stags were one of the emblems of St. Julien, the Hospitaller (the church St. Julien le Pauvre is located here as well). On each corner of the fountain there are representations of St. Julien giving comfort to the less fortunate.

Now notice the remnants of old carved stonework, placed about the square. When architect, Viollet-le-Duc undertook the renovation of Notre Dame de Paris, beginning in 1845, he dumped the old stones here. Find yourself a shaded bench, perfect for sitting and admiring the view.

Notre Dame, although it lies across the River Seine, seems so close. Square Rene Viviani offers a tranquil vantage point for contemplating the beauty and significance of the great cathedral.

One more thing about the tree, which has a rich history of its own…it has survived being decapitated during a bombing in World War I, and in fact, still manages to bloom. It also survived the tempete (it was like a hurricane!) late December, 1999, which brought down so many trees all over the city, including many in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Rue St Julien le Pauvre
5th Arrondisement
Metro: St Michel

For some amateurs de Paris (lovers of Paris), these spots may not be secret at all. Maybe you frequent them, drawn like the bee to the flower. Maybe you have never heard them mentioned. These places do not find their way onto the broad first-time visitor to Paris itinerary. But as an adjunct to “doing the Louvre”, and as a way to become more intimate with the nuances of this complex city, I highly recommend them. Who doesn’t like to be led off the beaten path?

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