If you study mythology a bit, the Champs Elysées is probably one of the strangest names that could have been given to the most iconic street in a major world capital. The Elysian Fields were the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous. Sounds good for a military cemetery but maybe not so appropriate for a tourist mecca full of restaurants, stores and nightclubs. Dante was probably closer to the truth in The Divine Comedy when he located the first circle of hell on the Elysian Fields. Anyway, nobody ever thinks about the name anyway, but this weekend, the “fields” part is getting a whole new interpretation.
The Nature Capitale event is transforming the entire upper part of the avenue into 8000 parcels of plant life for the next two days.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the preparations, because this sort of thing takes a bit of time to set up. First of all, quite a few of the plants were delivered at the beginning of the week to the wide walkways of avenue Foch, just behind the Arc de Triomphe. This was already pretty impressive in itself. Everything was very carefully organized into the same zones that would be used on the Champs Elysées.
The collection of equipment was pretty impressive, too. I did not at all understand how they would be using the shopping carts until much later.
As 1 a.m. approached, the workers were busier than ever and would clearly stay that way all night. One thing about which you don’t spontaneously think about in the concept of putting things into place is that it is a bit like those sliding tile puzzles. You have to leave empty slots for trucks and machines to get through with their pallets of plants. The teams were pretty much working with numbered squares that had to be filled in a very precise order. The barriers on the cross streets could not be opened to let anything through due to the thousands of gawkers, so anything going in or out had to go up the lanes of the entire length of the avenue.
The security guards and the police had their hands full anyway with people who were constantly trying to get over the barriers to get a better picture.
Even though things were still busy along the street as 2 a.m. approached, I figured that I had better go home if I wanted to see how things looked at dawn.
Fabulous!! I have seen some productions being assembled in a similar fashion. How fortunate for us to be able to see this. It does entail an enormous amount of time and manpower and as you mentioned strategic logic. Can't wait to see more of this. Gawkers at that late an hour,hmmmmm. Thanks.
Okay, so this morning I got up at the best time of day on a Sunday – 5:45 a.m. As it was a perfect dawn for biking, I jumped on a bike to go to the Champs Elysées. Anyway, my metro station, nay, the entire end of my metro line is closed all this weekend while they work on extension details to the suburbs. To make things more interesting, I climbed the back side of Montmartre and checked in the bike for 3 minutes at the top of rue Caulaincourt to collect my altitude bonus. (You get a 15-minute time bonus every time you leave a bike in one of the designated high stations. Then you don’t have to respect the 30-minute limit if you are late some other time. I have 60 minutes worth of bonuses built up for the moment.) Then it was down to Place de Clichy, Saint Lazare and on to the Champs Elysées in just a few minutes, almost all totally downhill.
Those poor bastards were still hard at work, but it was starting to look pretty good in most places. Inauguration wasn’t scheduled until 10:30 so they had another 4 hours they could work.
I didn’t know that livestock would be present as well, but the cows were already out, albeit a little nervous, and other animals were arriving.
And Monoprix had completely redone its façade as one of the sponsors of the event.
Since we city slickers don’t know anything about vegetation that isn’t plastic wrapped and on sale at the supermarket, there were plenty of informational signs about the plants.
I finally found out what the shopping carts were for. They are mulch spreaders. The size of the grid in the bottom of the cart is perfect for releasing the right amount of mulch as it bounces over the cobblestones.
Some of the teams were getting a big of a chance to relax and maybe even have some breakfast (although I suspect that breakfast was probably around 3 a.m. and lunch would be maybe around 8 a.m.).
When you are expecting 2 million visitors, you sort of have to leave more walking areas, and there are also supposed to be some conferences and presentations, hence the big mulch zone at the George V intersection. I would have wanted even more plants, but hey, this isn’t all that bad, is it?
Some of the “urban furniture” (mobilier urbain in French) looked quite incongruous and somewhat amusing in the new surroundings.
It was time for me to head home for my own breakfast, so I left the workers to continue their installations and the hundreds of other dawn photographers squinting at their little screens.
Now all I have to do is work up the courage to actually go and participate in the mob scene. They’ve already shown it on the noon news, and it looks like a massive invasion…
Jeez,what a production!!! I would kill to be there...although,by the sound of it,the crowds,I would have great difficulty in dealing with. Seems like they have it well covered in terms of variety. How funny to see banana plants on display for sale. Now,people would purchase these tropicals for what? Houseplants,courtyards,terraces? It also seems like the peas are fairly mature to be transplanted,one generally doesn't see them for sale with blooms already on them. And the trees and the privet are humongous!! How would one transport this stuff out of there after purchasing? What are the prices like?
The Nature Capitale website shows all of the prices, but I confess that I did not read through to see about delivery and such. It looks like one "sponsors" trees to be replanted elsewhere, but the little stuff can be collected or delivered after the event, I think. Each box of plants is numbered.
I had wondered if it was such,but,it seemed to make little sense and be such a waste to have such a proliferation of plants on display!! I mean,emulate a tropical banana grove I can understand but...seems a bit over the top. I guess my garden conservation antennae are up a bit high seeing this and reminds me of when I started to feel that the Chelsea Flower Show and others like it were a tad excessive,perverse,maybe obscene
Well, one thing I heard today was that the operation cost 4 million euros, so with 2 million visitors, that's just 0.50€ per visitor. Not bad really, especially if it rocks the world of even just 5000 people.
The whole point of the 'Young Farmers' movement, which is the mastermind behind the project, just like 20 years ago, is to interest just a few more people in farming and make city people understand their lives.
Well, it looks like Dante got it right – the Elysian Fields definitely turned into the first circle of hell once they were opened to the public. The crowds were really intense, but the weather was nice and people were in a good mood. However, if there had been a vote to eliminate one group, the strollers and baby carriages would have been out of there!
The areas that had seemed “too empty” before the avenue was opened were empty no longer, but they remained a welcome relief from the narrow alleys.
Some of the farmers were indeed giving little conferences about their profession and their crops.
Quite a bit of the vegetation was already suffering from overuse by some visitors.
I discovered that it is definitely not immediately obvious for us non farming folk to distinguish between mustard plants and rapeseed plants.
Even the salt farmers had come to put their crop on display.
People appreciated the fact that some of the signs were more poetic than dryly scientific. There was much comment around this sign, as apparently current generations do not know that cabbage can be used to cure melancholy.
I liked being able to get closer to the plants this time. Some of the herbal aromas are truly stunning.
The media and various VIP’s had their own device to get a good view away from the crowd.
Every now and then I would get a strange flash of the movie “The Killing Fields.” The overheated Parisians strolling through the plants would suddenly start to look like refugees trudging through the rice fields in that movie.
The animals that I had not all seen earlier were now in place as well.
You can’t bring this many Parisians to an event without worrying about their stomachs, so the next section of the Champs Elysées was devoted to authentic farmer’s market products and various other comestibles. We don’t have farmer’s markets in Paris – our street markets are all run by professional vendors who get their products at Les Halles in Rungis every morning around 2 or 3 a.m. That’s one of the reasons that they have to put the place of origin of what they are selling on their signs – Chile, Israel, Morocco, Italy, South Africa, etc. – and of course obviously France now that we have arrived at the appropriate season.
Parisians love farmer’s markets when they leave the city, just as they the love the roadside vans selling crates of peaches or tomatoes on their holiday routes. So they were taking full advantage of the farmers’ products today.
Well, I felt that my curiosity had now been fully satisfied. Due to the crowds, they had to close all of the metro stations along the avenue, so I had to continue on to Place de la Concorde with tens of thousands of other people.
The final object of my admiration was a display by the makers of wooden crates for market use. I now have a whole brochure about how ecological, healthy, appealing and, most importantly, made-in-France these crates are.
If I am not mistaken, there are plans to do an operation like this in Times Square next year. Unfortunately, I think that security concerns will almost certainly make it impossible.
Not to go off topic, but the husband of one of my colleagues is the chief of security of one of the main government ministers. And he says that it is indeed true that the president sent a government jet to Thailand to drag his wife back from a romantic vacation with a popular singer, because she didn't feel like voting in the most recent (regional) elections.
It had major corporate sponsors such as Monoprix, Crédit Agricole and Lu -- also things like the Mairie de Paris and the RATP. I presume that the municipal involvement is well rewarded in hotel rooms and restaurant expenditures. Keeping Paris the #1 destination in the world does require a bit of PR from time to time.
This was a great thread and although, I do think, as I said further back,maybe a bit over the top, (definitely not your 4H Club Fair ;D ;D) I appreciate it more after learning that there was much more of an educational element than I had originally thought. And, it's a good thing the plants were not for sale,after seeing those crowds,jeez,one could easily envision riots breaking out!! The pyramid display is beautiful and brilliant. Thanks again for braving this. (I would have split soon after the crowds arrived).