From the outset, there was a strange aura about the garden that day. Not that the Tuileries, constantly teeming with tourists in addition to (usually exercising) Parisians with a high threshold for being annoyed, was not an inherently strange place in general. After all, Catherine de’ Medici’s freak energy was still lingering throughout every flower bed, tree and meticulously-manicured lawn. And maybe the garden itself had been cursed by her and all subsequent monarchs who were horrified by the idea of the space being open to the hoi polloi after the French Revolution.
At the time of Catherine’s machinations for creating a garden, her husband, Henry II, the man who might have “reined” her in (as though such a thing were possible), had already died as a result of a wound from a jousting tournament. He was trapped in Medieval Times indeed. In the aftermath, perhaps wanting to cultivate a new roost that was free of reminders of Henry, Catherine decided to up and leave the Hôtel des Tournelles. Which really wasn’t all that nice—the word “hotel” was in it, for fuck’s sake. And it was near Bastille, which wasn’t very chic… even before it became irrevocably associated with le peuple. Yes, Catherine needed to start over, yet again. So she took her little princes (soon to be ineffectual kings) and moved into the Louvre Palace.
Naturally, a few years of staring out into the abyss made her want to build an additional residence with a garden. Being a Medici, money was no object, so she bought a substantial amount of land to erect the Tuileries Palace and its correspondingly-named garden. Tuileries being derived from the French word for “tuile” a.k.a. tile. And here we have some peak rich people effrontery/germinal form of gentrification in that Catherine repurposed the name from the fact that the area was known for its tile-making factories—that is, until she came along to blow the working class out of the water. Water that would instead go into one of the many fountains of the garden. Replete as it was with the Italian Renaissance style.
It seemed, alas, that Catherine was so fixated on generating a space of beauty tailored to her tastes that she lost track of how much the infighting between the Catholics and the Huguenots was getting out of hand. Though she didn’t seem to lose enough track to forget to instigate the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. How could she miss the opportunity to slaughter some of the most influential Huguenots who had gathered in Paris for the wedding of Margaret of Valois (the daughter of Catherine, making her Roman Catholic) to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant. The scandale!
The ensuing bloodbath was certainly effective for eradicating Protestant dominance in France. For the Huguenot movement was now crippled by the loss of anyone rich (therefore with clout) to support it. Hence, the reason why some scholars on the matter rightly noted that it “printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion.” Which also sounded like a convenient way to say that all Italians were assholes or something. But no, it was really just the Medicis, whose meandering essence remained in the garden throughout the French Wars of Religion that remade it into a site for pillaging and combat. The essence remained even now, as Leonora walked through it with a famished sort of languor, past the throngs that were also lined up at the various kiosks serving cliché food items. You know, croque monsieur, un sandwich de jambon et fromage and, bien sûr, pain au chocolat.
Leonora had been fiending for a pain au chocolat since the breakfast hour. It was presently almost noon. Something about being in France made it feel okay to eat the iconic pastry every day—as though it couldn’t possibly have any effect on one’s weight. For it’s not as though one often saw fat people in Paris, so it made it seem like maybe anyone could be thin no matter what they ate. Leonora knew that all the weight gain was going to hit her at once upon her return to the U.S., but what did it matter now, when the illusion was still ripe? Like the scent of shit that seemed to permeate every street corner. The garden smelled of nothing though, and that was reason enough to keep wandering through it. Despite the sinister vibes she was getting, she felt the inexplicable pull to remain inside of it on a quest for this confection that, one would think, should be readily available regardless of the time of day. Didn’t the French churn out croissants the way Americans did hamburgers? Therefore, have a constant excess in supply? Évidemment pas.
This is what Leonora was coming to find as she traipsed the length of the jardin from kiosk to kiosk. Enduring the long queues at each only to get to the presumed pot of gold at the end of the drab rainbow and find that it was empty. Totally devoid of pain au chocolat and filled with nothing but pain. Curse you, Catherine! she thought to herself—for she knew this was all some elaborate bid to keep the proletariat in her place. To remind her that her broke ass maw didn’t deserve to be filled with the sweet, flaky goodness of a croissant. So she decided to surrender by getting a marginal coffee (even though all coffee was less marginal than the variety found in Amérique). And for an extra cost thanks to admitting she would be sitting at one of the tables in front of the so-called “cafe.”
Upon sitting down with the laminated number in hand that would indicate to the server what order to give her when the time came, she realized that perhaps all of this could have been avoided by simply surrendering to the always-croissant-jammed Paul. Which was located at the front of the garden, closer to the Louvre. And yet, thinking she was above such an extreme cliché, she had ended up fucking herself over. Like a Huguenot letting her guard down for even a second. Incidentally, the coffee never came.