Walking Tour: Saint-Germain-des-Prés/Luxembourg

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One of the reasons the Luxembourg area is special to me is because it
is an important part of the history of African Americans in Paris. Take the circular walk entitled
Saint-Germain-des-Prés/Luxembourg, you’ll see why.

The
facade that you see at the end of rue de Tournon on the rue de
Vaugirard is the rear of the Palais du Luxembourg, where the French
Senate meets. It was originally the palace of Marie de Medici, the
second wife of King Henri IV. You will see the front of the building a
little later in the tour when you visit the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Turn
right on rue de Vaugirard and proceed up the street. The first
intersection on the right is rue Garancière. Editions Plon, one of
Chester Himes’ publishers, once had offices in this street. The next
intersection is with rue Servandoni. After rue Servandoni you will see
a crosswalk that leads to No 19 on the left side of rue de Vaugirard.
Take this crosswalk to stand before No. 19, the Musée du Luxembourg. In
1897, the French government purchased Henry O. Tanner’s The Raising of
Lazarus and had it displayed in this museum. Years later, Mary Church
Terrell came to the museum expressly to see the painting, only to find
that it had been removed and hung in the Louvre. Tanner’s Pilgrims at
Emmaüs also hung here once. Today the Musée du Luxembourg only houses
temporary exhibitions.

To the right of the museum
entrance is an entrance to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Many African
Americans have found the garden inspiring, from Loïs Mailou Jones who
captured it on canvas in her work entitled Dans le Jardin du Luxembourg
to Richard Wright and Bruce McMarion Wright who read and wrote here.
Chester Himes and his girlfriend Regine would walk through this garden
on the way to the Café Sélect in Montparnasse, where he wrote his novel
A Jealous Man Can’t Win.

Enter the garden and follow the
path to the first major intersecting path to the left. Turn left to
walk in front of the Orangerie and past the monument to Delacroix, then
follow the curve of the path to the right to enter the area over which
the front of the Palais du Luxembourg looks. As you round the curve you
can see the dome of the Pantheon above the trees. Standing before the
palace, you now have a view of the front of the building that you saw
from the corner of rue de Tournon and rue de Vaugirard.

Marie
de Medici, who became a widow after the assassination of her husband
and king Henri IV, commissioned the building of a palace in the
likeness of the Pitti Palace in Florence, her original home. Though it
bears little resemblance to the Pitti, the palace is an extravagant
piece of architecture that took 15 years to complete. After a
succession of royal and aristocratic owner-occupants, it was made into
a prison during the Revolution. It only became the seat of the Sénat in
1852. The president of the Sénat lives in the garden at No. 17, rue de
Vaugirard.

Reverend Daniel Payne visited the palace in
1868 and Frederick Douglass attended a Sénat session here in 1886.
Composer and pianist Philippa Schuyler had the occasion to practice
piano here in 1955, when Gaston Monnerville of French Guiana served as
Sénat president. Schuyler was a guest of the president’s wife. In
February 1994, a conference entitled “A Visual Arts Encounter – African
Americans and Europe” was jointly sponsored by the Contemporary
Transatlantic Arts Program, the Center for Afro-American Studies at the
Sorbonne and other institutions. Raymond Saunders of the Contemporary
Transatlantic Arts Program and Marie-Françoise Sanconie of the
Franco-American Center in Paris were instrumental in its planning and
implementation. Fifteen African-American artists were invited to
participate, among whom were Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence and
photographer Lorna Simpson.

Continue on the path next to
the palace to visit the grotto containing the Fontaine de Médicis, a
famous trysting spot for Parisians. Then retrace your steps to the
clearing, walking by the boat basin and observing the vista along rows
of trees that lead your gaze to the observatory that stands well beyond
the garden to the south. Then take the main pathway out of the garden
to place Edmond Rostand.

At place Edmond Rostand, look
across the intersection to rue Gay Lussac to see the Café au Départ*.
This is where Chester Himes wrote his novel Pinktoes. Himes became a
celebrity in Paris because of the widespread acceptance of his Harlem
detective novels, including For Love of Imabelle and A Rage in Harlem.
Most of these were first published in France. Turning left on the
sidewalk by the garden, follow it to rue de Médicis. As you walk, look
to the left to see the rear of the Fontaine de Médicis within the
garden gate.
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