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Gardens of Paris: Hemingway Park, Hôtel des Invalides

hn weekends the old men gather on the sands to pitch their pétanque boules into the air.  The knock of metal against metal, sand grinding into heels, and the hoarse counting of numbers fills the esplanade of Hôtel des Invalides.  The old men hang their coats on the makeshift hooks that are nailed into the trunks of trees.  Lanterns are strapped with bags, and the cords twirl around the green poles.  I have named this place Hemingway Park because the old men that gather here everyday resemble the characteristics that Papa wrote of in Europe.  In the morning I usually walked down rue Saint Dominique, passing the cafés and brasseries, smelling the courses of food, watching the steam rise into the chilly air.

There are many people like me that frequent this park.  They sit on the benches and smoke cigars, watching the old men throw their boules into the air, standing ever so still until the ball crashes into the sand and rolls into the faint direction of where the player had intended it to be.  It is a game that is played throughout the many green areas of Paris.  In parks, the city has constructed intricate pits for pétanque players to congregate for matches that will last as long as the sun hangs in the sky.  Hemingway Park is a different place because the players have transformed an uneven gravel quarter into a place that friends can meet in the warmth and in the cold.  Hemingway would have approved of the lack of women here as well, for the men in this park do not bring their wives and women are seldom seen.

Across the sands there is a bright green lawn that stretches to the Seine, and in the opposite direction the lawn reaches the sands of Hôtel des Invalides.  When sitting on the benches of Hemingway Park a person can view the cannons on the lawns of the Hôtel des Invalides, and above the trees the golden dome sticks out with a faint cross.

On the corner of rue de Grenelle and Boulevard La Tour Maubourg there is a good crêperie that should not be missed.  It is a small black stand, and there is a sign on the wall that lists the menu in chalk.  The man that prepares the crepes is named Mr. Sutha.  He is from Sri Lanka, and he is a good man that keeps his window open in the wind and the rain to prepare his magnificent warm crepes with a smile.  The crepe is difficult to master.  It will take years to learn the technique of rolling the batter on the round skillet, and to spread the ingredients inside the warm flaky crust.  If a chef knows how to layer the ingredients properly, the outside will be crisp and warm, and the inside soft and delicate.  Mr. Sutha has been crafting his crepes at this very establishment for seven years.  I have walked through Hemingway Park too many times to count and have often had strong observations on life, love, and the game of pétanque.  I invite you to watch a game, eat a crepe, and live the life of a true Parisian.

Gregory Ross is the author of the Hidden Parks of Paris 2014, the first-ever travel book on the parks of Paris. It is available worldwide June 2014. He currently lives in Honolulu.