Yesterday, the sun was shining, the breeze was warm, the streets were almost deserted on a Sunday morning, and so it seemed a good time for us to take our traditional Segway outing to the Jardin des Plantes, at the eastern edge of the 5th arrondissement. For those of you who are not acquainted with this bit of technological wizardry, a Segway is a two-wheeled individual people mover powered by a battery and stabilized by an ingenious system of gyroscopes in the platform on which one stands. To move forward, one presses down with the toes, and the Segway, sensing the pressure, rolls forward. Pressure with the heels slows it to a stop; more pressure makes it roll backwards. Rotating the left grip turns the Segway on a dime left or right. Susie suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, making walking increasingly difficult for her, but standing on the Segway, she floats along the sidewalk as though on a magic carpet. When we take strolls around our quartier, I walk very slowly, holding her hand to help steady her. When she rides the Segway, however, the slightest pressure from her toes has her moving forward at five or six miles an hour, so that I must trot alongside to keep up.
Our route takes down rue Maitre Albert and along the quais, past Rotisserie du Beaujolais, one of our favorite restaurants, then past the Institut du Monde Arabe and a branch of the Universite de Paris, until we come to the Jardin. Since our Segway is classified as a bicycle, rather than as a wheelchair, say, we cannot bring it into the Jardin, so we chain it to the iron fence that fronts the entrance and proceed from there on foot.
The Jardin is a magnificently laid out botanical garden next to
’ zoo. In addition to the formal gardens, it features a museum of evolutionary paleontology and of course a restaurant – La Baleine [the whale] -- which we have never actually tried. I am a total naïf when it comes to plants. I can spot a rose, a pansy, and maybe a Bird of Paradise [because of my trips to Paris , where it flourishes], but Susie was trained as a botanist and has been a lifelong gardener, so for her a trip to a botanical garden is a coming home. Like all of us who have reached our late seventies, she suffers the occasional “senior moment,” that distressing condition in which a word or name one has known all one’s life just will not come when called. Rather charmingly, this means that she sometimes forgets the common name of a plant or flower, while yet being perfectly able to recall the Latin name conferred on it by Linneaus and his successors. South Africa
The Jardin has undergone something of a reorganization, a fact that we learned by stopping to read the helpful little signs and explanatory placards scattered throughout the gardens. The enormously long rectangular central portion of the gardens is laid out so that as one progresses from start to finish, one is actually moving up the phylogenetic tree, from the earliest and simplest plants to more complex flowering plants and trees. Like any total amateur, my eye was caught by the biggest and showiest plants, but Susie would pause at a little growth that seemed to me to have no redeeming value, pointing out its distinctive features, whether it was about to bloom, and what its relationship was to something I might actually recognize.
Meanwhile, an endless stream of joggers of all ages and sexes and stages of physical fitness trotted by on the gravel pathways that run between alleys of Sycamores around the perimeter of the Jardin.