The White Ladies of Luxemburg

In Le Jardin de Luxemburg women are celebrated. Twenty statues of women who have made a difference to France during their lifetimes stand in permanent contemplation of the garden and the tourists who pass them by.

On the day I visited someone had laid roses at their feet. On every plinth was a white or pale pink rose. Whoever did this has a generous memory because as you can see by the date lovely Laure has been dead for over 700 years.

But her rose was fresh. In fact, I took it home and put it in water.

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I love Paris and the French for their celebration of the Artes and the feminine. Where else in the world are women even recorded in history? We don’t seem to have taken our first significant breath much before 1937 when Amelia Earhart blew away. But here in the tranquil Jardin de Luxemburg ancient women are venerated and plinthed and given roses.  

The garden was created in 1611 when Marie de’ Medici, the widow of Henry IV and the regent for the King Louis XIII decided to build a palace in imitation of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence and it was in 1848, that the park became the home of a large population of statues; first the Queens and famous women of France then writers and artists. As I read their plaques I was struck by the power these women were granted in their mostly brief lives. They were often rulers in their widowhood, own right or in the absence of their male consorts. How wisely or otherwise their rulership was remains speculation but compared to English history with its sparse smattering of female regents France was progressive indeed. The poses of these ladies are neither wistful nor vague, their eyes do not drift off to the left like the pre-Raphaelite Madonnas and virgins immortalised in Renaissance paintings, no, they look right at you with appraising confidence.

These ladies were not objects of passion or worshipped for their beauty or suffocating with ague on a half-shell. They were decisive, thoughtful and respected.

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Consider Marguerite D’Angouleme deciding here whether or not to get her people embroiled in yet another battle or is she pondering a deeper question?

Whatever the truth of her attitude, she is not pining for some man. The lady is making a decision and the responsibility of the outcome lies completely with her. 20190729_123938

And here is Marie herself, the creator of this exquisite oasis in the heart of Paris. She looks a little fierce but I suppose she had to be to carry that sceptre with such confidence. Perhaps the hanky in her right hand mopped a frequently troubled brow!

And I love the playful green string around her wrist tying her to modern times. Was it an expression of gratitude for the legacy she left behind? or was it a balloon?

Whatever the truth behind the green tie, the lady scored two roses from our nocturnal admirer.

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Valentine de Milan carries a book and it’s not a small tome either. It looks weighty and important. And her expression of sharp intelligence indicates a personality used to being in command. No downtrodden beauty here, she surveys her world with a sense of authority and acceptance that bely her tender years. She was gone by the age of 38.

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And here is Anne de Beaujeu arms folded and a look of patient attention as she listens no doubt to both sides of a political argument.

All of these women have an attitude of confidence and a seeming certainty that their opinions matter, more than matter, have weight and consequence. Is it only France that values the balance of feminine input? Because having just been there I can assure you they are way ahead of Australia in terms of awareness and fair-mindedness. No Alan Jones staining the airwaves there.

Nor do they dodge the issues of climate change and homelessness. Everywhere I went I saw State sanctioned buildings for the displaced or low income earners and locals explained that it is the responsibility of every town and community to build shelters for the homeless. Brava France!

In Le Jardin de Luxemburg Orangerie there is a Climate Change installation explaining which vegetables will grow in potted gardens on tiny balconies or in outdoor kitchen gardens that receive very little rain. They are already preparing for the drought to come and the increased temperatures.

It is this combination of enlightenment and celebration that most attracts me to France and the French. They do not pretend that we don’t have a huge problem with climate change and the re-homing of millions of refugees from countries destroyed by Western greed and inteference, not to mention, intolerance based on ignorance.

But whilst they address these issues they also remember to celebrate the magnificence of life in the now. They do this with food and wine and music and a culture based on balance.

I wish Australia would learn how to be French.

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And finally let Laure de Noves have the last word. I kept returning to Laure again and again, drawn by her serene beauty and otherworldy attitude. She is the only one who doesn’t carry authority or imply leadership and yet, hers is an subtle incandescence that permeates the atmosphere around her. Truly she has the ability to create calm.

Wondering about her I turned to Dr Google and discovered she had been married to an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade, not a great pedigree and had lived her very brief life in Avignon. Her immortality is due to Petrarch, who eulogised her in poem and sonnet and moved house to live within walking distance of her grave.

“Laura, illustrated by her virtues and well-celebrated in my verse, appeared to me for the first time during my youth in 1327, on April 6, in the Church of Saint Claire in Avignon, in the first hour of the day; and in the same city, in the same month, on the same sixth day at the same first hour in the year of 1348, withdrew from life, while I was at Verona, unconscious of my loss…. Her chaste and lovely body was interred on the evening of the same day in the church of the Minorites: her soul, as I believe, returned to heaven, whence it came.” Francesco Petrarch

No, I don’t think Laura’s in heaven unless heaven is Le Jardin de Luxemburg.

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