Running with Chopin in Paris's Parc Monceau
Frédéric Chopin and I have two things in common: living in Paris in our early 20s, and Parc Monceau.
For Chopin, moving here from Poland as a 21-year-old in 1831 brought him to the center of the Romantic world. Playing in Paris's salons, the young composer inserted himself into the city's musical and intellectual scene. Music publishers were open to printing his music, and he made a steady living from teaching piano to the children of Paris's upper class.
For me, coming here in September at age 22 was a way to put a hold on any real-life decisions and to try to teach English to three children of the city's present-day upper class. When I am not doing that, I am often running in Parc Monceau, where generations of Parisians have found peace.
Built at the end of the 18th century, the park's dusty one-kilometer path rings a pyramid, Roman ruins, and Parisians taking refuge in the rare green space on the edge of the haughty eighth arrondissement. Lawyers in suits stroll with sandwiches in their hands. Grandmothers walk tiny dogs, and couples share wooden benches and cigarettes. Children play in yellow vests on a break from school, running in hordes to the parc de jeu, where they climb on playground equipment and the park's many statues.
One such statue is of Chopin, created by Jacques Froment-Meurice in 1906. Behind the playground, the white stone captures him bent over a piano, composing his famous Funeral March. A woman, representing Pain, sits at his feet. Overcome with emotion, she covers her veiled head with her hand. An angel looks on above them, flowers falling from her fist.
Chopin liked to stroll through Paris. He climbed the sloping streets of Montmartre, his first neighborhood here. He moved to the lavish first arrondissement, where he frequented the Jardin des Tuileries by the Musï¿½e du Louvre. Though he gave few public performances, he played from time to time at intimate gatherings. In this scene he encountered George Sand, the novelist who became his lover.
I would like to think that when Chopin tired of crossing the grand cobblestones around Place Vendï¿½me, he would find his way to quiet Parc Monceau. Walking the same dusty path, his newest nocturne turning in his head, he would not have known that one day kindergarteners in white sneakers would climb on stone versions of his arms — or that they would leave pink marker strokes on his face, like one I noticed on a run in November. After days of rain, the mark has washed away and the stone looks like new.
Now, park visitors' ears are more likely to be filled with plastic earbuds than they are with nocturnes. Still, it is this mix of old and new — of white stone and neon sports clothes — that make time pause with every entrance through the park's iron gates. It is Parc Monceau that makes even a daydreaming jogger like me thankful that a certain 21-year-old made Paris his home.
Hailey Colwell is a St.-Paul-bred writer and recent University of Minnesota graduate who is currently living in Paris. You can read about her experiences as a Minnesotan in Paris on her blog, Des Mots du Monde.