After three months of confinement indoors then the explosion of life as we reopened, including the onslaught of pollution-spewing vehicles, I needed a break from the city. My friend Fabien (who you may remember from my book), has been urging me—for a couple of years now—to take a nature walk with him. He communes with nature a few times a week and he says it keeps him sane. I get that; I grew up in a small country town in northern New Jersey, and I do know the healing power of nature.
But as someone who’s lived in cities most of her adult life, I’ve become more of a picnic-on-the-Seine kind of person. Hiking in the woods? Was I up to the task after sitting on my butt for nearly three months? How much would we be walking? And where were these woods anyway?
“Trust me,” Fabien texted me. “And stop asking questions.”
I met Fabien at the organic shop where he works, in the center of a commercial plaza, part of a large, modern apartment complex in the 12th arrondissement. This place couldn’t feel any further from nature. Were we going to take a train? A bus? How far would we have to go to get to these “woods?”
I followed Fabien wordlessly. The cement commercial plaza narrowed to a cobblestone path. A few steps more and we were at the gates of a park. Buildings gave way to trees. All within a matter of minutes.
This wasn’t the first time Fabien had taken me on the Coulée Verte, a park on the site of the old Bastille train line. But before, we’d been on the elevated section. This was ground level. Then subterranean. Green sprouted up all around, cool and lush. I could see the city above, but it all felt miles away. The powerfully sweet perfume of the linden trees around us permeated our masks. Heaven.
“You see?” Fabien said, seeing my smiling eyes. “I would never lead you wrong.”
But our nature walk was just beginning. Fabien was actually using the Coulée Verte as a pathway out of the city in order to avoid the busy streets as much as possible. I had no idea this park extended all the way to the edge of town. When we finally emerged from our oasis, we were at Porte Dorée, a bustling traffic plaza. “It’s just across the street,” Fabien said. “The woods.”
The Bois de Vincennes, together with the Bois de Boulogne in the west, are called “the lungs of Paris.” The Bois de Vincennes is nearly 2500 acres, three times the size of New York’s Central Park, and is crowned by Chateau de Vincennes, a former royal residence and fortress built between the 14th and 17th centuries. The thing about the Bois de Vincennes? It’s four Métro stops from my apartment.
I’d, of course, known about the woods, and had been to the chateau, but it always seemed a bit out the way. I had just learned I could actually walk there with minimum effort.
We walked through the woods for quite a while then came to a clearing, wheat and poppies as far as the eye could see, and grassy fields, perfect for picnicking. On either side of the fields, paths lined with tall trees whose branches bowed overhead, like the ceiling of a cathedral.
“See the chateau?” Fabien asked, pointing down the long field. Chateau de Vincennes crested above the trees at the far end. If it weren’t for the two large commercial towers to its right, you’d swear you were somewhere in Normandy—and in another era—not on the edge of a thriving metropolis, accessible by Métro, or in our case, as Fabien would say, “by feets”—à pieds.
Next time Fabien asks me if I want to take this walk with him, I won’t hesitate. Even though we’d spent a few hours, we’d only walked a tiny fraction of these massive woods. There’s still so much I’d like to explore.
I could understand why Fabien took this walk three times a week. The city completely fell away, and the sheer scale of the woods helped me lose myself in nature, and find a much-needed fresh perspective.
On the bookshelf