At lunch I would walk along the rue de Fleurus, past the Hotel de l’Avenir, and cross the Jardins de Luxembourg on gravel paths striped unevenly with puddles reflecting a sky, only just scrubbed of clouds, whose watery light made the paths pale as a northern beach. Ahead of me would open the gardens, with the Pantheon dome rising to the right of the straight path between, on one side, the tennis courts, and on the other, saplings each in their neat wooden pickets. Beyond, the uniform benches multiplying into the distance, beneath the shaggy fringe of small plane trees bent low and shaking slightly, as though in murmur over their own shadows, seemed to extend the park infinitely into some verdant gloom.
At night, coming home, I would emerge from the metro to the sight of the line, always three or four deep, at the brightly lit corner crêperie, turn away, and in the darkness finally fallen at eleven, walk the long block back along the boulevard encircling Paris whose segments were named for the marshals of France, past the broad storefronts of a motorcycle dealership, a carpet and parquet shop, two auto showrooms, each with its grating drawn behind the ad-splashed windows, while along expanses of white wall black-stenciled letters forbade posters as per the law of July 29, 1881. That spring a tramway was being built and the cold light from the globes of streetlamps made the interim sidewalks a pitted white whose lunar desertion at that hour was always broken by small dogs trotting at a distance from their owners. They nosed around the gray and green corrugated sections of fence, anchored by numbered blocks, whose configuration changed daily, directing pedestrians up and down side streets to cross intersections, often almost doubling the distance walked. Only my passing seemed to stir dog owners from the trance in which, it seemed, they contemplated, at the barrier’s edge, the sudden wasteland of pulverized cobblestones, ashen gravel, and exposed wiring into which their habitual promenade had been suddenly transformed, and from which saplings in their allotted squares rose incongruously undisturbed. On the other side, the fencing had reduced the Boulevard Jourdan to two lanes, strangling traffic. Rain from balconies above had, along the awningless block, pocked the concrete at some formative stage, and as I neared the corner toward my room, a few muddled bootprints were to be seen until they were shoddily topped off with asphalt that, with the copious settling of dust, soon became indistinguishable in color from the cement.