When locals and tourists visit the magnificent Jardin du Luxembourg they take for granted the right to claim as their own one of the iconic green metal chairs peppering the majestic grounds for a few minutes, a couple of hours or an entire afternoon.
It wasn’t always free to use them.
A couple of centuries ago one had to rent a chair from “la chaisière” (from “chaise,” chair) at local parks. They sold tickets to visitors “pour quelques sous” (for a few centimes.) In the country of heavy taxation this was a tax of sorts: Visitors paid the fee even if they brought their own chairs.
After World War I “chaisière” became a popular occupation for many women widowed by the deadly four-year conflict.
They were entrepreneurs of sorts these French women, running their small business after obtaining “une concession” (a franchise) from the City.
“Les chaisières” were one of many small trades prevalent around Paris among working classes during the Belle Epoque and later. These “petits métiers” have now disappeared. Fans of talented photographer Eugène Atget remember them with some nostalgia.
Still, “les chaisières” were around until the early 1970s.
Today, many don’t realize le Jardin du Luxembourg does not belong to the City of Paris. It is the property of the French Senate located in the former palace commissioned by a French queen who missed her homeland, Italy.
Marie de’ Medici (and French monarchs) are long gone.
In 2023, the French Senate maintains the Luxembourg garden grounds.
As such, the word “Sénat” is stamped on the back of all the chairs. Property of the French Senate.
By the 1990’s French manufacturer Fermob was making them exclusively for the French Senate.
A decade later, they launched “the Luxembourg line” reminiscent of the furniture at the famed Paris park. Today you and I can purchase chairs from that line in a wide range of colors.
I once owned a pair of “coquelicot” (poppy) chairs in the garden of my Seattle suburban home. I remember sitting on them and closing my eyes, pretending I was in Paris when I got homesick. Dorothy and her magic shoes would have approved.
The chairs followed me to two more homes then I sold them to a local francophile before relocating to France.
I knew it would be easy for me to sit down again in one of the “Luco” (Jardin du Luxembourg) green chairs whenever I felt like it — and for free.
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