Bois de Vincennes: Sanctuary, Invigoration, Enchantment

At this time of year, just before autumn, a walk through the Bois de Vincennes is a revelatory experience.

There are a few dimensions of a walk in the woods to be appreciated by an otherwise computer bound student:

1. I am grateful that Vincennes is a dramatic break from the urbanised surrounding region. It provides a new set of experiences not to be had anywhere else in the Parisian region

2. An unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle is replaced by an imperative to be active, to move, to walk, run, stretch. The space imposes a break from the scholar’s constant need to be still, to sit – or rather the instinct to slouch over a computer.

3. The sense of enchantment. There is something about forest and woods that triggers childhood associations of forest with enchantment, a sense of ‘magic’, one could say. I appreciate that this piece of wooded land evokes moments of bedazzlement at towering trees and stunning beauty.

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4. The soundscape is also quite unique. Familiar urban sounds are replaced by audible footsteps as one walks on leaves that speak to a coming autumn. The daily slew of stressed voices that spew frustrated curse words is replaced by polite exchange between joggers, if human voice is uttered at all.

There is also the rare sound of water running down a stream. The sound of water, combined with the other sounds, becomes a marker of this place as a sanctuary – as an enchanting, relaxing island of calm in the midst of the bustle of the daily.

(Below is a recording of a fragment of the forest’s soundscape – capturing footsteps on fallen leaves, a stream, faint conversation – quite a different set of sounds to the daily trucks, sirens, car horns, scooters…)

5. Then there is the sense of vastness, openness, expansiveness that stands in contrast to the well known compressed space that characterizes life in Paris for many a student and visitor to Paris (when thinking of compressed space in Paris, Gene Kelly’s waking up scene in ‘An American in Paris’ (1951) comes to mind.It communicates the spatial constraints of this city quite well – video below).

This vast green space’s sense of sanctuary, distance, enchantment, a ‘natural’ soundscape, and its silent encouragement to activity give me reasons 247-251 to be grateful for this dimension of the plan of Paris and the region – its inclusion of a remarkable green space that contrasts so strongly to the surrounding region.