Sometimes I feel like I don’t exist. Like I’m a ghost that nobody can see or hear. This happens often in Paris, mostly when I am being ignored by an overly busy café waiter, but especially when I go on my morning run at the Champ de Mars. It’s amazing to me, but there seem to be two parallel universes in that park. The tourists come to stroll, picnic and, of course, climb the Eiffel Tower. They are out there in full force, yet never have I seen them stop to photograph the local scene. And what a local scene there is!
The streets surrounding the Champ de Mars are some of the most exclusive in Paris, full of local families, and this is their playground. These buildings were built with staff in mind, but very few can afford an army of maids these days. So the smaller, less airy flats became housing for students and immigrants and others on a tight budget, making for a diverse, lively neighborhood. The Champ de Mars, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, is where locals go running, teach their children to ride a bike, take Grandma for a stroll and walk the dog. Along the western side of the park you’ll see several groups of men playing pétanque, while others set up chess games and card games as their wives stand nearby chatting and running after the children.
To the east, about halfway between the Eiffel Tower and the École Militaire, there is an entire area dedicated to young children, with go-carts families can rent for their kids to race around a track, a merry-go-round, pony rides and even a regular Guignol puppet show, which makes kids laugh, no matter what language they speak. There is a hard-to-spot little playground with a crêpe restaurant called La Bonbonnière de Marie (Marie’s Candy Shop), featuring red-checked tablecloths and Parisian-green metal yard furniture nestled into the shade of towering chestnut trees.
To the west of the park, near the Mur pour la Paix (Peace Wall), there are larger playgrounds. These attract more visitors, perhaps because they are easier to spot. Nearby you’ll see courts for pick-up basketball games and asphalt soccer games, perfect for your older teens and men. France has Latin roots, so you’ll see few women playing here, but you will notice them running around and around the Champ, enjoying the wide allées between the trees.
On warm Sunday afternoons, the park is at its best, with locals of all ages out and about. I’ve seen entire rows of businessmen, shirts off, sunglasses on, highlighters out as they review some professional document or other, just as oblivious as the rest of us to all the life seething around the Champ de Mars.
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