Such pleasure seems like a fairy tale, especially with no price tag attached, no parting with euros, or inserting a card for later charges in the mail. Yet it is true, not imagined. One can enter La Jaÿsinia botanic garden daily, with no parting of currency, except there is no entry when snow is on the ground. The closed sign then is meant to protect you from bodily injury and the fragile plants growing beneath the snow. An image of the winter gardens seems sweeter to me as I imagine the tiny plants under the snow waiting to peek through in the spring, gracious snowdrops and vivid yellow daffodils.Husband Jim and I followed the pathway that zig-zagged its way up the mountainside; we walked across bridges with moss-covered railings and stopped awestruck by the rushing waterfalls. The brochure wording said: “While you’re looking at the flowerbeds in La Jaÿsinia, you don’t notice that you’re actually climbing the mountainside, until you spot the beautiful view over the village.” I kindly disagree since my feet and calves did notice that I was climbing up a mountain. In fact, I hinted heavily that I should get a ride on the garden tractor. Like any garden, much work is involved. Pruning and mowing was underway when we huffed and puffed from one stop to admire vistas to the next stop with a nicely situated bench. Jim was thankful that for once he wasn’t the one with the hedge trimmers.
La Jaÿsinia’s story continues to read like a fairy tale. On July 1, 1838, a little girl named Marie-Louise Jaÿ was born in Samoëns, France into a large, working-class family. She left her hometown at the young age of 15 to seek success in the big city of Paris. She met and married Ernest Cognacq. They opened France’s first department store, La Samaritaine, in 1870. Marie-Louise and Ernest, who remained childless, were immediately successful and amassed a huge fortune. Marie-Louise did not forget her roots! She and her husband set up a foundation to fund La Jaÿsinia and other projects. The garden was designed by Jules Allemand for the very spot where the young girl, Marie-Louise, grazed her goats before she found wealth in Paris.
It is the only botanic garden of its kind in the Alps, containing 5000 varieties of mountain flowers from 5 continents. Research continues with a seed exchange network with more than 800 members world-wide. The garden covers 3.7 hectares (9 acres) on steeply-sloping terrain. The idyllic garden is truly a haven of tranquility, an escape from tedium or stress. The narrow path winds up to the ruins of the 12th century Tornalta castle and a 13th century chapel. The views are more panoramic with each step of the way. A young mother passed us on the way down, pushing a baby in a stroller. The young lady in a neon-green jacket exchanged groans with me about the climb, but we agreed that the workout was good for us in the fresh air in the glorious garden.
We soon caught up with a grandmother moving slower and keeping a close eye on her young energetic grandson while he darted here and there like a scampering, baby deer. The gray-haired grandmother was carrying a paper plate loaded with his bounty of special leaves and nuts found on the ground, each one a special keepsake in his eyes. We exchanged smiles and knowing looks about the ways of little boys.
I asked Jim, “Do you remember when Chet was around that age? He had an imaginary friend named Candy, a tiny little girl, blonde with a perfect flip-up 70’s hairstyle, or so he described her to us?” Jim laughed and replied, “Of course, I remember. She was so little that she could fit inside my shirt pocket. Once we went for a walk up the hill in front of our house, hand-in-hand with Chet, and at the crest of the hill he started crying that we had forgotten Candy. We had to turn around and go back to get her. At least, I had to go back. You stood with Chet and waited until I returned as hero of the day with Candy safely snuggled inside my pocket. Knowing Chet, I wouldn’t be surprised if he occasionally still has that perky little blonde in his pocket when he walks around town.”
Jim and I went along the street downtown for drinks and a snack after our “mountaineering” with a bit of window-shopping along the pretty streets. While we were relaxing I suggested to Jim, “Chet got his big imagination from you. The figment of imagination didn’t fall too far from the master imaginer. I seem to remember that you had an imaginary playmate named Jimmy. Seems like you could have come up with another name other than your own since you had such a huge imagination! I must admit that you had a humdinger of an ending for the little, skinny Jimmy though!” Jim grinned and took a long swallow of his drink. With an innocent, full-of-nonsense look on his face, he said, “What? You mean jumping off a chicken house is a big ending?” Quick on reply, I said: “Yes, jumping off a chicken house and smashing his head on the ground to his final death is a whopper of an ending!”
We strolled on down the street and along the road toward our rental house. Our shadows were long in the late afternoon when we passed a road alongside the rushing mountain stream. Jim wasn’t all talked-out yet about our heritage of imagination. He had to get the last dig at me.
Walking along with the sun warming our aching backsides, he said, “Now tell me again about the cute fellow that you dreamed about marrying. What was his name? Huh?” Hiding my big smile, I answered, “You know his name was Jim. Can you believe it? My imaginary dream-boat, handsome, rich husband was Jim. I played paper dolls with my cousins and neighbor playmates in our family camper trailer parked behind the house, only taking breaks for black cherry Kool-Aid and cookies. Each time I played, my cute husband was Jim. Then, I ended up with YOU!” Insisting on asking another question, Jim said, “Whatever happened to your made-up Mr. Moneybags, Cute-stuff Jim? Did he jump off the Paper Doll Mansion when he saw me coming?” Not interested in this silly conversation anymore, I pointed to a sign with a person’s middle name of Bastard.
“See, there’s another person named Bastard. I told you that Bastard is a normal, ordinary French name, like the owner who renovated the Chateau de Hautefort in the Dordogne region of France. In fact, one of the streets is named such. I said the “B” name in a speech about my book to an upper-class group in Alabama, and jaws dropped while they looked at me like I had lost my mind. You would have thought I had stepped in a smelly, cow-patty from the way their noses went out of joint!” Trying to get support from my loyal husband for the mistake I had clearly made, I asked, “What do you think of that?” After a moment of wheels turning in his rusty, but imaginative mind, he said, “I think taking a vow of silence might be the best course now since I don’t want my middle name changed to one with the initial “B” at this late date in the course of our marriage.”
Language is an odd thing with words meaning one thing when spoken in one language, but something altogether different in another. I hope my words are harmonious for all and any imagination ignited is enjoyable. Did you have imaginary playmates when you were little? Did you ever wish you could swallow the words you uttered like my predicament? I always enjoy seeing your stories and messages in the comment box shown below. Have a beautiful day! Come again to see us. Thanks to all of you!!
You can read more about the Chateau de Hautefort which has an unusual, bittersweet story of destruction and survival in the book “A French Opportunity” by clicking over to purchase in paperback or Kindle.