A bud, a cherry tree, and a new season in Paris

Would a city by any other name be as sweet on the first day of spring?

Paris in the spring. What delights that phrase conjures. And Monday, the first day of the new season, they blossomed right on cue.

The breeze could not have been balmier as my neighbors, for the first time this year, left their windows ajar. On the streets, Parisians' pace slowed noticeably, as they slung their jackets over their arms and enjoyed the unaccustomed warmth. And I headed to my personal symbol of the seasons, seeking evidence of winter's passage.

It is a tree in the botanical gardens near my apartment, an ornamental cherry that spreads its boughs more than 40 feet from blossom tip to blossom tip to create a dense pink cloud when it is in flower.

En route, I had to push my way through crowds of schoolchildren waiting to visit the Natural History Museum. Clad in T-shirts, they squealed with excitement as they chased each other around lamp posts, celebrating their freedom from the anoraks into which they have been zipped for the past six months.

On park benches, solitary lunchtime lizards leaned back with their eyes closed, soaking up the sun. Couples canoodled, in no need of Lord Tennyson to remind them that "In the Spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."

Another poet, though, would have found no answer to his musings. "Spring is sprung/ The grass is riz/ I wonder where the boidies is?" I could have told Ogden Nash that in central Paris there are no birds, (aside from the ubiquitous pigeons and aggressive crows), either on the wing or otherwise.

French poets have traditionally waxed more lyrical when welcoming the change in season. One particularly florid 19th-century versifier, Théodore de Banville, urged his readers: "Let us lay ourselves down on the banks of a lake/ That our bitter ills should heal!/ A thousand fabulous hopes now feed/ Our bursting and beating hearts./ Welcome, O smile of Spring."

Samuel Bouchardeau, an office worker, couldn't find a lake, but instead he staked out a patch of grass on the banks of the Seine, laid out a blanket, and took his shoes and socks off to take maximum advantage of the weather.

"I enjoy a siesta in the sun on my lunch hour," he said, as he set off back to work on his bicycle. "I plan on coming back here often now the weather has changed."

It has changed suddenly. Only two weeks ago there was snow on the ground. That probably explains why my cherry tree has not yet exploded into bloom. But its branches, sweeping the ground, are laden with fat buds, their red shells cracking open to reveal the vibrant green of new growth.

Some have opened just enough for a glimpse of rich pink flowers beginning to unfurl.

Another few days of sunshine and they will be out. And then Spring will really have arrived.

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