In a landscape intentionally designed with walking paths to stroll, park benches to sit, rows of trees to provide shade, and beds of vibrant flowers to be admired by passer-bys, there is an unspoken set of rules to be followed while in the space. The metal green chairs scattered by the fountain must be used to lounge in the warm Paris breeze, sip a cappuccino purchased at the cafe around the corner, read a novel, chat with a friend, or stop for a moment to check Facebook. Certainly, these chairs are not to be used as a ballet barre to practice plies and tendus Billy-Elliot style, or stacked by seven to create a sculpture, or to stand on top or sit underneath. Certainly not! There are Acceptable Actions and clearly, Unacceptable Actions in this place. Unspoken of course, with the exception of the few “do not walk here” signs planted throughout the landscape, this park has rules. But the derive does not.
As I stepped over the rope that lined the edge of the grass — the rope, an unspoken, passive, object, telling each visitor of the park, “No, you are not welcome to walk here” — I did not feel that I was trespassing into a prohibited territory. Rather, I felt that the rope was trespassing into my sense of freedom, independence, and my human will to live as I would like to live, without harming another creature. As I walked along the grass, a few gardeners looked my way, the man mowing the long glanced a second time, and a few runners perhaps thought in their head, “is walking on the grass allowed?”. And here I am, writing this paragraph. I did not get ticketed, arrested, contacted by the authorities.
The rope is the only authority, and it let me pass. I did not ask the rope if I could pass, I simply did. Was my strolling on the grass a wrongdoing? Was it a sin underneath the Acceptable Actions of the Jardin des Tuileries? If I had gone to the other patches of grass a few hundred meters east with no rope, how many would have given me a second look? Should I be scolded?
My broadest question is this: why do we do the things we do, involuntarily? What in our subconscious tells us no and tells us yes? My subconscious told me to stay off the grass, but when I thought about consciously, I realized how inviting the grass was! Green, lush, freshly cut. How I would have loved to run barefoot through all of it, to have laid on it in the sunshine and listened to the pleasant chatter of the park. How wonderful it could have been. How wonderful it could have been for every park visitor on a warm summer day, if not for the long line of rope.