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Americans in Paris this month, foraging around the Flea Market, plumbing the Sartrean caves, or viewing the masterpieces on display at the Louvre—or, for that matter, the Folies-Berg�re—might well wonder where everyone is. In the spring the French give up philosophy, figures, figurines, yea, even foie gras, for the Bois de Boulogne, a great billiard-green expanse just west of the Eiffel Tower. The Bois is every Parisian's own principality. Lovers park their motor scooters and love in it. Whiskered men park their bicycles and fish in it. Foreigners toting tents park their cars and camp in it.
France's best fighters train along its paths. American Little Leaguers bang out base hits on its broad fields. Cows meander its juicy pastures, and the elegant dine under Japanese lanterns in its leafy arbors.
In more raucous days, kings hunted its woodlands, bombs exploded its native serenity and Russian cossacks once used it as a bivouac. And, while it remains unlawful to beat a rug or sound a hunting horn anywhere within the 2,000 acres, still one can shoot a live pigeon, bet on a horse, ride a merry-go-round, take a railroad ride through a forest, sail on the Enchanted River, or swim in a barge parked along its shore. Somewhere in the big oblong bordered by the Seine and the swank Parisian residences are three lakes, five ponds and 11 private sporting clubs and nine restaurants, all considered chic. (The poor people of Paris must bring their lunch.) Two of its corners are occupied by Longchamp and Auteuil, the prime race tracks of Paris, where the city displays not only horses but the latest creations of the haute couture.
Longchamp, a lovely track brimming with roses, pompons, zinnias and yellow croix-de-feu, is built on the grounds of an old abbey where in ancient days all Paris turned out at Eastertime to hear hymns sung by resident nuns known as the cloistered Sisters of the Humility of Our Lady. Under the shadow of an ivied windmill that still remains from the old abbey, Longchamp now offers flat racing from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday of October, sponsored by an organization known handily as the Soci�t� d'Encouragement pour l'Am�lioration des Races de Chevaux en France. Under that umbrella the Soci�t� also encourages the amelioration of racing at Chantilly and Deauville, an outpost of elegance on the Channel.
The biggest event of the year is the Grand Prix de Paris, held the last Sunday in June. To watch the running for the 27-million-franc purse, the haut monde shows up in gray tails, known as la jaquette, and a gray topper, known as un tube. It is also passable to wear le melon, a bowler of gray or black, and some types affect the black cutaway with striped pants, but, as an official of the Soci�t� explained, "this is not tr�s chic." Parisian designers use the Grand Prix and the running of the "Grand Steep" at Auteuil a week earlier to display their latest collections, which come to the track aboard the most dazzling models. Some grandes dames also arrive dressed to the nines, but whether their gowns have been lent by a house or bought by an admirer is always a popular point of paddock discussion.
A 500,000-franc gown for the Grand Prix is not unknown and, in the half hour between races, the ladies descend from the grandstand, stroll the pebbled walks, watch the weighing in and pose, champagne glasses in hand, before the lacy green railings banked for the summer with thousands of pink geraniums.
While not as voluptuously landscaped as Longchamp, Auteuil, the home of the steeplechase, offers the ultimate in French racing comfort. An elevator will lift 60 aficionados per minute to a second deck. Infrared lamps heat the open stands and, in a four-deck glass-enclosed restaurant, girls collect wagers while you eat, permitting a man to tender a bet and slurp a bouillabaisse practically simultaneously. Out the window, the vast track stretches for nearly a mile along the east side of the Bois. French cavalry officers in their red and gray and gold kepis stroll the center field. A Paris fireman in a wide red-and-blue belt, toting his elegant, gleaming silver helmet, keeps watch of a sort. And, across the field, above the chestnut trees, the orange awnings and the orange shutters brighten the beige terraces of the parkside Paris apartments that fringe the Bois.
Each year on the night of the Grand Prix, Aly Khan gives a reception for 300 at the Pr� Catelan, one of the nine restaurants of the Bois, overlooking a meadow once used for fighting duels. Under the soft-cloud murals on the ceiling of its mirrored hall or under the crystal chandeliers that hang from the trees of its outdoor terrace, Saudi princes, Belgian dukes, Aristotle Onassis, Maurice Chevalier, Clark Gable, or anybody with $20 to spend on dinner, can dance away the summer nights. Fridays are formal. For chauffeurs there is a buvette in the back, but gone are the cows that were kept on hand for the frivolous, who used to stop by at 5 a.m. for a sobering glass of fresh milk.
La Cascade, near the Longchamp course, spreads its red umbrella tables amid a lush setting of pink hydrangeas, hard by a grotto and a pool. Armenonville, long a soign�e site near La Porte Maillot, has just reopened (May 17) under the patronage of Mme. Queenie-Biancheri, owner of Queenie's restaurant in Paris and Queenie's on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Queenie's kingly decor calls for Louis Seize trappings, orchestra for dancing, th�s dansants on weekends, midweek luncheons for businessmen, and weddings and club meetings on demand.