The grand ambitions of the Second Empire redevelopment of Paris didn’t extend to grand names for the new parks à l’Anglaise. Parc Montsouris, opened in 1869, simply took the local name for the land on which it was developed. Depending on who you believe Mont Souris (or mouse hill) could come from moque souris, the name given to a mill that crushed stone from the local quarries rather than grinding wheat, so mocking the mice. Or it could come from Mont Isoré, the burial place of a giant of that name. Isoré may have been a common, though especially tall, brigand who preyed on pilgrims setting out on the road to Compostela, or he may have been a pagan king from Portugal, come to lay siege to Christian Paris in the 12th century and killed in single combat by Guillaume d’Orange. Take your pick.
English garden style, in the 19th century French interpretation, involved winding paths, naturalistic rockeries, cascades of water, groves of exotic trees and plenty of rustic woodwork. The extraordinary thing about the rustic steps and railings is that they are all hand crafted out of reinforced concrete. There’s no repetition in the pattern of branches in the panels alongside these steps, as each has its own form and character. Leaning on a rail at the top of the bank, to watch a jay in the trees below, I noticed that the concrete bark seemed to be peeling off the rail, showing holes tunneled by beetle larvae in the wood beneath. The unknown craftsman who sculpted these tiny details must have studied real wood carefully first.