On Any Given Day, We Might As Well Go To Paris

I was so proud of myself for getting this blog post done on Thursday, so you Dear Readers would have it on your screens first thing Friday morning. Then it was after lunch time and I had not gotten any Comments yet, which is weird, until I remembered that I’d forgotten to schedule it for publication. Which I just did, at approx. 12:44 Eastern time today, Friday May 22. So so so so sorry.P1010234

So now that we all know that this lovely purple-blossomed tree is an Eastern Redbud (thank you, Deborah, janet b., and a quiet life — see: last week’s Comments), many of you, probably none of you, might be wondering why I mistook it for a Paulownia. I’m so glad you asked! Because it gives me the opportunity to show you my photos of what I think are probably Paulownias!


This is the Boulevard St. Germain in May and yes, that’s probably a Paulownia in blossom on the right.


Wait. Is it? Doesn’t this look like another (but much prettier) Eastern Redbud?

I am what I dreaded becoming, as a writer of a Damn Garden Book: the kind of person who frets over the identification of trees which that person would never have bothered to notice before she wrote a Damn Garden Book.

I took this picture in May of 2013, when I was in Paris on a garden fact-finding mission. Mind you, I have been in Paris in many previous Mays but on this visit I was looking at the city with gardening eyes.  And Lo and Behold, the Ville Lumiere is lousy with purple blossoming things in May.






Aside from Wisteria, and what is probably not a Paulownia on the Bld. St-Germian, I think all the other trees photographed are Paulownias. Sadly, I happen to know a thing or two about Chestnut trees, some of which I am about to tell you now.

In the photo above, the tree in the foreground on the left is a blossoming Horse Chestnut. In the photo of the Boulevard Saint Germain (way above), the tree on the left is a blossoming Red Horse Chestnut, a hybrid of the Horse Chestnut and the Red Buckeye. There are about 100,000 Horse Chestnut trees growing in Paris. *Sigh* You can read all about the Aesculus hippocastanum in my Damn Garden Book. Sounds fun, eh?

To make up for all that tree talk I am giving you this, from an ordinary public park in Paris:


 Change of Topic


This May I went to a book event for Bethany Frankel, star of The Real Housewives of New York and author of four self-help books, the latest being I Suck At Relationships So You Don’t Have To.


The event was held at the Bryant Library of Roslyn, Long Island and, as you can see, the room was packed. The reason I went was because I wanted to make myself feel really, really bad by comparing her book event to the fact that the Bryant Library is my local library and they turn me down whenever I propose holding a book event there. And I must say, as far as the fueling of my self-loathing went, Mission Accomplished!

I also wanted to see what helpful hints I could learn about holding a book event that passes Bryant Library muster and all I can say is, it helps to be Bethany Frankel. She is charming, smart, funny, motor-mouthed articulate, and personable. She was just wonderful.  You might not know that she made decent money in her work life for the first time only when she sold her start-up brand — the Skinny Girl line of booze for women —  for $100,000,000, when she was 41. One hundred million dollars…when she was 41 (in lady-entrepreneur years, that’s practically dead).


But as she spoke to the room (standing up, even though a comfy chair was standing by for the convenience of her stiletto heeled footsies) there was nothing in her public demeanor or in her response during the Q&A (that went everywhere from her business success to her parenting philosophy to what’s up with Sonja) that broadcasted that she is stinking, filthy rich. Down-to-Earth, is what I’m saying, as a Bryant Library reject whose very best ideas pan out to minimum wage. She was very impressive, is what I’m saying, as a wise person who knows how many Chestnut trees are growing in Paris.

It was while I was burning with resentment…I mean, listening to the delightful Bethany, that I got the happiest thought of my life, what Einstein called der glücklichste Gedanke meines Lebens (when he figured out general relativity in 1907 SEE! I KNOW STUFF!).

If I ever hope to have a shot at filling up the meeting room at the Bryant Library, I have to become a Real Housewife. And that’s when I wrote out a list of my qualifications, fully intending to brighten your Get Away Day with an uproarious post that the critics would call Hilarious! Transgressive! The usual spectacle of existential dread!

But then I got sidetracked with the whole Purple in Paris thing and I know you want to get a head start on the unofficial Start of Summer holiday, so I will not hold you back from your (and, ahem, mine) margueritas any longer. The Housewives of Long Island side-splitter can wait another week.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.


James Alexander Malloy, C Co., 175th Infantry, 29th Division, killed in action in Normandy, France, on June 16, 1944.

40 Comments, RSS

  1. Mary

    I checked every hour and half hour since 7 a.m., wanting to see what gems you have for us this week.
    Stuff happens; we know. No worries.

    Purple flowered trees are very pretty.

    So we are going to wait to hear next week about “housewives” etc. okay.
    Still your fans; we’ll enjoy whatever you want to share with us.
    Don’t put yourself down for not getting a spot at the Library. Keep asking them. Maybe get someone from Bloomsbury Press to write a word of encouragement to them ?
    I’m jus’ saying……

    • Vivian

      I don’t think I’m a big enough deal for my publisher to chase after the Bryant Library. It’s only when I become so famous that I can pick and choose the venues will I become a Bloomsbury PR priority. Unless I took to writing porn, then I could be banned from the library, which would definitely be good for business. That’s just the way the world works these days.

  2. Marg-o

    Well worth waiting for. I laughed out loud twice while reading about Bethany Frankel’s book event.

    If you ever come to my local library in Brookline, MA I will round up my entire book club (14) to come out to cheer you and ask deep and meaningful questions about your process as a world famous writer-illustrator of travel memoirs. Please consider this for your garden book event tour.

    • Vivian

      Thank you, Marg-o. I would be glad to put Brookline on the itinerary (let’s keep in touch) but I must warn you: Altho you ask me deep and meaningful questions, I can’t guarantee that I will give you deep and meaningful answers. After all, this is ME you’re talking to.

    • Vivian

      I know! Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have gone either, but I made a resolution this year to do stuff that I wouldn’t ordinarily do. That’s why I’m also gearing myself up to read a NOVEL, the second-most despicable form of reading I know. Yes. I’m really going to do it. I’m going to read FICTION. All I need to do is find an author that goes well with vodka tonics, because for sure I don’t want to read FICTION while I’m sober.

  3. Alicia

    Who doesn’t mind a little side trip to Paris on the way to a Bethany Frankel book event? You made me laugh, and then you reminded me that Memorial Day still means something. Thank you.

  4. TheOtherBev

    What? No cats in Paris?

    You know how Bethany Frankel makes you want to go into Primal Scream therapy?

    That’s the way Vivian Swift makes me feel! I watch you paint your little miracles and I want to get a restraining order on myself to keep me away from paint brushes, watercolors, and and masking fluid.

    Um.ummmmmm…any chance you’ll be painting something soon? Please?

    • Vivian

      To be honest, T.O.Bev, I don’t paint for my own amusement but if you have a suggestion about something you’d like to se me paint, I’d be very happy to consider it.

  5. Casey

    Now all of a sudden I need to know if those are paulownias or not. Deborah, janet b., aquietlife!!! Help me out!!!!!!!!

    • Vivian

      Casey, I hope you’re checking back here, because all our gardening angels answered your plea. (Spoiler alert: it’s a Paulownia after all!)

  6. janet b.

    first, i am eternally grateful for the invention of google translate, so that i now know what einstein said. last, i think one of those purple paris tree photos was an EMPRESS tree (photo five, right under the wisteria). look them up ~ they’re spectacular!

  7. Patricia

    Am not taking mini mental side trip to Paris. Am in the middle of stuffing clothes into a suitcase for real trip to Sicily. The packing list says shoes for hiking up Mt Etna. Since this is an Italian volcano, won’t strappy sandals do? Didin’t the Romans practically invent the sandal? At least the gladiator sandal which is big in shoedome this year.
    Rather read about Vivian toe to stilleto with a Real Housewife. Must go wrestle with suitcase again.

    • Patricia

      Must learn to proof read my comments since no spell check here. Am not sure I’m allowed to write ANYTHING without spell check.

    • Vivian

      Patricia dear, Fai un buon viaggio! It’s not important that you scale Mt. Etna; it’s only important that you look fetching while doing it. The Roman Legion marched all the way to Scotland and built a big stone wall across England — and looked mighty fine doing it — wearing their Roman sandals the whole time. If they can do, I know you can too.

  8. Joan

    Shall we band together to inundate your local library with emails demanding a book event for the damn garden book? You know, power of the pen and all? The pen is mightier than the sword. How dare they snub a local author. (Hand on hip wagging my right index finger in their direction.)

    I was up all night (PDT) so was expecting to read The Swift Blog in the wee hours of the dawn here in the west. What? No Vivian??? I tried again later in the morning, still nothing. Then I thought you’d gone into editing coma after finishing up the book and simply couldn’t write another freakin’ word. Great relief when I found your Friday posting after we came back from a delicious lunch of Pizza.

    The photos of Paris in bloom are so beautiful. Thanks for putting them here for us to enjoy.

    A question just popped into my head….Do you keep a sketchbook? Do you paint for pleasure or is it strictly a job for illustrating your books? Inquiring minds want to know.

    How loving to remember James Alexander Malloy. I’m remembering my uncles who served in WWII along with all others who served and paid the ultimate price.

    • Vivian

      Ooooh, pizza…..I do apologize for being late with the news from VivianWorld. It’s technology. Everything keeps getting updated and updated and updated and I get tired of trying to keep up. Turns out that once in a while I should read the bulletins to find out how the “improvements” are going to ruin my life of habit and simplicity.

      I used to keep sketchbooks but as of 2001 I do not. I draw on loose sheets of paper these days, and I do keep the useful ones along with the watercolor rejects filed in looseleaf notebooks, for future reference. I might draw for pleasure, but painting is more of a job. There are times that I’ve really enjoyed painting, but only when I had to figure out how to illustrate something and through experimentation and persistence discovered that I could do something, technically, that I didn’t know I could do before. THAT is fun.

      I sill have all my old sketchbooks but I haven’t looked at them in years. I used them to take “notes” for embroidery designs, back when I did a lot of embroidery. I sketched notes on china patterns, textures in nature, shapes from African and Micronesian art, Celtic alphabets, horses after Sioux ledger art and the Bayeux Tapestry, New England furniture, doll houses, ethnic jewelry, etc. I love material culture. Very inspiring.

  9. ann

    The Eastern Rosebud and Wisteria grow well where I live in the deep south. I remember the Eastern Rosebud was the first tree my boys climbed. It is a great climbing tree. My grandmother was proud of her Wisteria, so your trees brought great memories.

    I’ve never seen a Paulownia tree. Something to look forward to seeing one day when I go to Europe. I also want to see the beaches of Normandy.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Vivian

      The D-Day beaches and the American cemetery in Normandy are still powerful with the history and the cost of that day in June 1944. I hope that I’ll live long enough to attend the 100th anniversary of the liberation of France in honor of James A. Malloy. I’ll be 88. I’ve seen WWII vets march in formation on the anniversary of VE Day when they were in their 90s so all I have to do id take after Sgt. William Doyle, 179th Division, who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day+1. He turned 100 this year and he drinks a Manhattan cocktail every day. Sign me up.

  10. The mystery of the purple blossoms in Paris was fun to follow – and so lovely. It is fun that so many gardeners follow your blog.

    I wonder if sitting around sipping Skinny Girl booze helps inspire a product line that can be developed into a mega-fortune. If not, I guess I’ll just stick to St. Germaine and champagne – a glass of each, one in each hand. I applaud your capacity for appreciating super successful smart girls. I think I’ll just pout and drink.

    But I’m glad you are enjoying a bit of leisure – which is way more interesting than my version of leisure. So, thanks for taking us virtually along.

    Fun to learn about your adventuresome sister, too.

    As for the 1%-ers (last blog), at least the bunch milling around on lawns at Princeton are raising consciousness with their Check Your Privlege saying.

    I loved seeing the photo of a WWII vet. It’s only been 70 years since liberation. So much has changed, and yet so much has not changed at all.

    • Vivian

      I agree with you about the gardeners who are Dear Readers of this blog. In fact, every single Dear Reader of this blog is probably more interesting, more smarter, and more with-it than the Blogger of this blog. I never forget that, mostly because I am reminded of it every week in these Comments. Small wonder that I too am quite proficient in pouting and drinking. I applaud you for the creative way you do it — with liqueur in one hand and champagne in the other. I wish to learn at your feet, my Buddha of the Beautiful Mope.

  11. Deborah S. Farrell

    Empress tree and Paulownia are the same thing. I think they might also be called Princess trees. They have beautiful flowers that are pink, no blue, no pink, no . . . the color is unlike any I’ve ever seen. But they are not native and are invasive here in the Louisville area. The photo under the one of wisteria looks like a Paulownia. It’s hard to tell in the other photos.

    • Vivian

      THANK YOU, wise one. But it seems to me that I have to open a can of Whup-Ass on Louisville. INVASIVE? My delightful Paulownia? Mon Dieu!

  12. So you are in Paris!
    What bliss. Will you see Carol?
    When I was in London last week I went to the Physic Garden and thought of you and took lots and lots of photos.
    Weather in NY perfectly vile. Stay in Paris.
    But when/if you return to NY I hope to see you.

    • Vivian

      We definitely have to catch up. I am dying to see your photos of the Physic and am parched in a way that only a margarita can quench.

  13. Laura

    My husband and I stopped to smell the blooming horse chestnut trees just last night here in the “Land of Cleve”. They always transport us back to Madrid. We lost a monumental maple to a savage winter storm a few’ back and are ready for a replacement. I’m thinking chestnut, especially after this post.
    I don’t know much about real housewives, but I do know about student art displays. From what I can see in the background of the library photos, you’ve got some hard working art students (and art teachers) out there.
    Maybe your entree into the Bryant Library is to become a YouTube sensation with quippy tutorial videos on painting. You’ve got my “favorite”.

    • Vivian

      You’ve made me aware of the fact that I have never met an art teacher here on the Isle of Long. In the 11 years I’ve lived here not once has an art teacher knocked on my front door to introduce herself (which is the only way I’d be likely to meet an art teacher). Now that I’m getting out of the house more and more, I hope to cross paths.

      If I were to do a YOuTube tutorial, it would have to be about righting the wrongs that I paint almost every single time I pick up the paint brush. How does “Watercolor Rescue” sound as a title?

  14. a quiet life

    I would say your tree with the horse chestnut is not a paulownia, it looks pink… with the profession of blossoms it reminds me of crabapples, but not the shape of the tree. My crabapples blooms the same time as my paulownia too. I would say yes the purple are paulownias, the flower spikes are large and firm and point upright. When leafed out the leaves can be 18″.

    Fun hearing about bethenny, she always seems so real and genuine, plus I think she is hysterical… You too, they need to book you for the damn garden book, after you learn to id your trees 😉

    • Vivian

      Thank you; you’ve given me a reason to return to Paris in the Fall: I must see the Paulownia in leaf. 18 inches? That’s something that you just can’t Google, must be seen with own eyes.

      I’m considering taking a Plant Health Care course, which I understand includes some tree stuff. I wold feel ever so smart if I could I.d. all the trees in the forest, the forest that I usually can’t see because of all the trees.

  15. Casey

    Thank you! Deborah, janet b., and aquietlife. I will celebrate your gardening astuteness with a marguerita in your honor.

  16. bunny

    Another great post today, whatever them trees are, they are certainly eye catchingly bright. Looking forward to the DGB.
    The powers that be, at your local library, probably don’t realize that your talent and magic live so close by, and I’m quite sure they have never even SEEN your two wonderful works of art!

    • Vivian

      Thank you, bunny, for the vote of confidence; but the Bryant Library is an A-list Gold Coast library that has no trouble booking TV-famous authors and I’m a Z-list cat herder who doesn’t even have a video on YouTube. Unless I become notorious in some televised way, I don’t think I have a shot at headlining there. That’s just the way the world works these days. Hmmmm…that sounds familiar.

  17. Judy Roberts Jennings

    The Redbuds always have a rather airy, lacey look with open space among the branches and not too thick or solidly packed blossoms. Delicate looking. Breath-taking. We lost our 30 year old one this year. Sad.
    Any bookstore who won’t have you but will have a person, rich or poor, nice or not, from a stupid reality tv show, is NOT the quality bookstore I’d want to visit anyway.

    • Vivian

      The first time I did a Barnes and Noble book event was for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam. If you remember, that cover had a whimsical illustration of a sleeping cat on a stack of bookcases, which the good folks at B&N must have judged the entire book by…because they set up my book event in the children’s section. I gave my talk under a huge poster for Captain Underpants. It was the perfect introduction to the Author Life.

  18. Well, my first reaction to this post is what in the world is wrong with your local library? You must have a garden group there that would lobby for you? We will, if no one else can! Put out the word and that library’s email addy won’t know what hit it!

    Redbud/Pawlonia — what matters to me is all that wonderful hot pink, no matter what the tree! And Paris is Paris, no matter what the bloom!

    • Vivian

      Like many a library that hosts author events, the Bryant Library has it’s “regulars”, elderly folks who like to sit in the front row and be entertained but never buy a book. That’s OK, really. But having done a number of such library events, I only wish they would please stay awake while I’m “on”. It is very disconcerting to look to into an audience to find half of the front row napping. And to tell you the truth, here on the Gold Coast of Long Island people mostly only buy books about shopping or Hollywood tell-alls. That’s just how the Gold Coast works. Yes, it makes me wish I lived in Minneapolis, or Portland, or Seattle: true book-loving towns. I would move, but I’d have to take my cat herd along with me and, well, you know how eager cats are to embrace change and new experiences…

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