Thursday, 8 June 2017
If we learned one thing, today, it is that Versailles is not our cup of tea... at all. I don't know why Coco and I didn't suspect this previously, but maybe seeing the Rick Steves episode about day trips from Paris a few days before we left caused us to doubt our perspective.
Of course, in Steves' video the Hall of Mirrors there was not teeming with thousands of tourists and schoolchildren so that you couldn't get a descent snapshot without somebody either walking through or photo bombing.
Yes, I did say schoolchildren! And now a confession: For as much as my own sensibilities may have been offended by the degree of opulence Louis XIV added to his father's hunting lodge and the way that this offense was surely hoisted on the backs of the poor of his country, my student-of-history conscience was swathed by the fact that Versailles is today a destination for local public schools. There were fourth and fifth graders everyplace seated in groups, listening to speakers, and making drawings at Versailles! the way that Gwen's fourth grade class did for learning about the Civil War at the Jefferson Barracks Museum. Can you imagine?!
With the help of a very patient and well-mannered guide, Clothilde, whose ironic sense of humor was not our own but who nevertheless was very helpful and pleasant, we walked through the public bedchambers of the king and queen and learned that the private bedchambers were where the real action took place.
Evidently, Louis would have a ceremonial bedtime, each evening, for the sake of visiting dignitaries and guests. Once tucked in, he would nick off to a mistress's bedroom or his own. Then, in the morning he would be wakened by an attendant who would guide him back to his own bedroom again, where a ceremonial rising would be orchestrated for the same crowd... because who wouldn't want to see the Sun King set and rise with the sun itself! (It would be a wonder of creation, wouldn't it.)
The day was hot - in the 80s Fahrenheit with a northern hemisphere summer season sun (and did I mention the thousands of tourists and schoolchildren?) making the interiors simmer, despite their open windows. We found ourselves wondering that, even considering the expense, the French government has not figured out a way to air condition Louis's country residence.
We had purchased a tour of the gardens as well, but the heat - now climbing toward 90 degrees with not a cloud in the sky or a breeze - made the outdoor touring unbearable. French nobility in the 17th Century bore no love for shade trees, and the gardens at Versailles reflect that. After the first stage of the outdoor tour, we handed back our companion tourist the parasol he had loaned to Coco, and hoofed it through the palace entrance to the front. I sent Coco and Gwen to the shade of an adjoining building and - after a school group of at least forty 11-year-olds - retrieved my backpack and the lunches we had stored there, from the palace guards.
Just beyond the palace grounds, near a park where we should have gone and could have sat on benches under spreading trees rather than on a curb where we were actually seated, we had our lunches and then walked slowly back to the train.
Read all my Sabbatical 2017 postings.