Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Palace of Versailles

On our second full day, we headed out to Versailles, which is about 12 miles southwest of Paris. In the morning, Marie-Jeanne walked us to the appropriate train station, not far from Notre Dame. She also gave us the heads-up on a special deal which combines the train ticket with admission at a significant savings (for those of you who might go).

Versailles was formerly the residence of the king and queen of France, including -- perhaps most famously -- Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The palace and gardens are absolutely enormous. Pelagia and I guessed that it would take a staff of several hundred just to keep the gardens maintained.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was in Marie Antoinette's "little" villa (where, we are told, she could escape from the "rigors" of the palace). There we saw the dining table and learned that Louis XVI had drawn up plans to mechanically raise the enormous table, fully set, from the kitchen which was located on the floor directly below. I guess they didn't have time to realize this plan, but it gives you an idea of the kind of luxury there.

At the king's bed, for another example, we read about all the rituals attendant on the king's going to bed and rising from it. Sheesh!

As I once heard someone comment after visiting Versailles: "Now I can understand why the people revolted."

At the same time, you can see how someone like Marie Antoinette could be so out of touch with real life as to say something like "Let them eat cake" (if, in fact, she did) when told that the peasants had no bread.

Anyway, the top three photos are from inside the palace. The first is of one of the many elaborately painted ceilings. The second and third are from the famous Hall of Mirrors.

The third photo is interesting. This simple blue disc is not part of the original palace. It is part of a modern art exhibition which has placed a piece of work in almost every room in the palace. To be honest, this was the only one I liked at all. Some of the others, for instance, included an enormous ceramic sculpture of Michael Jackson with bubbles (I believe that was in the queen's drawing room or something) and a chain link fence with inflated rubber ducky swimming tubes hung on it. Yes. I'm serious.

I'm noticing that this seems to be a trend in such places. In Constantinople, for instance, we noticed that the Turks had a hideous modern art exhibition (with these enormous canvases that were all white with a black speck in the middle, for example) right in the middle of Hagia Sophia, in the room where the Holy Fathers met for the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

There was somewhere else we noticed this, too (I think Rome), but I can't remember now the context. Anyway, I think it's bizarre, but then again I may not be "with it."

Anyway, after the palace, we spent a lot of time wandering through the gardens -- although only a small piece of them. They are VAST. The fourth photo shows the Orangerie, a building where the orange trees are kept in the winter. Apparently, one of the Italian nobility who ruled in France missed having orange trees, so they had to invent a system to keep orange trees alive in the much colder climates of northern France.

After visiting the palace and the grounds, we explored a bit of the little town of Versailles before getting back on the train to Paris, totally exhausted.

More tomorrow...

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