A Shambles Ramble: Paris (Part 4)
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Surprisingly, I don’t feel I have much to say about Versailles. The palace is so big and ridiculously ostentatious that it kind of blends together after a while. This is Friday (2nd July) I’m writing about now, in case you weren’t keeping track of how slow I’m being. So, before we left for Versailles, Alice and I thought it would be a good idea to buy some lunch to avoid whatever overpriced food would be sold at the palace. And in perfect French, I ordered an awesome sandwich from that same boulangerie as before, and after a slightly messy start on the metro we were on our way. Paris, it turns out, is by itself a fairly small city with other cities around it. Before I knew it, we were in Boulogne – Billancourt, and I’d already eaten my apple as an excuse to have the mask off my face. They have double-decker trains here too! Just like in America!
Alice had a read of my diary. She said it was entertaining, which is good! Hopefully other people like it too. It always surprises me how much more topography there is in other cities. It feels like it’s literally just London that has no hills (except Hampstead. Greenwich is literally one small hill so it hardly counts). On the way to Versailles, you could easily see the contrast with Paris proper. Even just a little further up the Seine it appeared to be a working river, as in it was being used to support construction on the bank and the like.
The buildings and houses began to blend into classic terracotta-roofed buildings that are exclusive to the Catholics of the continent. I expected to see Versailles from a hill, which we would see the entire palace and grounds before descending to enter. I imagined it to be pristine in its appearance and all imminent traces of people to absent. Instead, we were the ones that had to go uphill, and make our way through a massive car park to get to the gates. One of the old stables was being renovated EVERYTHING IS BEING RENOVATED!!! That aside, my initial impression of the palace was one of silent awe. I couldn’t think of any words to describe it. It was so inconceivably luxurious, gigantic, ostentatious, and overbearing just to use a few adjectives. It blew out of the water any other palace I’ve ever seen. Buckingham just looks like a nice garage conversion by comparison. The gates were massive, sharp, and completely golden. Statues of cherubs and women holding overflowing cornucopias looked inward towards the paths to the main entrance. There were even Fleur de Lis’ acting as spikes. Gold paint on the window panes and roof. Immaculately clean. It was intimidating, in a way; I didn’t feel good enough to be there, like I wasn’t worthy enough to visit, which I suppose was part of the intention.
“If you’re not invited, you’re very much mistaken if you think you’re going to be allowed in.” – Louis XIV, probably.
Did you know that instead of paint or wallpaper, they used fabric? All the walls in the galleries and bedrooms had fabric on the walls like you’d find on an old sofa. Except, of course, the comparison doesn’t really help capture just how over-the-top the palace interior is. Throughout my time inside I feel that I said “wow!” more than any other time in my life. They have statues of almost every important king, queen, duke, prince in the history of France down one of the very first corridors. My neck was stiff from looking at the ceilings so often. All of the rooms, staircases, and corridors were so spacious that I was able to take all my pictures without blocking anyone. They have rooms devoted to individual primary colours in succession, giving the impression of a painter’s palette. Some rooms were themed around Roman gods and their associated patronage. Every room had some sort of elaborate relief lining on the roof, or massive chandeliers, or elaborate furniture, or all three at once.
I’d say the one painting that stuck out to me the most was of two women with a black servant. As far as I can remember it was the only painting in the whole palace on display that depicted a black person, and it was quite telling of how the artist (and the environment within which they worked) viewed other ethnicities. The servant’s eyes were bulbous, and her mouth was small and agape. She was staring at a small black dog being held by one of two aristocratic women. The dog and the servant were painted the same colour, and both had the same facial expression: mouth agape, bulbous eyes. I found it to be one of the most interesting paintings in the whole palace to dissect.
The Hall of Mirrors was very cool, though I felt bad for the poor servant that had to polish all of them regularly. However, the bedchambers were just bizarre. To have a barrier between your bed and any courtiers which came to watch you wake up and go to sleep every day, means that your every waking moment is public. There was no privacy. It sounds exhausting. No wonder they built so many retreats in the palace gardens. On the other hand, its hard to feel too bad for the royalty considering the environment in which they performed for the aristocracy. There are worst stages than Versailles to perform on.
By the time Alice and I had finished the palace, we were delighted to remove our masks. We entered the gardens and ate our sandwiches on a bench that looked all the way down to the Grand Canal, with the unexpected addition of Zadok the Priest blasting from the bushes behind us. Turns out they aren’t called the Musical Gardens for nothing. The irony was so obvious that I could only assume the song was selected on purpose to be ironic. To play a song commissioned for the coronation of a British monarch, at the most French of French palaces, the lyrics of which include “God save the King”, and “May the King live forever”, broadcast at the place whose final royal residents were executed cannot have been a coincidence. It was a very weird choice of song.
After we finished, we moved on to the flower gardens. They were absolutely beautiful. The statues there were beautiful. The fountain show was a nice distraction. I preferred the gardens to the palace for sure. In fact, we ended up spending the majority of our time in the grounds, visiting the Grand and Petit Trianon (lowkey I preferred the Grand Trianon to Versailles as a residence), and finally Marie-Antoinette’s estate, which is by far the most damning example of Bourbon elitism id yet seen.
Before I knew the context, I thought that the full-scale model village was an attempt to recreate the Austrian countryside Marie may have been missing. There were several houses, with small gardens attached that were being used for growing vegetables and the like. The houses were all reasonably modest, but definitely romanticised. The beams were in just the right places; each house had a small wooden gate at the front; each had a flat thatch roof. Rose bushes were neatly placed in just the right spots. Tiny streams were fed by a large pond in the middle of the town which had, of all things, a lighthouse on the bank. At this point, Alice let me know that, far from being a project conceived from homesickness, it was actually built as a playground for the courtiers in which to pretend to be peasants in. it was a giant doll’s house, with Marie-Antionette and her friends as the dolls. I could not believe it. Looking at it again with this new context, I could not believe how insane it was, how out of touch it was, how naturally superior these people had felt to those they exploited. When you have your rulers fetishizing your life, one can understand why you’d revolt. The upside to this was that she had also built a small farm, and that farm was filled with cute animals like pigs, donkeys, guinea pigs, and rabbits (which were my favourite). Yet, after so much walking, we were exhausted, and so after a good five or six hours we left the grounds and headed back.
Then we went to a party in the evening. I lost at beer pong twice, but managed to throw the ball into a cup with my eyes closed. I asked if we cold change the music to swing, and then spent the next half an hour or so showing people some basic moves and dancing together. Alice put on some rock and roll, and altogether it was the best part of the night. I also got to practice my French, which was good. We took the night bus home, but because I didn’t know how to validate my ticket, I was fined €35 by the police when they checked our tickets. That part of the day wasn’t so good, but at least it was at the end.
Oof, my wrist hurts now after writing all that out. I’m going to go out and do something today now, I think. It’s already 1pm and I’ve been writing since 8:30.
I lasted one sentence before they figured out I was English. I’m at Breton Creperie, just down the road from Alice’s, called “La Creperie Bretagne.” I don’t know why I felt nervous on the way. I was trying to think up some different sentences to say as I walked there, and I went up and down the street it was on twice, just to make sure it was definitely the one I wanted to go to. In the end, I don’t remember what I said to the nice old lady at the front of house exactly, but she said her day was good, and I managed to communicate I wanted a table outside alone, which I got without hesitation, which was nice. This whole street is Brittonic creperies, in fact. Kind of crazy. Each one represents a different area. Hard to believe there’s so much variety in such a small place. But then, for some reason I ordered a Spanish-themed crepe with chorizo and peppers, so good job on trying that local food, Alex. I screwed up trying to order a drink with my food, which is when I admitted I was English. The waiter offered me a menu in English but I stressed I was fine, and he understood I wanted to speak French if it was possible. He was OK with it, but my comprehension still isn’t good enough to keep up if people ask me questions I’m not prepared for. I still had the last bite of crepe in my mouth when he came to take the plate away, and though I didn’t understand what he said, I let him know I was done. The cider was great, actually. I was wondering where all the cider in France was. Of course it would be from the region closest to Britain, culturally speaking. It was served in a bowl just small enough to hold in your hand, if you’re not afraid of spilling any. I think it was called – actually let me ask for the name again. Whenever that nice lady comes back… ‘Dan Amor’, there you go. It was all sweet and lovely. As I was finishing that off, I ordered a chocolate and caramel crepe for dessert, which was equally as good. I then got treated to a whole box of tea when I asked for some, and chose some chai. But they forgot to bring out any hot water! That was a sweet exchange; it made the old lady laugh when I asked for some, and she apologised in broken English. I’ve just now asked for some milk to go with it.
I feel good though, you know? I feel like I’m improving slowly. I managed to order everything respond properly (most of the time), and even ask for extra things. It feels even better because there’s an old couple from Miami sitting behind me, and they haven’t even attempted any French. Brownie points go to me.
It felt nice to write about something the day it happened again, instead of trying to remember it two days after the fact. Now, let’s start writing about what happened two days ago!
Luckily for me, we didn’t do much. We were tired after such a long day at Versailles, so we took it easy. After a lazy morning, we all helped make stir-fry for lunch, and decided to eat it out on the balcony. It was brilliant. Sitting on chairs from the Napoleonic period and eating lunch with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the back was pretty cool. Nicholas revealed that he prefers not to have chillies in his food because he feels it only masks the flavour of the dish. I can’t say that I entirely agree, but I can understand where his coming from. Personally, I think it adds depth. The best part of the meal was definitely the cheese Nicholas brought out afterwards. He’s told me several times what they’re called but I never wrote them down. Write their names here, future Alex:
(Sans-Culotte – a goat’s cheese)
(Cantal Jeure- Best. It could even be “Salers” cheese, which is a specific variety of Cantal).
The soft one had a strong smell but an extremely mild flavour. The other one was one of the best cheeses I’ve ever eaten. It tasted like flowers. It was so unique in flavour I have nothing to compare it against. I need to buy some just to share it with everyone when I get home. I cannot understate how much I love this cheese. Oh my god.
So yes, it was a good lunch. Then, instead of catching up on my writing I napped instead. It was too hard to resist! The sun was casting low beams through the open door to my bedroom’s balcony, a warm breeze occasionally letting itself be known. The bed was so comfortable with its two large pillows. I was full from noodle and cheese, and didn’t want to sit at a desk for a few hours. I can safely say I feel no guilt for having napped instead of worked.
And so, when I awoke, it was so we could leave for a bar to meet with some people from the party the night before. The bar was in the same area that we went walking on the 1st July (near the burger place). The night-time mood was much different, unsurprisingly. People were vibing, the streets were full of smoke and bodies. The last embers of evening meals were petering out and being replaced by carb-heavy bar food and pints of beer. Some people sat out on the steps of a closed church and shared cigarettes. Waves of people broke around a homeless man begging for money. The noise of hundreds of people talking and laughing together as we walked through the city streets made it feel like, just maybe, things could get back to normal soon. I hope it does.
The Irish pub we went to had a shirtless, heavily tattooed bartender serving drinks. England thrashed Ukraine on the telly when the signal wasn’t interrupted. I got to try my hand at Cards Against Humanity – the French version – and repeatedly apologised for ruining any jokes that were planned out by the others since I didn’t understand either the questions or the answers. All the same, it was pretty fun. Then we walked home. Oh, I forgot to mention the big fountain and the old clock! Ah well. We’re going to the ballet now and I’ve written enough today.