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[Comments] (2) Paris Pictures: Versailles: I'm back with another Paris trip photoessay! This time we venture to Château Versailles, a short train trip from Paris. Versailles is a small commuter city whose major attraction is the residence (and occasional prison) of kings; sort of if New Rochelle used to be the capital of the United States.

There are four parts to the Versailles experience and it all depends on how much you want to pay and how far you're willing to walk. We paid full price and walked all day, we saw it all, and I'm here to tell you that the best thing is right at the end. I would not have chosen to go to Versailles, but I'm glad Sumana suggested it as our day trip.

Let's start at the Château proper. This was... a big palace with a lot of history. You get in a big line, which goes through a metal detector and then shuffles as a single unit through one extravagant room after another. It's not what the original architects had in mind but it does instill the intended sense of being dutiful and oppressed.

I took lots of pictures of this stage, but afterwards I realized 5000 other people had taken the same photos that day, so I won't show most of them. I will show the big Hall of Mirrors, which was really intimidating back when mirrors were an advanced technology, but which now kind of feels like a tinpot dictator showing you his Hall of Integrated Circuits.

"Yeah, it's all on one chip, no big deal."

There was a big gallery of paintings of French military victories, from which I took this dyptich I call "Leonard's Two Moods":
In a sop to the non-bloodthirsty, the gallery of military prowess was balanced by a hall of statues honoring humanists and statesmen who "spread the glory of French civilization without drawing the sword." They were able to get some big names, like Descartes (left).
In the many Versailles gift shops we learned that Frédéric Lenormand wrote a series of mystery novels staring Voltaire, including Le diable s'habille en Voltaire (The Devil Wears Voltaire), which according to the back-cover copy is the book that finally delivers the long-promised Voltaire-Satan grudge match! I don't read French well enough to read a historical-fiction novel, but I'd love to see some translations of these.

There's a restaurant (a branch of Angelina, a famous Paris hot-chocolate joint) in the main Château. Their croque monsieur was the only bad food I ate between the time I got off the plane at De Gaulle and the time I got back on the plane a week later. Generally museum restaurants are not great, so not too surprising. However the hot chocolate was excellent! And it's hard to beat the ambience; it called to mind a Ken MacLeod quote about how "our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers."


Speaking of which, let's move on to part two of the Versailles Journey, the gardens! This is a park about twice the size of Central Park, all done in the perfect shaved-trees geometric format that seems kinda creepy to me but it's just the way the French do parks. We took some establishing shots for Sumana's mom just so she could see we made it.

This part of Versailles is free, so if you're a cheapskate and just want to have a day in the park, this is for you. It's also the part of Versailles with the most replay value. Lots of kids running around eating ice-cream. You can rent a bike or a boat.

Near the entrance you see this fountain full of statues of frogs, and statues of people being turned into frogs. There's an implied threat that the king might himself turn you into a frog. (He had the legal right to do this, though it was rarely exercised.)

A lot of the gardens operate on the hedge-maze principle. You leave the beaten path, wander around in the trees and eventually stumble into a fountain or statue grouping. Unfortunately, although you're free to wander through the mazes, the fountains and whatnot are all caged behind gates, so you can't get a good look at them! Kind of spoils the fun.

You can't really see it in that picture, but the latticework on that gate says "XIIII XIIII XIIII XIIII".


A lot of people call it a day after seeing the main chateau and a bit of the gardens, but we pressed on! We took in the Grand Trianon, the palace that Louis XIV had built to get away from it all. This was the exact reason he'd had Versailles built, but when you're the king, truly "getting away from it all" would require delegating important decisions to someone else, and Louis XIV was not the delegating type, so he brought "it all" with him wherever he went. If he'd lived longer he would have probably built another palace even further away.

Because of this history the Grand Trianon made for a disappointing sequel to the Château. It is a little more informal, though; you get to see Louis's man-cave, where he would bro down for some billiards.

While you're over here you can check out the Petit Trianon, originally built for Madame de Pompadour but later occupied by Marie Antoinette, of unhelpful-suggestion fame. This is still more informal, a little closer to something a modern person might be able to live in. And if you're undeterred by the fact that it's now well into the afternoon and you've been walking all day, you can step outside the Petit Trianon into the Queen's Hamlet. And this is where it gets freaky.


I had of course heard that Marie Antoinette had "dressed up as a milkmaid", but there were a lot of slanders going around about ol' Marie, so a) I wasn't sure this had really happened, and b) I'd assumed it had maybe happened once, at the sort of party you see nowadays where frat boys dress like they're homeless.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it didn't happen once. It happened all the friggin' time, and the Queen's Hamlet is where it happened.

The backyard of the Petit Trianon is pretty normal, with winding paths through a natural-looking constructed environment. Trees, bridges, a theater, a "temple of Love"; what the French would consider an English-style park. Then you enter the Hamlet, a working replica of a farming village.

You know in Constellation Games where Tetsuo Milk creates the Ip Shkoy Replica Village with its convenience store and printing press, then goes around pretending to be all the inhabitants? It's like that, but it happened for real, in the 1700s, and it wasn't even the first time someone had done this. It was a fad!

There's a barn-type building with chickens and other farm animals.

There's a little pond with its own fairy-tale lighthouse.

There's a mill that doesn't do anything.

There are many other single-use buildings--a dairy, a "boudoir" whose only purpose seems to be to let Marie have a conversation in private, etc.

Over the centuries the Hamlet has fallen into disrepair and been restored with modern techniques. Here's the main house, which we couldn't enter because it's undergoing renovation. That's right, we're restoring the replica farmhouse to recreate the effect of the original replica.

And it works! It's clearly fake, but the part of my brain that likes this sort of thing doesn't care. Even with tourists and kids running around, the Hamlet is a nice relaxing place to be. There's something deeply appealing about these tidy replicas of rural life. It reminds me of watching Peter Jackson's Hobbiton. Sumana called it the "Pinterest mom" look.


In general we found the French attitude towards Marie Antoinette confusing. The Versailles gift shop was full of kitsch indicating a demand for the pomp and decadence of pre-revolutionary France, and the doomed queen in particular. But most tourists, having gotten within a mile of her really nice Minecraft base, were not willing to walk out here, to what, in our opinion, is the highlight of the park.

So we asked a French friend about history's final judgement on Marie Antoinette, and he thought about it a long time and said, "Well... she wasn't French." 'Nuff said!

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Comments:

Posted by Yatima at Sun Jun 19 2016 17:59

"Marie Antoinette, of unhelpful-suggestion fame." This is some peak Leonard right here!

"Pinterest mom", c'est moi.

The Petit Trianon is also the site of my single favorite time-slip, super creepy and awesome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moberly%E2%80%93Jourdain_incident

Posted by Brendan at Mon Jun 20 2016 14:34

I like this entry very much.


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