On Wednesday it was our twentieth wedding anniversary and, not surprisingly, it was a GREAT day.
It was also a busy day. Pretty much, we decided to cover a lot of ground. We had been on our feet a lot the day before (particularly with two walking tours), but Wednesday beat Tuesday hands (or perhaps aching feet) down.
We got a later start than intended, which seems to be a pattern. It is just hard to get our bodies used to the time change, and we end up staying up later and rising later than intended.
Still, we go going and decided that it would be another day to start on the Ilse de la Cite and then to venture onto the Left Bank. We had our museum passes, so first hit the Concergerie. This was once a royal castle of the Capetians, with gothic vaulted ceilings in the lower level that match the kinds of construction seen at Notre Dame. As time passed, the use of the building evolved. The French kings, wanting more space and having less need of the security of the island bound castle, moved out. They left a steward in charge. Many architectural changes happened, and finally, the place that had hosted feasts and housed men-at-arms and French medieval cavalry was repurposed as a prison. At its height, the prison held 800. The prison changed hands from the royal government to the revolutionary government, and the Concergerie housed many of the Revolution's enemies and victims. Marie Antoinette spent her last days there, as did Robspierre, once one of the revolutionary leaders.
The gothic structure that remains is only on the lower level, including vaulted ceilings and large fire places. The later architecture, including areas where revolutionary era prisoners were held have been largely reconstructed. The exibits were pretty well done, though the manequins rather hark back to an earlier period of thought in museum display. The area where Marie Antoinette was thought to have been held was transformed during the restoration (and at the request of surviving relatives of the French royals) into a chapel commemorating the King, his sister, and his Quenn, Marie Antoinette. One of the outside courtyards remains as well, which had been used by women prisoners. In the corner is, essentially, a cage where those who were to be executed were collected until a cart full was available (twelve). Laura got a photo of me locked up there. I escaped execution.
From this building that told a story that spanned centuries, we went to stand in line to get into Sainte Chappelle. Sainte-Chappelle is the other Gothic church on the Ilse de la Cite, but it tells a very different story than Notre Dame. Notre Dame was built for the people of Paris, to contain lessons in sculpture and glass to teach the lessons of the Catholic faith, and the glorify the power of God and His Church. Sainte Chappelle is all about the greatness of the Kings of France, and the relics of the Crucifixion (the Crown of Thorns, pieces of the True Cross, etc.) acquired on the First Crusade after the sack of Constantinople by the French Crusaders.
However, due to the happenings of French history, Sainte Chappelle has an almost crazy location. Sainte Chappelle is in the middle of an area that was once the province of the Kings of France, but which, after the Revolution, fell to the people and Republican government of France. Thus, this ediface, both royal and holy, is in the middle of a precinct of secular public buildings and is only accessible through the same entrance (though with divided lines) to go the the criminal courts in the Palace of Justice. So, with criminals, lawyers, family members, social workers and perhaps witnesses in one line, we joined the other line, filled with tourists, to go through security and get into the interior of the Paris courts in order to approach the chapel.
Security took some time to pass us through. At one point, the person in charge of the line split the line in two, side by side, to, I think, how long the line looked on the street. Still don't really know why he did it. However, despite putting two lines side by side, there was still only one door, one x-ray machine and one metal detector to be applied to all the tourists. Thus, the lines, at the doorway, became a free for all to be sorted out by the individual tourists, sort of like boarding the Air France flight from Amsterdam.
However, once again I did not have to take off my shoes (though my belt had to come off) for the security check, so point to the French there.
We found our way to the entrance and got to take the short line in because of our museum passes. The entrance leads into the lower chapel, which is dominated by a museum bookstore, but which gives access via spiral staircases to the upper chapel. We went straight up and emmerged into what can only be described as an heavenly space.
Sainte Chappelle, it should be said, is undergoing major restoration of its stained glass, and currently, about 20% of the glass (the windows around the sanctuary) are covered as they are dismantled, cleaned and reassembled. About 40% has been cleaned and about 40% remains to be cleaned.
The newly restored glass is absolutely glorious.
The Sainte Chapelle is a "chapel" in that it is a relatively small space, but the height of it is soaring, and on all sides are the jeweled and radiant images of sacred stories that clothe an otherwise naked display of royal power and authority. The effect is almost indescribable. Along with the symbols and stories of the Catholic faith, the chapel contains innumerable reminders that this is THE KING's chapel. The symbols of French royalty are everywhere.
It is as if to say, here is my private telephone booth to God, and by they way, those things over there are the relics of Christ, which I own, and by the way I am the most glorious and powerful ruler in all of Europe. In case you couldn't tell.
It is pretty overwelming. And that is with most of the glass still to be restored to its amazing clarity and brightness. When the restoration is done and light pours in from every window, it will be nearly transformative I think. The glass yet to be cleaned is obviously beautiful, but dulled and dimmed by the years. But it is going to be really stunning. Something alone to come back for.
As I mentioned, the chapel is entered through the lower chapel, which was the place of worship for the King's attendants and household. It is not too shabby either, but the main show is the Upper Chapel. Despite the wonder and the glory of the chapel, its use apparently was only for a relatively short time as a main place of worship for the royal family, and as they shifted their seats of authority off of the Ilse de la Cite, the Sainte Chappelle became concamittently disued. The Crown of Thorns no rests in the Treasury of Notre Dame.
We left Sainte Chappelle with me shooting photos of gargoyles and other figures on the outside of the church and we proceeded to the exit out of the court precincts and back to the street.
Our next stop was to further our Medieval experience as we headed for the Cluny museum of the Middle Ages on the Left Bank. We had passed by the Cluny during our Left Bank walk with Alexandre the day before and easily made our way there on foot. On the way we picked up some delicious crepes to eat along the way at a small bakery/creperie. They were served folded with a wrap of wax paper allowing them to be eaten something like an ice cream cone. We finishedour snack as we arrived at the gardens outside of the museum. The gardens once served the Medieval residence which now houses the museum. In Roman times, the area held the baths of Lutecia (Roman Paris), and parts of the structures still survive (unfortunately the frigidarium, which can be accessed through the museum, was closed). On top of and next to these ruins, the Abbots of Cluny built their Paris residence. They were the leaders of a powerful and wealthy order, which could, apparently, afford to have their leader visit and stay in residence for large portions of the year in Paris in order to further the political and economic goals of the order. Thus, a beautiful Medieval building now houses the impressive collection of objects from the Middle Ages for Paris.
We entered the museum with our passes and had the opportunity to see a great many objects from Medieval France and beyond. Certainly one of the great holdings of the museum are many of the original pieces of the statuary that adorned Notre Dame. In the furor of the Revolution, the decorative statuary on the front of the Cathedral was seen as symbols of the oppressive Royal and clerical regime. No matter that the kings torn down were the Kings of Judah, the kings had to go. Some anonymous persons, however, carefully collected the pieces that they could and spirited the remains away and buried them. Later, in the 1970s, these examples of the high achievements of Gothic stone carving were discovered during excavation for construction, and the fragments of the Kings found a new home in the Cluny. One striking thing is that many of the statues show clear signs of having been painted. Though the restored statues of Notre Dame, recreated after the city and nation decided to save the cathedral (interestingly enough, strongly motivated by the huge popularity of Victor Hugo's novel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame), are cleanly carved and are seen as beautiful in their spare, bare finished stone, to the Medieval eye, (just as with Classical statuary), they would be seen as unfinished, because their paint had not been applied.
There were many other treasures large and small, secular and holy. I was especially interested in one of the few remaining Medieval combat manuals which was on display. Each day or so, the page is turned to display a different part of a lesson in sword or dagger combat. There is supposed to be an interactive display that can show images of all the pages, but it was unfortunately down.
Also of much greater note, are a set of Unicorn Tapestries. Now, I have to admit to a slight bit of jadedness, because I did not have to go to France to see Unicorn Tapestries. Another very good example of the iconic motif is on display at the Cloisters in New York City, and we saw them last year. However, these Tapestries were distinct and very impressive as well. The display was basic, but effective, and the audio commentary (Laura rented the guides for 1 Euro a piece, which is a STEAL) was interesting and informative. In fact, I think the Cluny commentary for their guide was about the best I have experienced in France.
Another very interesting room was the Abbot's private chamber, which, though it held 12 statute niches, they were not for the Apostles, but instead for display of prominent members of his own family. Also, he had a special opening into the chapel so that he could hear services without having to go down to be present in person.
After seeing all these Medieval treasures, we still were not done with the day.
Far from it, we decided to take a quick march over to catch the last hour of business at the Rodin Museum. It is unfortunate that we had to make such a limiting choice, but Paris is full of so many wonders, and our feet can only take so much (more on that later), so we decided we had to go for broke and see what we could.
Fortunately, after a bit of a longer walk than we perhaps anticipated, we made it with enough time to tour the entire house and see the collections therein, though we had to truncate our visit to the gardens, missing several significant statutues. C'est la vie.
Rodin is very special as an artist to Laura and I. Long ago, Laura began to send me postcards with Rodin's works on them. One of the first, if not the first, is The Cathedral, and beautiful sculpture of a man and a woman's hands touching.
It was there.
We saw it.
I took a picture or two.
Many other amazing works were there as well. Rodin was prolific, driven (rather egotistical) and very, very talented. He also studied his stuff, and he collected classical works in statuary and other art works, he purchased statuary of fellow artists to study, and he purchased old master and "contemporary" art. We saw several Van Gogh's in the house, as well as ancient greek pottery, and egyptian sculpture.
Rodin's art runs the gamut of human emotion and experience. It was stunning to see, as well as to see his influence on the work of his student (and lover) Camille Claudel, who has a room devoted to some of her very impressive work in the museum.
We were too soon hurried out by the polite, but obviously ready to go home staff. We were able to linger a bit in parts of the garden, where I was able to shoot photos of the Thinker, the unfinished Gates of Hell (which incorporates a small version of The Thinker, representing Dante). Also impressive were The Shadows and The Burghers of Calais.
So, finally, out the gates (fortunately not to Hell), we went.
But did we stop there? No.
By God, I was in Paris and it was Wednesday and the Louvre has extended hours.
So, off I dragged poor Laura on our anniversary to see what we could of some of Western Civilization's greatest treasures. And we walked there.
Did I mention our feet were already sore. For some reason I did not let that hold me back.
We arrive through the Gardens of Tuleries, passing under Napoleon's original Trimphal Arch (which has been renamed the Arc du Carrousel, as Napolean thought the first arch not impressive and big enough).
We went through security and entered under the glass pyramid. Laura had a few things she wanted to see and I could do no less than accomodate her, since I had insisted we come. We went first to see the two Vermeer paintings on display, one an Embroideress at her work, the other an Astronomer. Both supremely beautiful examples of the artist's work. We look at much of the surrounding art and then moved on to examine the museum's holdings related to Napoleon III's aparments, from when the Emperor (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) resided in the Louvre palace. The apartments were quite impressive and extensive, with a mix of personal rooms of luxury and state rooms of power.
After that, I had to go and see the Mona Lisa. After all, isn't that one of the reasons you have to go to the Louvre?
It was crowded, but manageable. I got to look, to gawk, to take many bad photos, and wonder at the bad luck of the guy whose painting is across from the Mona Lisa.
The paiting whose dead artist has to feel lucky that he gets the scraps of interes.t after people finish gawking at the Mona Lisa, is called The Marriage at Cana and the artist is Paolo Varenese. It is an accomplished piece, by a master Italian Renaissance painter. It is of an important Biblical story, and it depicts it in incredible detail, such that you feel you might step in and join the party.
And yet, it is second banana to a little portrait, done by a guy who had as much interest in dissecting bodies, inventing gadgets (like crazy flying machines) and tinkering with this and that as with being a painter. That was just something he ALSO did.
And the Mona Lisa is small. Not a miniature, but your bathroom mirror is probably larger than it. It looms large in our art history, but one could see it as a nice little painting.
Except it's not. And Varenese's painint is frickin HUGE. It is like 50 or 100 times bigger than the itty bitty Mona Lisa. The figures are larger than life, and you feel you can step into it because it is an entire wall with a vaulted ceiling big.
And yet, the enigmatic smile of a merchant's wife draws us in a way that the huge party never can or will.
Varanese gets to be happy with crumbs.
There were tons of other amazing works all around. We went to see a few more, including four or five additional works by Da Vinci that the Louvre just happens have thrown up on a wall in another part of the museum. We also saw amazing works by Rafael, Botecelli (a favorite of mine), Fra Angelico, and so many others. We passed the monumental remains of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a truly inspiring sight, even in its ruin, to reach one last paiting.
La Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Quite a picture and the epitome of French Neoclassicism (I mean obviously, because I read that in a book).
But after just a few too many masterworks, we needed to get back to our apartment. We dragged ourselves out at 9:30 (about 15 minutes before the museum shut down) and finally gave in to riding the Metro.
Nothing against the Metro, it has just been amazing the learn Paris by walking it.
And just to say "welcome" we had our only encounter with Metro ticket inspectors. You see, when you take the Metro, you only use your flat price ticket to enter the system. However, you are supposed to hold onto your ticket until you depart, because to discourage cheaters, there are occaisional inspections.
On this evening, we rounded a corner in the transfer tunnel between one line and another and ran into a whole phalanx of inspectors (at least 5, maybe more). They had distinctive, quasi military looking uniforms (hats and all) and a no-nonsese looking lady caught my eye and said in French, "your tickets?" I quickly produced mine, but Laura, tired as she was, took a moment to process what she was being asked and then figuring out in which pocket she put her ticket. The sarcastic part of my mind flitted in that moment between declaring "madame inspector, I've never seen that woman before of my life" and throwing myself in the way and yelling "run laura, I'll hold them off!"
Anyway, before I said one silly thing, Laura produced her ticket, the tough lady inspector checked the coding on each and waived us through. We caught our transfer and arrived at our home Metro stop, Rambuteau.
We virtually crawled home from there, and ate what we had in the fridge over trying to go, even somewhere local, for dinner.
We slept like rocks.
The day started a bit late the next day, but we got enough in to feel like we deserved to be in Paris, although it was really a day dead on our feet.
I found a local place to get "pain chocolate" (chocolate croissant) locally, so we started our morning right.
Then, we took the Metro down to the Tularies Gardens, this time to go to the little museum known as the Orangerie. Formerly just an orangerie (not surprisingly a place to grow oranges in cold climates), it now houses a fine collection of Impressionist art. The centerpiece is a set of eight huge canvasses (displayed in two oval rooms) of Monet's Water Lilies. The paitings are displayed in natural (albeit filtered) light and are both impressive and beautiful.
We got the audio tour, which was a little pricy, and the quality varied from entry to entry from informative and insigtful to needlessly boring and opinionated. Though I definitely learned stuff, I probably could have done without it.
After viewing some of Monet's masterpieces, we descended to see some work by some other guys and gals. The paitings were mostly from a collection built by a 1920's Art Dealer, Paul Guillaume (and he is featured in a number of the paintings as he was patron, friend, buisness agent and hanger on to most of the featured artists). He died at an early age in 1934, and though his widow maintained the collection carefully, she remarried and when she donated the collection to the state, she did so under her second husband's name. Thus Guillaume's collection bears the name of the Walter's Collection. Them's the breaks.
So, I continued to be impressed by the work of Renoir (though from looking at the paintings and hearing some of the audiotour, he seems to have had a definite "dirty old man" streak). I liked some of the Cezanne present in the collection, though I was not very impressed with the still lifes, though I was told that I should be. Henri Rousseau did not do much for me, and Amedeo Modigliani was hit and miss. A stand out "new to me" discovery was Marie Laurencin. She had some very interesting and beautiful paitings of subdued pastel pallets, featuring beautiful portraits of women. Laura made sure that I got photos.
As an aside, I have to say that the museums, in general, have an amazingly relaxed photo policy, and all of the Museums we have been to have permitted photography, as long as it is without flash. Sadly, many people ignore the rules and still shoot with flash, which is a shame as permanent damage can happen to the paitings and other artifacts over time. I keep waiting for the Gendarmarie to descend with truncheons on the malefactors, but so far no luck.
There were also some Matisse and Picasso, though neither of their best work was included in what was shown. Andre Derain was a painter I had known little about, but saw some interesting work. Unfortunately, a painting I would have really liked to see, Arlequin et Pierrot, was temporarily unavailable. Two other artists work were in the collection of note, Maurice Utillo, whose work was fine, but the examples did not wow me. Also, Chaim Soutine, who had some wild landscapes, but one or two were fine, ten, and you start to get a headache (if you are me). I did not care for his figures or still lifes.
All in all, an enlightening and interesting visit.
From there, we hurried to the Paris Opera Garnier, the Belle Epoq temple of theater, ballet, music and, of course, opera, to catch the Right Bank Walk by Discover Walks. The Opera House is very impressive, built under the patronage of Emperor Napoleon III. We walked completely around it before meeting with our tour. It was relatively small, with only 7 of us, including our excellent guide, Bertrand.
We learned a great deal about the Right Bank world of money, power and privilege. Napolean Bonaparte and his Nephew Napoleon III figured prominently, as did the grand Sun King, Louis XIV, France's longest ruling monarch.
We also learned a good deal about England's Kind Edward VII, from his time as Prince of Wales. There is a whole little neighborhood named after him. It would seem he was admired both for his diplomatic skills which resulted in alliance between France and England (as an aside, that alliance did draw both those great powers into World War I, but that wasn't part of the tour) after centuries of animosity. Also, the French seemed to admire a man who would have a custom bathtub built so that he (a quite large man) and one or more lady friends could bathe in champaign together. At least, that is how the story goes.
We saw the Place Vendome, a square where the first Ritz Hotel opened (the first hotel ever rated above 5 stars (a "Palais")) (still there) and where it is a must for a jeweler to be and be seen to be anyone. Recently, the jewelry retail world was rocked by the fact that De Beers prime spot on the corner of the Place and the Rue de la Paix was bought out by Cartier which now can expand its smaller space which had been next door.
Time to drop those diamond stocks? Who knows?
The Justice Ministry is also on the Place, but that dates from the time when Louis VIV renovated parts of Paris to modernize the city. His "Sun King" stamp is visible throughout the Place. Our guide helpfully pointed out how to tell where the Ritz ends and the Ministry begins. Just check the cars stopped on the street. If they are Ferraris, Mercedes, etc. Ritz. Little sub-compact commuter cars? The conveyance of a state worker.
Oh, and the jewelry in the windows was pretty amazing. Sorry, Laura didn't get me anything, and vice versa.
Just around the corner was a marker that shows where the Republic of Texas, before being annex by the U.S. and sparking the Mexican-American War, had an embassy. Texans cozying up to the French. Who knew?
We continued to walk the streets, getting more stories and insight in to Paris, and finally ended up just adjacent to the Orangerie, where our day had started. There, on Place de la Concorde, there are excellent views of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, La Gran Arch de la Defense and the Obelisk of Luxor, as well as views of the U.S. Embassy and the French Presidential residence, know as the Palace of Elyseum (it is on the Champs Elysee after all).
Bertrand had given us just about two and half hours of his time and discussion. I surely have not covered it all, but he was, as with all the Discover Walks guides, wonderful. We had a lovely time learning about the city from him. He said that they had ambitions to do a Monmartre walk in future. That would be great, though it will be too late for this trip. We hope to do that neighborhood before we have to go.
So, though we had a great time with Bertrand and his tour, we were totally dead on our feet. We had missed lunch as well. We jumped on the metro and went back to the apartment. We had some ambition of going back out to eat dinner, but in the end, made due with what was about and tried to get some rest early, as Friday was going to be a big day.
And, as I am writing on Friday, I can say that it was indeed a big day. This was the day of Versailles.
The guidebooks all say to get to Versailles early and get in when it opens. We nearly did that too. Actually, it opened at 9:00, and we were in by 9:30. Not exactly the head of the line, but our visit was comfortable and not pressed like sardines anywhere.
We had the extra Pain Chocolate I had bought the day before as well as some other good stuff to fortify us to try and tackle the Sun King's massive estate.
We took the regional train (RER-C "Vick") out to the station 5 minutes away from the Chateau.
When we walked up, it was already busy and the front was incredibly imposing. Not in a Medieval "mess with us and you die" way (which Laura observed might have helped with that whole Revolution thing), but instead in the "prepare to walk among the gods" kind of way. Louise XIV dubbed himself the Sun King and styled himself as Apollo. He had his family and court painted as Roman Gods. His entire estate pays homage to a real and (mostly) imagined classical past. Not only is he the embodiment of the state, God's Catholic representative on earth, but also a person channelling the divinity of pagan gods, giving him the power that was still remembered from the Roman Empire.
This palace, which was supposed to be a "retreat" from the real and political muck and mire of Paris, was the Olympus of the French Royalty. Their place "above" it all.
Louis was one driven and totally egotistical ruler. Just seeing the major sections open in the Chateau confirms that this King dominated everything and he wanted everyone to know it and everything in the environment controlled to reinforce that message. We saw room after room of amazing decor, painting after painting reinforcing themes and ideas.
It was overwelming.
Also, despite the grandure, I found it far less impressive than the Medieval splender of, say, Sainte Chapelle. Maybe it's just me, but after the 50th rosy cheeked cherub and faux Roman portrayal of this or that noble, and I just had to say, who is this guy kidding?
Of course, it was no joke. The Sun King dominated France and the Eurpoean scene for some 70 years, being very much in charge, a total control freak. The problem, perhaps, was that as both his son and grandson died before they could take the throne, he never was able to share his vision, abilities and work ethic with his successors. Louises XV and XVI got the lifestyle, but they failed to wield the kind of power, authority and vision needed to keep it.
My favorite part of the Chateau was the Hall of Mirrors, despite its deterioration. It is a brilliant piece of theater and beauty, connecting the Sun King's War and Peace rooms. Sadly, the guys with the truncheons who have failed to stop people from taking flash photographs of the Mona Lisa and other masterworks, also don't seem to be stoping people from carving grafitti into the MIRRORS???!!!! Many sections of the Chateau were marked as off limits to photography and all of them forbade flash photography. Yet, I barely ever heard even a half hearted "no flash" and I never saw it heeded. People just did what they wanted and chaos was allowed to reign.
After touring the main parts of the mansion and also visiting a bit of the wings which the restored monarchy, after the Revolution and the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, tried to set up as a museum to unify French memory of French greatness through honoring the paintings depicting all of French history and historical figures. We saw one salon devoted to Bonaparte by his successor (a constitutional monarch) and another that covered famous French battles. That was just too many paintings, so out to the Gardens.
Now, when I say Gardens, I guess I mean landscaping in every direction as FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE!!!!
Yes, just a little back yard in which you could easily fit into several of my home neigborhoods.
It is barely to be believed that one man commanded so extensive a project for his personal pleasure. Sure, it had a state purpose, etc. But man, this guy thought BIG.
The fountains, of which only 20% remain, were not going as they only play (for extra pay) on the week ends during Spring and Summer. We saw one, briefly, being tested out and it was stunning. The others just had to be imagined. They say the water features required the diversion of an entire river. No problem says the Sun King.
It takes a hour of concerted walking to get from the Chateau to the end of the Grand Canal.
What canal would that be? The one modeled after Venice (actually two, and big one and a small one forming a cross) so the King and his guests could ride on Gondolas and pretend to be in Venice because it is really too much of a bother to go there in person.
Eat your heart out Vegas.
We did not reach the end of the Grand Canal. We stopped for some lunch (pizza for me, panini for Laura) and then on through one of the side gardens to French Disneyland (and I don't mean EuroDisney; I mean in the late 1700s, they were singing "Its a Small World After All" in their own imaginary worlds).
In making our turn, we missed no fewer that 12 individual gardens, including the one made up of "made up" Roman Ruins (none handy on location, just fabricate them, because we all are the personifications of Roman Gods anyway . . .), but choices had to be made. Versailles is insanely huge and complex.
We made our way down to the place where Louis and his successors, and especially the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette (a highly unfortunate Grand Duchess from Austria) had their retreat from the "retreat" of Versailles. Also known as totally losing touch with reality.
There were several smaller and lest ostentatious residences here, started first by the Sun King himself. Since he was so greatly invested in the main Chateau, I guess he came down the estate to get away from the person he had made himself as much as anything.
This was interesting and beautiful and thankfully more simple. However, to really go around the bend, you needed to visit the little estate created by Marie Antoinette. On one part, it is a retreat for a princess, a little place to play house (though not really to do any work), a little theater in which to put on plays with friends. A pavillion temple dedicated to Love (and quite lovely at that) all bound by an artificial "English" river.
However, venture further, and you find the deep, dark desire of the Queen.
She just wanted to be a Shepherdess. So, she had a quaint ten or twelve building farming village built and staffed for her amusement. She could put on plainer clothes (though still probably multiple years worth of a real shepherdess' income) and walk around imagining herself as Little Bo Peep. She and her ladies had dainty little farming tools (rakes, etc.) all made up covered with ribbons and other decor. And she lived just like a real peasant in a building, as the travel writer Rick Steves puts it "[l]ike any typical peasant farmhouse, [with] a billiard room, library, elegant dning hall, and two living rooms."
She may not have said "let them eat cake" but she really had no idea who her subjects were and how they were living.
All that aside, her little Antoinette-land is very charming and beautiful. Dozens of French school children were there today touring and sketching different parts of the Hamlet. Also, the place is home to rescued animals, who help to recreate the feel of the Queens personal working farm where she could pretend to be living a simple life. We saw cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, doves, ducks, geese, and swans to name a few.
Having made it to the far reaches of the estate, we had to get back. Way, way back.
And hey, we were still not recovered from Wednesday. Who was that nut who made us walk to the Louvre to see things after hours anyway? If I ever get my hands on him . . .
Anyway, to make a long and footsore story short, it was no mean feat getting out of Versailles, not to mention finding the bathroom. Many of the gates that would have normally been open to get around, were closed because they were having some huge (and EXPENSIVE) fireworks show at one of the fountains this evening and they were trying to get everyone out by 5:30. That meant that if you made a wrong turn, you would have to walk around the outside to get back to the Chateau, to try to find a WC and exit.
Guess who managed to direct us out? I think it was that crazy let's go the the Louvre guy!
I'll get him one day.
Still, Laura still said she wanted to keep me even after we go back into the Chateau, could not get to a WC with a reasonable line and had to exit and put her back through security to get back.
She is one terrific woman.
We made our way to the train finally and got some rest on the ride back into Paris.
I should mention, the weather today, like just about every day, was glorious, sunny, some clouds, but generally neither too cold or too hot. In short, the weather has been GREAT!!!! (in keeping with the whole theme of this trip).
But, even though tired, Laura knew that I had not made it yet into Notre Dame and I really wanted to see the stained glass, to take some photos, and see how the Cathedral and Sainte Chapelle compared in the decorative department.
She bravely got us off at the Notre Dame stop and patiently waited all around my route as I jostled with other photographers to find the best shots and best camera settings to immortalize the memories of my visit.
The inside of the Cathedral is immense and impressive, but the glass is, after Sainte Chapelle, just impressive, but not sublime. It is hardly a fair comparison, but there it is.
Still, the three mighty rose windows were glorious, and very tough to shoot.
And thus, I committed the (latest?) sin for which I am going to Hell. In front of everyone looking up towards the altar, I got up and shot, with FLASH, the great front rose window of the cathedral. No men with truncheons (or even priests or nuns dressed as ninjas) jumped out to repremand me. I was pretty sure they wouldn't because dozens of people had been blantantly shooting with flash all over the cathedral my whole visit.
Still, I had, with holier-than-thou thoughts, carefully declined to shoot with flash in the cathedral. Even if not sacriligious, it would be rude. Still, I turned hypocrit, because there seemed no other way to make the difficult shot, especially with Laura patiently waiting with terribly painful feet.
So, I shot with flash and got the heck out of Dodge, um, Dame.
And the photo really came out gloriously. Crime pays.
And I'm probably going to Hell.
So, to erase that thought, we go back to the apartment to allow Laura to soak her feet and take a rest. I started in on this entry, then headed out on the hunt for that most elusive of quarry: take out.
Actually, it probably is all around, but to get take out, you generally need to, at least at first, speak French.
I looked long and hard, making my first score when I found the ATM of the bank that has a reciprical agreement with BofA. No ATM fees and cash for the asking.
Second, I determined that I didn't want just anything, I wanted Indian. It took me a while, but I finally made it back to a place that I had seen on Monday. I started in (bad) French, but got to the part where I asked "Parlez-Vous Anglais?" to which the answer was "yes" and it was all good from there. The restranteur kindly took my all vegetarian order, sat me down with a glass of OJ on the house, gave me a 10% discount, pretty much just 'cause, and had me out in under 20 minutes.
Back at the apartment, we ate our fill of samosas, dal, naan and aloo gobi and then headed for bed (well, with a detour for me to hang up the clean clothes to dry and to write this incredibly long and meandering entry).
So this is me saying "Bonsoir", waaaaah only two days left! and EVERYTHING IS GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!