Versailles

Versailles exterior

The long-awaited Versailles post is finally here! SUCH GOLD! VERY FRANCE! SO WOW!

When I was in Paris in February doing research, I decided to mosey on down to Versailles to get a look at the golden splendour that is Versailles. Also, they have two very fancy harps that I wanted to get a look at while I was at it. And I've said it before and I'll say it again, the dead of winter is a great time to go to see castles in France because no one else will be there. The palace still had a lot of people milling around, but the gardens and Grand and Petit Trianon were all but deserted. A friend of mine told me that he went in July and waited two hours to get in to the palace. Not so in February!

So anyway, Versailles. There was a hunting lodge in the village of Versailles since the early seventeenth century, but Louis XIV decided to make it a huge sprawling mansion in the 1660s. Twenty years later Louis XIV made all the important court people move there so he could keep an eye on them, and Versailles became the centre of political power for a time instead of Paris. Then of course he started the whole cult of the Sun King thing, and everything got a bit Ancient Egypt, until he died in 1715. When I was there they were having an exhibition on his death called Le Roi est Mort (The King is Dead), all about how he outlived his son and had about 500 mistresses and was generally large and in charge. I was watching one of the Kardashian shows once and Scott Disick went to the Met (I think) and saw that really famous portrait of Louis XIV, and he lost his mind. He couldn't get over the furs and the 'chains' hanging over his shoulders and said, 'I gotta step up my GAME!' You do, Scott. We could all take a page out of Louis XIV's book of looking super fly.

So anyway, after Louis XIV kicked the bucket there were lots of additions and renovations and such, and now the palace is just obscenely huge. In addition to being super huge, the decorators left no stone unturned when it came to putting gold, paint, marble, and other junk on top of junk. I mean, these are the ceilings! CEILINGS!!

Versailles ceiling decoration
Versailles ceiling painting
Like I said, no stone left unturned.

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There were lots of smaller rooms with all kinds of furniture and arts pieces and such, and of course royal family paintings and busts were everywhere. The painting above is of Marie Leszczyńska, who was Louis XV's wife. I was really into the whole room setup with the red wallpaper and yellow-gold frame; when in doubt, gild EVERYTHING. Also, in general your painting frame should be large enough to write a small novel as the caption on the bottom.

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But let's take a moment to appreciate the bust on the right, which is just swept up in the wind and looking fabulous. I feel like the Beyoncé wind turbine look has always been a classic, and if you really want to impress your guests, you should have a marble bust of yourself in a very visible area looking carefree. Also, this bust is by BERNINI, who is probably the most incredible sculptor of all time. If you don't believe me just take a look through Google images for some of his works and your brain will explode.

Meanwhile, when you walk out the back of this place you really appreciate how big it is. Not to put down 18th century people, but I'm sure they wet themselves when they saw this place for the first time because it is widely impressive. Also, walking around this part made me think of the part in Midnight in Paris when Michael Sheen--one of those pretentious Francophile American jerks you constantly want to punch in the face--gives a tour of Versailles and is just going on and on about the history in the snobbiest way possible, and you just want to push him down the stairs. He would have been fine, just dusty.

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The French sure like their tree-lined vistas, and the gardens are full of them. They are also full of huge amazing fountains, which are of course gilt to death because what kind of cheap jerk would have non-gold figures on their outdoor fountain?? Continuity is key, people.

Sadly it was still the middle of winter so most things in the garden were dead or hiding. But dang, these garden designers did NOT mess around. When you think about it, it must have taken forever to do all that landscaping when all you have are hand tools and horses to do the heavy lifting. But something they did have that we certainly don't is patience. And you would have to have a lot to wait for your palace and gardens to be built by hand from pencil drawings. I remember an industrial designer telling me that he had trouble finding designers to hire for his company because they all knew how to render stuff in 3D but had never built a model in their life. What! They should be put through the seventeenth century school of life for a few months to get their skills up to scratch.

But I digress.

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And because, you know, one outrageously enormous house isn't nearly enough, you should also build some theatres and satellite houses out on your property that extends forever. That way you are so far away from the Big House that you could actually feel like you are in a different village, and periodically shirk your country-running duties. Enter Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon. So many royal people have been in and out of these places that I forgot the timeline, but at one point when Napoleon had moved in to Versailles he would use Grand Trianon a lot. I know this because I bought a Napoleon t-shirt in their gift shop.

Petit Trianon is mostly famous now because that's where Marie Antoinette would go to spend some alone time. In addition to the small palace she had there, she also had a fake peasant village built called Hameau de la Reine (Hamlet of the Queen), where she would pretend to be a peasant because, you know, peasants have a peaceful and carefree life, right? If you think that, go read Peasants into Frenchmen The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 and you will fully understand why Marie Antoinette was spitting in their faces with the fake village bit. It may be about the late nineteenth century but it talks about pre-Revolutionary peasants too. If you actually read that book in its entirety you are a golden star and deserve a parade held in your honour, because that book is a doozy.
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A WILD HARP APPEARS! Sadly this isn't the super crazy harp owned by Marie Antoinette, but you can see her crazy one here. I think it is part of the Queen's apartment in the main château, which was closed off for conservation/refurbishment. I have to say that I admire that M.A. liked rhinestones on her string pegs because when you are the Queen of France and it's high Rococo time, you get the sparkliest harp in France. Jean-Henri Naderman made that one (or at least his workshop did), and you can certainly see why his harps are always praised as the best decorated. Back then harpsichords had huge scenes painted on the insides, which you could dramatically open for your guests and have them come mingle around your when you played. Harps tended to have more sculpture on them because they had less surface area, but when they put sculpture on they did not mess around. Animal and mythical creatures abound!

The harp in this photo was way in the back behind a barrier so I couldn't snoop on it like I wanted to, and sadly all the harpsichords had their covers down to keep the dust out. When I was doing my research in Paris I met with a curator who used to be in charge of the harps at the Musée de la Musique and he said dust getting in keyboards is a conservation nightmare so they just keep them closed all the time, which I understand, but I wanted to see if they had the reverse-colour keys! Oh well.

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Sadly none of the hamlet cottages were open, and one of them way being completely renovated, but you got the idea that everything was there: windmill, lighthouse-looking thing, gardener's cottage (the last photo), and a little lake. It was very Disney-ish and seemed fake, which was kinda creepy. It made me sad that royal people could be so disconnected from reality that they want to pretend to be a peasant. It's a common story (remember Jasmine in Aladdin?), wanting to be a commoner when you're under the pressure of court life. I mean, being forced to marry someone and leave your home country is pretty awful, but also you get fed regularly? And silk couture and jewels? And servants? I mean I get the whole lonely princess/queen thing, but...the peasant thing is a bit much. But that's none of my business. Also, I wouldn't mind having any piece of furniture that she ever touched. There were some QUALITY pieces in Petit Trianon.


Tune in next week for a special ghost edition of the blog: CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL!



Loire Valley Part Two: Amboise

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GUESS WHO FINISHED THEIR DISSERTATION?! I did. Three days early. I feel reborn.

Here is the super late but much-anticipated part two of my French sojourn that was definitely in December but I'm pretty sure the castle hasn't change any since then.

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