As I am keen to mention, my husband and I visited France nearly two years ago, and I think it may have been the pinnacle of my life. While the entire trip was amazing top to bottom (minus my near-mugging at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris but don’t worry…chick didn’t get anything, I took care of her), I often wish we could re-do our trip to Versailles.
Now, to be fair, I had unrealistically high hopes for Versailles. Yes I had seen Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst in college, but that wasn’t just it. Or, maybe it was. After all, I had the soundtrack to that particular film all queued up in a playlist on my iPod, which was tragically forgotten back at the hotel that day, But nonetheless, I suppose I was hoping for a bit more of the colorful decadence, sweeping beauty, and vast elaborate gorgeousness that I had seen on screen and in photos.
What happened, of course, is that the whole time you are in the palace, you are plodding slowly behind scads of other tourists trying to dial in the right buttons on their audio tours, guides sticking chintzy poles decorated with stuffed penguins into the air, and segmented rooms that are only mere recreations of what actually lies beyond the area where no one is allowed.
Also, Versailles was at the end of our two-week journey. I woke up that morning not feeling well. My body felt on fire despite the chilly rain outside, which quickly seeped into my tired body. Foolishly leaving the hotel without a coat, I was forced to borrow Q’s big wool pullover, and thereby rolled into Versailles looking like some kind of dumpy ’90’s peasant. Also unexpected was the complete and total vastness of the property. Though we were chaperoning a class, everyone was free to wander on their own. Naturally, I decided I wanted to go see the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s own little private estate and hamlet. There was half an hour to spare, but what nobody tells you, of course, is that Versailles probably has its own zip code. After two weeks of nothing but pounding pavement, my legs already felt like they were going to snap off of my hips, but I enjoy walking and the jaunt to the Trianon was obviously worth it.
Cue twenty minutes later when despite taking huge strides, Q and I were barely able to make out that we were even close to arriving at our destination. Once we got to what we thought might be it, there was additional admission required, and we didn’t have the euros to pay. Of course by that time, it we had to motor on back to meet the rest of the group anyway, so back it was, hauling ass through the dead and desolate gardens that had succumbed to the same harsh winter and late spring that had plagued America that year. I passed by rows of bare branches and scarce hews, knowing that the potential was there, the beauty and life were waiting, but I, as always, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I still think about how grand it would be to spend one night at Versailles. A night where you can take in the majesty of the Hall of Mirrors without ten million people staring back in them. A night where you can admire the ornate ceilings and draperies and imagine life as it was in the 1700’s without being completely aware that there is a La Durée bakery built in to the palace exit. (Yes, I bought a little green box of macaroons there…whatever.)
The teacher we were traveling with blamed Sofia Coppola for all the madness, so I suppose I can understand. I know we’ll be back to Versailles some day, when the hews are a vibrant green and the flowers are blooming. Until then, I can look at these photos and listen to The Radio Department, all the while waiting for Apollo to pull the sun out from all this darkness.