April 6th, 2018
35 minutes? More like an hour. I’m on a train to Versailles. As I jostle in my seat, I read the Versailles section of the guidebook, with abridged history of Louis XIV, his reign, life and times. History was my favorite subject in school so I am getting my scholastic on. I always think of Marie Antoinette when I think of Versailles but she’s the end. Louis IX is the beginning, the height. Reading about the Sun King gets me excited. When the train pulls in to the station I have no idea where to go so I just follow the flow of the crowd. There was a lot of debate for me whether or not to take the trip to Versailles or skip it. Originally I dreamt of visiting a quaint French town while I was here like I’d seen in the movies. Apparently that town now really only exists in the movies. (I looked it up, this same one town is the setting for 15 American films and I have seen every one). I thought of going to wine country but it required a rather pricey tour. Normandy was my other hope but 3.5 hours there and back meant an overnight and let’s face it, I didn’t really plan ahead. Reviews from those I polled were of both extremes on Versailles. I was leaning toward not going feeling the current world I live in, Trump to be exact, gold plated rooms and such opulence sounded a real turn off. But after 4+ hours wandering neighborhoods yesterday and having hit all sites I hoped minus the Eiffel Tower (with 3 Days to go) I made the decision to visit the home of French Kings. The crowd takes me to the Chateau. The current lands me in the line for entrance. It pushes me to the audio guided tour and before I know it into the domicile of the Sun King.
The Palace of Versailles was the principle residence of the French monarchy from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution in 1789. Louis XIV, as fascinating a historical figure as there ever was, moved the court from Paris to Versailles to better isolate and control the nobles, while feeding his lust for nature. The Sun King presided over one of the most influential and successful reigns of any monarch in history. Versailles at the time of Louis XIV was the center of power, culture, influence and wealth in the known world. He, a renowned ruler, lover, artist, hunter and intellectual. When you’re in Versailles, it’s easy to see it all. I wander through the rooms and daydream of nobles past. I hear about how they slept, ate, governed, partied. Packed sometimes into rooms too small for the visiting crowd l squeeze through like a sardine. Louis (we’re like on a first name basis now) had radical ideas about government and his people. He believed the monarchy belonged to everyone, so even commoners could come and watch him eat. Throughout the Chateau I faithfully listen to my audio tour. I almost feel I am there. I feel inside history, holding hands with French aristocracy. I’m captivated by all stories Louis. The Hall of Mirrors makes me yearn to travel back in time to a banquet. A wall of mirrors across from a wall of windows looking out on the garden. All framed by elegant chandeliers and glittering gold. It’s SPECTACULAR; a remarkable moment in time preserved beautifully. I find myself short on words, the Hall of Mirrors… I mean…my goodness.
Again, I waited too long and I am fall down famished. Chateau well toured and entrance purchased, I move into the gardens, and search for the first restaurant I can find. I NEED to eat. Louis IX ate a roast chicken for dinner every night (or so I was told on the tour), so I immediately find myself ordering a roast chicken and beer. Who says advertising doesn’t work? I fight my way through the smokers for air, but lunch is divine. Roast chicken never felt so regal.
Full on chicken and beer I drowsily wander through the gardens. I listen to the classical music that plays as water dances. Imagine taking my lover out for a row; aimlessly drifting through the mazes. I can see royals of old on hunts and chasing perfumed courtesans through the labyrinth of trees.
The train ride home from Versailles is not kind. I’m 100% exhausted, even beginning to worry my lost voice is once again bending towards a cold. Nay, running towards. The train is packed, standing room only. It’s hot. The air is thick and hard to breathe. The smell of sweat fills the car. I am standing, trying to disappear in my Hemingway but it’s not easy. I copy a line from A Moveable Feast into my phone to remember, “I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best they could write without destroying their talent”. I am bumped and knocked, throat sore, and straining for air. A man across the way is glaring at me. The ride is long and never get’s much easier. It’s rush hour when we hit Paris, so more pushing, and more crowded trains. By the time I get back to my hotel I lie down and pass out. Wild and vivid nightmares rage. I toss and turn like a man with malaria. As usually happens with me and alarms, I finally achieve deep tranquil sleep about 20 minutes before it begins to chime. I set it so as not to sleep too long and wake up in the middle of the night, schedule all akimbo. It’s 8pm in Paris. I check all the various apps and sites and devices we have in 2018 for messages but I don’t find the ones I’d been hoping for. I tool around online, but why? Am I hungry? Not really. Eventually I force myself out of the hotel and onto the streets. It’s nighttime in Paris. I wander the streets aimlessly for hours. I see the crowded cafes and brasseries teeming with life, masked in cigarette smoke. I walk down abandoned streets. Police sirens play. Still walking. For the first time in Paris a deep sadness creeps in. My mind opens the door to it like a familiar friend I knew could not have really gone away. “It’s just a passing moment”, I tell myself. Shakespeare reminds me, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work”. But I can’t slip it. I don’t much feel like popping in for a drink either, my throat just about closed up and every place is loud and crowded. Dark streets call to me. I play with it, tabooed, inviting, raw and animalistic; the dry mouthed desire. It’s all in my head. I’m just walking these lonely streets, giving over to the night. I walk for hours, like I used to back in NY, when I lived in Manhattan and I’d go wandering at night for miles when I needed to clear my head. Eventually home to my hotel room, to the computer. I look on Facebook. Look for, look at. Tonight it just leads to more bad feeling. I turn it off. I search for a distraction. That half drunk bottle of GSM wine from the restaurant last night comes in handy. Tomorrow will be a new day.