The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Melody of a Fallen Tree

I went to Versailles yesterday. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and I ended up walking around the gardens for five hours or so in a tank top and sunglasses. By the end of the day I was actually a little worried that I might end up with a sunburn as a souvenir, but fortunately my body proved its awesomeness once again and I'm fine. My Chuck-shod feet held up really well too, and I don't even have blisters! Hooray for callouses!

It was another school trip so the bus left at 5:00am. Despite knowing that I'd have to get up at 4:00, I still didn't mange to get to sleep until 1:00am or so. I couldn't sleep on the bus on the way there, so I pretty tired all day, but it was worth it for a free trip to Versailles.

We got there around 9:00 and spent the whole morning in the main building. They had a special exhibit on about royal court dress that was very interesting, and I learned a lot about the symbolism of official and ceremonial costumes. I found it really interesting, but I also got the girly thrill of looking at pretty dresses. I don't think I'll be fitting into one any time soon, though; most of the dresses on display had a corseted waist about the size of one of my tea saucers.

Even though we got there early, by the time I got up to the royal apartments it was a full-on tourist swarm. Call me persnickety, but I just really prefer being in these grandiose spaces by myself. It's really difficult for me to enjoy the opulence of such a magnificent setting when there are Americans in khaki shorts and Japanese girls in knee-socks snapping pictures left and right and *crowding* me like that. Ugh. I moved through the king's apartments quickly to get away from the crowds as best I could, and reached the hall of mirrors in a slight lull. It wasn't nearly as alluring as I'd hoped. I was looking forward to feeling eerily enticed by the decadence and grandeur, as well as the history of such an iconic place, but I have to say I was a little disappointed. Again, I think I can blame the other tourists. It's very difficult to have an anachronistic experience when the 21st century is all up in your face the whole time.

By the time I made it to the Queen's apartments I was ahead of most of the group and felt like I had a little more privacy, and while I was in the Dauphin/Dauphine's apartments I was nearly alone. I was also really weak with hunger and fatigue, so I was glad noon was approaching. We had our sack lunch outside, overlooking the gardens. The sun was starting to get more powerful, and it wasn't long before I'd shed both my coat and my cardigan. I was really glad I'd worn my Chucks instead of the fuzzy boots, which would have been much too warm.

I knew the Versailles gardens were famously large, but I was completely unprepared for just *how* large they were. It seemed like it took forever to get to the Grand Trianon, hidden off to the side from the main geometric section of the garden. We toured the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, then walked around Marie Antoinette's little 18th-century peasant theme park. She felt (understandably) suffocated by the formality of court life at Versailles, so she created a whole little world at the Petit Trianon to escape into a softened-up make-believe world of the simple life. She and her friends would run around a fake little village she built and pretend to be shepherds and shepherdesses. She had animals running around, and little ponds and such. She created her own little countryside dream. It was very cute, and it was easy to spend a lot of time wandering the paths around little lakes and little hills. There was even a little "grotto" to walk through. I have to hand it to Marie Antoinette; she did know how to create a paradise, even if it wasn't real, and even if it was only for herself.

We walked basically all day, so when we got back on the bus at 6:00 I passed out almost immediately. I even managed to sleep through most of The Big Lebowski, dubbed in French, of course. I don't know how the French can stand to dub everything the way they do; I absolutely hate it. The only thing I can really watch dubbed in animation, and even that feels weird sometimes.

Despite my extremely long and tiring day, I felt the need to watch Marie Antoinette on youtube when I got home. I enjoyed it much more the second time around, and really appreciated the way Coppola tried to show her as an ordinary girl. I think her story is more tragic than anything else; she and Louis were so isolated at Versailles that the revolution took them by complete surprise. Unlike, for example, Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette was so completely disconnected from her people and her role as queen that I think she completely failed to understand her power, even if her function was mainly symbolic. Still, I can't help but feel sorry for her. She always seemed to me like an oblivious scapegoat.

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