July 4, 2007


You want action, you want excitement?


Well, we got it today, folks. We chose today for Versailles, palace most notably known for Louis XIV, the Sun King. We had seen that the weather was due to be a little bit inclement, so we figured that the Versailles tour, which was mostly indoors, was going to be the way to go. We figured that people at the Louvre would be stacked chock-a-block on a rainy day, and any of the indoor museums in the city would be the same way, so Versailles might be a little less crowded.


I bring you now to summer in France!



This here is the line to get in, and not the line to buy tickets, as we soon found out. Actually, Julie found out, because she went to the back of the line and sorted out that there was one line for tickets, and another for admission, and we didn't have the tickets yet.


So Julie headed for the line to buy the tickets, because that would more than likely be a speaking transaction, and Ken and I decided to occupy the line you see above, which was about a hundred yards long and looped away from the center and back. We were in it for about a half-hour.



The rain got harder. "I think it's letting up," I told Ken. He was busy trying to come up with as many songs that included rain in them as he could. We also marveled at the fact that horse-drawn carriages were once drawn over these cobblestones. We figured a wooden spoke wheel that could survive thirty feet would be eligible for a knighthood.


We made it two-thirds of the way through the line when Julie came up with the tickets. We got into the front hall area where we went through metal detectors, past several thousand teenagers and groups speaking my languages and several others. We strapped on our audio headsets, which I was convinced would make the assembled masses be quiet. It didn't work.


Then we turned into the chapel.


I have, as you know, a no-tourist-pictures-in-churches rule. I don't believe that the religious icons in place there were designed to be looked at in any other context or by ay other person than the one they appear in. If I show you a picture of an altar, I'm unfortunately a lousy writer on short notice, and I couldn't tell you how the light hit it during mass, or what the priest was looking at, or how the organ sounds. You have to be there. And to make it so that you aren't, I give you a picture, which cheats religion out of the selling-the-magic portion of its belief structure.


But Versailles was DESIGNED as a showplace. Not taking a picture of the chapel and ceiling at Versailles would be like putting your house on Cribs and not showing the Scarface memorabilia. So here's two, with a lot of followup as to why they're not good enough:



Why are these not good enough? Because a small picture can't capture the space. That ceiling is almost four stories high, nearly 100 feet away. The detail is so incredible that I could have stood there with the best camera equipment humanity offers and I still couldn't capture the feeling of, "My God, someone PAINTED this." In a few minutes I would see that was a motif not only in the chapel, but throughout the entire house. Like with this:



That's a tapestry the height of an entire room, probably your garden-variety thirty-foot-by-ninety-foot size. Somebody WOVE that. Even that woman in the back, who's kind of looking away and saying, "Can we get this coronation done with so I can go to lunch?" Someone had to weave that. And room after room, step after step, was more of the same. Louis needed people to pay attention. Versailles was once 7800 hectares, or about the present-day size of Paris. Louis would have made a Hollywood movie producer say, "Wow, that's a little over the top, isn't it?"


Don't believe me? Check out the view from his bedroom window:



That's TWO reflecting pools, folks. That disappear off the edge of the horizon, which is about two miles away.


We walked through more of this and I understood what the people were upset about when they heard "Let them eat cake."


In front of us were a gaggle of Italian teenaged girls. They were misguided about a few things. First off, the concept of personal space. They ran into me so many times that if I were a star right wing for the Blackhawks, the coach would have sent the goon out onto the ice. Segundo, they kept taking pictures of themselves, and maybe in a couple years they'll be good enough in Photoshop to airbrush out the mustaches. I had shaved that morning and they had more hair on their lip than I did. Yeesh.


But the good news was I knew right where we'd lose them: the Hall of Mirrors. It's be like Narcissus and a kiddie pool. Like a magnet.



Now here's the part where I wax rhapsodic about the gilded accessories, the crystal chandeliers, the marble floors, et cetera. But I can't. So instead, I'm going to give you a metaphor.


On the right side of the hall? That's glass, Glass was the laptop computer of its time; visible but far too pricey for the average citizen.


On the left? Those are mirrors. Picture a laptop that only exists in Japanese research labs. It's the thickness of two credit cards, has a battery life of sixty days, and can store everything you've ever thought.


Louis installed 357 of them.


Look, I like traveling. I'm on my fourth time zone in a week. But I know that you might be sitting there reading this and thinking, "Aaah, Paris, that's not for me." You may think that you're getting all you need out of your humddrum existence. And a bunch of you, I've recommended restaurants, driving directions, places to stay, and I think you'll agree I'm good at recommending things.


See Versailles.


Really, that's all I can say. Regardless of what you think of the French or the Bourbons or a language other than English or a people who would acquiesce to the Nazis and eat snails, you need to see this. You need to think that one day it was as impossible to build this as it was to send a man to the moon, and in the space of 300 years we did both. My grandfather used to say that in his lifetime the Wright Brothers flew their first airplane and we put a man on the moon. Just imagine what we'll do in ten years.


There's another side to man, one that I looked at in horror but then made me smile. I noticed something on one of the panes of glass:



I nearly went crazy. There's graffiti on the mirror in the Hall of Versailles! I sneered at the thought of who would DO such a thing. Who the hell is "Rene" and WHY would he think that THIS mirror was one he should carve his name into? THE BUS WINDOW WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH...HE HAD TO TAG VERSAILLES?


I got a look at another one just next to the left of this one (the photo didn't turn out as well because of the reception) It read, "Emma 1842."


And I was relieved. It wasn't one of today's deplorable tourists that did this. It was a deplorable tourist from 165 years ago.


I'll bet she didn't have to say "scoozi' as much.


The rain let up and we toured the gardens. They have a thing like the safari train at Brookfield Zoo so you don't have to cover the whole thing on foot, and judging from the pictures of Louis XIV, he didn't cover the whole thing on foot either.


Louis XIV, King of France


(Or as I told Ken, "Dammit! It's Gene Simmons!")


So we were off, and by now it was two in the afternoon. We had thoughtfully prepared ham and cheese sandwiches and stashed them in Ken's backpack; What we had not allotted ourselves was time to eat them. We were all hungry, so we started eating as soon as we got on the zoo train. Unfortunately, we were in a middle car on the other side of the tire. This meant that the speed bumps (which the Bourbons had no use for, look in that guy's eyes and tell me he wouldn't have owned a Trans Am had he not lived a little longer) would hit the center bar that was pulling our tram, jarring our teeth and making sandwich juggling an art. I'm sure that I impressed the Germans staring at us through the window as I scarfed down a baguette as we pulled up to the Grand Trianon.


I now wordlessly give you pictures of the grounds; huge beyond comprehension and immaculate.



Then the rain resumed as we were heading home.



The African gentlemen who seconds before were selling toys and small metal Eiffel Towers were now earnestly offering umbrellas and ponchos.


On the way back to the station, I thought I might finally find the restaurant that would ruin my never-had-a-bad-meal-in-France streak:



Why yes, it does say "Bar et restaurant Tex Mex" on the awning. (Smiling politely) I'll pass.


We made our way back and stopped to pick up supplies. I felt like I was starting to get the hang of this country. I walked in so we could buy groceries, reload some supplies, and head to a small party with a teacher that Julie had worked with. The cashier told me the total. I gave her my Mastercard, and, ignoring my earlier "Bon jour" she gestured toward her register with her hands and wouldn't take my credit card, and started explaining something at a million miles an hour to me.


My face fell. What was I going to do-run out of the store? She repeated it, louder. There was a line behind me. Julie came rushing up and handed over cash. I stood there, mute, panicked, and with no way of knowing how to fix the problem.


There was a 15 euro minimum to use a credit card.


Our stuff cost eight.




We were at the party that night and saw, of all things, a rainbow from the balcony.



How was it over there? It was terrific. It was the kind of night where the other guy mentions a producer, and I mention his other band and say I have some of their songs digitally, and he goes to the shelf and pulls out the album containing those songs on vinyl, and the album is...



I added the green splotch myself. You're smart and it's obvious, but I'm writing this web site like my mother is reading it...because she IS.


Tomorrow...London via the Chunnel!


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