Alexandre Dumas once wrote: “Versailles, like everything on grand scale, is and will always be beautiful”
Thomas Mars phrased it somewhat differently: “”The idea is not to please the most amount of people. Growing up in Versailles, the idea was to please the least amount of people.”
Dumas clearly loved the place. Mars was being somewhat more pragmatic.
I personally think that Versailles is horrible and I hated it from the moment I got there.
Of course a bazillion people go to Versailles and pay an extravagant fee to be part of a queue with the length and coils of an anaconda from a B-Grade Hollywood critter movie. They then file through rooms, antechambers, vestibules, hidey-holes and corridors to marvel at the sheer and unutterable opulence, richness and most palpable bad taste of the joint.
Inasmuch if you got a hundred monkeys and a typewriter they’d eventually come up with a script for Hamlet, if you took Kath and Kim, Sylvania Waters and a smattering of Housos and gave the whole shooting match a billion dollars Versailles is what they would come up with. Whether it would take them 50 years, like the frogs, or the services of 36,000 labourers is moot– but the point remains the same. It is bad taste as bad as bad taste can be, on the grandest of scales, by a succession of cashed up French bogans.
Our day started typically enough with coffee, baguette, Roquefort cheese and a promenade to the train station. Duly ensconced we were joined by tourists from climes various, all thems that were getting aboard got aboard and off we went. The journey is pleasant enough, passing through Paris, its extensively graffitied outskirts and a few charming villages here and there, including a lovely one where a long disused platform had become a vegetable allotment and into Versailles we pulled. We detrained and found ourselves in a seething mass all headed for the palace. Ignoring the entreaties of the spruiker trying to persuade us that if we bought tickets from him we would save an hour and a half wait to do same further on (he was a lying French bastard) we went further on and joined a moderate queue to purchase entry.
While in same we were treated to not one, but two sets of queue jumpers. Two methods were employed One subtle, one not. Subtle: one of their number wafts past in the manner of one looking for les toilettes or some such. Then, when someone leaves the counter she catches the eye of the vendor, is beckoned over and that is that, affecting to have had no choice, alors, tres embarrassment. The other method is just to be entirely French about it and just walk in front of you from the side. Either way no response was given to any remonstrance. They merely behaved as if nothing untoward has occurred. If you want to know what they look like, here they be. Should you ever see them, terminate with extreme prejudice:
Actually in one instance the wafter tried it on again inside the gates of the Palace and got short shrift. The ones with the pram, well, they got to the Palace courtyard and it is all cobblestones, which are hell to push a pram with a sprog in it over and when you’ve just fed the little buggaire. Well, junior honked all over the place and I looked to the heavens, dipped my lid to the Big Fella and said “Love your work”.
Prices – basic entry into the Palace is E16.50 per adult. Kids free. Add-ons, courtesy of the local Thenardier: Gardens another E8.00 and separately you could go to the Queen’s hamlet etc etc. We settled for the basic entry, figuring that, with the crowds, the Palace is about all we’d have time for. Tickets duly purchased we stood at the tail of the anaconda, which went the dimensions of the Palace courtyard. As we were gradually promoted to the abdominal region we got reasonably friendly with a couple from New Zealand, on the strength of her being a former primary school teacher and coat-hangering, in true All-Black fashion a ghastly child of Chinese descent who insisted on belting around in an elevated state and barging into people. We also got reasonably unfriendly with the young couple behind us who were brandishing a selfie stick and each time it was in use they would fall over backwards and barge into us. They were frightfully apologetic each time it happened, but even apologies wear thin the fifth time. Then a bunch of young Japanese, showing the concern for their fellow citizen that made the Japanese such a hit on such overseas excursions like Nanjing in 1937, lit up cigarettes that to all intents and purposes were made from desiccated catshit.
Watching over this cavalcade was an enormous fresco showing the idle and useless rich of the period of the Palace, safely up on high. I wondered if at times in history real life examples of same had done similar, looking down on those they considered to be their inferiors, notwithstanding that it was the labours of those inferiors that provided the means by which the idle and useless rich could so indulge.
Up to 25% of the French budget went on this sort of thing:
Eventually we reached the entrance and so the tour commenced, through rooms, antechambers, vestibules, hidey-holes and corridors; each containing furniture and décor and artwork that was so deliberately overdone as to be completely naff.
And yes, of course I was seeing this with 22nd Century eyes but, even so, the effort to be at the absolute pinnacle of everything was so arse-achingly obvious that utilitarian things lost their utility and decoration for decoration’s sake became a visual assault that left one with blurred vision and nausea.
This effort is clearly the reason, dear reader, that the most utilitarian things that might have been present if more sober taste was adopted were missing. I am speaking of the commode chair and bidet. I know a thing or three about these as my folks have an antique one and a bidet to match. And they really are quite nice:
(pix courtesy of my Mum). My mother hastens to add that they do also have modern plumbing. Strangely enough these articles are actually in my folk’s lounge room for decoration rather than for the benefit of guests to use at a dinner party while not breaking the flow of erudite conversation.
But, no matter how nice, you cannot make them so swish as they will cut the ice in Versailles. So no commode chairs or bidets in the Palace bedrooms. So what did they do? They would crap in the corners. Behind the drapes. And didn’t wash their bums. Nice. Now tell me they weren’t bogans.
So from room to room we trudged, pausing to wonder at the Hall of Mirrors where you could admire yourself in as many poses as you might wish, and, ironically enough, take selfies. You can also reflect in the Salon d’Hercule that has the largest painted canvas ceiling in Europe. And you can reflect further that the poor sod that painted it, François Lemoyne, first painter to the King, Louis the Umpteenth, necked himself on completion of the work as he was completely exhausted and couldn’t face doing anything further on royal command. In one guidebook it says that Lemoyne was “unable to face another royal commission”, about which, as an Australian, I tittered, without a shred of irony.
Some of the artwork did come with an important safety message if you didn’t want to end up, albeit accidentally, as our friend, Abelard, in my previous missive:
Never, for example, play the cymbals in the nude:
And this bloke seemed to have lost a thong, in addition to his thing:
You should never, ever muck around with eagles in the altogether:
Other artwork was just odd:
Not quite what Othello had in mind, and in any event it just doesn’t have the same cachet as:
And if that gives you an earworm said clip comes to you courtesy of Canberra author of The Rook, raconteur and wit Dan O’Malley, of whom I am very fond.
Of courses it wouldn’t be France without a litany of pettifogging rules forbidding and prohibiting anything calculated to make life easier. There was room with a massive pipe organ which I wanted to see and so did Charlottey. Unfortunately due to a heaving mass of humanity we couldn’t get within cooee. We hatched a cunning plan. I would hoist Charlottey onto my shoulders, William would pass her my camera and she would have a shufti and take a picture. Brilliant. We held a short orders group, synchronised watches, well, mine as I am the only one in our tribe with the wit and wisdom to wear one, and went for it.
No sooner had Charlottey been hoisted into position than a short sallow Crapaud came at me from nowhere, Monsieuring like les clappers. Click goes the camera.
“That is forbid!” says your man. Down comes Charlottey. Up comes Pierre, for twas his name. Somewhat redundantly he explains I cannot have a child on my shoulders. Rather sympathetically I point out I don’t have one on my shoulders. Valiantly he points out that did and I can’t. In the manner of one dealing with someone ineffably stupid, such as a Young Liberal, I indicated that I couldn’t care less, there being no sign to indicate what was forbid or not. “But you cannoorrrt” quoth he. “Baissez mon cu” say I and he briefly considers some drastic action but thinks better of it and withdraws, and, as God is my witness, disappears.
I was approached by an American (they dig Versailles, by the way. Rockefeller practically funded it in the 20th Century) “Hey man, sorry you got dumped on by that guy”.
“No need to be sorry, pal and he backed down anyway”.
In unison we nodded and said “cheese eating surrender monkey”. But not riding on a goat, so that is something.
He then asks what I said in French.
“Loosely translated, kiss my arse”. He was delighted and, at his insistence, wrote it down for him. If there had been a bar handy I’d have been on beers for the night.
Later on, and completely knackered, I leant up agin a vast marble pillar. Out of nowhere comes the identical twin of himself of child on shoulders fame. Apparently that was forbid too, although he did appreciate my explanation that I was holding it up as I thought it was going to fall down.
Strangely enough, in this vast monument to arrogance, conceit, narcissism and self-regard the modern accoutrement of same, the selfie stick, is forbid. And they enforced it too – often to spontaneous applause.
We did have occasion to have a squizz out the window at the gardens and were glad we had not forked over extra shekels for a tour of the same. They were, I regret to advise, on the grotty side – with the lawns looking like they had a dose of scarabs and the flowerbeds as if the possums had gone to town as only possums can.
Eventually we had exhausted the further possibilities of the Palace and we sodded off, pausing only to visit the local Maccas to reward the children for not breaking anything, for ice-cream. And ‘twas there that I experienced one of the more ironic episodes in my last 50 years on this planet. Having pre-ordered and paid for the nosh we lined up only to be berated by an exceedingly flustered and angry French McDonald’s sous-manager for not queuing correctly. Repressing the urge to ask him what the fuck he knew about queuing I asked where I should line up. He pointed to a floor tile some 2 foot to the right, to which I immediately moved, only to be accused, in French, of pushing in.
I gave no response to such remonstrance and behaved as if nothing untoward had occurred.
It worked too.