Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chateau de Versailles

Versailles, France.  Summer 2004.

I haven't spent much time in palaces - there aren't a whole lot of them in the Midwest.  There was a girl in my second and third-grade classes whose father was a doctor, and every year she'd invite all of us to her family's estate for her birthday, or halloween, or some other occasion that called for a lot of people to be around to fill up all that space.  It was the largest house I had ever been in at age eight, and the only real reference I have when they tell us we're going to the Palace at Versailles.  

(Not a good reference, I know, but when you need a step up to reach the bathroom sink, any house with a wing is practically Cinderella's Castle.)   

I don't know much about Versailles before I get there - I know it's tied to one of the Louis', and I know that the Hall of Mirrors is supposed to be really impressive.  They set us loose with the promise to be back at the bus in three hours, and that's the place I want to get to first.  I walk in circles for ten minutes looking for the Hall of Mirrors before realizing that I'm standing in the middle of it.  They're restoring it - all the glass has been covered.

It's just massive.  I try to imagine someone living here, but it's so full of tourists and so presentational and so devoid of personality that it's hard to believe this sprawling, opulent building was ever someone's home.  Did Marie-Therese sigh with relief at the sight of it on the horizon when returning from a long stay away?  Did Louis XVI find comfort in the smell of his bed sheets after a long day of being the most important man in France?  How many members of the royal family (and the servants who tended to them) knew every inch of this building, and found every inch of it refreshingly familiar? 

Walking through the gardens, I can't imagine living in a place this large.  I know it's supposed to be self-contained for the royals, and I know that size is imperative when it comes to impressing foreign dignitaries.  But how easy it must be to loose yourself in all that space, how lonely to live in a place that wasn't ever really designed for you to live in, but to display the pride and riches of your country.  It's beautiful, to be sure.  But I wouldn't want to live here.

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