Sunday, August 25, 2013

In Better Days: Girlfriend-y Tête-à-Têtes au le Petit Trianon

Thanks to my sparkly and tenacious friend, Elissa, and the connections her Chasing French History  afford, we held our collective breath as we feasted on a private tour (us, a resident expert and a security guard - that's private)  of the normally unseen rooms in Marie Antoinettes' private chateau, the Petit Trianon.  It's well within walking distance of Versailles for those of us for whom, like Elissa and me (and her husband, Matt, who'd smilingly walk anywhere for her and carry her stuff, too) no distance would be too great.

The Princesse de Lamballe was such a close friend of Marie Antoinette's that she had her own small suite of rooms in the Petit Trianon.  The A-List was short, due to the size of the chateau and the scant number of intimates that Marie Antoinette could trust and with whom she could let down her hair.  Or take off her crown, as the case may be.

The Princesse de Lamballe actually lived in these rooms.  The tour guide and security guard rewarded our awe and informed, reverential comments and questions by expanding the tour, letting us see and experience more than we'd even hoped.  Not many people have the honor of walking on the wooden floorboards of the stage in Marie Antoinette's private, tiny jewel of a theatre.  We did, because Elissa is ridiculously charming and persuasive.

Micah and I happened to visit the Petit Trianon on one of the infrequent days that the chapel was open. Marie Antoinette and the Princesse were devout Catholics although, at this point in Marie Antoinette's life, her faith was perhaps more rote than later, when she desperately needed it.  You know what they say about atheists in foxholes.

Marie Antoinette valued the Princess de Lamballe's friendship during these days, but couldn't have imagined the path it would take.  She couldn't have known the depth of the friendship nor could she have been aware of the well of untapped strength into which her fragile, sensitive friend would draw to prove her loyalty.  Neither of them had been tested.  As Thomas Jefferson said of the Court of France around this time, and I paraphrase, because I don't have his exact words in front of me:  …The French Court is so thoroughly insulated by luxury and the service of underlings that they pass through life with scarcely a jostle….  

Jefferson said it better (surprise!) but I can't find where I recorded the quote.  It's probably on a post-it note on the floor of my car, concealed by month-old french fries (unintentional French reference) or in the pocket of a forgotten pair of pajamas.  

Challenges increased and Marie Antoinette was forced to rise to the occasion over and over.  She was quoted more than once, as she mused that she hardly recognized herself in her new role, that she felt that one never knows oneself until tested by extremity.  She credited her mother for her newfound strength.

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