Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Versailles Chapel

Holy Water fount in the Versailles Chapel

This is our small group tour that covered the Chapel, the King's and Mesdames' Apartments and a couple of smaller rooms.


The King and Queen entered by the door on the second floor.  A funky camera peculiarity resulted in that wispiness in front of the door.  Or did it?   Maybe it's a Spirit.

St. Louis immortalized on the floor of the Versailles Chapel.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Les Chiens (Doggies)


Those royals loved their dogs.   Just a quick post on the subject, inspired by the mural on the wall of the room in which we waited for our tour of the King's apartments and chapel to begin.  Louis XV was especially fond of dogs and is quoting as having said that only his dogs loved him for himself.  It's lonely at the top.   

I don't know the story of any of these particular dogs nor why the smallest one is the only one left unnamed. It looks similar to Thisbe...

This spaniel, Thisbe, belonged to Marie Antoinette and was with her at the Temple.  It's true that Marie Antoinette's friend, the Princesse de Lamballe, brought her the gift of a puppy when she returned to the Queen's side while she was at the Tuileries.  I wonder if Thisbe is that puppy. Or did the Lamballe give it to her while she was at the Temple?  I'm not going to slip into crazy mode and spend three hours trying to find out.  I think it was the Tuileries.

Anyway, according to legend, Thisbe wasn't allowed to accompany her master when she was moved to the Conciergerie, but sat outside the prison door every day, then, when the time came, followed her to the guillotine and howled at her execution.  I didn't absorb the story when I read it, because it was not only too sad (not that I avoid sad, as we all know, but I don't need to waste heartache on fictional sad) but sounded unlikely.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Beauty Routine

A mock toilette scene at Versailles...

The make-up and hair preparation that was part of Marie Antoinette's (and that of royalty before her) daily life can almost be compared to preparation for the stage.  Life at Versailles was ritualized to the point of being a production.  Processions to daily Mass, meals, Lever and Coucher (the daily rising and going to bed ceremonies), in which the players all knew their roles and didn't deviate from the required movements, were carefully scripted according to rules set in place by Louis XIV a century earlier.  The witty banter in which courtiers and royalty engaged, socially, would seem false by today's standards - at least by the standards of down-to-earth, cardigan-wearing, incapable-of-small talk Me. 

Rights to attend and/or participate in the ritual of Marie Antoinette's toilette were accorded by rank and status.  Sometimes it was a comedy of errors as she stood, half-naked and cold, while the finer points of etiquette were followed.  There's a story about how several tardy members of the Royal Family arrived , in succession, at Marie Antoinette's toilette, scratched (not knocked, as we do) at the door, repeatedly interrupting the ritual and upsetting the chain of command (as a Navy Brat like myself might think of it).  The whole production came to a standstill as whoever was getting ready to hand Marie Antoinette an item had to go through the complicated ritual of properly transferring the item to the newly arrived lady, bumbling and dropping items in the process, so that the the proper person could hand the item to the Dauphine (on a tray, mind you.) who stood shivering and muttering how ridiculous was the scene.  

On July 12, 1770, Marie Antoinette, as the young dauphine, new at court, married to Louis-Auguste, but before they were King and Queen, wrote to her mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, describing an average day.:

"Your majesty is kind enough to take an interest in me and you even want to know how I spend my days.  I will tell you, therefore, that I get up at ten, or at nine, or at nine-thirty and that, having been dressed, I say my morning prayers;  then I breakfast, then go to my aunts [Mesdames], where I usually find the King.  That goes on until ten-thirty;  after that, at eleven, I go to have my hair dressed.  At twelve, they call in the chamber, and then anyone can come in as long as they belong to the Court.  I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of everyone;  then the men leave and the ladies stay and I dress in front of them...."  

She goes on to describe Mass, dinner in public, reading and writing (which she exaggerated in order to meet the Empress' high standards not met by her own unambitious literary interests), music lessons and the rest of her day.  Antonia Frasier's book quotes her as writing, more pithily, that "I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world," but I took my quote from a collection of letters between the Dauphine, the Empress, and the Austrian Ambassador, "Secrets of Marie Antoinette" by Olivier Bernier.  I don't know exactly what they letter actually says, because I haven't seen the original and wouldn't have been able to read it anyway, because surely it was in French or German.  This sort of thing probably bothers me more than it should and is why I can't bear to read historical fiction.  If I read about a dinner where the main course was beef, I want to know if it was veal or aged, rare or well-done.  If they don't know for sure, they shouldn't just make it up!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Private rooms of Louise-Élizabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, Governess to the Children of France

After we saw the Queen's private rooms, the guide was leading us to our next destination when Elissa pointed out a door that we were by-passing and asked if we could go through the rooms beyond it.  She knew that the rooms belonged to Madame de Tourzel. the last Governess of Marie Antoinette's children, because she'd been there before.  In fact, the reason Elissa and I became Eighteenth Century soul mates is because, during the winter of 2012, I was planning a Spring Break trip to Paris and stumbled across her blog and saw pictures from her private Versailles tour. A couple of exchanged emails and one phone conversation later and we decided to chase French history together.  (Photos from both her previous Versailles tour and the one we did together are on Elissa's blog, Chasing French History.)

Foreground:  Guide and two guards discuss whether or not the alarm was set in Madame Tourzel's rooms as one of the guards radios God, or someone nearly as powerful, to ask permission to enter.

Background:  Lori and Pat, Elissa's teacher friends - and now mine

Madame de Tourzel was the widow of one of Louis XVI's courtiers who'd died in a hunting accident. She and her teenage daughter, Pauline, cared for the Marie Thérèse and Louis-Charles at Versailles, the Tuileries, and the Temple, barely escaping execution themselves.

The rooms are markedly smaller and less adorned than those of the Royal Family but, when they were inhabited, of course, they would've been decorated with the belongings of Madame de Tourzel, whose family wasn't made up of paupers.  It was a carefully guarded privilege, often hereditary, to serve at Court and one only accorded the most illustrious families. In appointing Madame de Tourzel's predecessor, Marie Antoinette had broken with tradition by giving the position to her personal friend, the Duchesse de Polignac.  By doing so, the Queen deprived a higher ranking family of the honor.  The Duchesse and her family had already been over-promoted and their coffers excessively enriched, despite their relatively low status at court, and the Marie Antoinette's decision further contributed to her unpopularity at Court and, ultimately, with the public.

Despite the lack of embellishment, I loved the rooms.  I'm partial to small, dark places.  Many hermits are.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Door

Every time I've visited Marie Antoinette's bedchamber in Versailles, I've stared through this open door, so significant, yet so inauspicious, and tried to imagine what lies beyond.  

Elissa, two of her friends, and I went to Versailles last week. We had a semi-private (maybe fifteen people tops) tour of the closed apartments of the King's and the Mesdames' and, later, a private tour of Marie Antoinette's rooms.  Not just Marie Antoinette's rooms.  I mean the ones that lie beyond this door, the ones that aren't open to the public, the rooms in which she spent her private hours.  And, intriguingly, the hallway through which she fled as the mob, intent on harming her, broke through the protective barrier formed by her guards.

The significance of this door, in a nutshell, is that on October 5, 1789, the market women of Paris joined together, armed themselves with whatever was at hand, and walked to Versailles to confront Louis XVI.  They wanted bread/food, wanted to vent their resentment for the system in which they were at a distinct disadvantage.  They were fueled by hunger (and some, by wine) and inspired by revolutionary spirit.  There were reports that the women were incited by, paid by, joined by disenfranchised aristocrats, women and men dressed as females.  Some historians believe that the duc d'Orleans, the King's first cousin, had a hand in the planning of the march.

The story goes like this:  Marie Antoinette was in the Grotto that she'd created as part of her back-to-nature pretend farm and village.  She was relaxing, she was worrying, she was daydreaming? As it was within a few months of the storming of the Bastille;  worrying would make sense.  A page galloped up to deliver a note from the Comte de Saint-Priest telling her that a mob of women was approaching Versailles.

The Grotto - a man-made outcropping of rocks and stones forming alcoves and areas to sit, a small bridge that's within walking distance of Versailles and steps from the Petit Trianon.

The next twenty-four hours are well-documented.  Louis XVI struggled to decide how to handle the crisis amid conflicting advice from all sides.

                             Family Under Seige, by Gyula Benczur (from

At one point, horses and carriages were readied, as he considered moving to a more hospitable, less accessible location, but the crowd cut the harnesses eliminating that option.  Some extended members of the Royal Family and many courtiers, including close friend Yolande de Polinac, escaped that night, in disguise. The evening was tense as the Queen appeared on the balcony in front of the crowd who, fickle as mobs can be, jeered and threatened and, occasionally, cheered her.  As the crowd camped in the gardens and courtyards of Versailles, Lafayette assured the King and Queen that the situation was in hand and, gradually, the Royal Family tried to get some sleep.

Madame Campan

Many years later, Madame Campan, the Queen's First Lady of the Bedchamber, wrote an account of what happened next that explains why that door has had such a place in my imagination.

“I was not in attendance on the Queen at this time. M. Campan remained with her till two in the morning. As he was leaving her she condescendingly, and with infinite kindness, desired him to make me easy as to the dangers of the moment, and to repeat to me M. de La Fayette's own words, which he had just used on soliciting the royal family to retire to bed, undertaking to answer for his army.  The Queen went to bed at two in the morning, and even slept, tired out with the events of so distressing a day. She had ordered her two women to bed, imagining there was nothing to dread, at least for that night; but the unfortunate Princess was indebted for her life to that feeling of attachment which prevented their obeying her. My sister, who was one of the ladies in question, informed me next day of all that I am about to relate...."

On leaving the Queen's bedchamber, these ladies called their femmes de chambre, and all four remained sitting together against her Majesty's bedroom door. About half-past four in the morning they heard horrible yells and discharges of firearms; one ran to the Queen to awaken her and get her out of bed; my sister flew to the place from which the tumult seemed to proceed; she opened the door of the antechamber which leads to the great guard-room, and beheld one of the Body Guard holding his musket across the door, and attacked by a mob, who were striking at him; his face was covered with blood; he turned round and exclaimed: "Save the Queen, madame; they are come to assassinate her!" She hastily shut the door upon the unfortunate victim of duty, fastened it with the great bolt, and took the same precaution on leaving the next room. On reaching the Queen's chamber she cried out to her, "Get up, Madame! Don't stay to dress yourself; fly to the King's apartment!" The terrified Queen threw herself out of bed; they put a petticoat upon her without tying it, and the two ladies conducted her towards the oile-de-boeuf. A door, which led from the Queen's dressing-room to that apartment, had never before been fastened but on her side. What a dreadful moment! It was found to be secured on the other side. They knocked repeatedly with all their strength; a servant of one of the King's valets de chambre came and opened it; the Queen entered the King's chamber, but he was not there. Alarmed for the Queen's life, he had gone down the staircases and through the corridors under the oeil-de-boeuf, by means of which he was accustomed to go to the Queen's apartments without being under the necessity of crossing that room. He entered her Majesty's room and found no one there but some Body Guards, who had taken refuge in it. The King, unwilling to expose their lives, told them to wait a few minutes, and afterwards sent to desire them to go to the oeil-de-boeuf. Madame de Tourzel, at that time governess of the children of France, had just taken Madame and the Dauphin to the King's apartments. The Queen saw her children again. The reader must imagine this scene of tenderness and despair.”

Excerpt From: Jeanne Louise Henriette Campan. “Memoirs of the Court of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, Complete.” iBooks.

View from the door, to the left of the bed if you're facing it, through which Marie Antoinette fled from her official bedchamber, through hallways of her private rooms, to the King's rooms.  I've been on the opposite side of the gilded rail, but have never seen anyone in the doorway as these tourists saw us.  I can tell you right now, I'd have been so damn jealous if I had.  Also, small footnote, I've met and am fb friends with - practically best friends, right? - one of the people (or maybe he did it alone) that restored the gilding on the rail between the Queen's bed and the tourists.  Elissa the Indomitable beguiled him from his restoration studio at Versailles to come down and meet us in the courtyard and take us on a private back room tour of the chapel last year.

Marie Antoinette's private rooms were both pretty and pretty small.  I'll post pictures of them later.

This is what Marie Antoinette saw as she escaped with her life in the pre-dawn hours of October 6, 1789.  In that year, these dim hallways and the inner rooms to which they led, would've only been illuminated by torches and candles.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Games People Played

The god of Mercury is depicted above the doors in the room that Marie Antoinette designed and in which she and her friends gambled when the Court visited Fontainebleau.  Mercury is the god of financial gain, commerce, luck.  And of trickery and thieves.  Funny girl.

by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775

By my estimation, this was painted around the time Marie Antoinette was in her high-flying, giddy, gambling state. Girls just wanna have fun.  It's one of my favorites of her.

These delicious looking morsels are gambling purses.  Don't they just scream, "Play Time!"

Twice in the last month, I've included a still from the Sofia Coppola movie "Marie Antoinette: The Journey", based on the non-fiction Antonia Fraser book.  I've listened to the audio book more than a dozen times, surely, on my headphones, walking in Texas.  The British reader, Donada Peters', voice calms me.  Occasionally, I use it to conquer insomnia.  I don't know that I've seen the movie all the way through.  It bothers me more than it should when a historical fact is incorrect or twisted in a movie.  I want to know that every single detail is accurate down to what they ate for dinner and who sat next to whom.  I don't like historical fiction in book or movie form.  But, it's a pretty movie and the sets and clothing are authentic.  It was filmed, in part, at least, at Versailles.

I came across this on a blog or website a few years ago.  I didn't note which one, so, unfortunately, I can't credit them for the humorous notations.  I'd be very surprised, almost shocked, that the Queen was this informal at gambling parties or anywhere else.  Louis XVI didn't totally approve (he probably didn't see the attraction) nor did he normally join her gambling parties, at least not for the duration, but he did pay her gambling debts without much grumbling.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Where Shall I Begin?

Every day of learning about French history (which is, for me, simply the study of human nature and the progression of events packaged in an era) has been mesmerizing.  There have been highlights.   Among locations I've visited, the Conciergerie, Palais de Justice, the Cour de Commerce area, the route to the guillotine from the Conciergerie to the Place de la Révolution, the Cordelier Club, the Duplay home, the private rooms at the Petit Trianon, back rooms of the Versailles chapel, Le Hameau, St. Germain des Prés Church - each has had a special aura about it. Many Places have been profoundly meaningful to me.

But the threads running through the story, the souls of the story, have been People that I feel I've come to know through reading their words and words about them.  A handful are special to me - Marie Antoinette, of course, and Louis XVI, their families, the Princess de Lamballe, Charlotte Corday - a few Revolutionaries - Danton, Camille Desmoulins and his wife, Lucile.  Of them all, there's been one person who has been most intriguing, most compelling, and the one I'd most like to talk to.  Actually, as good as he was, he probably wouldn't have taken the time to talk to me, so talking to his representative about him would've been my first choice.

I don't want to make this person feel weird with my over-the-top recitation of how much it meant to me, but I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours discussing history and, to an extent, life, with Axel Fersen's descendant.  Thank God it's over, though, because the anticipation almost robbed me of my sanity.  He's probably crossing his fingers that it's over and that the continuing trickle of emails with last minute questions and comments will eventually evaporate and disappear.

I realize that my readership is minuscule and made up of only benevolent friends and family unwilling to go public by commenting, but if anyone happens upon this who knows who Count Axel Fersen is, you will surely exclaim, "Oh, my God, that's exactly what Axel Fersen's great-great-great-great-great nephew should look like!"

Those of you who know me personally, and know my family, will also exclaim, "I bet Michael made this dream come true!" and, of course, you'd be absolutely right.

World Cup, Caron de Beaumarchais-style

I'm just in it for the pizza.  And, the background noise as I write.  It reminds me of the comforting sound of American football on tv growing up with five brothers.  My favorite pizza guy, across the street, is Argentinian so, tonight, so am I.

I've turned a corner mood-wise.  It coulda gone either way, but the positive me won out.  She always wins.  There shouldn't have even been a struggle.  After all, I'm in Paris.  I guess it was fatigue.  Never mind.  Doesn't matter.  I'm back.

While I waited for my pizza, I sat at an outside table, smiling benevolently at the woman with the little dog wearing the I Heart LA tee shirt, the man who took a picture of the messy empty table next to me, the gay couples arm in arm, the young men in French Navy uniforms, the nun, people speaking German, French, Italian, English (with and without British accent) and more, singing soccer fans, the young woman with heels high enough to display the red "Clearance" dot on the underside of her new shoes... It's good to be me again.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day One

Taken from my window.  Conveniently located, right?  Unless I'm with a friend, I'm going to get take out for every meal.  I'll find a boulangerie close by today.  I told the nice pizza guy that I'd eat there every day if he'd let me practice my French with him.  Despite not working very hard on it for the past eighteen months, I feel like basic French has clicked into place. There's a confidence lag keeping me from using it but, in most situations, I could get by.  But don't, because everyone is willing to speak English.  They don't want to hear me mutilate pretty French words.

Please don't judge blog nor trip by these boring entries.  I'll get in gear soon.  

My hotel is named after the playright Beaumarchais.  In a case of life imitating art, his works contributed to the down-with-the-aristocracy/yay-for-the-common-man mentality that lead to the Revolution.  Not a bad thing for the classes to be leveled, but the end doesn't always justify the means. These are pages the program of Beaumarchais' play, The Marriage of Figaro.  Beaumarchais, also, sold arms and supplies to George Washington during the American Revolution and his storage warehouse is down the street from my hotel.

I've been in such a funk since I've gotten here that I haven't even asked the history of the building I'm in.  The staff couldn't be nicer nor more helpful, but I have to admit I very much miss L'Academie with Patricia at the reception desk and being located smack in the middle of my favorite neighborhood with all of its revolutionary sites.  The Marais, my current neighborhood, is just as historic, but I've yet to learn the specifics of happened where and, damn it, left my favorite book Walks in Lost Paris at home. I was so preoccupied with one item that I needed to take that I neglected some basic necessities.  I'll run over to Shakespeare and Company and see if they have a copy.  The success of my trip depends on it. How can one enjoy Paris without knowing the history of what they're looking at?

Side entrance to Notre Dame.  I meandered a bit yesterday.

Also, Notre Dame.  During the Revolution, the heads of these saints were knocked off, because they revolutionaries thought the statues were of kings.  The heads were discovered buried in a garden much later.

My well-intentioned visit to pay respects at the Shoah (French word for what we call the Holocaust) Museum down the street could've been more well-timed.  May not have been so overwhelmed if I'd had a few hours sleep during the previous twenty-four.  These are the files that the French government turned over, in the not too distant past, of French Jews that were deported to concentration camps during the Vichy government of WWII.  And, underneath, the Shoah version of the Vietnam Wall. Such images are less disturbing than some I saw, but convey the enormity of it all. 

I've never understood anti-Semitism.  I just don't get it.  I don't get anti-anybody.  How can people hate other people based on their heritage, the color of their skin, or the way they look?  It's incomprehensible to me.  It makes no sense.  Prejudice is a sign of a non-thinking person.

There was a flicker of joy in my day yesterday at the sight of this pretty little garden with its heart shaped flower bed on the right.  I'm going to plant one of those at home.  It was lovely.  Also, loved the paper shop that I visited and where I bought pretty stationery.  The store smelled good with all that pretty paper in it and the shopkeeper loved paper as I do.  

Today, I'm going to get a grip and enjoy this trip I so anticipated.  I've wasted a whole day being exhausted, whiny and negative.  Enough.

Le petit déjeuner

Departed Texas without any complications except forgot lipstick and left can of seltzer water in freezer which surely led to explosion.  Smooth traveling.  Made friends with girl at airport who's getting a PhD in the U.S. on some aspect of elephant behavior.  She studied them in the wild in Sri Lanka, too.  She was returning home to Paris for visit and suggested we exchange #s, so I could meet her parents.  I'd like that.

Arrived at hotel hours before check-in, so I may just sit in this pretty room and tap away on my phone for a couple of hours as I acclimate.  Struggling to nip my feelings of self-doubt in the face of Parisians.  It's a well-known fact that Louis XV could and did knock the top off his soft-boiled egg with one strike, one hand.  I don't have that skill and am afraid to ask how to eat the one that's been placed in front of me.  Also, afraid to try yogurt even though it's Dannon simply because the packaging is unfamiliar.  I'd never make it in Sri Lanka.

Friday, July 4, 2014

I have a thing for handwritten letters.   

This is supposedly a letter written by Marie-Amelie It was offered on eBay last month, but it's $81 final bid didn't meet the reserve, so it was removed from auction.  It's a museum quality item, by my standards anyway, which mean nothing, but how would one guarantee its authenticity before buying?

I've bought a few inexpensive late 18th-early 19th Century French letters online and from Les Puces flea market in Paris.  I'm always hoping to stumble on an undiscovered Axel Fersen to Marie Antoinette letter in a dusty, cluttered stall at Les Puces.  Unrealistic since I'd not recognize their handwriting nor be able to read the letter to identify the writer.  Hopefully they had the courtesy to sign their names in large block letters.

My friend, Danielle, translated one of my letters.  It was from a young woman to her uncle.  In it, she said, among other things,

"I am not a bit concerned of my health, it has even maybe gone through some amelioration since I left you and if I took care of myself I would be fine;  but this damn gluttony of which I cannot correct myself, contributes, I believe, to entertain in me what I again know of my state.   Pray God that I may correct myself soon to attempt to make myself ashamed.  Scold me well, I beg you.  Whatever you tell me will always be outside of what I deserve."

Eighteenth Century Girl, you're my kindred spirit.  I'm eating Oreos as I type this.