Friday, February 27, 2015

Dancing to the Precipice: The Affair of the Minuet



From the outset, Marie Antoinette's famously graceful steps into France became tangled in the web of jealously guarded honors and privileges of the French subjects who, often disingenuously, bowed and curtsied at her feet. Before she alighted upon French soil, serious negotiations had taken place over issues like who would sign the marriage document first, who was allowed to host the Dauphine, to whom should the Dauphine graciously decline her head and to whom should she not, etc., etc..






Author Stanley Loomis comments upon the ludicrous, laughable to the modern mind, immense gravity of 18th c etiquette in his book, Du Barry.:  "Immeasurably more important than affairs of State in the wasps' nest were the intricacies of etiquette.  Every small privilege:  the right to sit where others stood, the right to enter where others couldn't, the right to keep on a hat where others must remove it, was a deliciously public affirmation of one's superiority over someone else.  Such petty distinctions were guarded by their proud possessors with a ferocious jealousy."

Time and time again, Loomis' assertion (universally shared by historians) was demonstrated.  One of the first instances in which protocol caused a misstep was The Affair of the Minuet.

Here's a synopsis...

Among the celebrations following the wedding of the Dauphin, Louis-Auguste, and the Austrian Archduchesse, Marie Antoinette, in May 1770, was a ball to be held in the newly built Salle de l'Opéra at Versailles.  In a gesture of goodwill towards the bride's mother, Empress Marie-Therese, Louis XV decided to break precedents and offer the right of the second dance, after that of the Princesses of the Blood, to the Princesse of Lorraine, a French relative of the Empress' deceased husband, Francis of Lorraine.  The King's intention was a gallant demonstration of inclusion of the relatives of his new Austrian in-laws and, at the same time, a gracious bow toward their newly formed alliance.   In making this gesture, though, he was, figuratively speaking, stepping on the toes of the French Princesses and Duchesses who held the rights, by birth, according the laws of etiquette, to dance the second dance.  Most of the Court and, indeed, most of the country was against the alliance with their long time enemy, Austria. They objected to a member of that family being elevated by this exception to the established rules, though Mademoiselle de Lorraine was French and much of the Royal Family was some mix of French and Austrian because of centuries of intermarriage between the two.  So, some of the objection was for political reasons, but most, it seems, was of the time-honored personal jealousy variety.

Oh, non, that will not do.  Unacceptable.  Versailles was in an uproar at the very idea of this belittling dismissal of the rights of the higher-ranking Princesses and Duchesses of the Court.  "Bickerings without end," reported Madame du Deffand.  "The minuet is to be danced by Mademoiselle de Lorraine and it is vexing a great many people."  A shrill cacophony of insulted French voices rose in indignation. A solemn midnight council made up of the Peers of France and Duke of France met at the residence of the Bishop of Noyon in Paris.  Outrage and grave discussion led to the drawing up of this petition.:  "Sire, the ranking lords of your realm lay at the foot of the Throne the just alarms that have been awakened in them by the widespread rumor that you have ordered that at the ball of Monsieur le Dauphin's marriage Mademoiselle de Lorraine shall dance a minuet preceding the other ladies of the Court. Your lords believe, Sire that it would be lacking in what was due to their birth if they did not manifest..."

As, Loomis wrote, "The greatest names in France were accordingly affixed to this ridiculous document and it was duly presented to the King."

Louis XV was notorious for his dislike of squabbling and his avoidance of dealing with conflict.  At this point in his life, in particular, he seemed to simply want to be left in peace with his delectable new Mistress, Madame du Barry.   He probably didn't even want to go to the damn ball.  But, go he did, and without caving on the dance line-up.  Mademoiselle de Lorraine, acutely aware of the turmoil, might've found walking on coals more comfortable than dancing on the arm of the Monsieur de Lambesc in splendid surroundings, as rancorous courtiers, required to attend, sneered, turned their backs and, even, left the room.

This sort of insubordination would've never passed unpunished by XV's predecessor, Louis XIV, who'd created the web of rights and privileges as a way to control his courtiers.  It's easy to trace, in retrospect, the slippery slope toward the French Revolution beginning with the deterioration of the respect for the King.  Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile, as my mom often said.

Loomis, as usual, said it well...  "Despicably petty, but dangerously significant is The Affair of the Minuet. The time was approaching when the disaffected and spiteful nobles would have it in their power to destroy more than a party."


Post title was borrowed from my bookcase.




The Butler Did It




Fourth grade Me wanted to be an archeologist, but now I realize that once I'd excavated things, I'd want to know all about who'd owned/made/lived in them.  The fascination lies not in the objects, but in the answers to the questions they raise.  If given the chance to explore abandoned European chateaux, as this man did, I'd get mired down in knowing everything that had ever happened in just the first room and the feelings and life experiences of every person that had ever been in that room. Not to mention how did it happen that the place is abandoned.  This kind of stuff drives me crazy. The (lack of) explanation for the Lost Colony that Mrs. Butler told us about in our sweltering, un-air-conditioned classroom at King's Grant Elementary that fateful fourth grade year still nags at me after almost half a century.  Maybe the Lost Colony started all this for me.  I blame Mrs. Butler for my tortured soul.  As in the Butler did it.  Totally unintentional joke.  Just typing along and it worked out that way.  Hysterical.

Someone at work asked me if I have big plans for the weekend and I told them that my weekend was going to be writing on my blog to try to quiet the chaos in my head.  On and on and on.  Blah, blah, blah.  Yack, yack, yack.  Drivel.  But, the links lead to articles worth reading and an interesting video.

The condition of pictured bedroom not entirely unlike that of my own.

I'd like to find this book on a similar subject.  It's not on Amazon or ebay.  What?  Unprecedented.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Haven't read the book nor seen the movie, but enjoyed this review written by friend, Shone Kirkpatrick...:


Letting Go




Last week, we let go of the material residue of my parents' lives.  The executor of my father's estate, my eldest brother, Jerry, emailed the rest of us a couple of weeks in advance, but because I'm flaky, I either read and forgot, or didn't read, the email.  So, on the eve of the event, it came as a surprise to me that the time had come to do the necessary, but unpleasant.  Not "to do" in a literal sense, since I didn't have to Do a thing, being out here in Texas.  I just had to sit back and mourn while he did all the work of having Habitat for Humanity come choose what they could profit from and to the landfill with the rest.  Ugh. Made me sad to think of it.  As I wrote in a previous post, Label Your Photographs / Ode to Annie....  I sure hope that we didn't toss out any family pictures that I'll someday find in an antique mall in Timbuktu.

I'm exaggerating.  I didn't mourn.  Let's just say I wasn't at peace with it.  I woke up at 3:00 the morning that Habitat was scheduled to go to the storage units.  Couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd write a letter to my brother, Billy, to relax and go back to sleep basking in the warmth of a good deed.  But, first, I wanted to glance at my catalog of the Kennedy estate sale at Sotheby's.  I opened it hoping to understand how Caroline and John Kennedy could bear to part with their parent's treasures, so I could do the same.  Don't get me wrong, though, there's absolutely no comparison to the two estates.  I was having trouble letting go of melted tupperware and used tin foil.

Allow me to backtrack...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Think Beverly Hillbillies




Because, at Terry's suggestion, we're going to stay at the Waldorf when we attend Micah's NYU Law School graduation in May, David sent me this New York Times article about the Waldorf Astoria Presidential Suite today and placed me squarely on a more glamorous than usual Memory Lane.  

In March 1973, about a month after my father returned from the deprivations of his sojourn in the Hanoi Hilton, Ross Perot gifted my original family with a week at the Waldorf and a week of the delights of NYC.  When I've bragged that we stayed in the Presidential Suite, I was sincere, but having read this article and seen the pictures, even I think maybe my memory doesn't serve well on this one.  It was certainly the fanciest hotel I've ever been in, but not as sumptuous as the pictures from the article.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

It's almost Valentine's Day, after all.

As an antidote to my recent, what might (wrongly) be considered morose, focus on the Conciergerie, I offer sweetness and light through this Ladurée display.  Never let it be said that I'm only interested in the dark side....

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lenôtre's Description of the Conciergerie, and Conditions Within, During the French Revolution (and a POW P.S.)





The mammoth, looming Conciergerie as seen when one walks along the Seine. 

Let's talk about the Conciergerie....  as it was, as it is...

The prison was altered after the Revolution and, who knows, maybe after Lenôtre wrote his descriptions in Paris in the Revolution which was over a hundred years ago.  It's possible that the rooms displayed, and their identification, have changed somewhat over the years.  If anyone would like to illuminate the way and correct me, I'd completely welcome their input.  I'd love to know exactly what went on where.


What's in all of those rooms?!  The section I've been in covers less than a 1/2" square of the complex.

Well, here's what one could expect if catastrophe befell him (or her) ...