PORTAL 52 Week 43: Versailles Portal 2, Inside Looking Out
Our first visit to see the Palace of Versailles was thwarted by a strike, as described in the previous blog (Week 42). Upon entering the courtyard on the morning of the strike, it was made clear to us that the estate was only partially opened to the public. Large sections of the museum and residence would remain closed for the day, however, should we choose to return any other day this week, everything would be opened at that time for our viewing pleasure. We learned that Tuesdays are strike days in France! We decided to go back to Paris and planned to return to Versailles on a day we could have full access to this World Heritage site. As soon as we came out of the train station in Paris, we walked right into a street protest.
As first-time visitors to France, we were unaware that we were witnessing the return of nationwide strikes and street protests for the first time in months. Apparently, hundreds of protests and strikes were planned across the country in an effort to demonstrate public outrage at social policy reforms made by the government. Many were angered by the changes made to the pensions and benefits systems, as they were seen to undermine solidarity and social justice.
When we finally did get back to the Palace of Versailles, it was a full day of jaw-dropping, eye-popping sight-seeing. So many elaborate and elegant wings, filled with lavishly furnished ceremonial chambers and residential apartments, marble staircases, chandeliers, mirrors, grand and famous original paintings …. All of this, surrounded by vast expanses of gardens, groves, canals, statues, fountains and stables.
There is no denying that the entire estate is opulent, well maintained and steeped in historical and cultural significance. In my humble opinion, however, in so many ways it is absolutely over the top, and dare I say it…sickening, really! I’m not sure what happened, but I began to feel unwell. Somewhere between the Hall of Mirrors and touring a palace wing, I began to feel overheated, short of breath and nauseous. Perhaps it was my over-identification with how the peasants lived centuries ago, or maybe it was the throngs of people to wade through – I don’t do well in large crowds. At one point I thought, “Could I be having a heart attack? Or a panic attack?”
Stepping outside and breathing the fresh air made me feel slightly better, so we decided to tour the gardens and visit the Estate of Trianon. Here, I was surprised to learn I was not alone in feeling overwhelmed by it all. Even Queen Marie-Antoinette felt the need to take refuge from the pomp and circumstance at the palace. That is the purpose served by the Queen’s Hamlet and the Petit Trianon. The “rustic” buildings set on the lake were designed to recreate country charms and provide a place of quiet retreat for her. Ironic, isn’t it?
This is one of the portals where I felt that sense of irony to my core. I was gazing through the very same window that many members of the elite ruling class had looked through, in an attempt to find solitude and peace. It was a retreat from not only the pomp and circumstance of the Court, but also allowed an escape from the political pressures and threats of an impending revolution.
It was so long ago though, and we're so far removed from that lifestyle and political turmoil....or, are we?