Category Archives: Paris Sights

George Sand and Friends at the Musée de la Vie Romantique

Musee de la Vie Romantique is a charming, peaceful oasis at the foot of Montmartre in Paris.  (Well, that’s what it was on a sunny spring day the other time I visited. On a recent rainy November day, it was dreary outside. People stood around wondering why they were there. The cheery garden cafe is shuttered and the chairs sit in puddles). Still, it’s worth a stop, especially since it’s free, with donations welcome.

On the way, I passed the Moulin Rouge, THE nightlife spot in Romantic times. From what I can see beyond the tour buses, it doesn’t look too appealing today. Plus I read that animals are used in the current show, in ways a lot of people find distressing. I’ll salute, but pass.

Art Scheffer, portrait by Thomas Phillips, c. 1840

The house, built in 1830, was the rented home of the painter Ary Scheffer, who was well-known at the time and had royal connections. Scheffer hosted weekly salon evenings attended by everybody who was anybody in the Romantic art, literature and music world.

Le Grand Atelier d’Ary Scheffer, Arie Johannes Lamme, 1851

Scheffer’s studio must have been a nice artistic hangout for his friends and students.

George Sand, bust by Auguste Clesinger, 1847

George Sand, one of the most notorious and talented women of her day, attended regularly with the most famous of her many lovers, the composer Frederic Chopin.  Her real name was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. Her friends called her Aurore. Though her family was not aristocratic, there was some money, a good education, and entree into high social circles.

George Sand, portrait by Charles Louis Gratia, 1835, Public Domain

She married a Baron and had two children, but aristocratic life was way too confining for her. She ran off with her two children and famously started dressing in men’s clothing, which she considered more practical than the full skirts and flounces of the day. Dressing as a man also let her enter places where women were not allowed, like raffish cafes in Montmartre (where she scandalously smoked in public).

Here she is, presiding over her salon (furnished by her heirs after the house became a museum, with portraits, possessions and mementoes). This portrait is by August Charpentier, 1838. She was striking and charismatic no matter how she was dressed. The poet Alfred de Musset, one of her lovers, said she was “the most womanly woman.” To support and also to amuse herself, she began writing novels, essays, criticism and memoirs. Her colorful life gave her plenty of material, and she was not particularly shy about sharing all her experiences. Note to self: find a good biography, and also her letters.

Frederic Chopin was a regular at the house during his stormy 8-year liaison with George Sand. A plaster cast of Chopin’s left hand reaches wistfully for a plaster cast of George Sand’s right hand in a glass case, along with a pen and some love letters.

Daguerreotype of Frédéric Chopin, Bisson, c. 1849, Public Domain

Poor Chopin suffered from tuberculosis and died at the age of 39. I wonder whether his affair with George Sand lengthened or shortened his life. Note to self: find good biography and letters.

Regulars at the house also included Chopin’s friend the composer Franz Liszt, opera composer Gioacchino Rossini, and the painters Eugene Delacroix and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, among many other artists of the Romantic Period. Later on, Charles Dickens, Ivan Turgenev, and Charles Gounod also stopped by often.

The actress Sarah Bernhardt was a regular, too. Here she is costumed as a character in a play based on one of George Sand’s works.

The house became a museum in 1982.  Heirs of George Sand donated much of the contents.

The audioguide is worthwhile, but not really necessary because there’s a free little guidebook.

In the summer months, there is a pretty tea garden.  The food is nothing special, but it’s a fine place to sit and soak up the atmosphere of La Vie Romantique.

Naturally, George Sand has been the subject of plenty of books and movies.  My favorite is the 1991 movie Impromptu, often streaming on Netflix.  I’ve seen it before, but I’ll be watching it again.  Who can resist Judy Davis as George Sand and Hugh Grant as Frederic Chopin, right at the beginning of their tumultuous affair?

Actually I see that I have it on DVD! Reading the jacket, I remember the rest of the cast: Emma Thompson as a duchess, Mandy Patinkin as Alfred de Musset, Julian Sands as Franz Liszt, Bernadette Peters as the long-suffering wife of Liszt, Ralph Brown as Eugène Delacroix, and the list of treats goes on. James Lapine was the director.

I’m off! If anyone needs me, I’ll be in mid-1800s Paris.

Paris Snapshots, November 2018

Paris is always old and always new. The real sight is just the city itself, where there’s stunning architecture and art at every turn. Medieval Notre Dame Cathedral? It never fails to thrill.

In November, it’s not crowded inside the cathedral. The present structure was built between 1163 and 1345. It still feels deeply spiritual.

A Paris Museum Pass is the best bargain. For one thing, there’s no waiting in ticket lines. For about $15-20 per day, depending on number of days chosen, we take our heavy-duty culture in small doses. The Louvre is not intimidating (or exhausting) if we duck in for only an hour or two a day.

“La Nymphe au Scorpion,” Lorenzo Bartolini, 1777

The statue above? That’s me, checking my sore feet while looking out at I. M. Pei’s spectacular pyramid in the courtyard. (But we never stand in the horrendous lines at the pyramid entrance. It’s much better to go in through the underground shopping center, the Carousel du Louvre).

Goddess Nemesis, Egyptian, 2nd Century B. C.

We see way more by making just short forays into the Louvre. I especially liked the statue of a goddess, only about two feet high, in a little hallway alcove. She is Nemesis. The caption explains (I think) that she punished any kind of excess with an implacable reversal of fortune. She’s casually holding a little Wheel of Fortune. I can think of people who could use a reminder not to do anything to excess. Of course after eating excessive French pastries, I could use a reminder myself.

Puzzlement: Nemesis doesn’t look Egyptian. And did the Egyptians even have a concept of a wheel of fortune? I’ll always have things to learn. (Most of the captions in the Louvre are in French only, which means I probably get a lot of things wrong).

In November, even the crowd-stopping biggies have very few people standing around them, especially on the Wednesday and Friday evenings that the museum is open late. Here’s the Winged Victory of Samothrace, standing in her very own grand gallery–and without people jostling to take selfies.

I’ve never before seen the Mona Lisa with a crowd only two or three deep in front of her. Usually the entire room is a jostling mass of humanity, and nobody is even looking at all the other fine paintings on its walls.

The Louvre now has nifty and free glass lockers for visitors to stash their stuff. In high season, I imagine these fill up. But we had our pick.

The Orsay also takes the Museum Pass. And special exhibits are always included. This trip, we had a couple of leisurely looks at Picasso’s Blue and Pink periods. I’m not the biggest fan of Picasso, but I liked this exhibit. That’s a detail from the exhibit’s centerpiece, “La Vie,” 1900.

Detail from “La Balancoire,” Pierre-August Renoir, 1876

I do mostly like Renoir, although I think he was terrible at painting hands, and some of his women look like they were painted by someone way more nearsighted even than I am.

There was a nice exhibit about Renoir and Jean Renoir, his film-making son. Jean took inspiration from the joyous life his dad portrayed in his paintings. It was fun to watch old film clips next to the paintings.

The regular galleries of the Orsay were wonderfully uncrowded, even the Impressionist rooms.

Femmes au Jardin, Claude Monet, 1866

After trudging through some of the Louvre’s rooms of correct-but-boring earlier French painting, it’s easy to see why the Impressionists were first ridiculed, then finally embraced for bringing in more light and color and joie de vivre.

La Famille Bellilli, Edgar Degas, between 1858 and 1869

When the Orsay is uncrowded, it’s possible to stand in front of paintings and ponder things like family dysfunction, as well as masterful technique. In the family above, I’d choose the girl on the left as my friend. The other people look too standoffish, even to each other. And the dad looks pretty much absent.

Time to escape museums and wander the streets of the Left Bank. Shop windows are as artful as anything. Yes, I’ll have that bird.

Florist shops are enchanting, and they spill out onto the street even in November. It’s not that cold, with highs of 45-50 in the daytime. Of course it helps to have a sunny day–which I’ll admit might be rare.

Help! My bike broke down. No worries, there’s a mobile bike repair shop to call: L’Atelier Velo Sur Votre Route.

At almost any time of the day or night, I’m up for crepes. I especially like Creperie des Arts in the Latin Quarter. All right, I’ll admit the resident cat is a big part of the attraction. He knows me now.

So this is November 2018 in Paris, sadly marred by violent Saturday protests.

By the time I left, Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe was looted and smeared with rude graffiti.

But Paris has weathered worse. When the dust settles, I’m sure I’ll be back. I still expect to see a little repair scaffolding at Notre Dame. After all, the building has stood through eight centuries of ups and downs in Paris.

Paris in November: I’m Sold!

One of my favorite paintings on this trip is Kees Van Dongen’s dancing girl at the Musee Marmottan. He painted it in 1905 when he was one of the leaders of the Fauves (aka the Wild Beasts). The title should be “Jumping for Joy” or something like that, don’t you think? But noooo…the title is “Le Boniment,” which means something like “a lie to please” or “a sales pitch.” The subject was a circus performer. Oh, well, it still looks like pure joy to me.

Of course the best reason for trekking out to the Marmottan on the edge of the city is Claude Monet. The Marmottan has the biggest collection of his work, including the little painting that started an art movement: “Impression, sol levant.” (Impression, sun rising,) painted in 1872.

Detail from Gustave Caillebotte’s “Rue de Paris, temps de pluie,” 1877

They also have masterpieces by Gustave Caillebotte, the rich boy who chose to hang out with the artists who were having such a good time. He was a wonderful painter, but after some years he gave it up and became a patron of artists he considered his betters. The painting above was on the cover of the phone book in my hometown years before I’d ever heard about Caillebotte. (Anyone remember phone books?) Actually this was a study for the actual painting, which is at the Art Institute in Chicago. But I’m glad enough to see this one. Claude Monet was given this “sketch” painting as a gift and kept it in his bedroom until he died.

As for Paris in winter, it rains. Quite a bit.

And it gets dark early. And there are no live flowers in the Tuileries or anywhere else, except in gorgeous shop windows.

But there are plenty of seasonal compensations. The Musee d’Orsay is blessedly uncrowded.

And there are flowers at Orsay. Edouard Manet’s “Olympia” receives plenty of bouquets but is more interested in challenging the viewer, as shockingly now as in 1865 when she was the talk of all Paris.

In the same room at the Orsay, Manet’s parents studiously look the other way. He painted them in 1861. I wonder what they thought of Ms. Olympia and their son’s raffish friends.

The Orsay features a wonderful Picasso exhibit that I’ve now seen twice, without waiting in line. Above is a detail from his “La Soupe,” 1902-1903.

Outside, I mostly take buses and the Metro, but it’s pretty easy to hail a cab. Wait, that’s not me! That’s a detail from Picasso’s “Lady with a Fan,” 1905.

Free and cheap concerts abound, at places like the American Church along the Seine.

Maybe I could take a painting class at the Louvre?

I won’t be renting one of the perfectly-silent scooters that people run along sidewalks everywhere. I value life and limb too much.

But if I do somehow fall into the Seine, one of these friendly guys in wetsuits will rescue me. They were practicing by somersaulting into the water and then reeling each other in.

Along the Seine, the Conciergerie, Marie Antoinette’s final sad prison, looks as forbidding as ever.

Inside the complex, which still holds the courts, St-Chapelle sits like a crown jewel with its fantastic medieval stained glass.

At every turn, there’s some iconic sight.

Paris in November? No worries. I’m sold!

I Love Paris in the Winter…When It Sizzles?

It was a thrill to get off the airport bus right in front of the Arc de Triomphe, even though in the evening a light drizzle turned into a downpour that lasted all night.

By morning, the rain had cleared. But our temporary neighborhood was rapidly turning into a battle scene and we wondered whether to even leave our room. We could see on TV what was happening a block away.

“Les Gilets Jaunes” are the yellow vests all French drivers have to keep in their vehicles and wear in case of breakdown. For a couple of weeks, protesters have worn them while trying to get the government to reverse high taxes on fuel. Now it seems the protests have turned against President Macron and his policies.

Quite a few people believe he cares only about rich people, and a small number of people get richer while the poor get poorer. (Americans, can you imagine that?) Macron’s administration raised fuel taxes, which impact people who have to drive to work. I don’t understand the details, but apparently they also eliminated a “wealth” tax.

Storming of the Bastille, unknown artist, Public Domain

Of course France has a long history of protest. On July 14, 1789 the French Revolution began in earnest with the storming of the Bastille prison.

The current grass-roots movement seems to have no real leaders. Will it grow or die out? Nobody knows yet. The demonstrations this week were smaller than the week before, but there are protests all over the country. About 5000 to 8000 people gathered on the Champs Elysees for a peaceful “manifestation,” but these things do tend to get out of control. We watched it all unfold from the safety of our room. All the TV stations were in French, but there was constant live video.

There seemed to be a lull in early afternoon, so we ventured out. Metro stations in our neighborhood were closed, so we walked–away from the “manifestations.” It looked like the protesters had called a general coffee break. The people above had spread out their clothes to dry on a heat grate on the sidewalk. They had been sprayed with water cannons. There was a lot of tear gas in the air, too, although we never got near enough to actually feel its effects.

Protesters had been busy piling up materials for bonfires–which firefighters put out all day. Could we climb the Arc de Triomphe to get an overview? No way.

Just a block off the Champs Elysees, everything seemed normal except for less traffic. But all day long and into the evening, we could see pillars of smoke. Police helicopters hovered above.

We walked along the Seine, where life was going on as usual.

We made a quick stop at the Palais de Tokyo for the modern art. Then we made our way to the Orsay to see the current Picasso exhibit.

Picasso was astounding as always. Was there anything the man couldn’t do? That’s an early self-portrait.

I love his Child with Pigeon, 1901. We have museum passes, so we pop in and out of the great-but-exhausting museums of Paris.

After catching dinner, we started walking back home for the night, and came upon a Christmas market in the Tuileries.

By 9:30 pm, the demonstrators had all gone home, but the Metro we would have taken was closed and police had the whole area cordoned off for cleanup. The police were friendly and as helpful as they could be in the situation.

We gave up on walking and took a taxi because we had to circle way around the protest area.

I asked Santa for a more peaceful day tomorrow. But after all, protest is part of the French history I came to see.

The next day: it was interesting to read press coverage from outlets such as the Daily Mail

https://dailym.ai/2DJVJMQ

Even after my high school and college French, and obsessively studying on Duolingo daily for six months, my French leaves a lot to be desired. I’m lucky to catch about one out of every four or five words on French TV news. The images pretty much speak for themselves, though.

Gustave Caillebotte

Self Portrait, Gustave Caillebotte, circa 1892, Public Domain

Self Portrait, Gustave Caillebotte, circa 1892, Public Domain

Maybe it is really best for an artist to be poor, at least at the beginning of a promising career.  It seems to me that inherited riches stopped the artistic career of a potentially great French painter, Gustave Caillebotte.

Caillebotte, 1848-1894, was born to an upper-class Parisian family; most of their large fortune came from textiles used for military uniforms. I can almost hear the family arguments that resulted in Caillebotte going to law school.  He was licensed as a lawyer in 1870 and was also trained as an engineer. (“Painting will never get you anywhere, son. Besides, why don’t you just run the family business? We need you.” This is all speculation on my part, of course). Anyway, Caillebotte was drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian War for almost a year, 1870-1871.

He returned home safely, but rather than working in the family business or practicing law, he began serious study of art at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts. I’d speculate that after seeing the horrors of war, he was determined to spend the rest of his life doing exactly what he wanted to do.  And being the heir to a very wealthy family gave him the means.

CaillebotteHs2

Last year while in Paris I made a trek by train about 12 miles south of the city to the country mansion of the Caillebotte family in the posh suburb of Yerres. There was a special exhibit of the artist’s work.  The champions of his work billed Yerres as “Caillebotte’s Giverny”–the tourist magnet that is the beautiful home and garden of Claude Monet. That was wishful thinking, at least for now. I doubt that Yerres will ever have the hordes of tourists that descent daily on Giverny.  But that is not a bad thing. No photos were allowed inside the exhibit; that was just as well, because it was easy to give each wonderful painting the close attention it deserved.

Caillebotte painted in a much more realistic style than many of his Impressionist friends, and often from unusual perspectives.

The Yerres, Effect of Rain, Gustave Caillebotte, 1875, GNU Free Documentation License

The Yerres, Effect of Rain, Gustave Caillebotte, 1875, GNU Free Documentation License

The property was much larger when the family occupied it.  But the house and grounds are still beautiful, and beautifully placed on the banks of the River Yerre. I especially loved the virtuoso painting above, depicting a moment of time as rain falls on the still surface of the river.  I loved the play of light and shadow. It was on loan from the Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington.

Les Perissoires, Gustave Caillebotte, 1878, Public Domain

Les Perissoires, Gustave Caillebotte, 1878, Public Domain

The exhibit had many other water scenes, like this one with its unusual vantage point just behind a pair of men paddling canoes on the river. It was on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Rennes.

Gustave Caillebotte,

Gustave Caillebotte, “A Boating Party,” 1877-78, private collection

I stood for a long time in front of this painting of a gentleman rowing in a top hat and bow tie, and bought a large postcard of it. If I could carve out the time, I would travel to Washington, D.C. just to see this one painting again. The image above is from the website article from the National Gallery exhibit, cited below. What if the moments of our lives could be captured in a few thoughtful paintings, rather than a never-ending stream of selfies and forgotten party snapshots?

Young Man at a Window, Gustave Caillebotte,1875, Public Domain

Young Man at a Window, Gustave Caillebotte,1875, Public Domain

From his family’s Paris city home, Caillebotte also found unusual perspectives. The painting above shows Caillebotte’s younger brother looking out over the street from the Paris family home. The painting is from a private collection.

The Floor Scrapers, Gustave Caillebotte, 1875, Public Domain, Musee d'Orsay

The Floor Scrapers, Gustave Caillebotte, 1875, Public Domain, Musee d’Orsay

Caillebotte’s most famous painting, The Floor Scrapers, was controversial in his day. This masterpiece was actually rejected by the Salon of 1875. But the Impressionists loved it, and it appeared in their second Impressionist exhibit, where people stood in front of it and argued. Why? There was already a time-honored tradition of painting peasants at work in the countryside, but almost no one had honored urban laborers by painting them. The scene is believed to show a moment of refurbishment of the artist’s own studio in Paris. I love the play of soft light from the open window, the delicate curls of the planed wood, and the sweating shirtless laborers.  Did Caillebotte gain an appreciation of the work of ordinary people during his wartime service?

Sadly, Caillebotte mostly stopped painting at age 34; he was more interested in photography.  The exhibit I saw had a number of his photos, but in my mind they paled beside his paintings.  I wish he had stayed with his brushes and canvases.

For many years, Caillebotte was neglected as an artist and more well known as a patron of other artists, notably his Impressionist friends Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Camille Pisarro.  He bought their canvases, funded and curated their exhibits, and sometimes paid their rent.

Did Caillebotte believe he had reached the limit of his abilities and it was better to be a patron of more talented artists? Or was painting just too much hard work? He had the means to do anything he wanted to do.  What he wanted was to hobnob with artists, grow orchids, build yachts, collect stamps, and generally enjoy himself.  Who can blame him? And yet I wish he’d had a bit more of a work ethic.

Caillebotte died while gardening in 1894, aged only 45. He owned a collection of over 70 mostly Impressionist paintings, which he bequeathed to the French state on his death.  They formed the core of the state’s Impressionist collection.  Modestly, he only included two of his own paintings in the bequest.  The rest remained mostly with his family, since he had no need for money and rarely sold a painting.

Gustave Caillebotte,

Gustave Caillebotte, “Paris Street, Rainy Day,” 1877, Public Domain, Art Institute of Chicago

Some of these paintings are part of an exhibit, Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye, running through October at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.  The website is at http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2015/gustave-caillebotte.html

Forget Versailles: Get Lost Instead

If there is a ground zero for summer tourism, it may be the Mona Lisa, whose smile seems less mysterious than long-suffering when viewed against the constant crush of tourists around her. As many as 40,000 people rush the picture every day at the Louvre, according to the Paris museum.

The photo above, from a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, shows hordes of tourists crowding around the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Been there, done that. Actually, I’ve been lucky enough to visit when I could get up close to the most famous painting in the world without being jostled or impaled by someone’s selfie stick. But that was some years ago, and the enigmatic lady is behind glass anyway.  I’d rather look at her in a book. On more recent visits to the Louvre, I’ve escaped her overcrowded gallery as fast as possible. There are plenty of less popular treasures in the Louvre.

TuileriesIris

There are also the glorious gardens just outside in the Tuileries–surely less crowded and just as inspiring. Other Paris sights?  The article cited above says that officials at Versailles just outside Paris are actually asking tourists NOT to come to Versailles. They are going to cut off ticket sales to the Palace, and they suggest the vast gardens instead. The 25% drop in the Euro is luring huge numbers of tourists to Europe, many of them first-timers who are understandably intent on seeing the biggies they’re been hearing about all their lives. Last time I visited Versailles, the Hall of Mirrors looked like this:

HallOfMirrors2

Right now, it’s much worse:  wall-to-wall people, shuffling along shoulder to shoulder. It would be impossible to see and appreciate the grandeur. I wouldn’t go near Versailles or any of the major tourist “must-sees”  in the height of the coming tourist season.

Here’s what I would do instead: forget the major tourist draws, even for people who have never seen them. They’re all in books and movies and videos. Get lost instead. Just a short drive outside of Versailles, the countryside opens into vast serene fields, dotted with farms and pretty towns. It’s easy to get lost with a car and an intrepid driver–preferably equipped with some kind of GPS device when it’s time to get un-lost.  But it would work with a railpass and a pair of good walking shoes too.

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On a trip through the Loire Valley, I came upon a chateau I had never read about in any of my guidebooks.

MeChateau

I walked up its paved driveway, admiring the symmetrical beauty of the facade. Although I managed to take a tour of this chateau, I can’t tell you its name.  My husband and I had the entire place almost to ourselves.

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What lives played out behind these elegant windows? Who strolled in the gardens beside the dreamy moat?

Courtyard

No one seemed to be around.  We walked around the little gatehouse until a lady appeared, wiping her hands on her apron.  She’d been making lunch and not expecting visitors. She made a phone call, and eventually another lady appeared in the courtyard to give us a guided tour. Three other people appeared for the tour. In we went. Instead of the burnished surfaces of Versailles, we were looking at genteel faded elegance:  dusty mantelpieces, faded floral wallpaper peeling in places, slightly tattered lace curtains covering ancient wavy glass windows.

Alas, the tour was only in French. Still, the tour guide made valiant attempts to explain the history of the family.  My French was just adequate to understand the most surprising fact:  during the turmoil of the French Revolution, the chateau was occupied by an elderly noblewoman who was never once disturbed by what was going on just a few miles away at Versailles. The King and Queen were arrested and hauled off to imprisonment and eventual execution in Paris. All over France, nobles lost their lands–and in Paris, hundreds of them lost their heads.  Churches became Temples of Reason.  Chateaux were sacked and burned. But at this particular chateau, life went on as before.

Moat2

No doubt there were many anxious days and nights, but the local residents loved this woman and her family.  Never once did an angry mob try to cross her moat, which was never built for defense in the first place. The old lady lived out her days in peace, no doubt doing good works among the local peasants.

Generally I buy a little guidebook, but  there didn’t seem to be one to buy.  The name of the chateau? The name of the family that once lived there?  In one ear and out the other.  We were given laminated information sheets which we had to return. No photos were allowed inside, so I didn’t even think to snap a photo of the information. Now, I’d like to know the name of this chateau and the history of the family who built it. Maybe a reader can enlighten me.

Flowers

The nearby village is substantial enough to have a nice little park.

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There’s even a City Hall. It looks just like hundreds of other city halls in small towns in France.  OK, I’ve learned my lesson.   Now I fill up my camera with pictures of signs–towns, sights, works of art.  It’s nice to know where I’ve been.

Still, I have a memory of an unforgettable sight that I took in without mobs of other people breathing down my neck. I had a chance to muse about the actual life of the lone noblewoman who lived out her days in peace and tranquility during the darkest days of the French Revolution. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Versailles already. Even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t trade a hectic day-long visit to Versailles for my two peaceful and intriguing hours at my Mystery Chateau.

Update: May 6, 2018. I just returned from a trip to the Loire Valley where I went to a lot of chateaux. I did not get a chance to find my Mystery Chateau, but I think it is Dampierre. I think it is fairly close to Versailles, not in the Loire Valley. I stopped briefly at Versailles and decided I’d like to go back there again in the winter, when there would not be near as many visitors. Maybe I’ll get to look up my Mystery Chateau too. It’s almost always worth going back to sights I’ve already seen. There’s always more to see and learn.

The article cited above, from The Wall Street Journal, is at

http://www.wsj.com/articles/europe-braces-for-a-summer-travel-crush-1432847803

Slummin’ with Marie Antoinette

Ceiling

What’s a Queen to do when the gilded glories of Versailles get to be a bit much? Early in her reign, Marie Antoinette larked around Paris, shopping and taking in theatre and opera performances.  Adoring crowds applauded her beauty and grace.  That was then. Things changed, for the worse.  Retail therapy became a lot less therapeutic.  The Paris crowds began to turn restive, then hostile, and finally lethal.

The Palace of Versailles was the permanent and mandatory home of at least 3,000 people, courtiers and their servants.

The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are elegant, smaller, private palaces conveniently close to the ever-crowded main palace.  They’re great for private dinners away from the majority of prying eyes.  But still, a girl sometimes needs to just get away from the whole kit and kaboodle.

FullSizeRender

Marie Antoinette’s haughty pose was set in stone, as far as the angry intellectuals and hungry mobs plotting revolution.  (After all, she had been raised to carry herself like a queen). But she had fond memories of running wild as a child in the wooded grounds of Schonnbrunn Palace, with her many brothers and sisters. She had an idea:  she ordered up her own personal getaway within the vast grounds of the Palace.

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Le Hameau de la Reine, The Hamlet of the Queen, was built for Marie Antoinette in 1783.  It was a large fenced-off area, open only to the Queen, her children, and her dearest friends.  It included private gardens much more informal than the main grounds.  There were pretty, grassy walks and a Temple of Love on an island.

Grotto

There was a grotto–a sort of custom-made concrete movie set meant to look like a cave.

Grotto2

The grotto was perfect for games of hide-and-seek with the many lovers the queen was rumored to entertain. Were the rumors true? In the end, it didn’t matter one way or the other.

BarnWaterwheel

But the most notorious feature of the Hamlet was the Queen’s Farm.  Quaint rustic buildings created a fairy-tale version of a working farm.  The Queen spent carefree days dressed in simple white muslin and a straw hat. She milked carefully groomed cows using specially made Sevres china buckets. There was a special billiards room attached to the main house–naturally, an important room in any farmhouse. There was an actual working farm nearby which provided shampooed and scented cows, sheep, chicken and ducks.  I’m sure her kids loved it.

MeFarmHouse

Today, the Hamlet is a place to ponder the wretched excesses that led to the French Revolution. When angry mobs arrived at the gates of Versailles, they had no sympathy at all for a Queen who played at being a peasant. For Marie Antoinette, there was no escape from her destiny.

MarieAntKunst