Posts Tagged ‘Louis XIV’

Tres Moderne II – Murakami at Versailles

January 19, 2011

What were they thinking. Murakami rug in the Chateau of Versailles

Our earlier post on modern art at the Centre Pompidou reminded the ETs of another divisive Art Experience at the Chateau of Versailles.  The ETs are usually a model of harmonious travel.  But the exhibit of 22 works by pop artist Takashi Murakami at the Chateau ignited a disgreement that still simmers.

Murakami specializes in manga, a Japanese art form that uses cartoons and comic characters.  The exhibit was controversial, even before it opened.  A group called “Coordination Defense de Versailles” circulated a petition against it.  Defenders argued that it made an historic relic relevant. 

Prince Sixte-Henri de Bourbon-Parme, the “heir to the French crown”, argued that the exhibit was illegal.  He sued to prevent the display, which he considered an affront to all Bourbons, living and dead.  In a very Republican turn of events, he lost.

Murakami's Oval Buddah has an admirer but you can't see the shock on the photographer's face

The ETs cheerfully arrived at the Chateau, unaware of the swirling controversy.  A giant gold Buddha in the gardens was the first clue that this visit to Louis’ old chateau would be different.  Nurse made a gleeful sound and beelined to it. I froze in my tracks and stared. 

By the time we entered the palace, I knew that something very, very wrong had transpired.  They were *everywhere*.  The Queen’s bedroom.  The Coronation room.  “Hello Kitty” meets the Hall of Mirrors. 

Off with it's head! By now the ETs were enjoying a very French difference of opinion

Nurse was delighted by the huge, colorful outer-space characters.  I hoped that modern-day Monarchists were secretly convened to debate the practicality of sending a cartoon character to the guillotine. 

Murakami meets Mansart. The architect of the venerable Hall of Mirrors might wonder... (photo by Sodacan, Wikipedia Commons)

Nurse’s hot-wheels careened with joy from one wide-eyed goblin to the next.  I reluctantly followed, grousing about “la gloire”.  But I must give Nurse her due.  In her most stern Knowledgable Historian voice, she reminded me that Versailles was no stranger to the ridiculous, when you considered the antics of Louis XIV’s court, and Marie Antoinette’s petit hameau.  Am I to be the ETs apologist for excesses of the Bourbon monarchy that strain any definition of aristocratic behavior?  Will we dine at separate tables this evening?  (We negotiated a reconciliation so we could share dinners.  Pacem per cibum, or “peace through food”.)

A statue of Louis XIV averts his royal gaze from the annoying creature (Photo by Sodacan, Wikipedia Commons)

Our Disney-meets-“Dangerous Liasons” tour of the Chateau gave the ETs debate material for days.  My objection to the Murakami exhibit makes me wonder;   What would I have thought about the works of avant-garde artists like Manet and Whistler at the “Salon des Refusés” of 1863? Art or outrage?

The Sun King at home – Chateau de Versailles

October 17, 2010

Versailles - Louis XIII's hunting lodge became Louis XIV's embodiment of La Gloire

The Experienced Travellers donned their beauty marks and birdcage headdresses for a visit to the Chateau de Versailles.  Since we were staying next door at the Trianon Palace, we avoided the notorious crowds – and bypassed the queues thanks to Nurse’s hotwheels walker! 

Yes, they did use the stairways as pissoirs. No self-cleaning loos here.

It began as Louis XIII’s  man-cave near the sleepy village 0f Versailles.  His son, Louis XIV,  had a penchant for fresh air and remodeling.  So by 1682 it was the seat of government and the envy of every European ruler.  It survived the Revolution (just!) and intrigued Emperors, Kings and 20th century diplomats.   Versailles is La Gloire.

A little someplace to lay Her Royal Highness' head, and space for 10 ladies-in-waiting. Poor Marie Antoinette laid her head in less comfortable fashion later in life...

They mixed patterned rugs with painted ceilings, threw in a few cherubs and pulled it all together with yards of  brocade, glass and chandeliers.   But it works.  No Ikea interiors for the Sun King. 

In you were in the presence of the King, you would exit by walking backward through these doors. No one turns their back on His Majesty.

Thousands of  ambitious courtiers lived at  the Chateau in cramped quarters.  Louis kept them occupied by imposing strict rules that governed every aspect of life at Court.  (We think this was the seed of the dreaded French bureaucracy)

Louis XIV - the first micromanager

One result of these rules was the fashion of growing the pinky-finger nail very long — because according to protocol,  the correct way to announce yourself at someone’s door was to scratch upon it with your pinky. 

The ETs have inspected these doors.   No one inside could possibly hear the pinky scratch.  Surely, waiting for the door to be answered drove desparate courtiers to potty behind the gilded screens.  This is called educated historical interpretation, and we became adept at Versailles.

(If you want to know more about Louis XIV and Versailles, I highly recommend (my hero) Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King.  Or get an on-the-spot account of Versailles life through the diaries of the simpering Duc de St. Simon .  Both books are full of tales and people you won’t believe…)

The Hall of Mirrors, the centerpiece of Louis' palace. Courtiers gambled away estates at the card tables, and Germany conceded WWI in this gallery.

The Chateau gardens are spectacular too.  Filled with scented alleys, grottos and hidden corners, it’s clear why extracurricular amour and politcal intrigue were popular pasttimes. 

And there were the “spectacles” of Louis’ youth.  When he threw a picnic, it meant feasting, fireworks, fountains, canal barges and dancing horses.  Rent the movie Vatel with Gerard Depardieu and see for yourself!

Secret notes suggesting a rendez-vous in the garden passed from footman to ladies' maid to Duchess on an hourly basis

The ETs left the Chateau in a courtly mood, with the music of Lully in their heads.  Had we lived then, would we be Princess of the Blood, or scullery maid?  One hopes for the former, but it’s worth remembering that Louis was known to don his hat to the lowliest maid in the name of chivalry. 

Someone has to do the dusting….

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Feet on the street – Part 2

October 11, 2010

La Fontaine St. Michel

I left off with that dreamy omlette, so I’ll resume my tale and take you through the 6th, past Les Invalides and add an addendum on our dinner.

The 6th arrondissement is perfect for ETs

There is an abundance of strolling, shopping and old things in this area.  Benjamin Franklin thought so too.  Cafe Procope was his hangout, so it’s only fitting that I should honor his legacy with a cafe express.  This cafe was the first to serve coffee in 1686.  The Founding Fathers all organized business trips to Paris – and often left their wives at home.  I wonder if they had French nieces too….

Robespierre, Danton and Marat also found it a convivial place where-from to run a Revolution.  I wonder who paid the check? (and I bet Citizen Robespierre didn’t have to wait 20 minutes to get it)
Rue de Buccci – the market street of the 6th

Experienced Travellers know not to travel the Rue de Bucci hungry.  I was still luminous from the omlette, so it was a permissable route.  This is the local marche, lined with cafes, epiceries, produce stands and shops.  My hero Janet Flanner lived nearby on the Rue Jacob and it was a favourite area for The Lost Generation.

Take-away salads on the Rue de Bucci

A popular spot for lunch and some mid-day flirting

I made my way down the Blvd. St. Germain and over the Rue de Grennelle, which takes me through Embassy Row.  Hmm. Lots of police , the road closed to traffic and absolutely NO SOUND except footsteps on the pavement.  Oh dear.  Even ETs can’t plan for every turn of events. 

I kept my head down and walked.  Very fast.  I’ve been reading too much Alan Furst. This must be what the streets were like at night during the Nazi occupation.  Alan’s heros duck into a doorway and press against the wall if a car approaches.  Especially if they’re  using forged papers and carrying microfilm.   Fortunately, I had no need of doorways or false alibis.

Les Invalides - army museum and military hospital

I emerged a little out of breath and regained my wits on a bench at the Invalides.  Les Invalides was established as a military hospital by Louis XIV – and his appetite for war consigned many of his troops to it’s care.  It is still used as a hospital today, and houses the Army Museum and the very grand tomb of Emperor Napoleon. 

The gold dome is beautiful at night when it’s lit.  The French are very very good at lighting monuments.  They’re also very good at integrating contemporary art with ancient or historical buildings.  I admired this installation in the Invalides garden.

Garden art at Les Invalides

Thank goodness it was time for dinner, and we had reservations at a wine bar called Number 7.  

The obligatory swirl

My knowledgable friend Terese encouraged me to order the St. Emillion, and I always follow her advice.  Now, I want to know if St. Emillion can be my new patron saint.

Nurse is a thurifer in our Church of St. Emillion

Nurse, resplendent after a day of rest, ordered a crab and zucchini terrine topped with chopped lime that was so refreshing.  The plates were sprinkled with a very interesting paprika.  So now we have to scour the market to find a small bottle for the suitcase.

Crab zucchini terrine. I had enough wine to wonder how they got the zuchinni to stick together.

This is where we learned that not all mashed potatos need to be mashed – some can be chunks! We finished the meal with a pear clafoutis and a cafe noir.

Pear clafoutis - the walk home will do us good

Thank goodness I walked all day.  I have a caloric theory that you can excercise ahead of time to offset the evening meal.  This operates on the same principle as “found money” and is equally sound.

The longer I spend in Paris, the more my theories are borne out. 


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