The Home of the Sun King
August 8, 1999:
Versailles was created by the Divine King Louis XIV in 1682 (at a cost of 6 month's GNP of France).
He moved the capitol outside Paris so he could enjoy more fresh air.
Louis also went by the name of "The Sun King." You can see good old sol blazing from his head.
Louis lived like a seventeenth century combination of JFK and Michael Jackson.
From his bed here he held court as part of his daily rituals.
When he got out of his gilded bed, he wasn't dressed by servants, but by Nobles who fawned over each other to serve their king.
Dominating the inside of the palace is the Hall of Mirrors. Mirror was as precious as diamond when these were made. Here many a banquet was held with dancers glittering in reflected candlelight.
The French made the Germans sign the Treaty of Versailles here to end the 'War to End all Wars' (WWI).
60,000 visitors stream through the palace every day. We got separated here and it took us an hour to find each other again.
Opulence and artwork are everywhere.
If a spot's not decorated, it's only because leaving it plain shows off some nearby object d'art better.
The ceilings are covered with heavenly scenes from Greek mythology.
Even though Napoleon lived in Fontainbleu, and eschewed the opulence of Versailles, they have their monument to him here. A massive painting of him crowning himself (the Pope wasn't good enough) emperor of France.
As massive as is the palace, the gardens dwarf it.
On our national scale map we can see the lake in the background as a tiny cross.
Only three hundred fountains remain, but in Louis' day, there were fifteen hundred.
And lurking in the lake waters are giant goldfish (coy) who have learned to beg for food from the world of air.
Remind you of anything?
Entire worlds of chateaus, roadways, temples and more are concealed in the gardens.
We got our daily exercise just skimming the surface.
The French seem to pay a lot of their attention to the appearance of things. Everywhere we look we see tastefully decorated windows and backyards.
Our first night in Versailles we stopped at a crepe cafe. Kathleen peruses our second-hand phrase book for the words for 'Chocolate Crepe.'
Then the proprietor made our crepes (egg and cheese for Henry, Hazelnut-Apple-Liquor for Kathleen).
Yum-yum. We could eat like this everyday.
You think cell phones are a craze back in the states. We don't hold a candle to the Europeans. Our table neighbor carried on while her friends waited.
We routinely pass people walking and talking to themselves. Then we realize they're speaking into a collar mike and listening on the headphones.
We didn't make plans to see the eclipse. We thought we'd be far to the south, so we never invested in any eye protection, and when we realized we'd still be camping in Versailles (and commuting to Paris), there were no more glasses in the stores anywhere.
Fortunately, the local couple we sat next to at the Versailles lake were much more prepared.
And they were very generous giving us a peek as it progressed.
But the best preparation couldn't save us from the cloudy day.
Before it got to maximum, a massive cloud came and covered the action.
It gave us some consolation that we hadn't decided to drive north to where the eclipse would have been total.
A hush fell over the crowd as the noontime darkness fell. The darkness was accentuated by the dark clouds overhead.
Like ancients in awe, some instinct bid us hold our breath.
Like moderns, we were careful not to be blinded.
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