Sunday, July 09, 2006


The other kind of freedom.

I went to Versailles in the morning in the hopes that I would be done by 1 or 2 p.m. in time to run to Fontainebleau in the afternoon, but I wasn't counting on the multitude of tourists who arrive by the trainload--literally. The train I was on was 99.9% full of tourists, and the line to buy the tickets was at least 500 people long.

Luckily, however, and contrary to my fears (I had estimated a 3 hour ticket line wait judging from previous experience at the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence), the line moved (relatively) quickly and in about 1 hour I was finally at the entrance.

Now, Versailles is pretty, but I seem to remember seeing prettier things in Italy. And at the risk of sounding a bit overly patriotic, Italy is a work of art, a jewel. You stumble into a castle, a renaissance sculpture, the ruins of a Roman city at every corner, so much so that, as my two Italian Youth Hostel roommates pointed out to me this morning (they are from Rome), you can get an overdose of it and eventually even...find it boring. (I suppose it is also a little bit like Mexico: with the ruins of an old temple/pyramid under pretty much everything that looks like a hill with a slightly-flattened top, and when farmers routinely have to clear away vases and pottery figurines of pre-hispanic civilizations when plowing the land, you eventually get used to it a bit, and start to devalue it, which is a bit too bad).

So anyway, the point is, Versailles is fine, but nothing particularly special (at least not for the price of admission, including the 7 extra Euros you have to pay to to see the "musical waters", which basically means that they turn on the [rather ordinary] garden fountains for an hour or two at the same time that they broadcast some 18th century chamber music through loudspeakers scattered about the park). Still, it was kind of nice to see the pretty locations where all those 18th century style movies (you know, "Dangerous Liaisons", "The Man with the Iron Mask" and the like) were filmed. And interesting to see how the palace was a little bit like a modern university campus--it had all it needed there: lakes, hunting grounds, an opera, country Trianons for entertaining little trysts with a surreptitious lover, and what you did not have was simply brought to you at your command.

No wonder, then, that the kings and court were so disconnected from the world and their people. There was no reason to ever have to go anywhere, not to neighboring towns, let alone Paris with its (back then) filth and chaos.

But here, all protected and with every kind of artificial commodity simulating bucolic life, but never living it for real, I rather wonder, if the royals ever felt like prisoners.

The World Cup final, by the way, was today: Italy v.s. France. Another kind of freedom: being able to shout a loud "Evviva!!" when the last Italian penalty shot means the defeat and dashing of all French hopes for the trophy, in a cafe packed to the hilt with people whose silence at the slow motion repetition speaks in eloquent volume, and then having your hand shaken by a young gentleman next to you, who although visibly unhappy at the result without a trace of bitterness smiles and says to you: "Mademoiselle, congratulations."

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