Michael Jackson at Versailles

“I’d like to know who approved this”, my friend David said today of the Jeff Koons exhibition at the Versailles Palace. “I mean, I quite like his work”, he added, but wondered why this world-famous building was deemed an appropriate space to exhibit Koon’s famous statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

“Maybe it’s because of the extravagance of the work. Or maybe he was influenced by Versailles?”, I wondered out loud, trying to understand myself. I mean there’s a certain extravagance in his work, and he uses a lot of gold leaf, but the works did seem kinda odd when exhibited against furnishings and art work with a definite eighteenth century feel to them.

As it was my final full day in France, David suggested we should visit Versailles. “Sure, why not?”, I thought to myself, recognising that deep inside I only had a knowledge of the palace because that’s where the peace agreement for the First World War was signed. Until I did some reading, I didn’t really know it was the home of the royal family for over 100 years, and that at one point in history, about five-thousand people had lived there.

With the memory of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in my head, I wasn’t prepared for the size of the palace and the grounds. Nor was I prepared for the huge amount of tourists who were there today. Thank goodness David knew some of the shortcuts to try, and we avoided queues all of the day.

After lunch we went on an English language tour of the royal family’s private chambers during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. As you might expect, they were quite lavish, though not as outrageous as I thought they might have been. Our tour guide, who was excellent, also gave us an insight in the human face of these royal figures, and of their own idiosynchrasies.

The story, for example of Louis XV (I think) who failed to take communion for over thirty years because he didn’t feel he could because of his own infidelity was a fascinating one.

As was the story of the transformation of the royal guards from being made up solely of foreigners (because they had no allegiances) to being made up solely of French aristocracy (as a good PR exercise for the many different areas of France, and to help the French aristocratic families who were finding things financially difficult).

Unfortuntely, we couldn’t visit the private domaine of Marie-Antoinette, due to bad weather. As in Sydney, France had a terrible storm in 1999 which the authorities had failed to warn about. “Ever since then, they’ve over-reacted to any storm warning”, David told me, echoing the experience we have back home.

With the day cut short, David dropped me at the train station and we bid each other a fond farewell.

On my arrival back in Paris, I called in for a glass of wine to celebrate my final hours here. As I walked in to the nearby brasserie, my attempt to order a simple glass of wine failed. As in high school, when I elected to learn German not French, I’ve realised once again French as a language totally eludes me. I know the words, I hear the pronunciation, but everything just comes out wrong. So I’m back in the hostel, resting up and updating my blog.

Tomorrow is a really big day for me: I’m leaving to come home. I can scarcely believe my time is nearly up. A hideously long flight awaits me, broken up by a couple of days in Hong Kong, which I hope will be just the right medicine to ensure a smooth transition back to life in Sydney.

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