Thursday, September 10, 2015

Marcher où les rois (et reines) ont Tread

I find that the more I'm in a routine the more I feel part of the fabric, the world, the community. I don't feel Parisian. That's not what I'm saying. That would be laughable after three days. But I do feel more confident in my choices and abilities now after those three days. At least more so than when I arrived, a wide-eyed American, fresh off the plane for his first visit to Europe. 

I walk to the same Metro stop every day. I can connect to anywhere I want to go from that stop. I walk the same path, pass the same shops, and many of the same people each day. (Sounds a little bit like home, non?) I haven't started saying Bonjour on the street (I'm not sure that would seem anything but an intrusion), but with the recognition comes a comfort, a confidence...all gained by my routine. Of course, routines can be bad. They can be safe. They can mean you're in a rut. They might show you that you're too comfortable and need to shake things up a bit. 

I tend to need to shake things up a little more than a bit. I've travelled to Paris alone so I think I'm shaking...maybe even stirring...things up a lot. But in the shaking I've found a routine that gives me a sense of comfort and the necessary confidence to move forward with this experience. I guess sometimes we all need a routine. 

All that said, today was a day for trying, yet again, something new. This vacation might have its routines, but there is also something new, with total uncertainty, thrown in every day. I feel secure enough in my ability to navigate the Metro now. (The MTA should take some lessons in cleanliness, punctuality, regularity, and general efficiency from the French.) So today was the day I challenged myself to the RER (the French version of NYC's Metro North or LIRR) and took a trip outside of the City to Versailles. 

Do you ever look around and take notice of the people on the plane with you? Or the train when you're on vacation where the public transportation is a subway system? They are your unknown traveling companions. They're on the journey with you. As for the people on my RER today, many of them were on their way to experience Versailles, along with me, for the first time. Many of us were sharing an experience without even sharing a language.  

Those of you Keeping Up With this non Kardashian know that I had a dilemma with the ticket line at the Louvre yesterday. Well, today I asked the question and joined the line. It seems, however that I asked the wrong question. I asked if I was in the line for entrance to the Palace. The reply from my very-little-English-speaking responder was, "Yes." What I should have asked was if the people in the line already had tickets. I was in the line for entrance to the Palace, however, I was in the line with people who already had tickets. We couldn't buy  tickets once we got to the front. It wasn't a complete waste of time. I ran quickly to the short line for buying tickets, met some lovely people from Canada who had done the same thing as I, bought my ticket, then bypassed the long line with a VIP pass given to me by a lovely Palace security employee when she saw that I had waited in the wrong line. Score! Viva la France!

If I thought the Palaise Garnier was opulent and grand that was before I visited the Palace of Versailles. To live in this Palace as royalty, or family of (King's mother, sir?), or companions of (Ladies in Waiting, queens?), with grace and manners, and a bit of intrigue and mischief on the side, must have been, well, normal, I guess for the people who lived there. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to attend a party at the Palace let alone live there. 

Walking in the same steps (on the staircase, down the hallway, through the rooms) where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette walked is another surreal moment. It's part of the history of the world. Even if you're familiarity with Marie-Antoinette goes no further than Sophia Coppola's intriguing, fun, exciting film starring Kirsten Dunst, you have to know that this Palace is the stuff of dreams and fantasies. I mean even the word Versailles conjures ideas of some kind of dream world that saying Arlington can't conjure. Go ahead say it. Versailles! It's a little tingly, right? The former inhabitants are now merely images and stories in the pages of history books. And because of that history, walking through the rooms of that Palace was a thrilling moment. So it's 2015 and they've been dead for more than two centuries. So what. They once were there: they lived there, ate there, slept there,...had sex and gave birth there. 

To stroll through the modern day version of the gardens that Marie-Antoinette herself must have strolled through -- wearing her panniers -- brought to mind a stroll through the gardens in which The Marquise de Merteuil and company might have engaged in in Les Liaisons Dangeruese. Effortless late afternoon strolls in the crisp Septembre air to cool oneself after the heat of the day had subsided. Imagine the fanning fans. The perfume wafting on the breeze. Imagine the conversations and laughter; the gossip. Imagine the stolen kisses behind the high hedges that hid one from the prying eyes back at the Palace. I could imagine it all as I sat in the shade of one of those hedges in the Palace gardens. 

The Estate of Versailles -- the Palace, the Petit Trianon, and the Grand Trianon -- was just about too much opulence and French decadence for one to consume in a day. (But I did it!) The music rooms, the bedchambers, the rooms that used to be this but then became that depending on who used them during any given reign. They are beautiful palaces for sure. They reminded me of the White Elephants in Newport, RI, built by the wealthy Americans of the Gilded Age. They're lovely, grand palaces but they aren't very inviting. They're cold. The palaces of Versailles (especially the Petit Trianon) are cold if beautiful structures. They hold no idea of warmth that one might associate with a home. I don't mean literal heat. I mean the comfort and livability of ones home. Imagine going home to the house you grew up in or to visit your grandmother. Now imagine one of these palaces was that place. I guess it's all relative if that's the home you know. I could imagine a fantastic game of hide-and-seek, but running down the halls made of stone in the Petit Trianon would require sock covered feet and absolute silence (no laughing while trying to not be discovered either) otherwise the echo would give you away.

After a slight snafu with the Metro when trying to get back to Paris (the Metro ticket from my carnet (10 Metro tickets) didn't work. Turns out I needed an RER ticket when beginning the journey via RER instead of Metro) I got on the train. It was every-seat-taken-standing-room-only like the LIRR when I get on in Sayville every year when returning from Fire Island. It was, of course, rush hour when I reached the Metro. The first train was incredibly crowded. I decided to wait. (I would never do that in New York City.) Within two minutes there was another train. There's that regularity and efficiency showing itself again. I continued to stand, holding on to the pole supported and surrounded by a car full of Parisians. Most excitingly, many of them were the gorgeous Parisian men that I've become so infatuated with on this trip. Bonjour, Monsieur. 

Maintenant, si cela ne vous dérange pas, mes jambes sont fatiguées et je besoin d'un peu de vin!