Versailles: Let Them Eat Brioche!

What, this old thing? It only took years to paint.

With only one full day to spend in Paris, I decided to go to Versailles. After all, it is definitely a palace that was built for show: awe-inspiring displays of all the wealth, glory and humanism that money can buy or gold can gild.

The last time I was in Paris, I walked and biked miles around the city over six days. So I thought going back might feel familiar, perhaps not as interesting as discovering a city for the first time. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself walking down streets that were hidden to me last time, or even to walk along a vaguely familiar street and realize, Right, this is where we had dinner then! It was pretty much the best of both worlds, since it was familiar enough that I had my bearings, yet new enough that there was still plenty to discover!

I had dinner with S, a friend from Columbia who is doing a dual-degree program in Paris. We ate at Les Editeurs, which was on the pricey side but delicious and has a lovely ambience especially for the literarily inclined! Afterwards, I met up with F, a friend who is from Paris though we met in London. It was fun to see and taste Paris from a local point of view! She recommended a dessert I hadn’t heard of and would probably not have tried, since the menu didn’t offer a description. Called a tarte Tatin, it’s a sort of upside-down apple tart. I was so stuffed by the end of the night—a permanent state of being when I’m in Paris!

I woke up early the next morning to go to Du Pain et des Idees, winner of the Best Baker award, before heading to Versailles. I’d been craving mouna, a butter brioche made with orange blossom. The recipe originates from North Africa; I call it the bread of friendship. The flavor is both subtle yet fully infused; it’s the perfect embodiment of the best flavor you can conjure when you hear the words “orange blossom honey.” It’s ambrosia. It’s amazing.

I was eating it on the train on the way to Versailles, and it was honestly so good, it was like the Gospel, as in, it’s so good, you just can’t keep it to yourself. As luck would have it, I was in a four-seater with L, D and M, a family from the States. We passed the mouna around again and again, breaking bits off the loaf like communion.

It really was that good. That’s why I call it the bread of friendship—it won me three instant friends :) I was glad for it too, because while I don’t mind sightseeing alone, doing it with others and making friends in the process is even better!

There were such crowds at Versailles! Lots of schoolchildren on field trips too.

One thing I’ve often thought as I’ve toured European museums is how amazing it would have been to have grown up with such richly preserved culture and history. The National Portrait Gallery in London, especially, is an absolute historical trove. Every major figure in British history lines its walls in chronological and subject-relevant order. To be able to experience the things you’re learning about in such an immediate way! What a treat. I hope these kids appreciate it.

Fancy, fancy, fancy. On the left: The Royal Chapel. On the right: the Hercules Drawing Room.

The Hall of Mirrors. The story goes that Louis XIV, “the Sun King” and a renaissance man who danced with agility, played instruments with regularity, shone upon his citizens, ruled pretty much singlehandedly and graced his empire with his existence, used to indulge in a little sing-song rhyme: L’etat, c’est moi! Meaning, “I am the state!”

In the spirit of Louis: C’est moi! My reflection in the famed hall of mirrors and light, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I.

Marie Antoinette’s bedroom. So apparently, the claim that she once said,”Let them eat cake,” referring to the peasants going hungry without bread, is contested by historians and biographers. The audioguide at the palace recasts her as a well-meaning, sweet Habsburg princess who was the unfortunate victim of revolutionary sentiment.

But you know, I’m willing to give Marie the benefit of the doubt even if she did say such a thing. The literal translation of the phrase actually would have been, “let them eat brioche.” And as mentioned above, brioche is a beautiful thing—I’m eating leftovers of my mouna as I write this! Maybe she just really wanted her citizens to have a taste ;)

A view of the grounds from the Latona Basin: it was one of those days, sunny and rainy at the same time.

The fountain is based on the mythology of Latona, the mortal mother of Apollo and Diana. When some peasants mocked her, she called on Zeus to avenge her honor, which he did by turning the mockers into reptiles. So atop the fountain you see Latona with Apollo and Diana, which the peasants-turned-reptiles futilely spew water, rather than insults, from their spouts.

M, D, L and I walked the length of the grounds together. It was incredibly peaceful compared to the overwhelming crowds inside the palace, which was nice but also sad to think that so few of those who went to see the palace came out to enjoy the grounds.

That being said, though, I wasn’t that impressed by the grounds or the gardens. For being a garden, there was too much dirt and shearing and taming of things. I felt the same way when I was at the Louvre—the over-trimmed trees and bushes look neutered. Trees are meant to be full and glorious! And where are the flowers? There was only one section of the garden that I liked—the King’s Garden—and that was only because it reminded me of an English garden.

I’m spoiled, living right next to Hyde Park. Nothing beats an English garden! :)

The Apollo Basin and Colonnade. The latter is a fake Roman ruin that Louis had built. I thought it was odd that so many of the palaces I’ve been to have had fake Roman ruins. It had to have come from somewhere! And where else but the palace of all palaces, Versailles.

At last, some flowers! Still not as nice as the ones in Hyde Park, though. One of these days, I’ve got to go for a leisurely walk in one of London’s parks with my camera. I’ve been jogging in Hyde Park often since the weather warmed up, but I haven’t taken the time to stop and smell (or photograph) the roses yet!


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