The ceiling painted by Francois Boucher in the Palace of Versailles is still vivid in my memory as the starting point of our tour. The guide in her charming English said the painter “ suicided’ when the monarch couldn’t settle the bills, largely incurred on a pigment for a particular shade of blue. Much of Versailles is devoid of furniture and artifacts, which were looted by angry mobs during the French Revolution. Wealthy philanthropists are making a few replicas possible to conjure up elements of a vanished past. The Hall of Mirrors stands out for its magnificence, as well as its historical import as the place where the treaty of Versailles was signed, to bring an end to World War I and in victory’s biases to sow the seeds of World War II.
After our tour of the interiors, the famous gardens designed for Louis XIV by Andre Le Notre beckoned. Without a speck of colour from a single flower, they exuded the verdant majesty of landscaped trees. Fountains leaped amidst classical sculptures. Baroque music set the mood for this detour in time.
Post- lunch, the tour demanded some outdoor walking as we took in the more intimate royal quarters of the Grand and Petit Trianon. The ballroom looked familiar; I might have seen it in movies. As a girl, I had read many Jean Plaidy novels on the lives of French monarchs. It was an incredible feeling to be in the very setting where Louis XV made love to Madame du Pompadour and Madame du Barry. The guide referred to them delicately as “ The King’s favourites.” Marie Antoinette had played the harpsichord in the music room. I had my personal déjà vu- some of the furniture and setting of my drawing room had drawn from this ornate décor.
A further walk took us to where Marie Antoinette played out her shepherdess idyll, milking cows into porcelain bowls. A farmhouse ambience has been recreated, replete with animals and birds. These serene surroundings once knew the tumult and terror of the French Revolution.
I was conscious of a certain irony of history. The opulent lifestyles of insensitive monarchs had caused a famished populace to revolt in an earlier age. Today, vestiges of that very grandeur are a matter of national pride. Perhaps, the very descendants of that inflamed and impoverished mob benefit today from the substantial tourist income of these attractions. With the passage of time, the excesses of a previous era are the sustenance of another.