“…but now we must cultivate our garden,” from Candide by Voltaire

I woke under the heat of the tardy French sun. Disoriented for a moment, I observed the square trees, the swans and rowboats in the Grand Canal. I listened as children spotted fish (poison) or ran through grass chasing a ball. A picnic and a nap should be a part of every day—especially in surroundings like this.

The view from the Palace to the Grand Canal gives some idea of the breadth of the grounds, but there is so much more here. Labyrinthine as a whole, Versailles’s gardens also feature labyrinths and fountains depicting animals from Aesop’s fables (to entertain the children in the past).

Bees and birds (and cats and rats, but not as many) thrive here even as tourists swarm. Two-hundred and ten thousand flowers (and nearly as many trees) seduce us to trek deeper into these colossal woods in search of the Belvedere, the Grotto, and the Temple of Love.

Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake

Having visited many museums in the past couple of weeks, Versailles, at first, was not as impressive until I reminded myself that we were hiking through a golden residence brimming with treasures, and we were only able to view two of the floors of the Palace and a fraction of the rest of the compound.

Fortunately, some of the paintings and scale models of the grounds helped us get an understanding of what we’d seen as well as how much of the collection we were missing.

The ornate furniture, the enormous portraits, and the gold tips outlining the frames and architecture are monuments to the Sun King’s (Louis XIV) obsession for excess.

Joana Vasconcelos Versailles

Joana Vasconcelos Versailles

Joana Vasconcelos has created a collection that fits in Versailles. Her attention to the details of this space are impressive. Take the marble lions, Guards, she has upholstered with perfect (doily!) covers or the ostrich feather and Swarovski crystal embellished helicopter she has landed in the midst of a gallery.

For the garden, she has created an enormous teapot and vase. She has two pendant hearts; one black, one red. On the way out the door, she offers her own version of stained glass. And, her enormous high heels, composed of pots (and their lids) and titled Marilyn, remind us that this exhibition is both pleasing and meaningful.

To meet Vasconcelos and get a taste of her work, go to: http://www.vasconcelos-versailles.com.

Lost

Lost

On the busy street it is difficult to hear the metal fall to the ground (or maybe it was in his hand the whole time), then he fakes finding a gold ring, shows it to you to confirm that it is indeed precious. You have found something together. His fingers are too big (or he is forbidden from wearing jewelry by religious custom or he’s willing forgo his share of the discovery – for a fee).

You are probably carrying a camera; your attire betrays you, or maybe it’s the fear on your face that pleads, “I don’t know a lot of French—yet.” You’re in the Grand Boulevard area of Paris, on your way to the Musee D’Orsay.

You’re wondering if you’ll be able to differentiate Manet from Monet, whether Renoir is as impressive in person as the print you remember from your in-laws’ bedroom. You have no idea that you cannot distinguish this man from the hordes of pickpockets who’ve had their sights on you.

Amour

Amour

French: Il n’y a qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé.

English: There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.

–George Sand

In addition to stilling the swans and rowboats in Bois de Boulogne, the smoking moped riders and women with toy dogs, the startling architecture and art, M is cataloguing Paris’s various lovers in hot embraces and unusual intertwining. They are all around us, and they have no concern they are being documented.

When one man heard we had never visited Paris before, he said, “Welcome to your second honeymoon.” People seem to be honeymooning everywhere. In fact, we have seen six brides posing across from the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and on various bridges in a variety of scintillating dresses and towering shoes. A photographer and his helper (and the groom!) trail each like paparazzi to fold her into a variety of poses and further into the depths of her dress.

The railings of the Pont des Arts (a bridge that crosses from the left bank to the Louvre), above the Seine, contain thousands and thousands of padlocks, cadenas d’amour. Lovers go to the bridge, fasten the lock (adorned with names, dates, messages), and toss the key into the river to symbolize everlasting love.

This evening a fifteen-member ska band appeared on the lovers’ bridge, their brass reflecting the setting sun, their playing better than their singing, their love for this art form filling the almost autumn sky.

Illumination

Illumination

Two nights ago, we returned to the Eiffel Tower in the dark. On the hour after nightfall (nine), the Tower lights up. It looks like thousands of tiny flash bulbs are going off all over the structure. I exclaimed, “Look, it is taking pictures of us!”

During the display, two small girls (probably six and eight) tried to take M’s phone (he had put it down between us as he was using his Nikon). They instigated a form of shell game in the dark; they put some advertisements, as in a grocery circular or something similar, on the grass and were pointing at things they wanted. It was as if we asked them to compile a shopping list, but we had not invited them into our space. In the end, after M confronted them, one put her hands above her head. In the confusion, one must’ve dropped the phone because it was close by in the grass. This all happened in less than two minutes, and then M returned to taking photos.

There are actual shell games played on the route to the Tower (for willing participants and fifty Euro a game). There are men selling key chains, shooting stars, and tiny lighted Eiffels that alternate primary colors in the night sky. In the grassy area where people recline on the cool lawns to watch the light show, other men hawk beer and champagne over our audible awe.

There are souvenirs everywhere. My favorites are the glimpses of the Eiffel as we emerge from a tunnel, round a corner, look up from the dark.

Vert France

Vert France

The restrooms have air dryers and low flow flushing options. Most restaurants don’t offer plastic water bottles. There are large green containers on the sidewalks in many parts of the city to collect bottles. I have seen waiters, as part of their duties, leave restaurants to deposit containers in these receptacles.

In most grocery stores, one has to has her own shopping bag or pay 0,30 Euro (about forty cents for a sturdy reusable, plastic bag), or more for a fancy one depicting landmarks of Paris.

One Metro stop (Palais Royal) features an exhibit on the importance of recycling. Recycling leads to innovation and artful reuses of everyday items. Consequently, the display is both pleasing and meaningful.