If you could speak what tales your tongues could tell,
You voiceless mirrors of the storied past!
Do you remember when the curtain fell
On him who learned he was not God at last? – “Hall of Mirrors,” EDWARD S. VAN ZILE
During the summer of 2012, between clicking away all the way from the Ponte Vecchio to Montmartre, Prague to Rotterdam, Berlin to Taormina, and Athens to Istanbul, the peripheries past the Carpathians, and back again, all the way up to the Sun God, Louis XIV’s magnificent chateau, I encountered a sight which left me a bit repulsed.
One of the images that romantics share about Paris, is of a clean and beautiful city. Traveling into the other arrondisements, I expected similar sights, only to be greeted by this:
Perhaps they ran out of wastepaper bins, I assumed. However, it was a bit ridiculous to see flowerpots turned into makeshift bins.
Imagine my shock, then, when I found this in the Sun God’s Palace, at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The Hall of Mirrors was crowded, and it was almost bumper to bumper traffic of humans, whilst loudspeakers blared to groups of Chinese tourists through every room.
My mother and I have long shared a desire to explore the Sun God’s lavish suburban residences. We were admiring, like many of the other tourists, a painting by Le Brun, when my poor mother was pushed very roughly by some tourists, who, to be very polite, were obviously exuberant in their desire to get the best possible photograph of Marie Antoinette‘s wigs. One of them pushed her so hard, that she fell to the floor.
I even recognized some of these tourists. They had been speaking Cantonese and sharing the RER train carriage with us, exchanging sandwiches and nuts as we all merrily made our way towards Versailles, past the the fake looking but very real first Statue of Liberty, along the Seine, on the second floor of a late afternoon ride on RER C.
While smarting from her bruises, my tiny mother simply pardoned these tourists, and said, politely, “They don’t know any better.” This pardoning, based on an easy judgment that the lack of understanding needed grace, was a bit beyond me.
I did not take so kindly to the folks in Louis XIV’s bedroom pushing me away from the mammoth bed that the Sun King had slept in. “Watch your step,” I hissed, as I walked away.
Regardless of this rather unpleasant introduction to some very uncouth tourists in Paris, I was still able to effectively and effortlessly engage, like many of the rest of you, with an imagined and nomadic global economy, clicking through and saving red strobe light tints, sepia, or black and white epitaphs of my journey, when by a sudden stroke of fate, the building began to close, and all the groups were ushered out first, leaving only a handful of us to see the Hall of Mirrors in its true grandiosity, instead of a claustrophobic mess.
Obviously, the gorgeous vinescroll chandeliers which hung from the two ends of the state apartments, separated by the passageway of mirrors, as part of an exhibit curated by Joana Vasconceles, added to the space in a rich manner, and were hung in the Peace Salon and the War Salon. Called “The Red and Black Independent Hearts,” The black one pictured here was created in 2006.
The work added a wonderful element to the exhibit, and upon examining the literature behind the exhibit, I discovered that they reproduce the Viana Heart, which is an emblematic theme of Portuguese jewellry, offering these in colors that traditionally symbolize death and passion.
Of particular interest to me too, was the fantastic display called “Marilyn,” created in 2011, an exhibit of stilettos made from saucepans with lids.
The origins of the tourists should not matter. What matters is that regardless of who we are, we should be allowed to enjoy our accessibility to local French culture harmoniously.
What many people fail to realize, whilst gleefully hoarding their cultural capital, is that there is basic etiquette, even while blazing the Victory signs in front of each centimeter of the Hall of Mirrors, like a belated Churchill finding freedom in the rather austere expressions of Antoinette’s blasé façades hanging in and around the nobility of the walls.
Unless travelers and tourists begin to embrace better sanitation, hygiene, and etiquette, future travelers to popular destinations such as Paris and Versailles are in for a rough time, despite the marvels which they will find current on display at the Sun God’s Palace.
Leaving Versailles in a mood paralleling the clouds rolling in, I was definitely mindblown by the arts I had seen.
However, as far as things went in terms of leaving behind a legacy, I wonder how Louis the XIV would have felt, to see that his palace and the surrounding city is being defaced by loud tourists who have no respect for property and value.
I agree with Octavio Paz’s marvelous observation that Paris is “the most beautiful example of the genius of our civilization.”
Perhaps it is time we conserve the beauty of Paris and its surrounding suburbs, instead of destroying it.
Thankfully, the day ended with us enjoying dessert in the shaded and cute little town that accompanies the Palace grounds. Thankfully, the throng of loud tourists did not venture there, and we were thankfully alone.