|I snapped this shot before |
entering the palace.
I wandered through the rooms of Petite Trianon for an hour. I saw the Receiving Room, where Marie Antoinette would entertain her guests by playing the harp. A harp stands in the same place. I walked through the bedroom where, first Madame du Barry and then the Queen, slept. I even ran my hands across the plaster relief of her interlocking initials. For a Marie Antoinette enthusiast, it should have been an overwhelmingly heady experience. And yet, I was uder-whelmed. I felt Marie Antoinette's spirit in the building, but it was distant and muted. As if looking at someone through the wrong end of a telescope.
I left Petite Trianon and headed up the path towards the Temple of Love. With each step, I felt a bit lighter. I was still a bit sad but not overwhelmingly so, and the feeling was lifting. I came to a fork in the road and decided to veer to the left, away from the Temple of Love. A copse of trees stood slightly to the right. I could see there was a slightly hidden path through the heart of the copse. I decided to follow it. It was quiet, the only sound was the slight rustling of leaves. In the distance, I could make out modern sounds - a leaf blower, cars, a jet. I stood in the copse and closed my eyes, waiting until the sounds faded away and only the rustling leaves were left echoing in my ears. It was peaceful and restorative. I opened my eyes and continued along the little path towards the distant opening. When I finally came to the opening, I could see a pond. Reflected in its surface was an octagonal marble building. Even distorted by the pond's ripple surface, it was a beautiful structure. I knew, without looking at my map, I had stumbled upon the Belvedere Pavilion.
It is at the Pavilion that I feel the happiest. I climb the steps and place my hand on the head of one of the lioness statues that surround the Belvedere. The statue is cool, despite the warmth of the day. I walk to one of the French doors and notice the tiny brass doorknob, weathered and worn but not tarnished. The white paint around the doorknob is bubbled and crackled, some pieces have fallen off leaving the wood bare and exposed. I find myself drawn to the doorknob. It is simple, unlike the massive and ornate knobs at the Chateau, and inviting. I can't resist wrapping my fingers around the knob. The brass is smooth and slightly cool against my palm. I am struck by the thought, "Marie Antoinette might have touched this very knob." A shiver runs up my spine, yet I feel oddly warm and satisfied.
Drawing my attention away from the knob and through the window, I notice the understated elegance of the inner-chamber. The walls are paneled white and painted with gold leaf. The floor is an intricate design of colored marble. Even though the furniture, devoured or destroyed during the Revolution, is missing, the room does not feel empty. Strong shafts of sunlight stream in through the doors and fill the chamber with glorious light. Shadows, made by the trees, dance gracefully across the floor. I wonder if Marie Antoinette watched the waving tree shadows? I wonder, too, if she appreciated the intrinsic beauty of the spot?
I have read, on certain Sunday's, Marie Antoinette would entertain her children at the Belvedere. Perhaps she sat on the marble steps, leaning her back against a lioness, and watched as the dauphin skipped rocks into her pond. If I remain very still, I think I can almost hear the soft, lilting laughter of her daughter, Madame Royale.
Marie Antoinette hosted magnificent night parties at the Petite Trianon. The grounds would be illuminated with lamps tucked in bushes and hung from trees. It takes little effort to picture the Belvedere, ablaze with torches, as the setting of a charming night festival. The sky would have been black and smooth, not a cloud to be seen. The stars would have twinkled above, contrasting the inky darkness like diamonds tossed on black velvet. In the magnificent The Private Realm of Marie Antoinette, by Marie-France Boyer, suggests Marie Antoinette's night parties may have been inspired by the paintings of Watteau. I find this suggestion very plausible. Watteau, a master of mood and atmosphere, had the ability to simplify the confusion of nature. Orange leaves, brown branches, green grass, blue skies. In Watteau's hands, the garishness of nature was transformed to subtle shifts of light and dabs of blended color. Marie Antoinette's pavilion is very Watteau-esque. Nature is harnessed by the simple building and pared-down setting. Attending a night festival at the Belvedere must have been a surreal experience, stirring and yet soothing.
The young queen (she was only 37 years old when she died), her life filled with the turmoil of court politics, enjoyed innocent diversions. Rehearsing plays, hosting musicals, playing on see-saws, betting on games of chance, engaging in games of blind man's bluff, these were some of the things Marie Antoinette did to remain stirred. Once, when the Austrian Ambassador advised her against keeping such a frantic schedule. She sadly responded, "I am terrified of being bored."
Boredom. It would aid to her undoing. Her pursuit of pleasure and stimulation caused her to be terribly short-sighted. She failed to grasp the complexities and ramifications of her actions. Although her spending was far less than that of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, it was still great enough to raise the ire of the French. Night festivals, splendid ball gowns, a charming little hamlet, the expenses were grudgingly noted by many. Unbeknownst to her, Marie Antoinette came to Versailles dragging a rope behind her. The French were not fond of foreign-born queen's, especially ones of Austrian descent. Building the Belvedere added just one more knot in the noose that would hang her.
And yet, I adore the Belvedere. I love the gentle slope of the lawn, the ripples in the pond, the coolness of the marble. I love the way it stands upon a rock, higher than the Petite Trianon, as if announcing it's autonomy. For me, the Belvedere offered a brief but welcomed respite from oppressive emotions. My odd melancholy evaporated when I took the doorknob in my hand, but returned as soon as I descended the steps of the Belvedere. I am a romantic, it is true. I am ruled by emotions far more than logic. I am passionate not pragmatic. That being said, I also have to admit, I have always looked skeptically at people who have claimed to have been visited by ghosts. I figured, since I had never had a paranormal experience neither had they. My visit to Versailles and the Belvedere altered my opinions about the paranormal. I am not claiming to have seen the Ghosts of Versailles, I did not perform a seance and conjure up the spirit of Marie Antoinette. There was no warping of time or traveling through dimensions. I simply felt a strong, inexplicable negative emotion the moment I entered Versailles. The emotion was lifted, as if someone had removed a heavy cloak from around my shoulders, when I walked around the Belvedere. The cloak of emotion was placed back on my shoulders when I left the Belvedere and continued my tour through the grounds of Versailles. I have no explanations for my shift in mood, though I like to think that, for a brief time, I shared emotions with a woman I have long admired.