Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What's Left of Louis (#17)

We took the Metro and then the RER railroad to the country, a few minutes out of Paris to discover the splendor and sadness of Versailles. Everyone keeps talking about the grandeur of the place, but no one except my sister explained what a sad commentary it is about the French Revolution, actually French society in the late 1700s.
The Loueees - Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI - were very into majesty and magnifique-ness. The outside of breath-taking
Versailles, the palace built by Louis XIV to get away from the rabble of Paris, has the motto, "All for the glory of the nation." Well, was it for the glory of the nation, or for the glory of Louis?
There was a story lehavdil from the gemora that quotes a debate of the rabbis on the question of the advances brought by
Rome. One sage said that everything the Romans did was for their own selfish motives. Another said that everything the Romans did benefited the Jewish people (whether the Romans had planned so or not).
The Loueees spent kazillions of francs making their homes and their hometown
Paris, the most magnificent places possible. They built incomparable palaces, but they also dug new streets, built new houses, restored old ones, built schools and parks. Parisian parks are among the most incredible in the world - a feast for the eyes and a vacation for the soul. Louis XIV, who built Versailles, did everything to make sure that his reputation as the Sun King was unrivalled by any monarch anywhere. Yes, he built the leviathan Versailles, and he spent more money on luxury than any other king, but he also sanitized entire sections of the city and set up manufacturing plants.
The people had no food, and they lived in filth, but the king improved things for his own glory, and that helped the people eventually too (even if not in their lifetime). The
Versailles was lavish to the nth degree, and today it really is for the glory of France, because France is honored thanks to its beauty. People from all over the world come to see Versailles. Does that not bring glory to the nation?

And his love of the good life, encouraged the development of the culture that everyone loves so much about Paris - its theater, its cafes, its broad elegant streets. The city buzzed at night under Louis XIV and it still buzzes today. Of course, all this good life totally ignored the needs of the poor, and that brought "the deluge."
They say about the Arch de Triomphe that it is a tribute to the meglomania of Napoleon. So is the Louvre (Napoleon's palace) and so especially is
Versailles (Louis XIV’s invention).
We took the train ten minutes out of
Paris to the town of Versailles. A mass of people headed toward the palace, and we followed along. Pity the poor people who didn't have advanced tickets the way we did (my sister pre-ordered on line). Those non-ticketed folks surely had hours of waiting.
Nothing could have prepared me for the first sight of
Versailles. The golden gates and golden accents on the buildings were a true tribute to the Sun King, whose palace reflected the rays of the sun and radiated a golden brilliance to the entire surrounded area.
Think of a movie fairy tale. Imagine the palace. It cannot even compare with the real
palace of Versailles. The gate is gold with the king’s crown on top. Sculptures of royalty, soldiers and statesmen line the rooftops. Gold outlines the roof and the windows. Versailles drips in gold.

Have you ever been in a furniture store that sold Italian provincial furniture? As gaudy as that was, this is a billion times more, and this is the real thing.

The inside of Versailles is as enormous as you’d expect, but there’s a major surprise inside.

When the French mobs stormed the palace to murder all the aristocracy, they also took everything they possibly could from the castle. And being short-sighted crazed rioters, they burned and destroyed whatever they could. Many of the walls in Versailles are not real marble. Instead they are wood painted to look like marble. The period wallpaper is a copy. There is almost no furniture at all. Everything that could have been destroyed was.

The short sighted people could have tried the king and queen, and claimed Versailles for the Republic, but they were so full of hate for the terrible life the aristocracy had given them, they wanted to wipe out all memory of the royals.

In Israel’s recent history, we had a similar situation unfortunately. Israel foolishly expelled the Jews from Gush Katif and gave the Arabs there the greenhouses that had made Israel’s agricultural business billions of shekels. Worldwide philanthropists decided the Arabs must have the greenhouses to start new lives, and what did they do? Instead of beginning new farming businesses, the Arab mobs ransacked the hothouses and ruined everything they could, until there was nothing left.

I guess crazed mobs are always the same – even if hundreds of years and thousands of miles separate them.

What’s Left of Louis?

So, what’s left of Louis? Portraits of Louis and his family were collected and brought to Versailles. The curators of Versailles did a great job giving us an idea of what it was like then. They have tried to recreate the splendour of the State apartments.

Louis XIV’s bedroom and Marie Antoinette’s bedroom are on view. Did you know that anyone, including peasants, could follow the king around, just like they could follow Tiger Wood on the golf course? When Louis XIV said, “All for the glory of the Nation,” he meant it. And he let anyone come in and watch his doings.

So, folks could come into his bedroom, watch him get up and watch him go to sleep at night. Unfortunately the same went for Marie Antoinette, and she had an entire audience present around her bed every time she gave birth. Yuch.

There are portraits and statues of Louis XIV in almost every room, in almost every pose, in almost every costume, at almost every age. Louis at eight, Louis at ten, Louis as a Roman, Louis as a warrior, Louis as a statesman, Louis as the king, and Louis crowned by victory. Then, of course, portraits of the other Loueees and their families.

At first I thought that there could be no greater egomaniac than Louis XIV. Then I rethought the situation. Firstly, there was no CNN or Fox News. These paintings had to tell the story of his reign. Next, there were no Polaroids or cameras to capture their lives on film, so the court painter had to do the job. Next, perhaps Louis was like me, and he just loved pictures. I make my children pose in every which way and they’re used to it already.

So, Versailles is filled with mammoth paintings, some are 56 meters in diameter. But they say, “The bigger the painting, the more powerful the ruler.” Judging from the walls of Versailles, you’d think Louis was a pretty powerful guy. Judging from the all the destruction wrought on his palace, maybe he wasn’t.

Last note: The castles of London shower power and dignity. The palaces of Paris show self-indulgence and ultra-showiness. Quelle domage!

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