Château de Versailles, encore

My first visit to the Palace of Versailles was last year, on the first Sunday in November. It was cold and windy and the flowers were all dead, the trees skeletal and bare, the grounds lush with mud and deep green topiaries, statues cold and stark. My most recent visit came earlier in a warmer autumn, and the grounds were still in full summer tourist season swing. This meant opulent fountain shows, beautifully manicured landscaping, bright sprays of colorful flowers, and a slightly-odd-slightly-amazing Baroque soundtrack that echoed all throughout the gardens. The weather also meant that we could delve deeper into the gardens and see more of what was once a display of French aristocratic power and is now a display of French cultural superiority. As I was the first time I saw the palace and its grounds, I was blown away by the opulence and expansiveness of it all. But this time, with a bit more of a knowledge base on French politics and history, I imagined Versailles not from Marie Antoinette’s perspective, but from the perspective of the gardeners, groundskeepers, servant girls, and guildsmen that worked there. I thought about the extravagant feasts the aristocrats used to have, served plates and plates of dishes cooked by chefs that would eventually establish the legacy of French cuisine, in front of an audience in order to display their wealth and status. When the revolution ended, these chefs were released from their monarchical duties, and the French restaurant was born. The history of the storied French restaurant began in revolution, as so much else in French history, in an attempt to bring aristocratic finery to the masses. There’s a bit of an insight on French culture for you – finery and sophistication as a national right.