Today we took a day trip …
This was an especially beautiful day, with the sun peeking through my favorite Magritte clouds and temperatures hovering right at 20°C. We woke up early, pulled on some light sportswear, packed our gear, and hopped into our trusty Evie who now has the voice of a cat compliments of Waze, which you may know, is a GPS application with many talents, including knowledge of where
police are on the lookout for speeding vehicles, where there are roadblocks and construction, and speaking like a cat, or at least the way that one would imagine a cat would speak if she could. For example, instead of just saying turn right at 850 meters, she says ”Turn right, Rrrrr! I sound like a real lion, pretty good, huh?” And when she puts you on the highway she ask you to “please stay in the sun”, and then she says “We’ve got enough time, I think I’ll take a nap.” And when she enters a round-about she says, “Take the third exit, meow, meow, meow!” When you arrive at your destination she purrs, “We're here, and now I can go inside and
rub my head on everything in the room.” Leave it to me to find a voice that sounds like a cat, and a black cat at that, just like Evie (EV), our Lexus! So, on this fine day, Evie navigated us to Versailles without a hitch, where we found a sweet spot in which to park, practically in front of the palace gates, a suitable place for such a beautiful ‘cat'. Yes, in the sun!
Ted & I walked through the courtyard and found the way out to the gardens. I was utterly gobsmacked to see gardens of Versailles in bloom, the trees in their seasonal splendor, and all the wonderful patterns of topiary shrubs everywhere we looked.
The fountains were full of water and French Baroque music played at intervals, making all as enchanting as could be. It was the first time we had been there for a whole-day visit, just short of 40 years ago.That first visit was in December of 1981, on a seasonably wet, dark, gray day.
We had taken a bus tour from Paris on our visit, right after our engagement. We sat directly behind our guide. In between tales of the royalty who had built and lived in the Palace and the Trianon, and all of the interesting historical tidbits, Ted managed to take advantage of the nearness of this lovely young French woman to speak to her in his eloquent French, asking her where the local people of Versailles went for lunch. When the bus stopped, Ted took me by the hand and lead me to the corner of the street. He put his arm around my shoulder and turned me to the left, and three doors down was a quaint, small blue 19th Century house with three steps leading up to a large white door. Since it definitely looked like a private home, and not a restaurant, Ted used the shiny brass door knocker to announce our presence. When the door opened, we were greeted by an attractive man dressed in a tuxedo! Yes, the kind with the tails. Ted was flabbergasted and he blushed as he apologized profusely in his formal French while nudging me backward toward the entrance.We were both dressed in jeans and sweatshirts and looked like drowned rats who had just scurried in from the rain. But the maître d' beckoned us further into the foyer and reassured us that we were most welcome. Over Ted's protests he insisted that we take advantage of the facilities upstairs where we were greeted by a woman in a white lace apron who handed us each a warm towel and showed us to the toilettes.
Each table was elegantly set, matching the nature of the clientele who were obviously upper middle class business men and women, all dressed to the nines. No one seemed to give us a second look and we soon relaxed into our comfortable chairs awaiting the menu.
Across the aisle from us, at another table centered in the same room, sat a couple who had been on the bus with us. They looked like the couple straight out of the famous painting “American Gothic,” but without the pitchfork.
It turned out that they had followed us after hearing Ted speaking French with the guide, certain that this man would lead them to a good place for lunch. Ted audibly hoped this would be alright for them. They replied that they were thrilled, because they were farmers from the midwest in the States, and had just retired after having saved all of their lives for a trip to France and a meal in a restaurant such as this one. As for we two, it was impossible to resist such an occasion at least once on our trip to properly celebrate our engagement in France, even if it did cost us a weeks grocery allowance. The menus came and Ted ordered delightful delicacies for both of us. Something indescribable called amuse bouche started off our feast, after which there was an amazing appetizer of some kind of fish that was almost to pretty to eat, an unctuous entrée of foie gras and à divine plat of duck a l’orange for two.The wine Ted chose, upon consultation with the sommelier, was an properly aged rouge, full bodied, and pricey.
We still have the bottle that we’ve use as a candle holder each year in memory of the occasion. After the main course, one waiter brought a simple lettuce salad and two other waiters rolled a three-story cart up to the side of our table.The cart was at least one meter wide and two meters long and it boasted dozens of cheeses of cow, goat and sheep’s milk. Being American, I had never seen a sight like this in my life, and had certainly never tasted any cheeses except American, cheddar, Swiss, and sometimes blue cheese in my salad dressing. Like an expert, Ted chose a sampling of cheeses that he thought I might like to try, as a third waiter brought us another basket of fresh warm bread, straight from the oven, one as crusty as my father in his old age. Ted quoted Charles de Gaulle on cheese and governing France and I giggled until my sides nearly split. When we had finished all that and 80% of the bottle of wine. We were easily enticed by the special deserts brought by in a glass domed cart. These were followed by petit fours, coffee and a silver plate of homemade chocolate truffles. Completely satiated and somewhat tipsy, we took off to locate our group in the Palace. Ted carried the remainder of the wine and called out “Marie, Marie” until a guard gently offered to hold our take-away wine at the exit, and politely pointed us in the direction of our group, about to return to the bus.
We had missed the Palace that year, but we had the most incredible three hour lunch either of us had ever had, and it gave us an experience of what those Kings and Queens had dined on so many years ago.But that was in another century!
This time, after wandering the gardens for hours and taking a train ride all over the grounds to check out where we might go to picnic and where to park next time we visit, we arrived at Ore, a Paul Ducasse restaurant located in one wing of the Palace on the second floor.
We had been there on another occasion when it had first opened. At that time, we were graciously invited to dine with some friends on the 14th of July, a few years ago. This time a light déjeuné concluding with an apricot/almond sufflée seemed just perfect before entering the the Palace across the courtyard.
There were so many jaw-dropping sights to take in, from one room to the next, including the famous hall of mirrors.
But what most attracted us on this occasion was a special exhibition that focused on the acquisitions of the past twenty years that completed the collection of the graphic arts cabinet at the Palace of Versailles.
"Drawings for Versailles, twenty years of acquisitions" was exhibited in Madame de Maintenon's apartments, and highlighted a hundred works in pencil, pastels, gouaches, watercolors previously kept in storage because of their fragility.
I couldn’t help but think back on the beautiful drawings Ted had accomplished while taking classes for the first time in his life, two years before the Pandemic made close contact in an unventilated atelier unwise if not impossible. However, lately Ted has given serious thought to finding a safer environment, and I can only keep my fingers crossed that he will continue to pursue his newly found talent one day; a talent that he might never have found had he not retired at this time in his life.