Today is a Monday and most museums in Paris are closed. We’re keen for a break from the city anyway so we catch a train to Versailles. Although the Chateau is not open today, the gardens are, and this suits us well.
We walk in and to the right of the Chateau’s golden gates, as we walk over the cobblestones my mind goes back to the last time I was here. It was ten years ago and I was with a friend I am no longer in contact with. I remember how icy the path was, and how afraid I was of slipping over. I think about my friend, what she might be doing now, and search my mind for memories of our first visit here. Did we share a laugh or was it all very serious? We pass under and arch and out into the gardens. To our left is the Chateau, on our right and in front of us, the extensive gardens.
We walk first around the Chateau, looking down on the manicured lawns and gardens that surround it, before walking down the main stairs that lead to a large fountain currently being restored. Here, we head left and amble through the mazes which lead begin here and emerge further down on the long path that leads to the grand canal. We walk until we reach a large pond, at its centre, a horses and a chariot rider are emerging from the water.
We cross over in front of the fountain and enter a small walled courtyard. In it, we find a restaurant but I suspect this might once have been a stable. It’s a long narrow stone building, with a trough running the length of the far wall. Classical music plays gently in the background. It make we want to hear more so I get on the internet and book us in to a concert this evening in Sainte-Chapelle. On the back of yesterday’s chocolat chaud success, we order one here. It’s not quite as good but it’s still excellent. We decide to return here for lunch, but first we’ll walk the gardens some more.
Back in the garden we turn turn the right and move in the direction of the Grand and Petit Trianons. We walk along wide dirt paths, lined with shady trees. It’s quiet here and very peaceful. There are enough people around that we don’t feel like we’ve been deposited on a desert island, but not so many that we their presence or have to rub shoulders with them.
When we reach the Trianons we discover that their gardens are closed. I’m a little disappointed; on the map it looks like the paths here ramble, ideal for strolling. We turn and walk down to the canal and start heading back towards the chateau (and lunch), slowly strolling under the chestnut trees by the water, interspersed with small topiary bushes that have been meticulously coiffed.
After lunch we explore the last section of the garden, which we have not yet experienced, before taking a few moments to warm ourselves on a bench in the sun by a fountain. We then head back to the train station and home to Paris.
I’m looking forward to the concert tonight for two reasons. First, music always sounds better in a church or chapel; somehow it brings me a feeling serenity and calm. Secondly, the concert is at Sainte-Chapelle, one of Paris’ sights I’ve not yet made it to. This has been a visit ten years in the making (I didn’t get here last time I was in Paris either) and the idea of finally seeing it is exciting.
There are about thirty or forty guests for tonight’s concert, and we all shuffle into the chapel. A few people, I must admit my Mum and I included, whip out their cameras to take some photos. It’s much smaller than I had imagined, and I’m immediately glad that I get to experience it in this somewhat intimate setting, rather than shuffling past with hundreds of other people during the regular opening hours.
It seems that tonight’s performance involves ‘flutes’ (better known as a series of recorders), violin and harpsichord. The concert begins with a single flute playing, the music floating through the chapel as the flautist approaches the temporary stage at the front. When he reaches the front, he switches to a larger flute before suddenly whipping a very small flute out of his jacket pocket. For a moment, I think perhaps I’m in a pantomime.
The other two musicians join the flautist and as they play I take in the scene around me. I let my eyes drift up to the stained-glass windows that make up at least half of the space between the floor and ceiling, which is painted a navy blue with tiny gold stars. As the light outside changes with the setting of the sun, the colours most noticeable in the windows change. First blues, then reds, then the greens, and finally the blues again.
I take in the small nested archways behind the musicians. They’re made of carved, gilded and painted wood and stone, with tiled borders and painted ceilings. The rich colours and textures of the different materials make it even more interesting to look at.
I shift my attention back to the musicians and as the music crescendos so do the flautist’s eyebrows. In response the violinist is like a rock; immovable and serious. The pianist is about as old as his harpsichord, his skin has a somewhat translucent quality and his head reminds me of a light bulb. The music is good but honestly, I can take or leave a harpsichord and a flute. Violins, on the other hand, I love. They don’t so much sing as weep, whether tears of joy or sadness, to me a violin always produces such emotive music.
The violinist plays a solo piece, or perhaps the harpsichord is accompanying him. I’m not sure, I can’t remember now, but my focus is on the violinist anyway. The piece he is playing is about a series of animals and finally, the stoic expression of the music cracks, he starts to look like he’s enjoying himself, swaying with the music, leaning forward in some parts, smiling in others. He plays music for a chicken, a rooster, and my personal favourite, a cat. The violin whines or ‘meows’ a number times, and I can picture the lazy swagger of the kitty were it here in the room.
As the concert draws to a close with a Vivaldi piece, I’m reminded of a massage I went to with Mum once, when she thought that bringing along her Nigel Kennedy CD of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was preferable to the didgeridoo / running water / bird music provided by the massage parlour. I agreed with her, until we reached the percussion section half way through. This memory always makes me want to laugh, and as the lights are turned back up and the musicians accept the audience’s applause I have a massive grin on my face.
This has got to be one of the best ways to see Sainte-Chapelle. It’s intimate, atmospheric, and you are given about an hour to sit and really absorb all the detail within the chapel, with background music.
As we walk in the direction of the metro which will take us home, we catch the end of a beautiful Paris sunset, the sky beautiful pink and purple colours.