dimanche, décembre 21, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 9: Versailles! l'Astier


We had waited until Carla got here to go to Versailles, despite that fact that she’s seen the place before. The difference for her was that, this time, there was a Jeff Koons exhibit going on. I had already gone to see it a couple of months ago, but it was pretty amazing and I was more than willing to take them all there again.

So we got up rather early and headed over to Versailles by RER, but by the time we got there, there was already a long lineup to buy tickets to get into the palace. We resigned ourselves to waiting for a long while in line, but then a young employee came out with a little loudspeaker and announced that those interested in guided tours could buy their tickets without waiting in line. That was all my increasingly impatient mother needed to hear, and off we went to buy guided tour tickets.

Alas, it was a bit misleading: you could buy your tickets right away, but the guided tour we were booked for was scheduled one hour later. Nonetheless, we were now free to wander around the gardens behind the palace before returning to the entrance for the tour.

The guided tour had the advantage of giving us access to the royal apartments—most of which are inaccessible to regular tourists—but the purportedly informative commentary provided the guide herself was reduced by her odd accent. She had clearly not been prepared to conduct the tour in English, as she had started in French until another employee jumped in and corrected her. The main problem with her accent was that she constantly mixed up vowel quantities, causing her to utter phrases that sounded absurd. For example, “fifty” became “fufty” and “leave” became “love” or sometimes “loaf.”

This finally surfaced as an issue when the tour guide pointed to a chest of drawers and said that King Louis XIV kept his “needle” collection there. My sister put up her hand and asked for clarification:

“Needles? He collected needles?”


“Like for sewing?”

“Eh, non….like coins and medallions…”

I cut in: “Medals, she must mean medals.”

There was moment of embarrassed relief as the entire group of confused-looking Anglophone tourists had a collective “A-ha!” moment. No, Louis the XIVth didn’t collect embroidery tools.

The most amusing moment from the tour was near the end, when the tour guide took us into the palace chapel. She got us past the barriers at the chapel door and into the chapel proper, where we stood in the middle of the space while the guide gave the last commentary of the tour. She muttered something about everybody staying close to her, but within half a minute, several people had started walking around the chapel. Some of them started taking turns having their picture taken at the altar, which my mother observed with some horror, as the chapel was still active and the altar should therefore be considered a sacred space. Eventually, one of the security guards near the entrance of the chapel noticed what was going on and came running over, interrupting the guide’s commentary with high-pitched French noises of outrage. Rather than apologize to the guard for her group’s behaviour or doing something to stop it, she just shrugged her shoulders and said that she couldn’t understand why these tourists would think it was OK to do that. The tourists involved were definitely being insensitive, but part of that was probably ignorance; not all tourists to France are practicing Catholics, and not all of them will automatically understand which parts of a chapel are sacred and which are not.

Anyway, after that odd moment, the guided tour was over and we were left to tour the public parts of the palace on our own. You can see some photos and more detail about the Jeff Koons exhibit in my original post on it. As before, I was really charmed by it, and my sister loved it. My parents were both endlessly amused by it. At one point, I overheard a scandalized Frenchwoman declare that the juxtaposition of Koons’s lux-pop art with Versailles was “obscene,” which we all agreed was precisely the point. Considering what life was like in France for non-nobles during the eighteenth century, Versailles’ opulence is truly obscene. Pretty, yes, but also obscene.

Once we were done with Versailles, we got back on the RER and headed into Paris. Our reservation for dinner was at 21h00, so we still had some time to kill. We got out around Saint-Michel and walked across the islands again, stopping at a café on Ile St.-Louis for some mulled wine before walking the remaining distance to the Marais. After a short pit-stop at my family’s apartment, we loaded onto the subway and headed to my neighborhood for dinner at Astier. Once again, here’s the point-form review of the resto:

  • This was the first time I’ve eaten here.
  • The overall theme is very “homestyle” and sometimes rustic, with heavy meat dishes and stews. Multiple orders of one dish often come in large shared casserole dishes.
  • However, their wine cellar is pretty kick-ass. You could easily triple your bill with wine if you’re not careful.
  • The look of the place is also homsetyle, with hardwood everything and red-checkered napkins.
  • Our server was very chatty and friendly (and a bit cute).
  • I had some sort of smoked sausage from Lyon called a sabodet [which I have since discovered is made from pig head and pig skin!] as an appetizer. I think the girls had an endive salad of some sort.
  • My dad had a braised beef shoulder, while the rest of us had chicken fricassee.
  • I can’t remember dessert… I think tarte tatin was involved for some of us…
  • We had a Châteauneuf-du-Pape (red wine from the Rhone region) that tasted nothing like the wines that usually come from that region. Still delicious, but surprising.

And at the end, we crawled home, painfully full.

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