Going to Versailles on such a day would seem to be a good way to avoid the crowds. Think again. The place was packed. Granted that despite the high chance of rain it was essentially a gorgeous day with a brief 30 minute interlude of wind and rain. Although who knows if actual rain would even have deterred the determined and inspired international tourists. I wonder if Versailles is ever anything other than crowded. Maybe in the heart of winter. I will have to check, picking the worst day of the winter to go see how crowded it is. (We know I probably won’t do this, I’m just trying to say that I could barely believe just how crowded it was.)
Having been on the metro during rush hour, I can honestly say that the mass of people exiting the Hall of Mirrors was way more impressive (in a bad way) and claustrophobia-inducing than even the worst metro I have been on. Taking waddling, shuffling steps as the malodorous crowd strains to get through a single door is not the ideal way to appreciate the imposing Throne room or the luxuriously decorated Queens chambers. Yet it remained impressive nonetheless.
The Montaigne essay this time around focused on courtesy, manners, and formality, with particular attention to the game of receiving guests that kings and nobles used to play. It is somewhat appropriate considering the visit to Versailles and the number of guests the palace receives every day. One has to wonder what Louis XIV would think of the touristic nature of his grand palace. Would he appreciate it as a way of showing off his power and eminence to as many people as possible? Or would he rather keep entrance to his palace strictly regulated so that guests could be properly awed by the palace’s architecture and decoration rather than by the sheer number of people who come to see the palace every day? Because when you spend time marveling at the number of people who have come to see the palace, precious attention has been reallocated from what should be the primary attention to the king’s palace and his power.
Versailles would be more impressive if one really had to work to make it inside—if one had to earn one’s invitation. Then one could boast of having been admitted to where so (relatively) few had been admitted, compounding the inherent splendor with the allure of exclusivity. “Have you been inside Versailles? Oh, you haven’t? That really is a shame, because it is so beautiful.”
But of course, I won’t say that I wasn’t glad to be able to get in free of charge, only having to wait in a line to pass through a metal detector—not having to petition and lobby my way into the palace. (My awe of power wouldn’t be enough to drive me to such exertions.)