Marie Antoinette and I share the same birthday. November 2. Her’s was in 1755, which placed her in an unfortunate political, social, and eventually fatal, historical situation.
Yesterday we went to Versailles; got an early train, and spent the entire day there. Up at seven, which is very, very early in Paris, where the sun doesn’t appear until eight-ish. At home, in New Mexico, we get bright sunlight all day, sometimes as early as 5:15 a.m. The winter days are clear and light, too. I didn’t realize I had seasonally affected disorder until it went away.
There are very few things I believe in. Not God, not UFOs, not Bigfoot or Astrology, Past Lives, Karma or most cases of Lupus. Sorry to all my Sagittarius, Lupus, and Yeti friends.
But I know that some seemingly strange things are real, observable and quantifiable.
Not the traditional old-school religious Feng Shui, but the new age, architectural form which claims that the arrangement of structures and windows and furniture influence the people who use built environments. It’s real. I can walk into an apartment and immediately feel good and at home. Sanctuary. Comfort. The way light enters the room through the windows is important as well as the placement of the furniture, colors, and airflow. I appreciate clean surfaces. I used to think all a room needed was an open bar, but I was wrong. Once I sobered up, I realized that angular furniture, ugly wallpaper, and shag carpet were contributing to my hangovers.
Snicker if you will, but the smells of pine, lavender, cinnamon, garlic and fresh bread change my mood as quickly as a shot of brandy and a line of coke. Several years ago I received a good deal on a terrific room on the 68th floor of the Swissotel in Singapore. It cost a load of dough even with the discount, but it came with an Aromatherapist. I laughed it off for a few nights and then I began going through the aroma menu and choosing lemon, rose, or musk. When the nice aroma lady dropped in, around 8 p.m., she’d note my selection and set up a little oil lamp. I enjoyed it immensely and found that I relaxed and was calmer, even though, with the discount, I was still paying around $400 a day for the room. It totally works.
After living in New Mexico for six months, I wondered if it was the right move. Lots of busted 12-packs on the roadside, crazy goddamned dogs, and a broad cross section of whacked out people contributed to my unease. I was a long way from my California comfort zone. Alcoholism and drug addiction, which I hoped I’d put behind me, were prevalent, and there was no Italian food.
The natural beauty was abundant, though, and I could achieve silence and relaxation and solitude with little effort. I have a quiet home with terrific views and the pine forests are about 20 minutes away by car. I like a little snow and it never gets too hot. Plenty to like, plenty to dislike, same as everywhere. Even with the litter and the dysfunctional government and limited medical services, I felt good almost all of the time; much better than I thought I would.
I was seeing a doctor for some reason, a knee problem, blood pressure, flu, and I told him that I wasn’t all that secure in my move to New Mexico, but I felt great, healthy, happier.
“It’s the sun. We get lots of sunshine here. You probably have seasonally affected disorder, depressed in fog and rain and overcast. We don’t have much of that, and you’re experiencing the benefits of vitamin D and long hours of sunlight.”
It has rained in Paris for most of the past three weeks. I was beginning to become depressed with the low, darkgray skies and though Paris is architecturally incredible, it’s a 19th century city and crowded, so Feng Shui and private space are impossible considerations. For the past week, however, the weather’s been phenomenal. Bright blue skies over the Seine, a few pink clouds behind Notre Dame in the evening and the trees are changing color. It’s picturesque as hell, and I like walking around the city without an umbrella.
A few years ago we went to Versailles on a sunny, warm September Sunday and it was so mobbed that I took one look at the outside of the chateau, turned around, got on the train and went back to the city. I gave it another try yesterday and, though it was foggy, it remained dry, and cool, and the palace was oddly uncrowded. We bought tickets and explored the overdone rooms, incredibly painted ceilings and gilded staircases. We could wander around without being crushed, shoulder-to-shoulder in small spaces with thousands of other visitors. Nice. The Versailles Chateau is a world heritage site and it should be. It’s also and accurate indictment of the monarchy and what can happen when a few people have too much power and money. I don’t approve of the brutality that followed the Revolution, but I completely understand it. As we walked through chambers of riches I initially found myself getting bored. In my mind I was chanting, “Seen it, don’t care, more crap, seen it, familiar, waste of time, don’t care, crap.”
Then I got pissed.
“How could these dipshits have so much? I mean, they were born into it, it’s not like they ever goddamned worked. Concentration of wealth is dangerous and deadly. I’m glad they were murdered and guillotined. Fuck em, I’d have been in the front lines dragging them out of their beds with their wives and children, this crazy shit has to stop!”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t just saying this in my mind.
It was time to explore the Gardens of Versailles.
The more than three square miles of forests on the grounds of Versailles are landscaped and aromatic and perfect. Entry is free during the off-season. It’s like an insane saint’s image of heaven or a desperate attempt to recreate John Milton’s lost Paradise. There is still plenty to hate out in the rolling gardens, such as the nice little pink marble palace that Josephine got in her divorce settlement from Napoleon and Marie Antoinette’s estate, where the soon-to-be-headless fruitcake built a little hamlet with a mill and inns and towers. She used to get done up like a shepherdess tending pre-washed sheep and milking hand-picked cows. I am not kidding when I say I walked around for five hours, breathing in the sweet aromas of grasses and flowers, feeling the light as the sun broke through the fog. Don’t tell me about Feng Shui, either. These thieves had it down with the winding pathways, mazes, ponds and trees, even a meadow for Marie Antoinette’s flock. It was like being inside of a Monet or Cézanne. And it was almost real; real enough for me, anyway, after the expanding rage motivated by the opulence and undeserved wealth and power that the chateau represented. I know that the grounds were just the front yard of the ruling morons, but there were lovely places where I could gratefully forget the politics of the past and present.
I can’t completely understand why I keep coming back to Paris. It’s one of the personal mysteries that I have given up trying to figure out. I love it here; the size, history, culture, art, food, all of it, even the sometimes disgusting smells and the dark rain and the crowded, unaesthetic metro. There is no reason why I should feel so at home here, but I do.