Thursday, 27 August 2009
There are no kitchens at Versailles.
English tours of palaces, castles and stately homes show visitors where the servants lived and worked. That's where most of us see ourselves. We know, logically, that we wouldn't be the ones in the fancy dresses. We'd have been taking orders, making things, clearing up after grand parties and making do on too little sleep.
But in Versailles, cooking was seen as messy and vulgar. Meals were transported from a huge building in the town to be reheated, tasted for poison and served. Even in Le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's modest mansion in the park grounds, there was a room for reheating the meals. And in the farm and model village she created, there's a whole building dedicated to rechauffage - reheating.
The farm and village created for Marie Antoinette has a picturesque unreality, although there was a real farmer who has to provide eggs and milk for the queen's dairy. Everything is clean and fake. The houses, dovecote, mill and so on may seem miniature compared to the vastness of Versailles. Perhaps Marie Antoinette really believed that this was how peasants lived as she and her friends played at being poor but it's Disneyfication before Disney. Versailles left me marvelling at the remoteness of the French monarchy but the little fake village, constructed so prettily around a carp-filled lake, sickened me. I was also reminded of Poundbury.
There was a gift shop, of course, selling mementos, mostly of Marie Antoinette. And the real farm has become an animal sanctuary where sheep, cows, goats, rabbits and donkeys enjoyed plentiful feed, sunshine and admiring glances. Nearby, horses graze and a couple of farm carts - tumbrils - stand empty, ready for use.