Last Sunday I had the pleasure of visiting with an old friend in Paris. She was passing through a bit of Europe and it was wonderful to catch up a bit over dinner. She'd also wanted to visit Versailles on Sunday, and I was happy to oblige and tag along with her and her boyfriend.
Although I arrived at the end of September after nearly a year of studying the Sun King's court, I did not immediately bolt down to the castle. Although I live in an ancient royal town near the old chateau where Louis XIV lived until Versailles was finished, I did not hurry down the mere ten miles separating me from the ghost of France past. Although I've wanted to see the castle for longer than I can remember now, I'd waited until last Sunday.
I'd waited because although I am what I'd call a progressive, forward thinker, I cherish tradition, and I wanted to see Versailles as only someone who wants to devote her life to the 17th century can: as untouched as possible. When I arrived in France, there was a very contemporary art exhibition by the likes of a Japanese artist named Murakami staged within the castle, and while I'm all for contemporary art, I didn't want my first memories of Versailles to be blazoned into my memory against manga-themed statues.
So I waited.
I waited until last Sunday when I hopped an early morning bus that led me down the forested stretch of road past Marly and Louveciennes from my town to Versailles. And my nose was nearly glued to the windows the entire time. When we finally wound into Versailles I felt my heart stop.
There, gazing out down a wide road, beaming hard and brilliant in the spring sunlight, were the gates of Versailles. I got off the bus and slowly withdrew my camera; but I stopped. I stopped because I could feel small tears welling up in my eyes, stopped because I wanted to let the moment be, to appreciate the fact that, after hours and hours of reading, after the history books, the commentary, the fairy tales, the facts, the figures, the anecdotes, there--at last--I was.
Gazing upward at the enormous statue of Louis XIV, I felt those same tears welling I felt the afternoon I set foot into Professor Paley's office to deposit research materials: I was so entirely overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all that all I could do was absorb and process.
If there were ever a moment to cement my certainty that I am meant to be in France, that I am meant to study French literature, that I am meant to teach, and that my life is to be a life of literature, I couldn't have asked for a better one.
It reminds me of the fabulous and beautiful notion I had as an early adolescent: words were my world, and my escape. Words were my world to the point that I wrote, and wrote, and wrote my heart out. A very wise gentleman said to me during this period of my life that I was lucky to know, at such a young age, how I wanted to spend that, to acknowledge the gift I have been given and to grow from it. Versailles that Sunday morning was a reminder of that gift, and a reminder never to relinquish that notion.
I suppose that is how I shall account for the tears...