Versailles

     

    Imagine:

    It is Paris. The stakes are high. This is your last chance to make contact with the one person who can lead you to the fabled Cour d’Honneur. He is moments from abandoning the meeting place, but your map and instructions are missing vital details. Not only that, it is riddled with misdirection.

    There only one thing to do; contact home base.  The operator therewill direct you to a rendezvous with the lead agent in Paris.  They get eyes on your contact. He is about to board the train. Your last chance will be gone forever.

    You run through the streets of Paris. Crossing a busy intersection, you risk life and limb against crazed Parisian drivers. You follow the lead agent down the steps into a dark corridor and he escorts you to the platform.  Then you spot him. Your contact.  Just in the nick of time, you board the train and take the seat next to him and you are off on a journey you will never forget.

    * * *

    That is my reality—if I try to build a work of fiction around it. The truth is, though I give myself an hour to make a twenty minute trip across town to meet my tour to Versailles I become hopelessly and embarrassingly lost. Thank God for the patience and care of the folks at Fat Tire tours. I call the office and the operator gives me directions, staying on the line with me and the tour guide as she tries to bring us together. I make it to the office where the manager contacts the guide.

    We have less than five minutes to get to the train station or the group would have to leave without me.  We take off at a brisk clip.  The last few blocks we run. Egregiously jaywalking, we cross a busy street just in time for the manager to hand me off to the tour guide.

    I am too out of breath to say thank you.  There is no time anyway. The guide helps me on the train and when I can speak, we make small talk until I feel completely settled and a part of the group.

    I am so embarrassed to tell you all of this. No doubt, those who are close to me are shaking their heads at yet another fine mess I had gotten myself into. But I am grateful that I am traveling alone and not dragging anyone else into the foibles of my jet-lagged incompetence.

    It is Sunday. The train to Versailles is crowded.  I end up sitting with a guy from India and another from Seattle (not a part of our tour).  Like a good writer, I eavesdrop on their conversation.  I make mental notes which I plan to write down later.

    Arriving in Versailles, our group diverges from the crowd heading directly to the palace. We take the back streets to a square with a gorgeous cathedral.  Tour members, me included, stand around taking pictures while our guide unlocks the storage where Fat Tire keep their stash of bikes for these tours.

    I think that is cool. Having done other tours with this company in Giverny and the Loire valley, it dawns on me how organized Fat Tire is—right down to having an operator on hand to direct idiots like me who get lost or—I dare not call her an idiot—the lady who got separated from our tour. The operator was able to inform the guide about the location of missing party. All was right again.

    The guide is informative and entertaining. I half expect a regurgitation of what I had learned from the TV series Versailles (Great show. You should check it out on Netflix) but we learn how all of the excesses spent by Louis XIV were enjoyed by his son Louis XV only for Louis the XVI to pay for it with his head during the French Revolution.

    We visit Le Petit Trianon—my favorite—where Marie Antoinette, feeling at odds with the court created her own ‘little’ sanctuary.  She ordered that the symmetrical French style garden be replaced by the more ‘natural’ English style. The grounds of the Petit Trianon were vast and encompassed a village the queen had built.  There she could go about dressed as a dairy maid and milk cows (I’m writing this from memory. So I may be fudging some of the facts. Look it up if you are curious).  She paid actors from a ‘real’ local village to come to her fake one to make her fantasy complete. I guess this is what is possible if you have enough money and no holodeck, dating sim or second earth…

    We ride our bikes and picnic on the great mall in view of the Grand Palace. Tour members go to chat with each other. I met a nice family from Atlanta. The mom, coincidentally, is originally from Houston.  The daughter is studying abroad in Florence. I tell them that I am a writer (It’s weird and exhilarating to call myself that!).  I tell them about my first book, The First Daughter, which they make a note of as well as my plume de nom, Mack Little.

    By this time, I have drunk two glasses (plastic cups) of wine and am not able to properly eavesdrop on the surrounding tour.  And the group from Australia is too far away from me to entertain them with my drunken Australian accent which I manage to do on every one of these tours.  I guess that is probably for the best.

    After the picnic, our guide takes us to the gates of Versailles. We skip the long lines and, once inside, he gives us our final instructions and a train ticket back. Then, he releases us on our own recognizances. Seeing the crowds, I am reluctant to do this final leg of the tour. But I came all this way, I feel I should do it.

    Gawd! It is so crowded. I do not linger to bask in the gloriousness of the Palace. Rather, I rush through, taking very few pictures.  I head back to the train and get back to my apartment to decompress and get ready for my trip to the Anjou region of France.

    Will any of this be useful for the books I am writing? Perhaps.  I asked the guide what he thought of the story about Louis XIV’s wife giving birth to a baby fathered by a black dwarf which she kept as a companion.  He clearly thought it was bunk. However, there was a female raised in a convent who was born at the same time that Marie Therese gave birth. The baby’s name was Louise Marie Therese. She became the black nun of Moret.  Louis the XV did in some ways acknowledge her.  For me, this illegitimate child (or the rumor thereof) is irresistible as a subject in some future work.

    Traveling

    I guess I need not tell you what claustrophobia is. Everyone knows that fear of being locked up in closed off spaces or they know of someone who has that fear.  Most people who know me are aware of my claustrophobia. It is not just closed off spaces but tight crowds and sometimes even traffic jams can give me grave anxiety. More than the physical situation, I react to the feeling of being trapped, having my freedom from moving one place to another restricted the same way I would react to being in a tight spot. To be cut off from my freedom, from the world that I am used to is my fear and it is sometimes my nightmare.

    An airplane neatly fits the parameters of a closed of panic-inducing place. And I must admit, when people are boarding, I have a distinct urge to fight crawl or climb my way out.  This is why I get the window seat. I can take a few deep breaths and look outside, and I am usually okay until take off.  Once we are in the air with metal sealed off careening tens of thousands of feet above the earth through a deadly cold and thin atmosphere, I am not bothered at all. Go figure.

    Landing four thousand miles away gives rise to a similar sort of anxiety as claustrophobia.  I don’t know if this phobia, this anxiousness has a name.  It is this feeling of being so far from home with no way to get back. When the length of my stay seems interminable and the gulf so wide from me and my loved ones I may never get back to them.  I guess some would call it homesickness.  I know homesick but this feels different. I feel unsettled. Adrift. Not exactly longing for home but feeling a distance from it.  I feel like this a for a couple of days, like my soul has come unbound and the world I have left behind might as well be in another universe or dimension.

    So, for the first day, I struggle through the foreignness. I  figure out my new surroundings usually by getting things wrong. I realize it’s part of the process of my becoming acclimated. The most important thing is not to panic. Do not get angry or frustrated. Just stay dogged and steady and fight the fatigue until there a time and place to rest.

    While it’s a good idea to stay up the first night in Paris in order to get on a regular schedule, I am so tired, physically and mentally, that I take an ambien and go to bed at 6 pm. Of course, I wake up at 1 am.  I tell myself bedtime stories about Zen and Emmett* falling in and out of love or about demons wreaking havoc with the living. I should be taking notes about these characters from my books but I let them lull me into a deep sleep instead.

    Luckily, the next day, I awake in time for my trip to Versailles.

    *Emmett and Zen are the main characters in my Scions of Darkness series

    Paris

    The opening scene of The First Daughter takes place in Paris in a fictional hotel called the Colombe d’Or. However, other locations mentioned are not made up. I found some spots in Paris that were too provocative not to write about. For example, near the market at Rue Cler is a small side street called Rue Amelie, where you can find the crepe café and a small boutique selling fascinators, visited by a couple of my characters.

    I had visited this particular area in 2015 and enjoyed a quite fantastic ham and (Gruyère) cheese crepe at Creperie Le Crepuscule. As I sat in the tiny, tiny space alongside locals, a small chapel-shaped structure directly across the street captured my imagination. Though I am still not certain what is housed in it, in my book, it became the location of a catalyzing event in The First Daughter.

    I am returning to Paris in a couple of days to explore some locations for the novel that I am currently writing.  After all, Paris is my favorite city. And since I go there as often as I can, I will be collecting some of the magic and the mystery hidden in little known Parisian enclaves. Stay tuned for my travel logs exploring locations that could find their way into my stories.