I’m at a hotel in Versailles. And all I can think is, of all places to be. As the world banking institutions hover on low panic, and the VP debates just hours awayare stirring international press to a barely tolerable frenzy, we’re staying a mere two blocks away from the Palace of Versailles, home of the infamous Marie Antoinette, the most unapologetically indulgent Queen of France who was lovingly referred to as “the defecit of France” by her beloved people. The same ones who later sent her to the guillotine. It is for this surreal reason, and at this strange turning point in history, that when I deeply consider the paradox, I do belive this is the perfect time to be a few steps away from the chateau d’ Marie. In a world mad with politics of war and of men, Marie was charmingly feminine, and sensually human during a similar crisis of unrest. Marie entertained, socialized, schmoozed, shopped and scandalously chose her company by the rapport they shared (not their station in life). Far from thrilled to be Queen, Marie did however, love the high life and the boogie and the parties her lifestyle allowed. Marie knew how to relax. Eventually this made French folks fairly uncomfortable.
Today under the waxing Libra New Moon and a blustery, rainy autumn day, I bundle up and walk on over to the Palace. I am thinking as I walk of Marie’s attraction to the sweetness in life (“let them eat cake!”) and how this quote, maybe not even said by Marie, was used to describe how out of touch the lavish couple were from the commonwealth. I think of myself by contrast. I have been in Europe for the past month, thousands of miles from home and outside the fishbowl looking back in – how strongly I see the rest of the world is tied to the U.S. economy. It’s a perspective I’ve learned by becoming the foreigner. And by all standards right now, today in fact, I am…eating cake. I am rather enjoying my self, wearing a new pair of side button boots that really get the feel of the romance of France in me when they click clack down the cobble stone streets. I take in the autumn colors which are downright painterly – fiery reds, golds and bright pumpkin leaves and admire the heavy stone chateaus with carriage “french” doors for the buggies of yore. In this quivering moment of economic instability, I am swaddled in an equally tenuous pocket of luxury. Yet, guilt looms. There’s nothing to feel guilty about – why do I feel I must apologize to my country, my people – for these delicious moments of pleasure? Merci s’vous plait…maybe Marie’s shadow is following my own down this sunlit passage.
This Sun in Libra season is one Marie Antoinette surely enjoyed. A time for socializing and relaxing, for enjoying the stimulating company of intelligent minds and warm hearts – for no other reason than we share rapport. The recent New Moon in Libra nurtures a sense of equilibrium and relaxation for anyone who chooses to seek it out, the activities, art-making and invitations abound. But just as Justice – the Goddess of Reason, Truth and Impartiality and Libra’s namesake – is blind, sometimes we also need to turn a blind eye to the eternal imbalances in life, for example the all-consuming worry that we might have more or less than someone else (or conversely they have more than us) and simply carve out space for relaxation, gratitude and mutual appreciation. Riding in the petit trolley through the palatial grounds of the Queens quarters I find myself admiring the carefree giggling of a middle-aged French woman who freely comments on young girls conversations one bench behind me, to her husband. When I feel the trolley’s collective sigh over a grazing flock of sheep, and delighted in others’ delight, I knew was in the Libra spirit.
Oh, I enchantedly walked in Marie’s boots for a few hours. The Baroque palace of Louis XIV, was too ostentatious for the modern Marie, who soon after taking court felt neglected by her husband and the pompous lifestyle had her own estate built far enough away from Louis’ so her late night carousing wouldn’t disturb him. Oui, oui cheri! Privacy was important to her perhaps as much as keeping a controlled eye on her guests (she had Sun and Venus in Scorpio). Thus special mirrors were invented and installed around her boudoir which allowed Marie to view the pleasures of those around her without revealing her own. Peeking into her boudoir, I’m overcome with intrigue, now privy to the most intimate chambers of this notorious Queen. From the look of the crowd, it’s a popular stop on the tour. The bedroom? Elegant. Feminine. Divine. And in all honesty, surprisingly simple. A thoroughly modern woman, Marie, she embraced this new simple French style, with blue cornflowers on white becoming the Antoinette signature. Looking far more Laura Ashley than woman of extravagance, I wondered whether Marie was who her people made her out to be, or if she was like many Queens of history, warm-blooded and trapped in a stone cold palace. A Queen whose opportunities for happiness were like sugary icing that filled in the large cracks of a stuffy aristocratic life and passionless marriage.
The strangest contrast of all was seeing ultra avant-garde pop artist Jeff Koons’ exhibit (yes, the large porcelain Michael Jackson and Bubbles) all mashed up with the baroque portraits of Louis, Marie, and the chamber rooms of the Greek Gods and Goddesses. There’s something jarring about seeing a big shiny balloon-bubble dog in a coronation hall, this confluence of celebrity and aristocracy. Michael Jackson and Bubbles, in shiny porcelain, does have a way of stripping down ancient gilded gold to cheap patina. Yet this juxtaposition has a crazy, balancing elegance. We’re in a time where the stress of the unknown could consume us, where our delicate nerves are plucked on a daily basis and stretched like taut violin strings by CNN, politics, and Citibank, perhaps all the more reason to delight in the absurd. Maybe it’s right to walk around in your new boots, in the gardens of the legendary King and Queen of France, who enjoyed life to it’s fullest one day only to have it taken away the next. The nonsensical has it’s own way of balance.
Okay, I admit I’ve been indulging my inner Marie Antoinette for more than just this one day. There’s something to be said for Marie’s unapologetic pursuit of happiness. Who doesn’t want to sit in a luxurious feather top bed eating chocolate croissants? (Wait, I was talking about me). As I clearly enjoy myself here, and contemplate which English channel to watch next – CNN, BBC News or CNBC – I remember Marie was in a position of power that she didn’t ask for nor want and maybe that was her downfall. I hope the same doesn’t happen in the U.S.Â Just as Marie’s life demonstrated how swiftly the wheel of fortune can turn, I am well aware of the precarious balance of my own. Still, there will always be Paris…(actually, that’s tomorrow).
And so in honor of Marie, I say bring on the crepes!