A French Thanksgiving

Day 45: Thursday November 24th, 2011 (Thanksgiving!)

Today was the second major U.S. holiday that I was away from home for, after Halloween, but Thanksgiving is a bit of a bigger deal. You can get drunk and dress up anywhere for Halloween, and I obviously did that in college all four years, and then in Edinburgh this year. But I’ve never spent a Thanksgiving away from home. Until today, where I spend it in about the least American major city in Western Europe.

So, to celebrate this, I went to Versailles, the symbol and former seat of French monarchy and power (the antithesis of America). Just a metro and a bus ride away from Paris, the Palace of Versailles is a beautiful behemoth to behold. It’s one of those things you can’t ever photograph close up because you’ll get about 1/200th of it, and a millionth of the spectacle regardless (just like everything else I’ve seen on this trip. Photos just can’t capture it).

Feeling claustrophobic in Paris, Louis XIV, the Sun King (he invented Sunny Delight), moved the throne away from the Seine. Having achieved that, he soon felt crowded again by all the servants, politics, work and what have you, so he built another couple mini chateaus out beyond the gardens. Marie Antoinette had one, and she was a Hapsburg. It’s all ridiculous, but the experience of Versailles is to let immense riches and carefree spending wash over you like the French are making it rain all over your face. The place is immaculate, beautiful, quite well restored. The furniture, the walls, the paintings, the frescoes, the columns, the architecture, the GOLD, it makes a guy want to get rich that much more, even if I guarantee if I ever have a palace it will look nothing like this, except for the innumerable fountains out back (ask anybody I’ve traveled with; I’m a sucker for fountains. And lamps. I love lamp(s). Seriously, European lamps are fascinating. I’m always waiting for Fawn Tumnus). But basically, you spend a couple hours looking at fancy linens, doilies, chandeliers (rich people love these fucking things; it’s like Beauty and the Beast times 1,000), carpets, tapestries, cupboards, cabinets, duvets (I wonder if they had bed bugs); essentially a super nice Bed Bath & Beyond catalog circa 1700 surrounded with a billion portraits of these monarchs and their ugly fucking children. And I fucking loved it, for some reason.

That paragraph was too much, but so is Versailles.

While Versailles no longer housed a kingdom after the French Revolution, it still maintained an important place in history. I mean, we Americans could give a shit for Louis XIV, it’s the Treaty of Versailles that we care about, and yes, that was signed here, dipshits, to signal the end of the first World War. That turned out well.

With admission into the Chateau, you also get to roam the labrynthian, unending gardens. There are food stands, potties, a few other royal apartments and palaces (the Grand Triannon, the Petit Triannon/Marie Antoinette’s which are basically just miniature Versailles’ in themselves), the Temple of Love (cupid shit), and lots of green grass and trees. Or at least, I had to imagine it, since that was the only drawback of coming during the winter. For one, there’s usually a fountain show, the flowers and plants are in bloom, and it’s a lot warmer to just languish in the beauty of it all. Whoops.

Then, I returned to Paris and got to Notre Dame in time to climb to the top of Notre Dame this time. And phew. It’s 600 winding, small ass steps (don’t trip) to history. But the view was worth it. You can see all the way to the Eiffel Tower. For lack of better writing, Paris is pretty. It was a lot more memorable experience than just wandering inside the actual church. You get to see the famous belltower and actually touch the bell, and can imagine smuggling Esmerelda and giving her a what for behind the ogling gargoyles.

My day wasn’t over. I told you I raped Paris. I (WALKED from Notre Dame) went to the 2nd best museum in Paris, the Musee d’Orsay, which picks up the art pieces where the Louvre leaves off. The Louvre is great stuff, but the Orsay museum is a tad/lot more contemporary, if that’s your thing. It’s also massive, and demands at least a day. Instead, I spent two hours there. But hey, I wouldn’t have gone to it AT ALL, if I didn’t have the museum pass (yeah, it was covered) and Thursday has extended hours (the French don’t celebrate Thanksgiving apparently), so I took a shot. I already had sculpture boredom (sorry Rodin), but rather enjoyed the extensive Monet, Manet, Degas (a new favorite), Denis and Van Gogh stuff before exhaustion kicked in. But I refuse to talk more about art until I become more educated about it. So I’ll update this post in 2017.

I finally made my way back to Pauline’s, and talked to Mom and Robin (Dad, Grandma and Uncle Keven also made cameos) without sound (my Mom’s a fool of a took) as they were preparing for Thanksgiving. This was actually the first time I had seen them since I left (okay it’s only been 45 days, but I’m a bitch). The thought of pigskin, turkey and family nearly had me tearing up, but instead, I had my own French Thanksgiving.

Pauline had no idea it was Thanksgiving, but the night before she had invited me to a family gathering of her own. That weekend, her parents were going to be in town before she was off to NY, but tonight, all of her cousins (basically in the age range of 18-30) were meeting for food and wine and a reunion. Pauline helped me pick out a bottle of Bordeaux wine (where she’s from) and as I walked into a room of 12 French speakers, it hit me how far away from home I really was, and how awesome, and unexpected this all/whole trip was. I never thought I’d have a Thanksgiving like this. It’s all thanks to Catherine for hooking a nephew up (with more thanks to come). Anyways, basically, the hostess kept making mini pizzas (they assured me this wasn’t French cuisine; I wasn’t an idiot) and pouring new glasses of wine (that’s French) as most rotated in and out to smoke, and I talked with whoever wanted to work on their English.

In particular, I talked with Romain, a wonderful gentleman who was engaged to the host’s sister (I probably screwed/switched that up. I had it down at the time, but it’s been awhile since; he can correct me in the comments, since we are FB besties). We talked about wine, America, my travels, his love of Ireland (he lived in Dublin) and was basically so nice, because he knew I couldn’t follow hardly anything else going on, so he took me in. Pauline was crowded by family, so I couldn’t expect her to baby me. But I didn’t care, I had fun. I got well fed on appetizers and pizza, got a good wine buzz going, and was introduced to the German chocolate phenomenon, Kinder. It’s fucking delicious (and expensive). Romain invited me to lunch the next day on his break from work to try some wine. I wish I could take wine breaks at work.
And that, was the end of a long, fine day.

NEXT: A delightful lunch before Paris rapes Andy back.


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One Comment


    Hey Andy,

    How are you? are you still in Europe? I saw some pictures on you facebook wall, you apparently enjoys your trip. Your blog is well written and very accurate.

    I have really appreciated the way you talked about me and it reminds me the great time we had in Paris and also how crap I have been for the wine tasting 🙂 But I keep improving, so I’m ready for our next battle 🙂

    So what do you want me to wish you for the new year? a big trip again?

    Oh Andy, one last thing: Louise the “fantastic” girl I’m engaged with is the cousin’s host 🙂

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