le petit dejeuner. a quick call to my son blair, who is studying hard, then off to catch the metro to gare de lyon where we connect to fontainebleau, supposedly a 30 minutes ride…which turned into an hour with delays due to track construction. a small inconvenience for a truly magnificent reward.
fontainebleau may be the best grand house i’ve ever seen, for me better than château de chenonceau, versailles and all the places in england and elsewhere that i have visited, and i think for richard too. the place is vast, to say the least and was used extensively by most of the notable royalty from francois I in the 1540’s right through to the bonapartes. the rooms are sumptuous yet more personal in design and scale than most great houses, perhaps because the ceilings are at a more manageable height. there is a sense of it having been lived in and worked in. we saw only a small portion of the total palace, many areas including napoleon’s museum, the chinese collection and other areas require advance reservations to gain access. regardless, the house was worth every minute of the 4 plus hours we spent there, including a stroll through the very extensive gardens.
the gardens were more friendly than versailles, more in the style of calamity brown and the great houses of england. they had an equally long canal, formal italianate gardens, some fountains and sculpted trees or topiary, but overall they were less formal with winding paths, streams, grottoes and sculpture spread randomly throughout.
the history of the place is mind blowing. we saw the room and furniture where napoleon signed his first abdication, the office and bedrooms he used as well as those of marie antoinette, again much more human in scale with personal touches that made it easier to imagine the real person rather than the abstract we’re fed in history books.
during the course of the day we had some interesting chats with a chinese couple we met from beijing. the guy was a graduate of harvard and had impeccable english. we discussed things like politics and the environment and surprisingly, to me, his outlook wasn’t much different than our own. we chatted quite a lot about france, a bit about the different cultures of europe, china and north america. we ran into them throughout the day. our final encounter was at the railway station in fontainebleau where we compared the transit systems in our respective countries (paris and france win hands down).
a quick 30 minutes train ride back to paris, and supper: linguine, european sausage, green beans and wine…of course. you gotta make do! (p.s. after running out to the local five and dime to get a can opener we discovered you don’t need a can opener here (to open the green beans)…pull tabs on the cans…vive le france!)