Paris Ward and the Palace of Versailles

Sunday May 19, 2019, Paris, France

Thoughts Heading Into the Day

Paris was one escapade after another since our arrival yesterday. We experienced traffic jams due to the “Gilet Jaunes” (yellow vest) protestors, a bus driver that continually tried to back-up in these crazy traffic jams, and our hotel was not exactly what I expected. It seems that everyone in Paris thinks they have the right-of-way whether car, bike, bus, motorcycle or pedestrian, and somehow, they navigate through it without harm or accident.      

The Marignan Hotel consists of cramped quarters, musty-smelling bathrooms, and terrible WiFi.  Breakfast is the same everyday:  a baguette, a croissant, a glass of juice, coffee, or hot chocolate in our case, and a piece of cheese.  I doubt BYU will ever use the services of this hotel again.  It does, however, look really nice from the outside.     

I think it is going to be a long and stressful week in Paris, so I am really looking forward to going to church.  I crave the familiarity and the peace that worshiping on the Sabbath brings.  I am grateful it is Sunday tomorrow and we will be going to church, but I am not happy it will not be an entire day of rest and relaxation and turning our thoughts to God and our loved ones.  Even on a BYU study-abroad there is not time to think about the Savior as we should.  We are scheduled to see the Palace and Gardens at Versailles tomorrow afternoon after church.  I am hoping the gardens will take my thoughts to our Creator and Savior since the palace will not.  I am also looking forward to meeting my roommate, Wendy’s, daughters.    

Insights of Church and a Palace

We walked past Notre Dame on the way to church today.  The cathedral burned a few weeks ago so we could not see it on this trip, but I got pictures as we walked by it today.  Cathedrals seem to be everywhere in Europe and as I look at their grandeur, one question always comes to mind, “But can you feel the Spirit there?”  I already know the answer because of my Catholic roots. Then I have to remind myself as Joseph Smith said, “All churches have a form of godliness.”        

The Paris Ward, or Paroisse de Paris, is tiny.  We had to sit in the overflow area since 25 of us needed an English translation and they do not want visitors taking room from the local members.  It was interesting to be on the other side of translation.  I wondered how much meaning of the talk we missed since it is very hard to translate every word while someone is speaking. 

I was given much food for thought in Sunday School today.  The instructor asked us who we were in the stories we had read in the New Testament this week.  She wanted to know if we were one of the “laborers in the vineyard” (Matt 20:1-16), the “rich young man” who asked “What lack I yet?”, (Matt 19:16-22), or the “Pharisee” or the “publican” (Luke 18:9-14) when it comes to praying.  No answers were given out loud but we wrote them on an index card that the teacher handed out.  Then the teacher asked us to write this statement on our index card and fill in the blanks in reference to what we answered above, “This is kind of like____________because___________.”  She concluded by asking if anyone was willing to share what they had written.  The discussion that followed was enlightening.  

What was the teacher trying to teach us and what was Christ teaching in those parables? The answer is: where is your heart? I chose the “rich young man” and “what lack I yet?” because I think I can do better than I am to receive eternal life.  What I wrote in those blanks is too private to share, but the discussion that followed led me to think about these questions:  What sacrifice or change do I need to make to follow the Savior more? What do I hold onto?  What am I willing to give up for the gospel?  It is a lesson I plan on visiting frequently and has caused me to take a deeper look at my actions.  After being spiritually fed it was time to leave and say goodbye to Wendy’s daughter.   

Me, Emma, and Wendy in front of the Paris Ward building.

It was very fun to meet Wendy’s daughter, Emma, at church.  She is a sweetheart, just like her mother.  She works as a nanny in Paris.  She also has an angelic voice.  That was so nice to hear after weeks of travel.  It reminded me of my husband, who has a beautiful high tenor voice, and made me miss him.  

I learned that foreign wards have many, many visitors, especially during the summer, so they have to make sure visitors do not take priority over their local membership.  It must be difficult to be the leader of such wards, and to always wonder if you have enough bread and water for the Sacrament.  

From the Paris Ward we took a train and a bus to get to the Palace of Versailles.  

The palace had the longest line I think I have even been in and it seemed to go on for miles and hours. The saving grace was Wendy’s daughters who came to meet us and go through the palace too.  This was the first time I met Alyssa and she is just as lovely as her sister Emma.  I had fun conversing with these sisters and learning all about being a nanny in Paris. I was surprised to hear how many Parisians want English speaking nanny’s so their children can be fluent in English as well as French.  I also learned that mothers and daughters look more alike than we think, and that daughters pattern mannerisms after their mothers more than they realize. But the one thing I really noticed about Wendy and her daughters were their beautiful smiles.   

This is just a small part of the line to get into the palace!

The Palace of Versailles was primarily the palace of Louis the XIV and Marie Antoinette since he was king for 72 years. Its grandeur in architecture and luxuriance created the rules of fashion.  The first thing I noticed on the palace was all the gold leaf, not just inside, but outside.  The entire wrought iron gate was gold leafed.  I learned that this palace is a symbol of “absolute monarchy” created under Louis XIV.  He loved opulence and used it to show the wealth and power he had, including putting himself in the art.  

The palace is full of gilding, art work, tapestries, and extravagance beyond anything I could have ever imagined.  It has 700 rooms, including king and queen apartments, 67 staircases, over a 1000 chimneys, more than 2000 windows, and sits on what is about the equivalent of 1500 football fields (800 hectares)!  It was so hard to believe that this site at Versailles was once a small hunting lodge. The Palace of Versailles is a perfect example of excess and opulence beyond reason and of a king losing the connection with his people. This opulence was one of the causes of the French Revolution.  I wondered if only partially restoring the iron gates that were destroyed during the revolution, rather than using 100 kilograms of gold leaf, would have been more significant in remembering “absolute monarchy” and the reason for the French Revolution.   

I had a hard time enjoying the palace.  All I could think about was how pride led a king to waste so much money so he could bathe in extravagance to show his power while his people starved.  I did, however, enjoy the splendor of the Hall of Mirrors, which is the most famous room in the Palace.  This room caught my attention because it reflects the gardens in the mirrors through its arched windows.  It was interesting to learn that the Hall of Mirrors was built over a terrace that separated the king’s and queen’s rooms and was a remedy for bad weather.  It took 6 years to build and represents Frances artistic, economical, and political triumphs.  Artistic success is represented by the pilasters with creative capitals and national emblems.  Political success is depicted through paintings on the vaulted ceiling. What I found most interesting is that the 21 mirrors in each of the 17 arches that reflect the gardens represent France’s economic wealth and expertise in manufacturing mirrors, which were a luxury then.  The room is also used for ceremonies and is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed that ended WWI.      

The perspective of the garden from the Hall of Mirrors is magnificent.  Unfortunately, I did not get a picture from inside the Hall of Mirrors because of the masses of people walking through at the time.  The weather started taking a turn by the time we got to the gardens, but I persevered, and it made for great pictures.  The intricate patterns in these gardens made with boxwood hedges just amazed me.  I loved how they took your eye all the way to the large reflecting pools called Water Parterre.  

I learned that Louis the XIV thought the creation and renovation of the gardens was just as important as the creation and renovation of the palace.  It was gardener André Le Nôtre, who came up with the perspective for the garden and is considered the creator of French gardens.  This garden took 40 years to complete, sits on 1,976 acres, contains 210,000 flowers, 200,000 trees, and has to be replanted every 100 years.  Tremendous amounts of soil had to be brought in to level the ground, and the trees came from all over France. There are also beautiful alleys and groves in this garden as well as magnificent musical water features and fountains.  The flowers had already bloomed by the time of our visit, but the trees and their intricate sculptures was enough to engage any viewer for hours.  It was a garden I could have stayed in for days just admiring God’s and man’s handiwork.             

Takeaways From the Day

Touring the Palace of Versailles and the Palace Gardens was exhausting, and we had only seen a small portion of both in the time we had.  Nevertheless, I had seen enough to wonder how such grandeur could be built in a time period without modern machinery or technology.  In spite of my dismay over the human cost to build this palace, both literally and figuratively, I found myself also standing in awe of it.  Could the creativity it took to satisfy a king’s ego with luxury and power actually be for our benefit in the long run?

It was hard to remember it was the Sabbath Day when surrounded by the opulence and materialism radiated by the palace, but the gardens brought me back to our great Creator, the Savior, as I had hoped.  I always think of Him in gardens of any kind and am grateful every day for the beauty of nature and His handiwork.

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