The Palace of Versailles & a Defense of Marie Antoinette

At the top of my Dream Destinations list since I first saw Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, I absolutely loved wandering through the Palace of Versailles. The French government allowed Coppola to film on location and I hoped one day to visit not just the Palace, but more importantly (for me) the grounds, and the Queen’s Hamlet.

Marie Antoinette (2006).

An all-day adventure, I am so thankful for the opportunity to visit Versailles last summer. It was super-busy inside, but we spent a majority of our time wandering the grounds rather than touring the buildings. This isn’t the best plan for everyone, but I’m glad this was the route we chose.

Walking up to the palace from the subway station.

A beautiful day spent away from the city, definitely visit the Palace of Versailles if you find yourself in Paris.

Palace gates.

Get ready for a little French history, too many pictures, a vehement defense of Coppola’s film, and a discussion on the politics and sexist treatment of Marie Antoinette.

Where are we?

With only a long weekend in Paris, we dedicated an entire day to the Palace of Versailles and the decision was absolutely worth it. We traveled from our apartment in Montmartre to Versailles–about an hour commute by metro–and even glimpsed a view of the Eiffel Tower as we switched train lines. Taking the metro was definitely the cheapest and preferred method of travel, even if the journey was a little longer than if we would have gone by car.

We also booked our tickets wayyyyy in advance, which I recommend as they sell out–especially in the summer–and as we purchased prior, were able to skip (the very long) entrance queue. For us, touring the Palace was nice, but so crowded that it made even the largest indoor spaces feel claustrophobic; I much preferred walking the grounds and seeing the gardens, Hamlet, and the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon. Pro tips: You can spend all day here, so pack snacks, sunscreen, and have a travel plan! There’s a lot to see and time can move quickly as you walk the grounds.

The Palace of Versailles:

The Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles):

Originally a hunting lodge, Louis XIII decided to expand the area in 1661. The grounds were also developed by landscape architect André Le Nôtre to include fountains and gardens.
The Palace was further enlarged from 1678-1715.
The first Chateau, built by Louis Le Vau (1661-1968) was further embellished by Hardouin-Mansart (1679-1681).
King Louis XV moved his residence and the French government to Versailles when he became of age (after originally taking the throne at five years old) where it was also the home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette until the revolution in 1789.
Princess Adélaïde’s bedroom.
The Palace was the location for the signing of the three Peace of Paris treaties (1783) where the United Kingdom recognized United States sovereignty.
Following the siege of the Palace, the grounds were closed and all works of art were transferred to the Louvre. In 1793, the royal property that remained was sold at auction.
The Fountain of Latona.

The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette (Hameau de la Reine):

Built for Marie Antoinette in 1783, the Queen’s Hamlet is located near the Petit Trianon and was used as a retreat. The Hamlet aligned more with the Austrian court, which valued privacy, a direct opposition to French traditions. This caused a lot of issues for Marie as many felt she was snubbing the French.
The retreat includes a number of buildings, gardens, lakes, and even a mill on a pond. This mini village produced milk and eggs for the Queen and her friends.
The mill.
Cottage garden.
While seen as expensive, the cost for Marie’s Hamlet was actually less than many other royal retreats of the time.
A hidden grotto.
The flowers were beautiful.

The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon:

The Petit Trianon was created from 1763-1768 by Ange-Jacues Gabriel for Louis XV. Each side of the building is different.
Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie Antoinette.
The French Gardens of the Petit Trainon (Jardin Français du Petit Trianon).
Another view of the Petit Trianon.
Marie Antoinette commissioned the Temple of Love (the rotunda seen here) in 1777.
The ceiling of the Temple of Love.
Located in the northwestern part of grounds, the Grand Trianon was built as a retreat for Louis XIV in 1670.
During 1663 and 1665, Louis XIV purchased a hamlet at the edge of Versailles and commissioned Louis Le Vau to design a pavilion at the space.
Originally made of porcelain, Louis XIV ordered the pavilion to be demolished in 1686. New construction started in 1687 and was completed in 1688.
The Grand Trianon was abandoned during the French Revolution; the space was later occupied by Napoleon.

A Defense of the film Marie Antoinette (2006) and the last Queen of France:

“With its commentaries on gender, women’s agency, reproduction and female friendships, Marie Antoinette is surprisingly deeper and more feminist than many realize. Sofia Coppola created a lush and sumptuous indulgence for the eyes. More importantly, by humanizing the doomed queen and adding modern touches, Coppola reminds us of the gender constraints women throughout history and today continually endure.”

Kearns, Megan. 2012. “In Defense of ‘Marie Antoinette’: Sofia Coppola’s Re-Imagining Surprisingly Feminist.” The Opinioness. Available here.

I first saw Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in 2006 and immediately fell in love with the music, costumes, and story of France’s last queen. The film was met with mixed reviews–including an entire booing of the movie by French critics when it debuted at Cannes–and people both loved and hated the 80s-inspired-occasionally-true-take on Marie’s life.

Like many movies drenched in pink and/or including songs by Bow Wow Wow, but definitely most stories about the lives of teenage women, the film was largely written off as superficial and cliche. Critics of Marie Antoinette complained about the lack of substance in Coppola’s film:

“The politics of Marie Antoinette have to be read through the costumes, through the fascination with the objects, because it’s about a woman being turned into an object that is traded among this hierarchical, patriarchal society, and this very strange world she’s thrown into. She’s a child, and completely unequipped to deal with these things. I think Coppola’s fascination with adolescence in transition moments obviously drew her to this story. But it was infuriating to see that all people could say about it was it was this frivolous, ridiculous, MTV/New Romantics-style music video that was modeled on Coppola’s own life. It was pathetic! Is that the best you can do as a critical reading? It deserved more.”

Aylmer, Olivia Lindsay. 2019. “Reevaluating the Gross Misunderstanding of Sofia Coppola’s Cinematic Oeuvre.” Dazed. Available here.

As flashy as the movie can be–and it is almost on that Baz Luhrmann Moulin Rouge level–the underlying complexity of the characters, their modern-ish costumes, and contemporary music allow viewers to connect more with the historically-adjacent story, rather than if the plot was purely historical.

Marie Antoinette is the story of both a woman denied a voice—as evidenced by the fact Antoinette (played with a cheerful determination by Kirsten Dunst) doesn’t have a substantial line until nearly 40 minutes into the film—and those okay with maintaining the status quo. (See: Louis XVI, played with perfect distraction by Jason Schwartzman, who rather played with keys than be bothered to engage with his wife.)

‘This is ridiculous,’ Antoinette tells her attendees during a protracted morning dressing ceremony that requires the highest-ranking royal in the room to help her dress. ‘This, madam, is Versailles,’ she’s informed.

Even when an angry mob forces her family to flee Versailles (they would be become the figureheads for France’s debut and social problems and were eventually executed in 1793), Coppola shows Antoinette as woman who has earned her place in the royal hierarchy, but is still not understood or fully valued.”

Studarus, Laura. 2018. “Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is a Tragic Feminist Hero.” CR Fashion Book. Available here.

For me, the simple dialogue portrays the struggle of a person as conflicting and controversial as Marie Antoinette. On one hand, she is the privileged queen of France, with more wealth and perceived freedom than any other woman in the country. However, she is also held to the same stifling standard as other Frenchwomen of the time, albeit with the most publicity. Her purpose is to have children and society requires her to be passive with a reliance on men, as well as an expectation of dependence and maintaining the status quo of this role she often resented.

“As feminist historians have been persuasively insisting for years now, the queen met with this fate because she was a foreign woman who repeatedly overstepped the boundaries circumscribing French royal—and feminine—behavior.”

Weber, Caroline. 2006. “I Don’t Want Candy: The Uses and Abuses of Marie Antoinette. The George Washington University: Columbian College of Arts & Sciences. Available here.

Here’s the thing: Marie Antoinette’s story can be seen as just another poor-little-rich-girl tragedy, but honestly should we feel sorry for a queen that seemingly ignored the famine and injustice that gave rise to the unrest ultimately ending with her execution?

Yes and no.

Like most women during this time, Marie was valued for her body and what her body could produce: an heir to the throne. She was publicly blamed for the seven years it took to consummate her marriage, while her husband, Louis XVI–more concerned with hunting and making keys–largely escaped accountability for the couple’s failure to have sex. Under pressure from her family and the court to adhere to the standards of the day, Marie mostly conformed to the ridiculous expectations set for her as Queen: accept the status quo, look pretty, and have children. She also pushed those same boundaries, ultimately leading to further vilification by the press.

While her cage was gilded and her life privileged, Marie Antoinette suffered the same restrictions as other women during her time. Sexism in pre-revolution France was as much a part of society as most places across the world. Seen as “passive citizens” women could not vote, hold political office, and were dependent on men to make decisions “in their best interests”; their roles were focused squarely in the home and banned from the political sphere. Even greater pressure was put on the Queen–who was already deemed untrustworthy because she wasn’t French–to uphold that expectation.

“’She was a girl surrounded by grown-ups who wanted things from her and judged her, and she didn’t exactly know what people expected from her,’ Ms. Dunst said during a lunch break, in sweats and her pink-cheeked Marie Antoinette makeup and giant hair. ‘I could relate to that kind of loneliness.'”

Hohenadel, Kristin. 2006. “French Royalty as Seen by Hollywood Royalty.” The New York Times. Available here.

The film is largely apolitical–meant more as a look into the life of a queen at Versailles–but Coppola does use the minimal discussions on politics to her advantage. Louis XVI casually continues to provide funds to the Americans for their revolution as a way to stick it to the British but at the expense of his own treasury and citizens. France continued to hemorrhage funds to support the American Revolution–raising taxes on the poor as the church and nobility were exempt from these increases–and Marie’s perceived extravagant spending was seen as the cause of starvation in the country. As the French Revolution loomed, blame was largely (and unfairly) placed on Marie as the source for a majority of the country’s problems: debt, famine, and the privileges enjoyed by the elite at the expense of the poorer classes.

Falsely attributed to Marie Antoinette, the “let them eat cake” response to the shortage of bread in France furthered the disdain for the Queen.

Newspapers published false stories of the Queen’s affairs with her closest friends and attributed her “deviant” behavior as stemming from her German background. During the Women’s March of 7,000 people to Versailles, many of the protesters discussed bringing the King to his rightful home in Paris, while calling for the execution of the Queen.

“When money is tight, they don’t stop spending. And yet Marie Antoinette is the ‘Queen of Debt.’ It’s easier to blame the woman you’ve told to be dripping in diamonds for dripping in diamonds when the coffers are dry…

Marie Antoinette becomes what she was always going to become: a spoiled rich woman with no sense of how the world worked outside her palace.”

Saxena, Jaya. 2018. “Does Marie Antoinette Hold Up?” GQ. Available here.

Following her capture and trial, Marie Antoinette was pronounced guilty of depleting the treasury and treasonous behavior of working with the enemy. The charges of engaging in orgies at the palace were dropped. Polite to the very end, her last words were to the executioner: “Pardon me, sir, I did not do it on purpose,” as she accidentally stepped on his shoe.

Marie Antoinette is a conflicting figure. While she saw charity work as vital, she overlooked and was ignorant to the oppression of her people. Like every other royal of the time, Marie Antoinette was extravagant, privileged, and wealthy. She did not want to lose her position or yield to the demands of the revolution. But she was also cast as a villain: she refused to tolerate many of the traditions of the royal family in France, was seen as a foreign spy by the citizens of her country, and displayed her own independence through fashion, building her own space in Versailles, and taking on a bigger role in government, much to the disdain of both the court and citizens of France. She was a child bride used as a pawn for peace among bitter rivals and was unfairly demonized for stepping outside of society’s predetermined role of mother and wife by continuously speaking up to various councils as her husband failed to act.

“The whole point of the French Revolution was that no one in Versailles knew what the hell was going on outside of Versailles. It’s not just a story about a beautiful queen, but the way we trap women with our expectations, and punish them when they live up to them.

I’m no Marie Antoinette apologist. We should still eat the rich.”

“Saxena, Jaya. 2018. “Does Marie Antoinette Hold Up?” GQ. Available here.

Obviously Marie Antoinette had many shortcomings; we shouldn’t forget the level of entitlement possessed by the Queen of France. However, like many women in positions of power even today, she was unfairly demonized by those who saw an independent woman operating outside of society’s predetermined role and expectations of her as a threat. Feminism, particularly white feminism, fails to address the intersectionality of race, class, and ability. I do not mean to over-represent the struggle of a rich, white woman as the face of feminism here, but merely to show how history–as defined by patriarchal powers–unfairly represents women during their time and the impact of that narrative today.

It should also be noted that the French Revolution failed to implement any policies that protected women’s rights; equality was denied by the ruling party–the Jacobin Club–that rejected social reform for women in large part due to the perceived meddling of Marie Antoinette in political affairs. Male supremacy continued and was further perpetrated by the Napoleonic Code.

At the same time, the newly independent United States of America was codifying sexism and racism in the Constitution.

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Currently:
Listening: Floodlines (The Atlantic)
Reading: Sun and Rain (Ana Ros)
Watching: Mrs. America (Hulu)

“Victory is Equality”: Paris, France

View in Montmarte

Last summer Chris and I spent a long weekend in Paris for the World Cup (USA vs. Chile). We had fun exploring the city while also attending our first women’s soccer football match.

 Hôtel de Ville is the home of the city’s local administration and was completed in 1357.

This was my first time in Paris–only my second time in France–and because of our limited time in the city I was forced to narrow down what we could see on our visit. With a day spent in Versailles and a second at the match, we were pretty limited with what we could fit into our remaining day and a half in the city. Sadly, the catacombs were closed on our only available day for a tour, so that will have to be scheduled for our next trip to France’s capital.

The Pantheon (“Temple of the “Republic”) was built in 1791 and was originally a church.
Latin Quarter

I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to not only visit, but also see the US women play in person. Paris is beautiful (no shocker there) and I was admittedly a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and all there it is to do. Here’s the thing: You can definitely feel the pressure to “check items off the list” but my recommendation is to pick what is both feasible and interesting for you and go that route!

Also an excuse to post Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge gifs.

Where are we?

The largest and most populous city in France, Paris is known for its architecture and art, along with being one of the most expensive cities in the world (second only to Singapore in 2018). There is so much to see and do! We used the subway system as much as possible not only to save money but also sustainability things; opened in 1900, the metro is the second busiest in the world with over five million passengers daily.

Porte Saint Denis was built in 1672 and is 24 meters (80 feet) tall.

Known as “the City of Light” for both the role the city played in the Age of Enlightenment and literally as one of the first European locations to use gas lighting on a large scale, the area of Paris was first inhabited by the Parisil, a sub-tribe of the Celtic Senones around 3rd century BC and was first named Lutetua.

In 1901, the city’s population grew to over two million inhabitants including a number of artists from around the world–painter Pablo Picasso and author Marcel Proust–and after WWI, the city continued to be a mecca for artists: Josephine Baker, Allen Ginsberg, and Ernest Hemingway, among so many others. African American artists including Baker and acclaimed author James Baldwin found Paris to be an escape from the segregation and injustice they faced in America during this time.

On June 14th, 1920, the Nazis marched into Paris and ordered French police to arrest the city’s Jewish population. 12,844 people were detained (including over four thousand children) for five days before being sent to Auschwitz; none of the children survived. Today France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, although with growing anti-Semitic violence in the country, many have relocated to other countries in the past five years.

Tour Saint-Jacques (Saint-Jacques Tower) is the only remaining building of the Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. Built in 1509 and demolished in 1797 during the French Revolution, the tower is 52 meters (171 feet) tall.

With over 1803 monuments, 173 museums, and 450 gardens and parks throughout the city, Paris offers something for any visitor. Thankfully, we saw a couple of monuments, gardens, and of course cemeteries, while in the city. Paris is first in the world for number of libraries–830!–but unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit any; add it to the list for our next visit!

One of the best aspects of visiting Paris was merely wandering around the city, of course my favorite pastime. Meandering the beautiful streets, armed with coffee and a list of eventual destinations, I loved spending our long weekend here.

The Sites:

Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden):

Luxembourg Palace was built from 1615-1645, originally as the royal residence for regent Marie de’ Medici, the mother of King Louis XIII, but now is the seat of the Senate of the Fifth Republic (since 1958).
Marie’s palace was inspired by her native Florence. Today the gardens contain 23 hectares and includes a number of statues, fountains, and pathways.
View of the Panthéon from the garden.
We walked the gardens on a beautiful summer day (so thankful for the lovely weather) right after brunch. Much needed after treating ourselves to southern food!

Shakespeare and Company:

Shakespeare and Company was at the top of my must-visit list. First opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919, the store was known as the center for American literature and culture in Paris. Closed in December 1941 as the Germans occupied France–supposedly because Beach refused to give a German officer her last copy of Finnegans Wake, a true queen–this location never re-opened, even after the war ended.
George Whitman opened the new Shakespeare and Company in 1951 on the site of a 16th century monastery. James Baldwin, Allen Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs, and many other literary icons spent time here. A “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”, the gorgeous shop also includes beds for aspiring writers. Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia (named after Sylvia Beach) currently runs the store. Henry Miller called Shakespeare and Company “a wonderland of books” and I have to agree; I loved this place.
The epitome of a Parisian bookstore.
(Via Gavin Ford)

Place Josephine Baker:

In 2000 this square was named for American Josephine Baker, a performer and spy during WWII. Known for her dancing, Baker called France her second home.

The Moulin Rouge:

The famous red mill of the Moulin Rouge was co-founded by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller and is known as the birthplace of the can-can dance.
Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, John Leguizamo, AND Jim Broadbent?! Truly this film did what the others COULDN’T do.

Notre-Dame de Paris:

The Notre-Dame cathedral caught fire less than a month before we traveled to France. Constructed between 1163-1345, the building was badly damaged when the roof and spire were destroyed in 2019.
The cathedral is currently closed and under renovation with an expected completion date of 2024, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Paris.
One of the larger concerns with the Notre-Dame fire is health impact of the toxic dust created by the burning of the lead used in the cathedral’s roof and spire. 250 tons of lead were burned during the fifteen hour-long blaze.
Teams of scientists are currently working inside of the cathedral: restoring artifacts, attempting to safely remove burned scaffolding, and addressing contamination from the lead.

The Eiffel Tower:

We didn’t actively seek out the Eiffel Tower as I have zero interest in heights whatsoever, but happily we saw Paris’s tallest structure in a number of places. This is the view from the metro station on our way to Versailles.
The “cultural icon” of Paris opened in 1889 and is the most-visited paid monument in the world.
View of the Tower during our walk home from the World Cup.

Cimetière de Montmartre (Montmarte Cemetery):

The third largest necropolis in Paris, the Montmarte Cemetery was opened on January 1st, 1825.
The cemetery is located on an abandoned gypsum quarry that was used as a mass grave during the French Revolution.
Many famous artists are buried here including Emile Zola and Francois Truffant.
Our walk through the cemetery was a nice break from the busy city.
The cemetery is located under the busy Rue Caulaincourt.
Dozens of cats live here! We saw a couple sunning themselves on mausoleums.

View from the Seine:

Other Sites:

Saint Joseph des Carmes was constructed from 1613-1620.
The College of Sorbonne was founded in 1253.
The Paris Opera was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV.
Les Grands Boulevards
Nicolas Flamel’s former house is the oldest stone home in the city of Paris and was built in 1407. Legend holds that Flamel discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and was the inspiration behind the first Harry Potter novel that featured the Stone’s Elixer of Life.
59 Rivoli is a must-visit! It was unfortunately closed while we were in Paris, but we saw how the famous “artist-squat” was decorated for the World Cup: a banner stating “la victoire est l’égalité” meaning “victory is equality”.
59 Rivoli was renovated by the city and reopened in 2009 . The building includes six stories of artist studios and is known for its changing facade.

World Cup Match:

Attending a World Cup match was an absolute dream come true. I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to see the US women play in person.
Again, so thankful for this opportunity and the gorgeous weather. We traveled to the match by metro but walked home, using the crowded public transportation as an excuse to see more of the city.

Restaurants & Pubs:

Soul Kitchen:

Soul Kitchen offered the space I was looking for while in Paris–a bistro table on the sidewalk complete with great coffee and a beautiful view of the city. The restaurant’s interior is absolutely adorable with a ton of great brunch options and a menu written on a door that is brought to you when you order.

Break Time:

Ah, kebabs. Thankfully there were two kebeb restaurants near our hotel and Break Time was an inexpensive and convenient stop for a quick meal. They offered kebabs in cheese naan bread (!!) that was awesome.

Treize au Jardin:

My famous number one brunch of 2019 was enjoyed at Treize au Jardin. I essentially planned our trip around brunch and soccer, obviously.
Southern brunch is one of the things I miss most about living in Charleston. Treize au Jarden did not disappoint with their version of tomato pie (my all-time favorite breakfast food) and pimento cheese biscuits.
Still dreaming of this adorable cafe. AN ABSOLUTE MUST-VISIT. Take my word on this.

La Recyclerie:

I absolutely loved La Recyclerie! Located in Montmartre, this former train station turned restaurant/cafe/work-space takes sustainability seriously. The space includes DIY workshops, seed swaps, and while we were there, a community activism discussion. Reused mismatched furniture and a view of the restaurant’s garden and chickens made this a cozy spot for coffee (only a Euro a cup! In Paris!).
Not to mention their affordable cocktails.
The restaurant’s menu changes daily based on the availability of their urban farm. I had a lovely vegetable pasta our last night in the city.

🤍Paris

Currently:
Reading: Busted in New York and Other Essays (Darryl Pinckney)
Listening: Blunderbuss (Third Man Records)