The sky was gray when we left Paris for Versailles,we sat side by side and Anna handed me one of her headphones so I could share her iPod on the ride. Air in the train car had a delicious Saturday morning feel as the weekend stretched before us.
Mackelmore rapped on Anna’s iPod, the rhythm in sync with the train on the tracks, an urban soundtrack. Out the window, a gritty view passed by–graffiti-covered walls, Metro stops, laundry hanging from apartment windows. A man behind us talked loudly on his cell phone, oblivious to the dirty looks from passengers. An accordion player jumped into our car and played a song I recognized from the movie “Darjeeling Limited.”—appropriate that it was a train movie.
Just thirty minutes later, we were walking from the train to Versailles with other tourists in a downpour—the wind blowing so hard our umbrella was blown inside out. We squealed, and laughed, and fought the wind to restore our protective umbrella, then huddled underneath it. It was a very good day for the souvenir salesmen crowd the Versailles gates peddling knicknacks—today the tourists couldn’t give them their money fast enough for umbrellas. I liked a pink Marie Antoinette umbrella but we brought our own –we could have brought two umbrellas, but being optimists, we didn’t really think it would rain. Now we both clung to one umbrella. A line snaked around the building, tourists flattened against the wall trying to stay warm.
“Do you want to go back?” I asked. The skies had become charcoal, thunder richocheted off the buildings, rain was pouring down.
“No, we came this far. Let’s go to Marie Antoinette’s house.” Anna said, a fan of the Sophia Coppola movie with Kirsten Dunst.
“That’s the spirit!,” I replied although I wouldn’t have been sad if she said let’s go back We paused at the top of the stairs to survey the kingdom below. “King Louis claimed that he designed every blade of grass,” I said. Anna nodded, or shivered, I wasn’t sure then looking down she began laughing hysterically.
“Look!” she laughed and pointed at my pants. My pant legs were so soaked I could wring them out.
We sloshed down the stairs past the fountains spraying and classical music played from massive Bose speakers. On Saturdays and Sundays Versaille presents the lovely Grandes Eaux Musicales and on a sunny day, it’s wonderful, but today it seems misplaced, we are the only people out here for the moment. “ Let’s pretend we are royalty descending the stairs,” I say and we laughed at the absurd picture of two drowned rats trying to descend the royal stairs to the royal gardens in a regal way.
The rain stopped. We took this opportunity to walk down the statue lined path to a tree covered road that leads to the Grand Trianon and the Petite Trianon where Marie Antoinette hung out.
During previous visits to Versailles, I have seen the palace grounds full of merriment: boaters paddling in the grand canal, bicyclists riding around the Palace Gardens, picnickers by the lake, joggers on the paths, restaurants overflowing, ice cream stands surround by customers. On this day, however, not so much merriment, a different view of Versailles..
We toured the Grand Trianon and made our way to the adorable Petite Trianon where Marie Antoinette enjoyed living in a country house like a peasant and kept chickens and sheep. A black cloud loomed ominously above and Anna said, “I’m okay with going back now”.
A few minutes later, the rain began. By the time we reached the parking lot we would have paid a ransom for a plastic poncho–our umbrella protected us from one out of every ten raindrops. We reached the train station just before the train departed and slid into an empty seat. The umbrella left a puddle on the floor. A young couple sat across from us kissing and eating chips. We were chilled to the bone, happy to be inside the train’s warmth, rocked gently as it moved down the tracks. Anna handed me a headphone.
“That was an adventure, mom,” she said placing her headphone in her ear and snuggling against the window.
“Sure was, I said but she didn’t hear. This time, we listened to Eminem,making our way back to Paris. Just outside Issy-val du Seine, out of nowhere, a wave of melancholy washed over me. In a few years Anna will be in a college dorm somewhere listening to Eminem or Mackelmore. Or maybe sitting on a train next to a boy eating chips. It was yesterday that we listened to the Backstreet Boys together on an airplane to DisneyWorld. How fast time goes like a train to Versailles and how happy I am that I have been on the ride sharing a headset.