Which way to Versailles? The bride wants to know!

The subway doors whooshed shut behind us and we settled into cozy little groups for the 45 minute ride to quite possibly the most magnificent chateau ever imagined. The coach rocked rhythmically back and forth between stations with romantic names.

Earlier I’d slid the Jessica Simpson Boots onto my feet, praying that the night’s sleep had erased their memory of torture. That wasn’t the case however, and the moment I tried to walk I knew that I’d have to find alternative footwear for the rest of the time in Paris. I scanned the room hoping for…what? I’d brought my blingy slip-on sandals for wedding attire, the JS Boots for walking, and that’s all. Except…there, skulking like naughty kittens peeking out from under the bed, were my shabby black Merrell sandals.

“But it’s too cold to wear those,” I argued with myself.

“You bought warm socks in the market…”

“I refuse to wear sandals with socks!”

“Suit yourself, I’m just sayin’ you want to be comfortable? Those butt-ugly sandals are the most comfortable things you’ve got goin’ sweetheart!”

I found the socks, pulled them on and strapped my feet into the sandals. Ahhhh…heaven!

So rocking along in the tube with happy feet, I noticed Joy’s face. Joy’s face wears her thoughts without filter. When she’s happy, light radiates through her skin. She glows. When she’s sad, liquid brown puppy-eyes break your heart. But this was neither of those and I instantly knew that something wasn’t quite right. Intensity crackled and sparked around features that were frozen in concentrated focus. It was her problem-solving face. As the train slowed she jumped out of her seat.

“Everybody get off here!” she commanded, and without question we stood as one body and sluiced out the door.

“Hurry…the other side…yes, that’s it…get on!”

At some point as those sexy French names flashed by, she had realized our train was going the wrong direction. That little foible in her plans didn’t rattle her in the least. Once again I felt love and pride well up in my heart. Her competence, her smart easy way of turning a situation around without drama or fuss, impressed me right down to my ugly black socks!

We departed the train and followed the crowds for the five minute walk. Passing through a stand of trees the grandeur of the grounds and buildings of Versailles lay in a hazy sprawl before us.

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P1080490Joy handed us our tickets. We moved quickly along the corral, passed through a scanner and entered the vestibule. Twelve people with distinctly different passions cannot be expected to absorb the sights at the same pace. We agreed to meet in the courtyard at 4 p.m. The group evaporated like morning mist.

The gardens were closed when I saw Versailles for the first time. I mentioned that to Jessa and Dan.

“Let’s go to the gardens then,” they said. “But first the Hall of Mirrors…”

P1080485Perhaps even more spectacular than I remembered, the glittering, over-the-top extravagance of that room makes sense of the French Revolution. Let them eat cake, said Marie Antoinette when the peasants bemoaned that they had no bread. Royalty cavorted, feasted and played at Versailles while the people grew hungry and furious. They no doubt cheered when her head rolled from the guillotine.

Gardens and food were on the agenda as we passed, jaws gaping, through the queen’s bedchambers and room after damasked, draped, over-decorated room pressed into the herd of other bedazzled lookers. Finally we spilled through the exit into fresh open air. Checking our map we noted the spoon and fork sign near the Petit Trianon, the private residence of Marie Antoinette.

“Shall we?” one of us asked.

“Let’s!”

So off we went to the area of Versailles where two teachers from St. Hugh’s College in Oxford, England, visited in 1901 and saw things and people that hadn’t existed since 1789. As we strolled through a landscape grayed and damp, it wasn’t difficult to imagine losing our way, stumbling on a different path, and ending up one-hundred years in the past. Such adventures need fortification, however. We decided to eat first.

P1080486P1080487P1080489Have you ever in your life seen French Onion Soup like this?! Mama Mia!!! Is it any wonder I gained ten pounds in five days? And of course we didn’t JUST have French Onion Soup. We had hot mulled wine and the apple custard tart for dessert.

Versailles is an amazing place that occupies a significant part of European history. It was a fitting finish to a fairytale wedding week. Joy and Kellen, thank you! You planned and executed an exquisite event. And to repeat once again, the words of my blessing for you:

May your troubles be manageable,

may your heats remain true,

and may your lives be blessed with peace, abundance, and JOY!

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Taking Tea with the Prince

 

I’ve had tea with the prince. My life is complete.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a construction site. Looking at it from the other side of a yawning gorge it appeared an ambitious project. I followed steep steps beside a waterfall to the bottom, crossed the bridge, and huffed and puffed my way up the equally steep steps to the top of the other side.

Construction site

I wondered if it was another new hotel being built for the booming tourism business here in Ubud. But there was no one to ask so I carefully picked my way through building materials. The project took on a more finished appearance as I progressed. Then suddenly before me was the entrance, a towering edifice with not one, but four tiers of carved Barong faces guarding against unwanted visitors, earthly or otherwise. I began to wonder if this might be a private home. The doorway was constructed in traditional Balinese style, but I have never seen embellishment of this refined detail, even at the Ubud Palace.

Entrance edifice

I crept up the steps to peek, just peek, through the gilded doors standing slightly ajar. In front of me, barring further view, was a splendid Ganesh. Should any of those said unwanted beings happen to pass the first line of defense, his placement directly in front of the entrance was guaranteed to finish the job. My curiosity insisted on seeing what lay beyond.

Ganesh

So I proceeded, and Ganesh didn’t seem to have a problem with that. The scene that met my eyes when I cleared the final barrier was like something out of a fairy tale, or a Disney theme park! On my right, 15′ stone maidens poured the contents of their jugs into terraced pools.  Between the maidens water cascaded over lapped panels of metal. The landscaping was a glorious profusion of Bali’s most exotic vegetation.

Fountain wall

There are few places where I’ve stared with my eyes bugging and my lower jaw gaping…the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the Vatican…my standards are significantly elevated. It takes something pretty special to impress me. This gilded oasis at the end of the rice paddies definitely made the grade. After ogling shamelessly for several minutes, I tore myself away and went home. But I couldn’t get the images out of my mind.

So when I asked Ketut this morning if he wanted an adventure, my plan was to return and see what progress had been made in the past two weeks. We hopped on ‘Pink’ (a fitting name for his pearlized mauve colored motorbike) and were there in a matter of minutes. My jaw dropped again. I hadn’t glamorized it in my mind. If anything it had grown grander in two weeks. We strolled the path toward a group of workers installing a pair of dazzling chandeliers on the porch of the main structure. It would be good to ask permission to be there, I decided.

One of the men was obviously not a worker. His diamond encrusted watch probably cost more than a small oceanside villa, and the two rings he wore, one on each hand, would make Tiffany’s drool. Ketut had addressed one of the workmen but I approached the jewelry and said, “This is amazing. Who is the owner?” The man smiled benignly, almost humbly. “I am,” he said. Then he proceeded to introduce himself as Cok Wah and invited me to sit on the floor of his glistening black marble porch with him. He said a few quick words of Indonesian and I knew he had ordered drinks for Ketut and me. I quickly said, “Not necessary,” also in Indonesian. Again the beneficent smile. “I want you to feel welcome in my home,” was the gracious reply.

So I sat. And as we shared tea and Balinese sweet cakes, Prince Cok Wah told me about his father, the king of Ubud, and how he was building this palace to honor him. He seemed in no hurry to be anywhere else. He explained the two female statues flanking the gold bust of his father at the great entrance. They represented his father’s two wives, the women who had raised him and his five siblings. He talked about other plans he had for the unfinished portions of the project. Then, as I’ve often experienced with Balinese people, the conversation turned philosophical. We contemplated good and evil, light and darkness, and the necessity of maintaining balance in our lives. I kept checking in with myself to make sure this wasn’t some surreal dream, but the tea was wet, cake crumbs were accumulating in my lap, and I was sweating. In a dream I wouldn’t be sweating.

Two chandeliers dripping with crystal were being installed on the ‘front porch’

Then he told me that I would have to come back and see the palace after dark. “The lighting is automatic,” he said. “It comes on at 6 p.m.” He whipped out his iphone (seriously) and showed me pictures of the palace after dark. I told him I would like nothing better and made polite leave-taking noises. On the way out he took us behind the aquarium that is built into the entrance stairway. The aquatic scenery that appears to be in the tank itself is actually painted on the walls of the room behind it.

Aquarium after dark

Ketut had been uncharacteristically quiet during our tea party. As we putt-putted back home he told me that Cok Wah is a member of the Ksatriya Caste. In the Hindu system, they are the rulers. There are three Balinese languages, one for the lowest caste, one for the middle caste, and the most formal one for addressing royalty. Ketut admitted that he did not know the language well enough for addressing a person of Cok’s social status. Rather than insult the man he had opted for silence.

We did return to the palace after dark. Prince Cok Wah was still there. He greeted me by name and apologized that he had to leave but told us to stay as long as we wanted. Evidently a TV crew had been there about a month ago and filmed the palace extensively. The special program was due to air that night and he was going home to watch it. Before he left he escorted us into the compound and seemed terribly pleased to hear our exclamations of astonished awe. Then he was gone.

The main house

View of the entrance from the main house

Detailed carvings on the entrance edifice

The lighting effects on a dragon’s head

Steps ascending to the family temple

The family temple

Gilded woodcarving adorning the structure where important ceremonies are performed, weddings, cremations, tooth filings, and the like.

The pavilion for gamelan and Balinese dance performances is still under construction

We stayed a long time. The almost full moon watched as I took 164 photos. Ketut chatted with the security staff. When it just didn’t make sense to take another picture we found our way out of the magic kingdom, located Pink, and headed home. Ketut, faithful scout that he is, was eager to tell me what he had learned. Evidently the project has been underway for five years. So far it has cost over $80 million (that’s in U.S. dollars). It will take another year before it’s completed. On the back of the motorbike my jaw fell open for the final time today and I repeated the worn-out word that my lips have reverently breathed over and over and over again…

“WOW!”

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