“The grass was still wet with dew when they emerged from the Petit Trianon. Dawn was Antoine’s favorite time of day and the sprawling grounds of Versailles did it justice. The dim light veiled the garden’s colors, but Antoine could already smell the flowers flitting in the air along with the gurgle of distant fountains. Yellow. Pink. Peach. Everything was still so new, he thought. It was easier to be happy.”*
This is from another scene in Before Ever After. It takes place at the Palace of Versailles just outside Paris. The name Versailles is said to have come from the Latin word versare which means to “to turn over and over.” In medieval times, this term was used to refer to plowed lands that needed to be “turned over” in preparation for the next planting season.
In 1788, there was a proposal to change the palace’s name to Berceau-de-la-Liberté (Cradle of Liberty). I’m glad they didn’t. Versailles, I believe, does exactly what its name suggests: It turns you over and reveals something new.
I first visited the palace with my family when I was sixteen. Back then, like most sixteen year olds, it took a lot to impress me. A passing glance and disinterested mumble were the most I would bestow upon anything that wasn’t on MTV (Yes, young readers, the myths are true. MTV has been around for a while and it was actually a channel for – wait for it – music videos * gasp * and not Jersey Shore.) Versailles, however, was the exception. It taught me the meaning of awe – which I later learned was a rather tricky thing. Awe was addicting.
Feeding my addiction led me to my second visit to Versailles. I was in my early twenties then with a backpack filled with dirty clothes, a guidebook, and a crumpled Eurail pass. I went back hoping to recapture the way I felt the first time I wandered through Versailles’ sprawling grounds. Instead, something very different struck me. I felt small. Lost. I was twenty-two with a stale baguette in my bag that was going to serve as two of the day’s three meals. I was twenty-two and I had no idea where I wanted to go. Versailles had turned me over again.
The third time I visited Versailles was on my honeymoon. I remember sitting on the grass eating crackers and cheese that looked better than it tasted. I also remember no longer feeling lost or overly impressed – at least not by the palace. I was older and found awe in smaller things: the ring on my finger, two toothbrushes in the sink, a hand to hold for the rest of my life.
I’m in my late thirties now and I’m still addicted to awe. Fortunately, it’s gotten easier to find. It giggles and laughs and runs around my home on two pairs of little feet.
Still, Versailles will forever be close to my heart. I discovered awe there and I hope you will find some there too. Let’s go! Leave your things on the bus and follow the red umbrella!
*Copyright © 2011 by Samantha Sotto-Yambao