The Petit Trianon

Visited the Petit Trianon on this trip.

Louis XIV’s palace only proves that nothing is too good or too big for a king. Kings everywhere have always tried to prove it. That mentality even infected the Vatican, since the cathedral church there is bigger, larger, fatter, grosser, huger than any other church in the world. And proud of it. Markers, along the main central aisle, mark the lengths of the naves of its main competitors, and none have it beat. (And to think Bernini that supreme genius of the Renaissance participated in all this - the bloating, biggening, gross enlargening that is.)

But to get back to Versailles the king, being king, I suppose, was capable of getting the best artists of his time to fill the palace with many truly excellent portraits. All perfectly harmonized in excellent taste. Guys mostly I never heard of. And the Hall of Mirrors truly is impressive, in a showy way. I once had a glimpse of the interior of Donald Trump’s place in New York. (A photo layout.) It was all glittering gold. The walls were gold, the ceiling was gold, the chandeliers were gold, everywhere you looked: gold. Totally tasteless. Rich guys, with lots of power - rulers of the world, whether on Wall Street or in Paris - have to watch out for that. Even in Florence there are some inextricable displays of bad taste. And this was a place where, at one time, geniuses were a dime a dozen. And the aristocracy had enough sense to take advantage of all that vision and talent.

But to get back to Versailles, as I said, I visited the Petit Trianon, expecting to find some lifeless stuffy place filled with the showy opulence vulgar rich people are drawn to. In any age. What a surprise! What I found instead was a truly attractive home with a wonderful atmosphere of comfort and serenity. The queen had taste.

Down on the lower floor, the ground floor, you’ll find the small, simple rooms which attended to the practical concerns of living out there (and out there it is. From palace to palace is at least a forty five minute walk.) Up on the first floor, the floor above, is where the Queen slept and played. Entering her bedroom what may immediately strike you is how small her bed was. It almost could pass for a baby’s crib. A big baby, yes. But the entire length of the bed may not even be five feet. True, people were short then. Much shorter than today. Though to think that the Queen of France was so tiny is still nevertheless startling. Considering her size in history.

But the queen slept in a small room which was beautifully and magnificently appointed, creating an atmosphere of perfect comfort. Some of that tranquility can still be felt today. Standing there looking at the room beyond the rope you can still go back to that time, distantly absorbing it. Enjoying it. And, of course, the contrast of this perfect ease and comfort with the poverty and squalor so many of the French in her day knew is striking. Not that one begrudges her good fortune and good taste. One simply feels the suffering of the millions lacking it. Who had no chance of ever enjoying any of that privileged life she knew.

The queen loved music. In an adjoining room (let’s not forget the palace is extremely small) there was a small harp, an antique piano of some sort, and a variety of beautiful padded chairs (practically comfortable as well as attractive) where music was performed for her and her visitors and guests. All in perfect taste. That kind of good taste which may make its fortunate possessor forget all the distant sufferings in the outside world. After all, in such an atmosphere one can not touch or feel that pain. And ugliness does not harmonize with comfort. It’s normal and easy to want to forget all that. And of course it was only through the accident of birth that she possessed her pleasures.

Yes, there was an ideal atmosphere out there, far from the main palace, surrounded by countryside, and she must have known many peaceful and happy moments in her little nest. But of course “the deluge” eventually came. In the main palace, next to the royal bed, which is enormous, you can see the tiny side door Marie Antoinette fled through when the Paris crowds stormed the palace. Her luck simply ran out.

And isn’t that worth considering too?


  1. While you toured the palace, we drove over to Cincinnati and found ourselves in something called the Taft Museum: another royal residence converted for public consumption: assuredly a tax break---and a way to store sumptuous art collected by a family that obviously had WAY too much money.

    The Rembrandt is a revelation.

    The big bathtub is not here.

  2. Louis XIV would have made a bigger bathtub, just not to be outdone.

    In Indianapolis there's a place called the Columbia Club, on Monument Circle, the heart of town. (I wouldn't recommend Indianapolis to anybody.) This used to be an exclusive Republican club, for rich Hoosiers. Hoagy Carmichael once led the band there before going on to bigger things.

    A rich uncle of mine (by marriage) once took me inside expecting to impress me. I was in high school at the time and unimpressed. In fact I was a little puzzled by his lack of ease considering his millions were as good as anyone else's. What’s more, any kid growing up in Greenwich Village isn’t impressed by seeing famous persons, especially a Republican.

    But the Columbia Club appears to have fallen on hard times, since they accept overnight lodgers now. I stayed there one night some time ago and would recommend it if, for some reason, you ever stay in Indianapolis. For it has all the opulent swank a rich Republican social club from the nineteen twenties can offer. In fact, that atmosphere is much of what makes the place fascinating.

    These rich folk knew how to restrain themselves. They created a great deal of emphatic luxury without ever really overdoing it. Though some of their decorative baubles reach out to the limits, including a piece of furniture President Howard Taft donated to the club. Nothing folksy about that gift, decently reflecting back upon the overall modesty of the American people in his time. This was an expression of pure unadulterated wealth, even creating a large sense of a royal presidency back in Washington. Blatantly combining power and money as if they naturally belong together, even in a wide ranging democracy. The overall message of this luxurious object being that the president was just reassuring the boys back in Indianapolis that he knew what was truly worthy, and not to worry.

  3. The Taft spirit of rich and poor still prevails in Ohio.