Well, at least I think it was his castle. Could’ve been anyone’s, to be honest. After being in Paris, France about three months and having seen 67 art museums, including the famous and very crowded, expansive Louvre, 93 castles, and 52 cathedrals, it all starts to blend together like good, expensive eye shadow. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. I think it really gave me the time to “absorb” the energy that is Paris, France, to gather its history, and get a real understanding of the greater appreciation that the French have for art and its artists.
But for now, we’ll focus on Napoleon’s castle. A work of art and architecture all its own.
I’ll give you the highlights though because there is always something that can be gleaned from every experience, especially while traveling.
Napoleon is dead. He did some important historical shit that I can’t remember. They wore fancy, French clothes including silk dresses with intricate hand embroidery that are preserved and on showcase in the museum as if they are pieces of art…and they are. Anytime anyone spends that amount of time making a frock or a dress, a cape or a headdress it becomes a wearable piece of art. With a seamstress for a mother, I wouldn’t dare disrespect the textile crafts, and even still, you can see the time that must have gone into each piece of clothing. Fashion has always been important to the highly bred, after all.
There are also handy-dandy plaques with a bunch of historical crap that you’ll forget before you even finish the tour because it’s mostly like reading a textbook broken up into smaller paragraphs for those plaques and, naturally all of the knowledge is heavy and filled with talk of wars and politics and the social climate of the time.
But there is hope for those who simply cannot bear to read Napoleon’s castle plaques.
This is the 21st century. There is now an audio recording that goes along with the plaques just in case you don’t feel like reading them…which you might not. I certainly got fatigued quickly. I won’t say that history is uninteresting, but that it can definitely be written in a boring way that doesn’t really make anything sound as exciting as it should.
Imagine learning about one of the most infamous figures in international, war history and someone taking the time to write THEE driest, most dispassionate account of troubled times. Without poetry or lofty wording or anything. It was too much for me to continue doing. My eyes glazed over the plaques and focused on the artwork.
And… after seeing so many paintings in a similar style, even the art in the castle was of little interest to me.
So, what does one do outside of Paris, France while visited Napoleon’s castle on a field trip where you have no means of escape for a couple of hours?
You explore the land.
I will say that even while the paintings and sculptures started to blur together, the architecture was always a fresh and inviting experience. So I drank it in. The high, arching ceilings. The hand carved archways. The columns that ran 40 and 50 feet into the sky. And all of this can be seen outdoors.
There is something to be said for the extravagance of the rich for the detail that goes into the making of a castle. To literally live in a piece of art, to make it your home, as the mansion of days long past, is another thought that might fill your mind as you take your tours of castles and old churches. You are nearly forced to think about the magnitude of the castle as you are standing in it, and maybe, if looking up into the high ceilings doesn’t do it for you, standing near the high gates that surround the castle and looking from afar might bring you a sense of wonder.
The lands of a castle hold many delightful surprises.
Now, my favorite AND most important part… The pond behind the castle. I’m not sure that “pond” is even an accurate description. It is the sort of place that seems to hide beyond a garden…but there was no garden…only a large, drafty castle with a courtyard and stone overpasses that swoop into the sky and open to something truly glorious. It is like stepping onto a back patio…in the 1600s. Can you imagine taking a stroll in a big ballgown on a fine French night after dancing yourself into a tizzy?
The archways are like portals that you must step through into a place that melds architecture and nature. A wall of stone circles something you can’t yet see. What might it be? Surely no other sculptures and paintings can fit in one place?
You a greeted by a coating of green algae and leaves floating on the water. The sun is warm as it welcomes you into the bright day, away from the dark, enclosed-space of the castle.
There are ducks in that pond, and the ducks there will eat anything, including the crumbs that you pull out of your pockets and out of the bottom of your purses. They’d probably even eat sock lent if you were willing to try. I found several packets of smashed crackers and cookies in the bottom of my purse. Already broken up into little pieces to feed my new friends.
Have you taken the time to feed the ducks today?
Behind that pond, a border of large, grayish pink stones, set into the ground to guide you. You need only resist the quacking of the ducks long enough to walk the perimeter of the pond. Beyond that border, a walking path lined with white gravel. I follow it. There is more sunlight here where no castle stands as tall as oak trees to block it.
There is another, more shallow-looking pool. Well, it looked shallow, but that might just be because it was “pool clean” versus being “pond dirty”. On that clear pool with its lovely fountain, sit giant swans. Now… swans are not known for being friendly birds which is why I had to risk my life seeing how close I could get to them. It’s a very interesting game to play when you’re tired of looking at castles and the artwork of the longtime dead.
This is the sort of place I write poetry about. A lake of greedy ducks. A pool of floating swans. You take photos and dream about having faraway, location weddings with big, poofy dresses and a full orchestra set out to glisten in the sun who play your favorite wedding song as you march down the aisle. You don’t need your father to accompany you because there will be swans. You don’t need fathers or flower girls or any other family members or even guests at your wedding when you have giant swans who glide across the clearest water beneath a lightly clouded sky that still manages to let through some plenty of sunlight to feel warm.
If I ever were to return to Napoleon’s castle, named, very regally the Palace of Fontainebleau, it would not be for the paintings or intricately embroidered clothes or the history; it would be for the pond and pool, the ducks and the swans. For the things that still live, not the people who have died and been forever connected to its grand stones.
That is what I hope for you all. To see past tourist traps and those things you feel obligated to do, and to find a small thing you love in every travel experience. To feel beauty as well as see it and be involved in it was the best part of visiting the Palace of Fontainebleau.
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