Oct 29, 2014

Versailles, Brought to You By Sunny D: Les Gachons


One day over October break, we go to Versailles with some friends visiting from San Francisco, starting our day there with the equestrian show at the stables across from the palace. Naturally, the stables themselves are fit for a king (and not just the king's horse).

But the show....how shall I say this delicately?....is not quite designed for American tastes. For the first 45 minutes or so, there are three riders on horseback traversing in vaguely pattern-like paths around and through the ring. A sleep-inducing, floridly-written voice-over recites drivel like "A horse and rider become one through the years. The rider is not his master, but a part of the horse, and one cannot exist without the other. When a horse dies, a part of his rider's soul also perishes, and he must work for years to rebuild this rapport with another horse, who will someday be just as much a part of his soul." I keep hoping I will not be able to understand the next thing they say.

(Amazingly, I don't get any photos, so this is a Garde Républicaine horse going through the paces)

Sacrilege Alert: About 40 minutes in, our friend Cindy leans over and whispers to me, "Matt just asked me, 'Do you think everybody here is wondering when the real show is going to start?'" It's hard to know if we are just American and crass, and therefore we are the only ones hoping a horse dressed in sequins will play the piano like Liberace, or if, in fact, everybody is yawning on the inside. For the last ten minutes, the riders get the horses to do extremely un-horse-like things such as walking backwards, sideways, and most bizarre of all -- skipping. We four parents are desperately trying to rev up the excitement level for the children: "Wow! Look at the horses skipping!," but really the children by now have given up and are far more interested in plowing through the copious snack supply I've brought. We emerge an hour later, poorer and wiser. Perhaps 400 years ago this was as addictive as television ("Maman, please just 15 more minutes of horses skipping?! I promise I'll clean my room after....").

We are foregoing a visit to the interior of the palace itself (I know: Sacrilege Alert!), but one of the nice things about living here is not feeling like we have to do it all in one day.


We'll make it inside before we leave, but today, we head out to the gardens. At one point, Pippa is lost in her own world and goes the opposite direction from us. Though we can clearly see her, we scream her name, and we are on a big open almost un-peopled path, she doesn't notice for quite a while that she is getting farther and farther from us. She likes to walk along, head in the clouds, making up songs and monologues/pretend conversations. Here in the gardens, she finally does snap to, but she thinks she is lost and starts bawling. Are we terrible parents because we let her believe herself lost for quite a while, in order to teach a lesson? In Paris, she has gotten lost a couple times because of this habit. Somehow this feels like a pretty safe place for her to learn this lesson. Or, perhaps we are ogres.  Don't worry; eventually we go and get her.


The fountains are all in full spray this month for a couple hours late in the afternoon. Disillusioned by our horse show this morning, we set our expectations low. "Remember, this won't be the Bellagio fountains in Vegas!" While it's true that many of them are just simple fountains, some are "choreographed", and all are set amidst the splendor of gilded statuary and mythical carvings in the beautiful surroundings of the Versailles gardens. There is classical music broadcast throughout the garden, the sun has finally warmed up, and we are not watching horses prance. So, all in all, a lovely afternoon.

Since Cindy works in advertising, and we are all American, we cannot help but notice the incredible lack of branding and salesmanship. We start choosing the best real estate for kiosks that could sell King Louis IVth reproduction antique i-phone covers and beautiful backdrops for 10 photos taken with somebody in full Marie Antoinette costume (before she was beheaded, she and husband Louis XVI being the last of the royal line to reside here). Naturally, chances for sponsorship are horribly lost on the poor French, who simply present the castle in museum-like dignity. The Fountains of October, brought to you by Evian Water! Versailles, brought to you by Louis IV, the Sun King, and Sunny D -- a delicious fruit-flavored drink! Sigh. What a missed opportunity.


This posting also brought to you by Pepperidge Farm (new motto: "Let them eat cake!").

THE CHEESE: Les Gachons

Les Gachons, mysteriously labeled Fleuron des Gachons by my market cheesemonger, is from Saint-Léger-sur-Vouzance, a commune in the department of l'Allier in the region of Auvergne in central France. That's a mouthful of a description for a mouthful of a town-name for a small nubbin of cheese.

It's a farmhouse cheese made from raw goats' milk with a lovely layer of ash through the middle, and hints of ash coming through the wrinkly toad skin crust. It's a creamy, mild cheese -- milder (yes, blander) than you'd think given the black streaks. Ash is all sound and no fury.

But it's hard to argue with the texture: seemingly a solid when cool, and a liquid at warm room temperature. It's positively goopy. In any event, some people actually prefer a very mild goat cheese, without the game-y, farm-y taste. And those of us who like a little more oomph can always add a jot of honey or a fruit gel.


This posting with its gushing fountains is also brought to you by the letter G, found on the gilded gates at the entrance to Versailles: G which stands, of course, for Gachons. And funny enough, the word "Gachons" can also mean "Let's Waste!" or "Let's Spoil Somebody!" -- which brings us right back to Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the mythical-but-probably-not-true pronouncement, "Let them eat cake!"



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