Saturday, May 15:  Versailles

We slept a bit later today, and Pat made scrambled edges for breakfast. We’d made arrangements to travel to the Paris suburbs to visit another of Marie-France and Thierry’s daughters, Claire, and her family. So we caught the Metro northward to St. Lazare train station. We slowly and carefully found our way out of the Metro station, to the suburban trains (not the local RER or long-haul mainlines), then to a non-automated ticket booth. Claire had faxed me a page out of her schedule book, which made it very easy to show to the clerk and to then point to the assembled family, and so purchasing tickets was easy.

The train ride was fast and efficient, and half an hour later we passed a huge Peugeot assembly plant and arrived at a station near Orgeval, southwest of Paris. Claire’s husband Charles picked us up in one of their American minivans and welcomed us warmly. We got a quick tour of their village as he carried us back to their house.

There we met Claire and her four children, Nicholas, Marie, Hugues, Alberic, ranging in age from twelve down to seven. The boys blended in pretty quickly and soon they were all off playing near the stream at the base of their beautifully landscaped yard. We sat outside as it was one of the first nice spring days they’d seen, and had some Chateau Figeac before lunch. Charles’ family is from Normandy, so we looked at the old WW II shell casings he has and heard about his family’s chateau there. His hobbies are “motorsports”: boats, Porsches and ATVs. Claire put on a great spread for lunch and everyone had fun eating and getting to know each other. Of course, there was a lot of discussion about Villepigue family history, and recollections of my parent’s visit to Paris many years ago when Claire worked there as a lawyer. (Photo 135)

Photo 130  Arc de Triomphe
Photo 131  Eiffel Tower

Photo 132  David and Robert atop Eiffel Tower
Photo 133  Versailles
Photo 134  Louis XIV, the Sun King

Photo 135  French Cousins at Versailles
Charles was probably more interested in taking us for a springtime ride in his boat, but the educational nature of our trip held sway and we all headed out for a tour of nearby Versailles. Two cars were needed, so the moms and the boys went in one van, while I went with Charles and Marie. I think I doubled my French vocabulary on the trip, as Charles helped Marie practice her English. I took a real liking to Marie, whose small size belies a big personality.

The Palace of Versailles drives home the ascendancy of France that began with Louis XIV, and the eventual causes of the Revolution. It did a good job of tying together some of the historical strands we’ve had kicking around. The Palace interior was incredible, though to my disappointment, the Hall of Mirrors was 90% covered up by renovation work. The “Versaille Parquet” floor was still evident though. If the inside was grandiose, the outside was so immense and grand it was difficult to imagine. Fountains and canals, and long, long straight paths and boulevards lined with trees. We rode the “petit train” to see it all, and made a stop at Marie Antoinette’s hobby farm. (Photo 133)  (Photo 134)

Back to their home in Orgeval, the hour had grown late, and Claire suggested that Charles could drive us back into Paris rather than waiting for a late train. It was a kind offer that we accepted. While Charles ran a personal errand, we foraged on the leftovers from lunch. The drive into Paris was great fun. For starters, the boys were a bit surprised when Charles drove nearly full-bore through one of the toll plazas. His “TelePass” transmitter lifted the gates just a second before he was about to crash through them. We navigated the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe without incident (OK, one close call), and got more excellent commentary from Charles on the sights along the way.

We had fun meeting another Manoncourt daughter (and cousin) and her family, and we have been overwhelmed by all their hospitality. The boys all got along well, so if we can improve their French, perhaps they will see more of each other in the years ahead. In subsequent days we received two faxed notes from Nicholas and Hugues, and Robert has responded with a brief letter. Hopefully, the communication will continue.