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Postcards from Paris


Contact Loulou de la Paumardiere

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So why am I playing along then? No idea. I have all the crushes I can handle right now, what with the Peruvian ambassador and the Secretary general of UNESCO and the minister of Finance all sending me notes with phrases plagiarized from Chateaubriand's correspondence with Juliette Recamier: "I write to tell you I love you. I wait to tell you in person," and I start thinking back to all my former boyfriends and husbands and am alarmed to recall that only a couple of them have not been insane. I went out with two of our foreign ministers: Hubert Vedrine, until I found out he'd organized the Rwanda genocide in 1994, and Bernard Kouchner until Carla brought it to my attention that he'd signed a petition in favour of decriminalizing sex with children and is "that way." (GIYF)

I went out with two rather prominent intellectuals, one, named Claude Levi-Strauss, was light years older (I just went to his 100th birthday party the other night) but fascinating until I realized that he'd been stealing thousands of "artifacts" from poor people for our museums, motivated by a conception of the superiority of France and the French language that only a foreigner eager for acceptance into French society such as Claude could believe in. The one I miss more is a Hungarian named László, and he was a librarian and 20 years older and with the exception of Nicolas (only Nicolas is sort of like Laszlo Lite) he is the only man I've ever known with whom I could talk about everything and if it wasn't Thomas Aquinas or fashion or skiing or Robert Musil then it was Bach and mathematics and sex and food and colours and nature and sex again, and he's now President of Hungary but is undulled by the office.

And I went so far as to actually marry a Scot, Angus, Laird of the Elephants and the Mists (really, that was his title and I was, for a time, Louise, Lady of the Elephants and the Mists, you can look it up) who went mad reading The Scots New Testament. (Where-Angus liked to bay-Luke 21:25 in the King James Version-translated, by and large, by landlubber scholar-thieves who shamelessly plagiarized William Tyndale's brilliant one-man effort-speaks of a shipwreck, with "the sea and the waves roaring," The Scots New Testament has "the dumfounerin rair o the jowin sea." And where St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:25, describes his own shipwreck and how he had to swim for a day and a night in the waves, The Scots New Testament, translated by seafarers, has: "ae time I wis a haill nicht an day i the hairy roughers.") I miss him, although not the thousand-year-old castle and its pre-medieval plumbing.

I miss living with my neighbour in Paris, a wonderful artist named Sempe, who has spent as much time at 60, rue de Varenne as at his own home. And I miss Nicolas and his pathetic side which even I found and find irresistible. We women are such fools.

Half an hour and an entire bottle of Bollinger later, we touch down at the small airport of Toussus le Noble near Versailles and now, after twenty more minutes in the car, a driver has deposited me in the pitch-black early December evening right in front of the deserted chateau of Versailles. Versailles, built to impress foreigners, the symbol of all that is best and brightest in France and in our history, the lever on which not only France but planet Earth is actually balanced like a see-saw, because everyone believes in what it represents: elegance, civilization, the good life in the reasonable land of human rights, "eternal France," a concept that dates from 1929, but whatever. I can't even see any lights on inside.

I cross the courtyard and my steps, lighted by the moon, echo like gunshots as I glance at the great equestrian statue of Louis XIV and I think of how when you look at it, or when you look at Hyacinthe Rigaud's magnificent official grand siècle portrait of the Sun King, at this astounding, hugely-bewigged, ermine- and velvet-clad Most Christian Majesty in high-heeled clogs, coquettishly raising his cloak to display a perfect leg in a snow-white leotard, this godlike creature bearing the official title of "Louis XIV, by the Grace of God, King of France and Navarre," you don't even have to know that he was the patron of Molière and Lully, that he was the builder of Versailles or that he made the word France synonymous with that of civilization around the globe, in order to hear yourself thinking, irresistibly: what a fucking moron.

Incredibly, the Europe of the Aufklärung looked to this man, who taxed peasants to death, exonerated the nobility from any levies whatsoever and harassed and tortured Protestants and Jews, as a paragon of Christian virtue and strived to emulate him. Voltaire, the apostle of the Enlightenment (and a virulent racist and highly selective promoter of human rights for people he liked), called him "The Great Monarch." Even the German Protestant Leibniz, a world-class philosopher and nincompoop, called him "one of the greatest kings that ever was." And for having made France Jesus's biggest sunbeam, Louis XIV became known as the "Sun King," a name that has stuck.

A banner hangs from one of the outer walls in the courtyard To the Great Khan, King of the Khazars, announcing an exhibition on ninth century Serbia, which replaces Jeff Koons. I go inside, down a series of marble corridors and as I follow the moonlight, I think about how chillingly glamorous winters at Versailles must have been for the female courtiers in their shoulderless, sleeveless dresses, until I am walking towards the War Room and I make my heels strike the marble floor like they mean it and pray that the American, wherever he is, will please not be allowed to leap out from behind a marble column in the dark wearing a vagina mask or a nipple belt because if he does I will defecate.

I continue walking and I start to relax a little and I even find myself thinking what could be more romantic and French than a love affair at Versailles? But then I remember that Louis XIV was married to Marie-Therese, a non-entity, so he played musical beds with Mme de Soubise, Mlle de Ludre, Mlle de Fontanges and Mme de Montespan until he met the nanny hired by Mme de Montespan for her children, Francoise d'Aubigne, a poor girl who had married a rich older man in a wheel chair, (chirping with sunny cynicism "I'd rather marry a cripple than a convent") and then Louis XIV gave Madame Scarron the title of marquise de Maintenon and she became his mistress and morganatic queen and she had Louis revoke the edict of Nantes, which is sort of like having thought up the Trail of Tears. And Louis XIV and Francoise spent their evenings going through the seized theological papers of the Jansenists looking for heretical details that could justify killing or excommunicating or imprisoning someone else, and it's sad to read her descriptions of him sitting across from her in front of the fire and how language really just wasn't his language and basically it was him going, like every half hour or so, "Nobody likes me" and she'd be like, "Well, some people do," and he'd be like "Who? Name one person," and she'd go "I do" and he'd go "Aw, that's so sweet," and then he'd cry. Then they'd go to bed separately. Courtier and diarist St. Simon writes: "The King went over to the toilet-chair and used it then back to Mme de Maintenon's bed to say good night."

In the Journal of M. Dangeau, a courtesan whose diary covers the period 1684-1720, he includes a brief obituary of Madame de Maintenon, "She was a woman of such great merit," writes Dangeau, "who had done so much good and prevented so much wrong during her favor, that it would be impossible to speak too highly of her." Saint-Simon comments: "Now that's what one calls a plain, filthy, stinking, bold-faced lie."

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© 2008 Louise de la Paumardiere

 

 

 

 

 

About LOUISE DE LA PAUMARDIERE It would be difficult to imagine anyone more purely French or a better embodiment of France and French values than polyglamorous Louise de la Paumardiere. Loulou's paternal great grandfather Andre Le Troquer, unfairly removed from office as President of the French Senate in 1958 for having run a pedophile network, and her maternal grandfather General Paul Ausseresses, unfairly stripped of his rank and thrown out of the Legion d'Honneur because of his role as a torturer in the Franco-Algerian war, are but two of her many famous ancestors. Author of From Foreign to French: 100 Makeovers in Stories and Pictures (New York and London: PLB Books, 2006), multi-talented and multilingual Loulou de la Paumardiere first came to public attention when several of the high-profile Paris-based foreign women on whom she performed makeovers committed suicide. Her family operates the majority of the uniquely French institutions known as Centres d'aide par le travail, or CATS, factories in which handicapped French citizens are employed at less than minimum wage because, as Loulou puts it with her typical Cartesian clarity, "they are handicapped." Her ancestral home, Château de la Paumardiere in Boilly-sur-Gui, an hour from Paris in Normandy, has hosted every head of state since Louis XIV and was a favorite haunt of Lully the Sodomite. She continues that great tradition of French hospitality on weekends in Boilly and during the week at her luxurious mansion at 60, rue de Varenne in Paris.