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Pix & note: Fontainebleau

I visited the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau in May. It was a gorgeous sunny day, hot by mid-afternoon, even by Texas standards. Fabulous rich blue sky for photography! We went in the middle of the week, but being a World Heritage Site, it was full of people, including many groups of French schoolchildren sitting on the floor listening to their teachers.

A few words to the wise traveler

It’s a big palace; there’s room for everyone. You travel in a single line through the rooms, looping back at one point, confusingly. There are people fore and aft, but you can tuck yourself out of the path to study some detail or soak it all in. Everyone is very tolerant of photography these days. Though it is hard to take pictures of whole rooms, there are so many people and the light is pretty dim.

My usual strategy is to get to these places at opening time. Alas, I planned poorly. It took forever to find the right place in the Gare du Nord. You’d think there’d be signs for tourists going to a World Heritage Site, but no. Mom and I had to wander across three floors even to find an information desk that could give us the correct information. Then we needed correct change to buy tickets from a kiosk and had to run fast to catch the train. “Vite, vite, Madam!” the lady cried to my 86-year-old mother. Luckily, she’s fleet of foot.font2

Also, buy your tickets in advance, for the specific date you will go. France is lovely, there’s no denying it, but something is always on strike, half the things you want to see will be closed and the rest will be understaffed. There was 1 (ONE) woman working the ticket desk at this World Heritage Site on a sunny day in May. We waited in line for 40 minutes. Luckily, I had this fancy window latch to contemplate while we stood stock still for no apparent reason. This is what we call detailed craftsmanship.

It would also be a good idea to bring food and water. The restaurant was closed and there is no cafe. All they had for lunch was French breakfast tacos (ham and cheese crepes) served from a cart. So it’s France, so it’s excellent ham and cheese, but still.

History of the magnificent palace

Fontainebleau started out as a hunting lodge, convenient to the large royal forests around Paris. In 1137, it was called Fontem Blauhad, believe it or not, which means the spring or fountainhead of a person named Blizwald. Wikipedia tells us this with a straight face, so we must believe it.

Francis I (1494–1547) turned the hunting chateau into a palace of exceptional splendor. If you think that window latch is stylish, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! Not one square inch of this place has been left undecorated. Also, we find the ‘F’ for ‘Francis’ absolutely everywhere, in case later generations forgot who built the place.

Every monarch from Francis to Louis XV (sweetly known as Louis the Beloved) added their own touches. The Beloved died in 1774, just before the whole monarchy situation went south. The palace is vast; we only get to tour a portion of it.

Francis is the one who imported the new Renaissance architectural style to France, as interpreted by his architect, Gilles le Breton. It’s a brilliant style; quintessentially French and handsome. Paris is full of buildings like this. That’s a large part of its eternal charm.

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French Renaissance style

There is a still a large and scenic forest called Fontainebleau, to which Parisians regularly resort. I didn’t see it. If I’d been on my own, I would’ve done some hiking in there. But this wasn’t a research trip. I dragged my mother out to this busy place because it was there in Francis Bacon’s day. He probably spent some time there in his late teens. His cousin, Robert Cecil, certainly visited on diplomatic missions in the 1590s.

We start with an overview, swiped from the web somewhere. I do not have an aeroplane.

The red arrow on the right shows the entrance (lockers, tickets, guards). The other arrow shows where you exit. The display rooms run in a line on the second floor (first in British terms). We walk along to the horseshoe stairs and then go through the gallery connecting the front palace to the rear palace and then take a right (hook a roscoe, in Chicago terms). The chapel is on the other side there somewhere. I must confess the topography has me foxed. I’ll scan and post the floorplan. 

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Enter on the right; exit on the left.
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Extra housing for courtiers
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The famous horseshoe staircase
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One more long shot and then we’re going inside.

 

The tour

The main idea is to regulate the flow of tourists, both modern and, I suspect, early modern. Elizabeth’s palaces were tourist attractions in her day; no reason this one wouldn’t have been. One of the functions of a magnificent palace to is show foreign visitors how magnificent you are.

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Let’s see. The yellow building in the lower right portion of the palace houses some exhibits about Napoleon, which are very interesting unless you are focused on the late 16th century. Napoleon who? says me.

The bookshop is the last stop on the tour, unhelpfully, so I didn’t have this plan while we were cruising through. The thing that most interested me was the progression of rooms leading to the monarch. First the outer guard room, relatively plain (nothing here is really plain), then the inner guard room, for guards of greater rank, one supposes. Then we have presence chamber, private presence chamber, reception room, bedroom, another bedroom, and then we exit through rooms in the reverse order, ending with another guard room. Or that’s how it seemed to go.

It was hard to take pictures of rooms and I don’t want to scan the whole book. So we’ll just dip into the photo pool and take potluck instead of trying to reproduce the tour.

Rooms

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A place to confer and to wait.
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Armless chairs for ladies in huge dresses.
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The gallery where we stroll in bad weather and mingle in all seasons.
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The minstrel gallery in the great ballroom.
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The chapel, shorn of all religious frippery.
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The mind-blowing library.

Details

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The people who invented Art Nouveaux must have seen this.
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A typical bit of wall.
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A typical bit of ceiling.
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Some famous person’s bed. Note the mirror on the inside. Kinky? Or just vain?
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His Majesty will see you now.
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A lion AND a dragon, in case you thought Francis was a wimp.
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This, because artists can be hard to keep on topic.
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This, because Francis could have ridden an elephant everywhere if he wanted to — which he didn’t.
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The little angel who said, “Meh.”
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This guy just sits in the gateway, mouth eternally open, with his oddly Vulcan ears.

References

The Château de Fontainebleau. 2008. Connaissance des Arts.

Pix & notes: Musée de la Préfecture de Police

We were delighted to discover this fascinating exhibit on the third floor of the modern police station, fairly well hidden among the twisting narrow lanes on the Left Bank near the Seine. It wouldn’t have police-museumoccurred to me to look for a police museum, but now I discover that there are many of them in the cities of the world. Houston, L.A., Sydney, Vancouver, New York… how have I been missing these? They’re a wonderful resource for writers of crime fiction.

The one in Paris may be the oldest. It was started by prefect Louis Lépine (1846-1933) in 1900. It’s fitting that this should be the first, because the “French police officer Alphonse Bertillon was the first to apply the anthropological technique of anthropometry to law enforcement, thereby creating an identification system based on physical measurements.” (Wikipedia, Forensic science.)

The great museums of the world — the Louvre, the National Gallery in London, the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City – are wonderful on a grand scale, but I love these specialized museums the best. Every time I turn around, I go, “Oh! Look at that!” And there’s usually nobody else in there, which somehow adds to the pleasure of discovery. The signage is all in French, but with a little boost from Google Translate here and there, you can get the gist. French is a lot like English, after all.

On to the photographs

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You go inside the police station and say, “Museum?” The cheerful police persons wave you up to the third floor.
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Hard to take pix of things in glass cases, but this is what the Paris police wore in Moriarty’s day.
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Details for novelists. A bit blurry, but look: cops had identification embroidered on their collars. ID number and arrondisement, I’m guessing.
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The pistol, the letter, the bullet… you tell the rest of the story.
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How handy is this bomb? It’s from Napoleon III’s time, which is 1848 to 1852 (President) and 1852 to 1870 (Emperor.)
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No lady should walk the streets of Paris in the late nineteenth century without this set of wicked brass knuckles in her reticule. Ouch!
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And how about this useful set of lock picks? They would clink, I think, as you walked around.
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Choose your weapon, all pocket-sized.
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Old-fashioned handcuffs, many styles to choose from.
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Alphonse Bertillon invented the mug shot in 1888, standardizing methods of identifying criminals.

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