As I approached the palace at Versailles this morning, an entire parking lot of tour buses announced what I would find: endless crowds. Yesterday I’d arrived at the Musee Picasso a half hour after it closed, and the Segway tour had given me a belly full of magnificent monuments. Darlene is carrying around the Michelin Green Guide to Paris as if it’s the New Testament, but her authentic delight at seeing every single sight she can cram into a day and part of a night is, I’m afraid, not catching. She knows the signs and suggested I go amuse myself today while she and Deb looked for fabric. So I hopped a train at Gare Montparnasse for the 20-minute ride to Versailles, figuring I would simply land in a coffee shop and write, without ever going near the palace, as a sort of passive-aggressive guerilla attack on the tourism industry. I did find a good spot, at the Ibis Hotel across from the ornate City Hall. But in the end, I was drawn irresistibly up the hill. I bought a ticket to the gardens. I began taking photos of tourists taking photos of each other. The crowds gave me perfect cover, because everyone was aiming a camera at someone or something. The scale of the palace and gardens is beyond comprehension, so it’s no wonder the crowds are so big. True grandeur is irresistible. And by the time serious rain cut short my visit, I had begun to enjoy the bustle of the schoolchildren, the couples taking each other’s photos, the painterly patterns of the umbrellas. I bought a hot dog on the return to the train station and read today’s International Herald Tribune on the ride back to Montparnasse, thinking, “Mission accomplished.”
Darlene and Deb, meanwhile, found the mother lode of fabric shops at Marche St-Pierre in the 18th Arrondissement, on a tip from Joyce Heard. At one spot, a crowd of women had gathered, large enough that it looked as if they were waiting to go into a movie. Darlene asked someone across the street what was up and found out it was a fabric shop known for its reasonable prices, and that it was having a big sale, on all four floors. A bin full of scarves had bargains too good to pass up. Deb found a fabric that looked and felt like paper, and she bought a good supply of it at another store, that turned out to be one of the oldest in the district. They also bought bright-colored buttons, about the size of quarters, made from shells.