Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Versailler's Paradox

I already had an idea of how Versaillers were viewed by their French fellows, then I have given you more than enough samples of my own personal views in the matter, but now I stumbled upon a French article about it, I mean a real one - written, admittedly, some time ago in 2006 in the leftist journal Libération but nonetheless still valid (as prejudices usually die hard).

And I thought it would be interesting to translate it in here so you can have other viewpoints at hand. Hopefully I'll find some more articles like these in the future (written by a rightist journalist maybe?) so we can try to obtain a broader picture about this whole Versailles thing. I, at least, I find it fascinating and it helped me find out that not only the French have their paradoxes, but so have the Versaillers, which endows me with one too, by extension. Here you go:

"The Versailler's Paradox
by Sibylle Vincendon

Report - What is it to be a Versailler? The cliché answers: pleated skirts, large family, private school, church. Of course, the reality shows more complex personalities.

The Versailles women costume does exist. It consists of a big headband, a pearl necklace and a pleated skirt. We've seen it on TV. It was worn by one of the guys from Nuls who said that he actually preferred the one of Davy Crockett, from the last year's Christmas. With this kind of detail - or should we say tribute - one is able to measure the force of a cliché. The Versaillers form a subbranch of the bourgeois class, standardized enough to generate an archetype.

What is it to be a Versailler? "It is a spirit very 'Love each ours' " ironizes Laurence, who moved in 17 years ago. A way to summarize a certain taste of being with one's own. It is also the caricature that draws Jean-Yves Liénard, lawyer established to Versailles 30 years ago: 'A woman wearing divided skirt, heading to the Notre-Dame Mass at the arm of her husband wearing a green loden army coat, both followed by a throng of kids close in age, which allows buying good quality clothing that will pass from one to another'. He's pushing it a little, but he adds: 'You can see some like it'. Virginie Fontaine, journalist at the weekly 'Toutes les nouvelles de Versailles' (All news from Versailles) thinks that 'they are not nouveau riches, not that, they don't really have the taste for ostentation. If they make themselves noticed, they are doing it by having the perfect family'. Caroline Pascal, university lecturer and writer, notices on her side: 'Young boys wearing short pants in the middle of the winter because they shouldn't wear pants, this can still be seen around'. In Versailles, city of 88000 inhabitants in the Parisian region, lies around signs of a certain taste for the old-style family, austere and Christian. 'It exists enough to be able to say: 'Well, well, these escaped from the fifties!''. Are there a lot of them? Probably not as many. But then the public census doesn't ever count how many discreet blondness or English coats with velvet collar there are.

Benevolence. As for the image, it is here. What is it to be a Versailler? It's to deal with it. Agnès Wateau arrived here 11 years ago. Entirely Parisian, from the XIIth district. Her husband, who was working at the time at two extremes of the Parisian region, did the math and found Versailles to be the nodal point in his professional route. 'I first told him: 'No way!'. I was dead scared. The first couple of years it would annoy me to say that I lived in Versailles. I think I was ashamed a little.'. Laughing: 'Our friends didn't let this slip away...'. Alluding to a clothing brand specialized in selling to well-off families, 'they would say to us: we will stop by Cyrillus before visiting you'. At first Agnès decreed: 'I will not stay'. One day, a good soul brought her the children raincoats that she forgot at school; another one informed her that her rear-view mirror was broken. 'I was mainly suffering from telling myself that I lived in Versailles. But in fact I have always been welcomed'.

As for Caroline Pascal, she's a Versailler born and bred. Spanish teacher, she's teaching at the Sorbonne, 'the oldie, Paris-IV, the most reactionary - but not in our department, because all of us are a bit guevaristas in Spanish' explains her while laughing. When I was in college, Versailles 'meant that we were supposed to show even harder that we were not totally closed-minded'. She managed to do it. Caroline published two novels at Plon, 'Fixés sous verre' - Reverse paintings on glass (2003) and 'Derrière le paravent' - Behind the folding screen (2005) rather harsh for the Versailles bourgeoisie. And yet, Versailles wasn't the center of her project. 'What interested me was to talk about these moments of conflict that never burst out in the bourgeois circles'. Her topic is made up of those things that are left unsaid. Caroline Pascal needs to rest on what she already knows, the Sunday lunch, the bench at the church, the family home. Without having 'issues to sorting out'. 'I am acquainted with the negative aspects of this milieu, but I don't have any aversion to it'. Versaillers failed to notice this subtlety. 'Reverse paintings on glass' triggered a small local scandal, and 'criticism poured'. 'I didn't measure the degree of aggressiveness that people had perceived', she summarizes. They were partially right: these books, 'Reverse paintings on glass' in particular, contain a sort of an elaborate and strong savagery. At the university, Caroline Pascal's colleagues 'have recognized what was more universal than Versailles-specific'. But in Versailles...

The relaxed attitude. In one of these books, a gloomy office is depicted, filled with collections of military medals. It is the same at Jacques Villard's. The office is gloomy, full of leather bound books and old uniforms and weapons. 'And I collect military medals', he points out. Jacques Villard is an authentic Versailler who grew up 'boulevard de la Reine'. He keeps a history column in 'Toutes les nouvelles de Versailles' - All news from Versailles - nourished with 'anecdotal stories, which interest very much the Versaillers'. In here, 'everybody knows everybody', he explains, and by 'anybody' he means mainly the residents of the Notre-Dame district, founded in the reign of Louis XIV, and the Saint-Louis ones, built under Louis XV.

For him, there isn't a 'Versailles spirit, there is a Versailles life'. Made of a 'relaxed attitude'. Demonstration: 'It is absolutely evident that my father and my father-in-law wore suit and tie even on Sundays. And now I am receiving you wearing a turtleneck sweater and corduroy pants. But however I am not letting myself go. It strikes me a lot the way the new Versaillers adapt themselves to our city. They arrive in the neighborhood, we make their acquaintance, we have dinner here on the veranda then we have dinner at their place with a disconcerting ease.'. He, who isn't a sportsman, 'I hunt, I play golf, I do, however, a thing or two...', finds it very Versailles the way his 'wife, even in winter time, puts on her jogging shoes and runs an hour in the park' up close. Thus, to be a Versailler would be to live with his own times. As for Villard, he's a member of the Academy of moral sciences, letters and arts of Versailles and Ile-de-France, an organization having the offices in the house of a 98 years old ex-Secretary of State and Parliement member, of which a mocking Versailler once said that it bands together 'the thinking heads of Versailles pretending they are the French Academy'"

January 14, 2006

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