The girl, no more than seven, grins idly and bites her fingernail. She turns toward the windows, each one two stories high, and gazes out at the garden below: a rich geometric pattern of marble statues, tulips, and lilacs. She realizes, subliminally, that she should be holding the hand of her friend. But her partner’s hand has already found hers, and they whisper a few low syllables to one another about the reflecting pools below.
“Julie!” says the teacher, sternly. The teacher puts her hand on the girl’s head and turns it, as if opening a large jar of peanut butter.
She says, in French: “So if you are talking, I suppose you already know everything I am saying, so can you can tell me about this picture?”
The girl gazes up past Marie Antoinette’s jewel boxes, under the grand and awful trompe l’oeil, to the dark figure of Louis XIV glowering down on us. I have been dead for hundreds of years, little girl, thought the painting of Louis XIV. And I do not appreciate your inattention.
The teacher sniffed, “No, I didn’t think so,” and the girl sighed.
We left the school tour in the palace and spent the afternoon walking through the fairyland gardens of Versailles. The bruised, blotchy clouds threatened us through our walk through the Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette’s life-size doll house. But they only exploded into rain after we had boarded the RER into Paris.