Saturday, August 8, 2015

An open door

Suppose you were pushing a bicycle up a big hill on a warm, sleepy afternoon and saw this. What would you do? Would you press on, or put a foot down and investigate?

To tell the truth - and the truth is important - this isn't exactly what I saw. It was the view from the other side of the wall, the street side. A motorized scooter parked on the cobblestone entryway, just out of sight, inviting me in. Essentially pointing to the open door saying 'people can go in here'. The stone wall stretches for at least a kilometer, delineating something. It might very well be private property but there's that open door.

Across the threshold, paths and greenery and open space in all directions. Where trees meet the sky, a definite horizon. There's no kiosk at the entrance, no admissions fee, no parking lot. There are no buildings at all, no cars or humans. Am I dreaming? Is this really the outskirts of Paris?

It's that dead time between noon and 2pm. This door is probably not the main entrance and somewhere out of sight its guardians are enjoying a fabulous lunch on a terrace. I move forward cautiously. A bounded space that's not entirely wild, not tamed or manicured, tended but apparently not owned. What is it?

The Waterford handles itself with grace on the paths, which lead through the trees from one clearing to the next. It steers nicely around a few humans out for a walk. With hardly any loss of traction, it bears me with speed and security to the heart of this massive, understated park. It almost feels like cheating to travel in such an efficient way and I fully expect a shout of outrage from an authority figure. But none comes. This is France, land of the bicycle. It appears to be completely legal.

A clearing gives a view of a small lake, with two or three clusters of picnickers sitting at the edge. There are intermittent bare patches in the grass, all rectangular in shape. There's a sculpture garden with classical, stone figures.

It's enormous and beautiful. I spend a lovely hour, wandering and reading signs. They are in French, which I'm grateful to be able to read, with a hand-drawn map that makes absolutely no sense. The chateau? There's no chateau here...

This is Marly-le-Roi. Never heard of it. The town on the other side of the door had the same name. I do find a museum (closed until 3) at the edge of the property, at the main entrance. I leave happy, but confused as hell.

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