The Rights of Speech at Versailles


The book by William R. Newton is not for an average reader. It is what the doctors should order to all insomniacs, the statistical data on the Hundred Swiss, gardeners, fountaineers, etc. Myself, I was dozing peacefully through most of it; but did you ever see anyone wake up laughing? It happens. And it happens to me. And those moments of hilarity are indelibly present in my brain.

My favorite character in the book  is the mole catcher who takes part in the conflict between the guard and the fountain boys; his rustic manner and the trusty weapon with which he usually smashes the pesky animals draw a lively picture: The times were lean, and the unpaid fountain personal decided to make an extra buck by guiding a few visitors in the park. This was traditionally the guard job: for years the guards would supplement their wages with the tourist tips and did not intend to share this turf with anyone.

The interstitial violence of the Grand Siecle still echos in the galleries of the French museums. Did you know that the Right of Speech has its limits in France? Yes, unlike the rest of the world museums, the French museums do not allow you to speak unless you have a guide badge: sharing your knowledge in France is still a dangerous thing!

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