It’s time for a day trip. Preferably somewhere that my future husband owns real estate. I’ve heard Chantilly is nice and not too far. Technically, it’s in Picardie, a region slightly North of the Val d’Oise, which makes the train situation a little more complicated.
It’s been raining like crazy, so I have to be spontaneous and take the first spot of sunshine at a moment’s notice. At 9:50, I’m on the train to Creil, where I’ve never been, but seems to be a train station hub. From there I hop a train to Paris and get off at the first stop—Chantilly/Gouvrieux.
I’ve learned from experience that studying the maps buys me nothing except less beauty sleep and god knows I can’t afford to lose any of that. so I get off at the station and wing it. Well, actually, I follow the Japanese girls, who are equipped with maps, cameras, compasses, guidebooks, water, umbrellas and probably mini generators in case of emergency.
The mandatory thing to do in Chantilly is to visit the castle, and I know that’s where my Japanese companions and I are going. We enter a ½ mile tunnel of trees that ends at the hippodrome…the race track and lawns. This is horse country. At the other end of the lawns are the famed lavish stables built in 1719 by Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the 7th Prince de Conde who planned to be reincarnated as a horse and wanted a nice place to live. Shoot, if I can get my hands on some prime real estate like this, I’ll marry a horse. My mother always wanted me to marry royalty.
The Japanese girls fall behind me as they stop and take pictures of everything. Japanese girl in front of sign on tree. Japanese girls reading sign on tree. Japanese girls looking at tree. Japanese girl taking picture of Japanese girls standing by sign on tree. And so on.
It’s not like I can take a wrong turn in this tree tunnel, so I bravely venture on ahead. I feel like Dorothy in the wizard of oz, walking down this arcade of trees. So, when faced with an approaching man, I wonder whether I should consider him a potential friend like scarecrow, or a threat like a flying monkey.
As he gets closer he says something that sounds like: “blah de jens de la blah de les charmant”
Being an urban girl, I’m totally at a disadvantage being surrounded by all this natural greenery and beauty. This is no place to take chances with strange men. I smile stupidly and say “je ne comprends pas and walk faster.
Unfortunately, like in the US, being stupid only encourages them.
I’m not looking back at him, but I know he’s stopped and is considering following me. Must not look back. Must not make eye contact. He is probably a murderer and they’ll find my body amongst these scary trees.
He asks if I speak English.
I shout over my shoulder “No” and up my pace to a nonchalant run.
I emerge from the tunnel of trees exhausted, but relieved. Now all I have to do is cross an open field, where nobody would dare assault me so I can get to the stables and the castle.
I consider my encounter in the wilds back there. There wasn’t really anything all that ominous about that man. I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings. I wonder if he was my husband? But no time to dwell on the past. It’s time to go to the musee cheval vivant. A living horse museum where if all went according to plan, Prince Louis-Henri now lives with 30 other breeds.
One problem; Ferme.
When I first moved to New York from California a million years ago, I was surprised by the number of Jewish Holidays. Here, I’m surprised by the number of Christian ones. Today is a holiday having something to do with the Virgin Mary. The horses have the day off. I wonder if the Arabian horses are angry that they don’t get Ramadan off.
This means my only husband options in Chantilly are human. Disappointed, I head towards the castle.
Eight Euros later, I’m on the 115 hectare castle grounds (a hectare is 10,000 square meters…you do the math, because I can’t). It’s a musee, castle, park. It’s very uncrowded. I guess everyone goes to Versailles. There are all kinds of mini parks within it, like the park with wallabies for the petit Princes, the L’ile d’amour for princes closer to Princes William’s and Harry’s age. And little “cottages dotting the grounds. I wonder if anyone would mind if I set up housekeeping in one of the gazebos?
I’ve been in castles before and I’ve always found the décor to be impressively lavish, but uncomfortable to live in. There’s never one room where the family can sit around and watch “Survivor” on TV with a bowl of microwaved popcorn together. The same is true here at Chantilly. I guess they were too busy plotting each others murder to waste time watching reality TV.
Come to think of it, these people would have made a fabulous reality show. The drama, the conflict. The celebrities. All kinds of fancy royal guests visited here. The chef Vatel, threw himself on a sword (and died) when the fish course arrived late for a dinner he was preparing for Louis XIV. Top THAT Janice Dickenson!
Legend has it, it was for that dinner that he also invented Crème Chantilly and put the dessert on the map.
I scour the grounds. Very lovely, but no Princes here today.
I head back to the centre ville and check the situation on the streets. Because it’s a holiday, combined with August, a lot of the little shops are closed. Which is a shame and a blessing (thank you Holy Virgin), since some of them look fabulous. As I’m crossing over to check the menu at the little tabac/café on the corner, It seems someone is addressing me. I look back to see who it is.
It’s a handsome guy, probably in his 30’s and his friend getting out of a car. I think he’s inviting me for a drink. Either that or he’s telling me I look like I need one. I’m unsure how to respond, except to say je ne comprends pas, which is always a sure fire hit. He says “une boisson, une café une verre du champagne…?” I’m tempted, but feeling my little goatish. This guy is too young and good looking to be interested in me. Especially since I’m standing here with my mouth agape like an idiot. Maybe he wants to rob me. Hah, then I’d sure get the last laugh since I don’t have anything worth robbing. He’s probably just recommending the restaurant. What does he want from me? God I miss the good old days when I KNEW it was sex.
I thank him and wish him a bon journee and keep going…but after 10 paces, I look back and see he’s looking at me, smiling. This man is up to no good. I break into a loping trot and don’t look back. Halfway to the train station it occurs to me that I may be running from my last chance at happiness. Not the mention the solution to all my problems.
It’s never been clearer to me that I’m a coward, an emotional cripple who fears intimacy and human contact (and tall dark attractive strangers). I’m going have to get over that. But now that I’m aware of it, I know what I need to work on.
Obviously I’ll have to come back to Chantilly when I’m prepared to take advantage of the opportunities here. Who knows, maybe this is the place I’ll find my prince. But next time, I’ll plan ahead I’ll make sure the horse museum is open before I come.
Musee Vivant du Cheval (and possibly the home of my future husband)
Grandes Ecuries du Prince de Conde, Chantilly 60500
a chance to view some of Chantilly’s thoroughbred horses
| Admission charge | Opening Times: Wed-Mons | Tel: +33 (0)3 44 57 40 40