January 2 - 1906 sightseeing in Paris

After the first ever test between New Zealand and France on 1st January the teams enjoyed a convivial dinner, then the All Blacks were taken around the bright lights of Paris. The next day there was more sightseeing, with Billy Stead vastly impressed with the Palace of Versailles.

Versailles Palace impressed Billy Stead. (Image credit: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-502915p1.html">Worakit Sirijinda</a> | <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/">Shutterstock</a>)

“We were regular heroes after the match, and the president of the Racing Club, which controls every sport known to Frenchmen, invited us to dine with him and the French team in the evening. It was a splendid banquet [in] every way. There is nothing to equal a French menu, nor can a Frenchman be surpassed in any of the details which go to make up a pleasant social gathering, for before we had been together an hour we felt we had known each other a lifetime. I now found that the small amount of French, gained by very distasteful “swatting” at the lnvercargill High School, came in very handy, for, with my limited knowledge of French and our opponents’ equally limited idea of the English lingo, we had a rather interesting time making ourselves understood. I will leave you to imagine the many funny phrases which both sides finally acquired out of the confusion of Maori, English, Chinese and French dialects.

At 11 .30pm we were taken round the various sights of Paris (by night). I must here explain that the visitor who wants to see “Gay Paree” at its best generally sleeps till 11pm, and then comes out in time to be at the starting post, for all the fun starts at that late hour. Many of the large cafes and restaurants, as well as dancing halls, don’t open till 11.30pm, closing any time from 3am till 6am. Next day Cook’s guide took us out via Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Bois de Boulonge, Park of St. Cloud, to the Palace of Versailles, and the Grand Trianon, the latter being the private palace built by Louis XIV for Madame Maintenon, his mistress. At the latter place we were shown the state carriages, the two most noteworthy of the splendid collection being the one that was used at Napoleon’s marriage to Josephine, and the latest addition, the one that was used by King Edward on his recent visit to France. The magnificent tapestries and ornamentations of these carriages must be seen to be understood. I can only add, that to anyone who has seen the royal stables and carriages at London, the French far excel in everything that goes to make up the beauty of design and uniqueness of conception.

It was left for the Palace of Versailles to fully touch and thrill in a way I never dreamt I could be thrilled, my natural love for art. Here nature seemed to have combined with mankind to give to our eyes the most enchanting picture I have ever gazed on, or hope to ever gaze on again. Before trying to convey to you the impressions I have of that scene of beauty I must ask you to go back to that interesting period in the history of France when that despotic monarch, Louis XIV, held sway over the rebellious spirits of that time. This monarch had a bombastic opinion of himself, and called himself the Sungod of Kings, the various other monarchs of Europe evidently being akin to lesser luminaries, and wherever the coat of arms of Louis embellish any chapel, palace, monument or other reminiscence of his reign, you find the image of the sun. The Royal Palace, during the earlier part of his reign, was at St. Denis, which was also the sight(sic) of the royal vault. Now, the presence of this vault used to remind Louis that he, who was the Sungod of all monarchs, must some day take the way of all the flesh, and the thought so jarred on his nerves that he summoned the four greatest architects of his time to pick a sight(sic) and build a palace that would forever and ever outshine anything of the past or future. The result is the Palais du Versailles. Of course at that period there were not the labour saving appliances and devices for handling that exist now, and it took 33,000 men, 23,000 horses working for 40 years, at a total cost of £600,000,000 to build the palace. Out of a perfectly level stretch of country they evolved terrace upon terrace, clumps of native plantations, and the finest set of fountains in the world. The latter cost £600 every time they are played, and they are only worked ten times a year. As royalty is a thing of the past, this and other royal palaces are used now only as show places. The architects drew on all that was par excellence in the European art of the period, and the facades and balconies, with their groups of statuary, which everywhere adorn the palace, cannot fail to impress the spectator with the magnificence of detail and wealth of design of the art of that period. We spent an hour and a half going through the palace, through the immense ballroom, where at times the monarchs of Europe have been received, through Louis’ sitting, reception and bedroom suites, through rooms reeking with the history of the Napoleons, and though only the ceilings are the original of Louis’ time — the palace having been “sacked” by the mob at the time of the Revolution — it is still sufficient to almost overwhelm one with its grandeur. The avenues and boulevards leading up to and through the grounds, with their sparkling lakes and glittering cascades, are all fenced with ironwork fences, tipped off with gold tint. Indeed, everywhere throughout the Parisian city, gilt is used to ornament buildings, statuary monuments and columns, and it is made possible and effective by reason of the prohibition of the use of coal within the walls of Paris. Therefore all factories using that combustible are squatted outside the city. The sacrifice of commercial interests to the worship of art and the beauty of nature is characteristic of the Parisian of any walk in life. You see it in the work-girl, in the manner of her carriage; you see it in a hundred instances in their streets, cafes, theatres.”

From “Billy’s Trip Home” published 2005 by NZ Sports Hall of Fame p.60-61.