One Louis Liked Marly

photo: marly village
Municipal workers have just hung the decorations
over the town's main street.

The Rest of Them, and Napoleon, Didn't

Marly-le-Roi:- Friday, 11. December 1998:- Normally I go to Paris a couple of times a week but unforseen events have prevented me from making the second trip. I already have a set of downtown photos from the first time, but these are not quite enough for a whole issue.

So then, the only reason I'm in Marly is to get some 'filler' shots of a small French town. I haven't got any idea or angle for a story here.

However, the place has been on my mind since a curious reader wanted to know more about where I live andphoto: chevaux de marly copies when I replied that the village is 'near' Marly, he wrote back to ask about Marly's famous 'Marly Machine,' which is apparently a historical marvel for engineers.

Home of the originals; now the home of copies. You can't tell the difference.

This device is no longer. It was one of the world's seven wonders until the 19th century, when various other pumps replaced the originals, with the last being taken out of service in 1967. Its basic idea was to pump water up 100 vertical metres from the Seine to Louis XIV's weekend cottage in Marly. It went into the reservoirs at Louveciennes and a little was left over to flow down south to Versailles.

Louis' 'former Chateau de Marly' is exactly that - former. The foundation of it is in Marly's park, on a slight rise, with a big view. It was built by Jules-Hardouin Mansart and I think Louis had high hopes for it, which didn't quite pan out. What is left is sort of the floor-plan. It indicates that the rooms might have been too small - or maybe people were smaller in those days.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye is an old royal residence - a castle actually - a few kilometres north of Marly. The route from Saint-Germain to the other old royal residence at Rambouillet is very old. Saint-Germain is on a height and you go down from it - to where the route nationale 13 comes in from the west - and to go further, you have to climb up by Marly to get over the hump to get to the flats leading to Rambouillet.

If you don't go up and over by Marly, you have to do it someplace else - so I imagine there were several routes, with Marly's being the shortest. After some hundreds of years of back and forth, and after the new suburb of Versailles got started, Louis got the idea of having a handy weekend place - and Marly was sort of 'on the way.'

Apparently, Louis' weekend life at Marly was much less formal than at Versailles - he actually ate with his 'at ease' crowd of about 500 close friends - something he never did at home.

Louis' joint was on a terrace, and ranged in front, were 12 bungalows flanking a pond, which is still here. But the heating was poor and couldn'tphoto: ave maria be fixed, and there was a lot of damp, especially around the bungalows, and it was somewhat unhealthy. This is pretty common in France in the 1990's too, this dampness and miserly heat.

One of Marly's smaller treasures.

When Louis died, the following Louis' didn't like the place much and seldom visited it. After the revolution, in 1800, it was sold to an industrialist, who installed a cotton thread factory. He went bust after six years, and tore down the handsome chateau in a fit of pique.

Napoleon didn't want the property, and the state ended up with it and still has it. The park is kind of boring; oppressive, even though it is big and wide open to the sky and has a long view to the north-east, which originally took Louis' army four years to clear.

The adjoining Marly forest is also a state domain, and is infested with joggers and cyclists - but I think there are also some deer and wild pigs too - trying bravely to make a go of calling it their home.

Louis kept most of France's royalty 'on call' constantly at Versailles and this amounted to a huge crowd. These in turn, had all of their baggage and servants and 'hôtels' as well. I have long thought that the villages and towns around here; on the ridges and in the gullies between them, and the places along the river, were mainly peopled by those who serviced all the royal activity in the area.

I guess Marly was one of these places in the old days. These days, it is a suburban community of Paris, on the SNCF train line from Saint-Lazare. It has public housing and post-war apartments, and some older houses and some new ones too.

There are also a lot of high walls and there may be many ritzy 'hôtels' behind them, but the high walls are also thick and so what's behind them remains secret.

What I can see is a town which is fairly hilly and its old parts have typical unstraight streets or alleys; as a lot of them are not wide. Cars are parked where possible on the mostly cobbled pavements. The 'main' street has had its 'fix up,' and I don't know if it ever had sidewalks.

There are a few crêpes places and some tea rooms, and some picture framers, but there are no hordes of antique dealers or other business places selling trinkets. It is more of an obstacle-like place to drive past rather than to visit. Every time I go south - even to Spain - I have to drive through Marly.

Yet, walking around, with cobbles underfoot, in winding narrow streets - with nobody in them except dogs and cats and a few residents, presents village-like views of a small residential town. Some places have minuscule gardens, but otherwise everybody has very little space between their sitting rooms and the streets outside.

Well, I don't mean the unknown places behind the thick walls; but just what can be seen. Maybe there was a rule that the townspeople couldn't have walls; you know, so the 'authorities' could keep their eye on local behavior. Even long ago land was so expensive, nobody ordinary could afford the extra land for the walls.

Now that I think of it, Marly has more walls than anyplace I've ever seen. Maybe I think this only because I live in a village where some houses have front yards and back yards, and yards all around their houses, and low, see-through, fences.

Last year, on the way to lunch, Max used to walkphoto: marly street past a ranch in our village. The horses would come down to the fence to see the kids passing and get their noses patted. A couple of weeks ago I went by there and diggers were chewing up the pasture, to put in house foundations and the horses weren't around to watch.

A fairly typical Marly 'street.'

On the edge of the village, on the road to Saint-Germain, there is a huge empty field. It slopes up and at the top there is a screen of old fruit trees. About every six months there is a rumor that a hypermarché is going to move in there - about 250 metres from my door.

I don't believe the rumor. If the field is subdivided for a couple of dozen houses, there'll be more customers for a big store - but no place for the store itself. If they put in the store instead, there won't be enough customers.

The village is not only a deadend but a bottleneck as well. The municipal buses can hardly get through it since the chicanes and the speedbumps, and the roundabouts - two of them, one of them insanely useless - were put in.

At least in Marly the buses don't nearly wipe out the boulangerie every time they pass. Nothing bigger than Twingos can get close to them. Yes, Marly is still on the way to a lot of different places - but not by going through the centre of it.

So then, the only reason I've been in Marly is to get some 'filler' shots of a small French town. I haven't got any idea or angle for a story here. If it hadn't taken me so much time to write this, I could have had a siesta.

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