Controversial model farm conceived by Marie Antoinette and designed by Richard Mique as a feature of the English Garden at Versailles.

The roots of the problem lie deep in the varying cultures of the French and Hapsburg courts. The French court, after Louis XIV, was predicated on the divine right of kings and a belief in statecraft as spectacle: the King (and by extension, his family) were considered quasi-divine, the embodiment of the State. Therefore, almost every waking moment of the ruler's life was public, and anything and everything he used, either personalized or super-deluxe. The Hapsburgs, on the other hand, thought of themselves almost as citizen kings: ruling was more-or-less a 'family business', and, outside of official and ceremonial functions, the Emperor and Empress (and especially their children) kept out of sight in palaces surrounded by large parks and gardens. There, surrounded only by the most discreet of servants and some family friends (who could even be talented, or otherwise noteworthy commoners), the royal family wore middle-class clothing, lived simply, and dedicated their lives to such hobbies as music, schooling and raising the kids, gardening, and raising exotic pets.

In 1774 Louis XVI gave his wife Le Petit Trianon, an elegant small building tucked away in a corner of Versailles gardens originally built for Madame de Pompedour, Louis XV's beautiful (and smart) girlfriend. (As an uh... shackup, she couldn't live in the palace proper, at least anywhere comfortable.) The young queen, seizing on a place where she could at last get some privacy, wasted no time in transforming the environs (which, like much of the site, had been flat drained marshland formed into parterres), into a dark, romantic-looking 'English' forest, deep in the countryside, with an ornamental cottage for the caretaker, like many English manor houses at the time.

Only, something got lost in the translation: while English parks looked natural, gently edited versions of the countryside minus fallen branches and dead leaves and plus lots of grass, with picturesque details here and there, the Queen's garden turned into a busy mishmash of every design cliche of the time, with the caretaker's cottage grown into a whole small village, in a Norman style. Then, she decided that she wanted to live there.

Tales of Marie's shenanigans as an erstwhile shepherdess/farmer are many: having only encountered farming in pastorales, according to various sources, she had her own flock of pet sheep (washed, perfumed, with the awkwardly messy-looking fleece near the anus clipped short), a pair of perennially doped-up (or at least extraordinarily docile) cows, and various other pastoral/decadent features, insuring that the Queen need never deal with the unpleasant parts of farm living. There was a real farm house (for the staff) a fake farm house (for the Queen, decorated with decidedly non-casual furniture), a real barn (for animals), a fake barn (with an elegant ballroom inside, for dancing) two dairies for processing the milk, an observation tower, and a grain mill. All managed, as the King would avow, giving a tour, in the modern manner, utilizing the most advanced and scientific farming techniques. It's really quite educational, and so good for the children...Now, moving right along, the Boat Basin...

Unfortunately, the public didn't see it that way. Since the Petit Trianon and environs was strictly off-limits to anyone the Queen didn't explicitly ask to appear, and her activities a French state secret, the only accounts we have of her time there come from the (very few) foreign visitors she invited, bills of sale (for Sevres porcelain churns, 4000 monogrammed flower pots, and some "milk goblets"--don't ask...among other things), libelles (unauthorized biographies of the time, on par with modern tabloids for accuracy), and what remained of the architecture and furnishings when the Jacobins were finished looting. Was she hiding a lover? Carrying on with the help? No one knew. Instead of being considered a model of the best France had to offer, the Hameau became a prime symbol of decadence, fiddling while Rome burned, or at the very least, a ruler dangerously out of touch.

After the Revolution, the place was left alone to gradually decay. While the exteriors are in quite good shape, inside, the buildings remain empty, and await restoration.

Culturally, the Hameau is the grandmother of the modern theme park, or condo development, with modern conveniences (central heating and cooling, plumbing, and electricity) inside shells that ape a fishing village, a "story-book" castle or cottage, or Swiss some ways, we might say, the Hameau is our world.

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