But it was at Versailles on day-two where it all came together. On arrival at the Chateau, the group happily followed me past the hours-long serpentine queue of people waiting to shuffle, shoulder to shoulder, through the palace complex on one of the hottest days of one of the hottest years on record. In the cool comfort of the shaded gardens, I recounted the story of Louis XIV’s reign in bite-sized pieces, showing them where he wintered his thousands of citrus trees, where he took visiting dignitaries to dance, and where he reminded his detractors that if they even so much as hinted at opposing him, he would do as Zeus did to the giant, Enceladus: bury them.
About half the kids were with me from the get-go. By the time we hit the Ballroom Grove, I had them all. When I finished with Enceladus, our last treasure on the tour, the group erupted into applause. Twice.
I love the thrill of instilling in others my passion for the past, especially among those who think history is boring. The moment these kids erupted into applause – twice – I knew I’d succeeded. They were hooked. And we still had a day left!
Our last morning began at the Musée d’Orsay. I gave them a very brief overview of the early days of the impressionistic movement. Nothing too long-winded. I merely set the context, explaining the various circumstances that kicked it off. Then, I sent them away in self-designated groups of 3-4 to search for a particular artist or school that, taken together, trace the history of impressionism. I told them not to stop there, but to observe the works around them as well, to use that one prompt as a lens through which to view the rest. I gave them each a specific question to answer.