She Didn’t Lose Her Head Over Cake

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LET THEM EAT CAKE! These four little words will be forever be associated with the flippant remark by Marie-Antoinette. Even the famous, “Killer Queen” song perpetuates this myth.

She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet,
Let them eat cake she says, just like Marie-Antoinette
— Song “Killer Queen” by Freddie Mercury and Queen

In reality though, she never likely ever even uttered these words. They originally appeared in a story by Jean-Jacques Rousseau where a princess that was so disconnected with the commoners’ reality that she suggested they should eat cake if they didn’t have bread.

The words have been attributed to the French Queen because she and King Louis XVI were perceived—and rightly so—as being disconnected from the people of France. The court of Versailles was the source of endless gossips for the common people who never saw their King and Queen, but only heard rumours of the decadent lifestyle of the nobility.

Sofia Coppola’s portrayal of the Queen in her “Marie-Antoinette” movie shows the human side of a 16-year-old Austrian princess thrown into the French court ruled by extravagant etiquette: nobles lining up in the morning to attend the waking up of the Queen, dressing her up, and so on... In addition, “the Austrian” as the French nobility nicknamed her, could feel she was not welcome and would always be seen as a foreigner.

As I explain as part of my French Revolution tour, Louis XVI did not “honour” the Queen’s charms for the first seven years of their marriage. With the lack of respect all around then one might understand better why the young Marie-Antoinette sought refuge in love affairs and spent lavishly on clothes, jewels, and castles, as well as her friends ... But by doing so, the common people considered her as “Madame Deficit” when hearing about her exorbitant spending habits ...

There is however one thing we may owe to Queen Marie-Antoinette: the delicious croissant! Sources vary on the introduction of the croissant in France, its context and its date of arrival but considering the pastry family of croissants is called “Viennoiserie” (from Vienna) adds to the credibility of Marie-Antoinette introducing it to the court of Versailles.

If only she had distributed some of them to the French mobs, there may not have been a revolution... So let them eat croissants!

 
Croissant.
 

A Free and Refreshing Way to Wet Your Whistle in Paris

 
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While visiting Paris, on your wanderings through the city, you may have passed by some of these gems in public parks, in the streets and squares throughout the neighborhoods of Paris and not have realized that they are there for you to use. Today there are 120 of these cast iron, elegant beauties, mostly colored forest green, but you will spot some in more avant-garde colors in bold red, pink, blue and yellow, located in the 13th district in the south west of Paris.

PLEASE NOTE

The fountains only have running water from March 15th to November 15th, because of the risk freezing and damage to the pipes during the winter months.

These are the Wallace Fountains, the most iconic of all the drinking fountains in Paris. The main model you will see is free standing with four caryatids representing Kindness, Simplicity, Charity and Sobriety. Their water is pure and drinkable. It is free for all Parisians and tourists alike to enjoy so don’t hesitate to top up your water bottle if passing one on a warm summer day. One is situated across from the Original Flavors of Paris food tour meeting point at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church and sometimes we will stop there for a fill up.

Eau de Paris is the name of the municipal service that is responsible for the protection of the city’s drinking water. Paris takes great pride in the quality of its drinking water. This department is responsible for providing free quality drinking water. It maintains and monitors 1200 drinking fountains (the Wallace Fountains included) throughout the city, even making sure that the water is chilled to a pleasant 6 degrees celsius, and they have plans to add more drinking points.

Keep your eye out for these beauties. They are all around Paris and there is a list of addresses of all of the Wallace Fountains on the official Wallace Fountain website. They even have self-guided walking tours so you can learn more about them while you visit Paris.

Why are they called the “Wallace” Fountains?

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DID YOU KNOW?

The Wallace Fountains are only a portion of 1,200 fresh water fountains in Paris, and that 15 of them have sparkling water! The sparkling water fountains look like large metal water coolers and are called “fontaines pétillante”.

No need to worry about getting parched during your strolls through the city. Eau de Paris has an official map with 1140 drinking fountains so you can find one near you.

You may be thinking that the name Wallace doesn’t sound particularly French and you would be right. The Wallace Fountains are named after the wealthy art collector and philanthropist Sir Richard Wallace, Baronet (1818 - 1890).

Sir Wallace moved to Paris from London in 1870 after inheriting a large fortune from his father. This wasn’t the best time to move to Paris as this was the same time that the Franco/Prussian war was initiated by Napoleon III, and he wasn’t nearly as cunning as his famous uncle. Needless to say, it didn’t go well for the French. The military losses were huge, the city of Paris was devastated, and the people suffered shortages of food and water. The folks were so starved that they were driven to eat every animal in the city, including pets, zoo animals and even rats from the sewers. 

Wallace was a great humanitarian. At this time the city’s infrastructure was in ruins and its suffering citizens were expected to pay exorbitant prices for water so he gifted 50 fountains with clean drinking water to the city in 1871 during its reconstruction. Prior to that, he started a hospital to treat war casualties, he funded a commission to provide new ambulances, and personally distributed provisions to people in need. 

Sir Richard Wallace had a soft spot for Paris and remained there until his death in 1890. Actually, he still resides here posthumously. You will find his grave in the famous Père-Lachaise Cemetery in the east end of the city.

Paris prides itself on the purity of its drinking water, so don’t hesitate to take a cool and refreshing drink from one of its Wallace Fountains, and remember the super nice guy who put them there, back in 1871.