For our 25th anniversary, my wife and I took our family to Paris and Rome to explore, see the sights, and create an adventure full of all “bucket list” activities. Traveling to these wonders and seeing everything the grand cities have to offer, I found myself awed and aghast at what I can only call the grotesque opulence of several major sites.

Versailles is the embodiment of too big and gilded. The irony of why regal heads were separated from royal bodies is not lost on me. The intricacies of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica tell a detailed story of piety and devolution. They also draw into the competing duality of vanity and secular nature of some popes who were motivated by leaving legacies of the Renaissance rather than the heir of St. Peter. They bankrupted the church, raised money through the sale of indulgences, and triggered the Reformation.

As I wandered through these halls and saw their priceless works of art and gold, three thoughts ran through my mind:

  1. The cost to build all of this must have been extraordinary.
  2. The popes, kings, cardinals, bishops, dukes, and marquises who built these buildings were too far removed from the ordinary people who paid taxes and tithes for their construction.
  3. It’s a wonder that the Revolution and Reformation didn’t happen sooner.


Towards the end of our trip, we, of course, went shopping. We strolled the sundry stores along the Champs Elysees. We visited Galeries Lafayette Paris department store on Boulevard Haussmann. Here we encountered a modern grotesque opulence in the form of a leather belt. It looked to be nothing fancy: a plain, brown leather belt about 40” long, 1” wide with a shiny metal buckle.

I didn’t recognize the designer, but it definitely must have been labeled as couture because the belt cost €800. I’m pretty sure this belt can be found in any similar high-end store in London, New York, Tokyo, or wherever. However, I’m certain I saw a similar belt for $20 at T.J. Maxx. I guess I didn’t need to travel all the way to Paris, to find a souvenir to last a lifetime.