I have already published the posts covering the Easter weekend, so this sees us into the week after Easter. By now I was feeling absolutely fine.
Well, this was one of the days that last week we spent time planning for. A trip out of Paris when the weather was likely to be good to visit Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny, 47.5 miles NW of Paris.
Getting to Giverny involved the Metro or Bus to Gare St. Lazare, and then a mainline express train to Vernon, and then a Bus or Taxi to Giverny village.
The weather duly obliged as we woke to blue skies and sunshine. We left the apartment at 08.50 and waited for the bus, but despite several updates to the digital display promising us transport, no bus ever came. A quick regroup and trot to the Metro station and we were on our way. Line 8 to Madeleine and then a change to Line 14 all the way to St. Lazare. Speedy and effortless, although a lot of walking through a maze of stairs and escalators.
We found the correct platform, ‘composted’ our tickets (which is the word the French use for punching your ticket before you get on the train, which is compulsory!) and still had time left over for a quick coffee. When the train was opened up for passengers hordes of people began to stream onto the platform: the first four coaches were full and it was a ‘double-decker’, so L began to panic and said we must just sit anywhere. But she is not used to train travel and I said few people bother to walk more than four or five coaches up the platform unless they have to, so we walked on past another two coaches and found plenty of space in a four-seater bay on an upper deck from where we had an excellent view.
As I saw this couple walking slowly along the platform I was reminded of an artist whose paintings I like, Charles Cambier. He often paints elderly people battling against wind and rain, usually by the seaside.
(Copyright of Charles CAMBIER)
Gare St. Lazare
We’re going off to the Normandy region now!!
The train was headed for Rouen, and as we set off and the huge engines picked up speed I felt the blood beginning to surge with excitement and wanted to keep going, on and on! (We had already found out that we could get right to the Mediterranean coast and back for 28 euros each courtesy of last minute booking on the SCNF website.)
However, L restrained me and said if we had several more weeks we could go further, but as it was, “no”.
Pulling out of central Paris
It turned out that most of the train passengers were also headed to Giverny: this was a little daunting as we had heard horror stories of crowds making visits quite impossible. Anyway, nothing to do but go with the flow. The Ticket Inspector came round and said that we had not ‘composted’ our tickets: we explained that we had. He replied that we had not because the correct markings were not on the tickets. So we had a little exchange, perfectly friendly on his part but rather serious since we had infringed the rules, and then he came back with a correctly ‘composted’ ticket to show us what it should look like for a future trip. Very decent of him.
The journey lasted 52 minutes, and it was interesting looking into peoples’ back gardens from our eyrie. At Vernon the contents of the train erupted and headed for the local bus to take us all to Giverny. I’m afraid we did not: I had read about someone else who had taken a taxi and therefore arrived ahead of the rest of the crowd, so that is what we did. And in fact it worked because we had an extra 45 minutes to enjoy the gardens before everyone else got there. (It turns out that there is a 15 minute walk at the other end from the bus stop to the Gardens, as well as waiting for the buses, which come every 20 minutes, and then they had to queue to pay and get in. We had bought our tickets previously, on-line.)
http://giverny.org is a good website for information on Giverny and for seeing photos of the gardens at other times of year.
Claude Monet lived here for forty-three years, from 1883 to 1926. During this very long time, he had the house and garden laid out to his own tastes, adapting it to the needs of his family and professional life. He lived here with his wife and two sons and four step-daughters.
Monet’s garden comprises two parts: a flower garden called Clos Normand in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road. The sections are meant to contrast and complement each other. He did not like organized or constrained gardens despite the appearance of neatness and order we saw today. I gather that later in the Summer the plants run riot: if you look at pictures of the garden on the web you can see how they flourish! He chose flowers according to their colours and then left them to grow rather freely.
Ten years after his arrival at Giverny in 1893, Monet bought the piece of land neighbouring his property on the other side of the road. It was crossed by a small brook, the Ru, which is a diversion of the Epte, a tributary of the Seine River. With the support of the prefecture, Monet had the first small pond dug ; even though his peasant neighbours were opposed. They were afraid that his strange plants would poison the water.
Later on the pond would be enlarged to its present day size. The water garden is full of asymmetries and curves.
It is inspired by the Japanese gardens that Monet knew from the prints he collected avidly. He was always looking for mist and transparencies and would dedicate himself less to painting the plants themselves than to their reflections in water, a kind of inverted world ‘transfigured by the liquid element’ as the guides say.
As he grew older he developed a passion for botany, exchanging plants with his friends Clemenceau and Caillebotte. Always on the look-out for rare varieties, he bought young plants at great expense. “All my money goes into my garden,” he said. But also: “I am in raptures.
He was the first painter to shape his subjects in nature so exhaustively before painting them. And so he created his works twice!
Apparently it had been very busy indeed over the Easter weekend, but we found it really pleasant today, and a joy to wander round.
and I particularly like the man in the boat: it is a scene which could be over 100 years old!
There was a lot of Spring planting which added welcome colour
Monet’s house from the garden
There were several groups of very young schoolchildren, some of whom were practising their English colour names when looking at the plants, and they were delighted when we spoke a few words of English to them, and their teacher taught them to say “Goodbye”. They could only have been about four or five years old:)
It was getting extremely warm too, with very bright sunshine.
The green on the windows and doors of the house is echoed throughout the gardens, on all woodwork, chains, supports etc. Not sure that I like the shade with green leaves but the idea is clever. Apparently the pink colour of the walls and the green of the woodwork was chosen by Monet. In those times, shutters were traditionally painted grey. Monet added a verandah in front of the house, a pergola covered with climbing roses, and grew a Virginia Creeper on the facade: he wanted the house to blend with the garden.
By this time we were desperate for some food, and especially a drink but unfortunately one cannot exit and re-enter on the one ticket, so we had to stay and finish our visit first. We wanted to see Monet’s studio and look round the house so we just girded ourselves against the hunger pangs and dry mouths and went round the house.
We did not think much to the studio which was a double height room with long windows but they were to the West and South, very off for a studio. There were rather second rate works of art on the walls. Nice to know that even the ‘greats’ have off-days and experiments which do not work. (Later on while walking back through the village we noticed that the other house on the property had HUGE windows facing north in its roof and walls, and I suspect Monet worked there more than in the ‘official’ studio we were shown on our tour round.)
(His bedroom connected with a bathroom which in turn connected with Alice’s bedroom a fashion very common until the 1950s amongst middle-class people in Europe, I don’t know about elsewhere).
This one belonged to Alice, his wife.
This room belonged to one, or more, of his four step-daughters, who all had bedrooms over the kitchen.
We took our time, especially ‘Oohing’ and ‘Aahing’ at the Dining Room and then the Kitchen.
When Monet decorated his house and chose his colours the Victorian fashion was for very dark and heavy colours. He did not care for fashion!
You can just imagine the dinner parties with family and friends, which took place here. The food, wine and discussion!
The dining room is connected to the kitchen to make service easier. Monet wanted a blue kitchen so that the guests would see the right color in harmony with the yellow dining room when the door to the kitchen was open.
This is a room which takes cooking seriously, the size of the range alone, and then the spit roast fireplace beside it:
Again one can imagine a busy, sometimes flustered, cook, with her staff, catering for a large, perhaps, rumbustious party next door.
and the battery of copper pans and moulds of all kinds
All these downstairs rooms opened out onto the South facing verandah
and by this stage we were looking for any shade to sit in.
I could see the intelligence in planting those two yew trees outside the front of the house: as well as adding structure to the main path they provide blessed shade.
Beside the house, at the end of the verandah is the chicken house and run: no doubt whence some of the ingredients for the kitchen came.
I’m sure the gardens are even more spectacular when the Roses and Waterlilies are out but we did not feel short-changed being early Spring: everything looked so fresh and pretty. It would make anyone want to paint!!
I feel that this view shows the house and garden in the local landscape well.
And it was worth coming so early in the season to have time to breathe it all in and enjoy the tranquility rather than have to wander round in a crocodile of people as can happen in summer.
So, by half-past-one we rather felt we must eat, since breakfast had been at 07.00. So we left the garden and wandered along the main street of the village, past the very pretty but very crowded cafes and bistros close to Monet’s house, right through to the other end of Giverny, looking for a Restaurant we had read about before we came. And we were so pleased we had pushed on: when we found it we were thrilled.
It was a French country Hotel in the old style, not jazzed up for a modern crowd
.(This photo is from the hotel website at http://www.restaurantbaudy.com/ since I did not take one of the whole front)
Although the road was tarmacked there was no traffic and it had the air of an abandoned country lane, I almost expected to see dust rising up from a muddy track! All the shutters and doors stood open to the fresh air and sunshine and the inside was very dark and felt remote in time. As you walked inside you were met immediately by a large bar along the back wall behind which were cheery staff, in black with large white aprons tied round their waists, all smiles and ‘Bonjours’.
Just across the lane from the hotel was its open-air dining-room, with a few people already eating.
So we sat down on metal chairs beside a small round metal table, all a rather ‘distressed’ blue that I always associate with C19 French kitchens, and placed our order for the Menu du Jour.
We both chose the same thing: confit of duck with apple, walnuts and salad as a starter:
duck with prune and cinnamon (only slightly so) sauce and new potatoes and a stuffed tomato for our main,
all finished off with a baked apple with frangipane stuffing and caramel sauce.
The apple was a variety which did not go ‘puffy’ or foamy when cooked but kept its texture: it was perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender and the flavour was divine:)
L ordered a glass of burgundy with her meal which smelt heavenly! I just wish that my body liked alcohol, even just a little bit;)
So there we sat for two hours, slowly eating under the trees in the sun, surrounded by birdsong and butterflies, an orchard beside us with chickens in it and the occasional lazy cock-crow.
The glasses and cutlery were kept cool under an umbrella
which seemed to embody the atmosphere of the day.
The lane almost felt as if it were still a dried earthy path, as waitresses and waiters crossed and criss-crossed carrying trays aloft. There were enough other discerning diners to make it feel sociable and vibrant but without a crowd. Verily, it felt as if we were in another century and living very different lives.
To use the Ladies or just wash one’s hands, one had to go into the Hotel, through a dining room, out the back through a play room which had an ancient rocking horse in it, turn right in the yard and enter a glazed door in the barn.
We then discovered, by reading a plaque on the wall, that this old hotel was where Monet’s painter friends used to stay, and in fact, where the American Impressionists had formed a studio and presumably founded the ‘school’ of American Impressionists!! From 1887 onwards a colony of foreign painters, mainly Americans settled in Giverny: Sargent, Metcalf, Ritter, Taylor, Wendel, Robinson, Bruce and Breck came first. For thirty years about a hundred artists stayed one after the other in Giverny, although, we are told and I have no way of knowing how much truth there is in this, they did not have much contact with Monet who apparently considered their presence a nuisance.
While going out the back we saw the painters’ studio in the lovely gardens
and realised what a dreamy place it must be to stay in now, and back then.
Everything reminded me of the France I had known 50 years ago as a child: bare feet, earth paths, shadowy cool rooms, nothing quite spick or span, but serviceable with quality of life more important than possessions. We were so relaxed and warm and well fed. When we came to leave I felt full of sun and as if I had just been on holiday in the country:)
Reluctantly, we made our way to the bottom of the village to a huge coach park to catch the local bus back to Vernon, the express train to Paris, and make our way home. All went well, although the train was really full, until we got to Paris at 5.40 pm where it was rush hour. We made our way down to the Metro which involved going down four levels underground and walking quite a distance: it was mesmerising as people walked like automatons, not looking at each other, just like something out of a science fiction film where people are brain washed into behaving like ants. Hordes of them rushing hither and yon, on automatic pilot.
We pushed our way into a crowded carriage with no vacant seats but immediately two people gave up their seats for us: this has happened everywhere, on all transport. Young men and women are brought up to give up their seats to people older than they. So kind and thoughtful. And much appreciated.
And so to home, via our little butcher for some home made terrine with prunes and a thin steak: food for tomorrow as we are quite out of provisions after the holiday weekend.
We have had a fabulous day. A gift of a day. A shining day.
As I lay in bed that night I felt washed in a golden glow of happy memories, both old and new. I did not want to go to sleep and have the day end: I just wanted to lie and bask in the feelings the day had engendered.