Monday, July 09, 2012

Impressions of Giverney and Modest Meals in Paris

Monet's gardens at Giverny are lovely and, after time spent surveying the vistas, I noticed that the many tourists meandering around the lake garden begin to look ever more like clusters of bright flowers, at least as seen from a distance. Maybe I just wished the people were flowers. The paths were crowded with folks pointing their cameras in the direction of lily pads. I include myself here.
I remembered Monet's dining room from my first trip in 1981, when the girls and I spent a morning touring. The dining room has bright yellow walls covered with Monet's collection of Japanese prints. His dining table seats fourteen. Each chair is painted yellow and has a blue and white checked cushion. Green ceramic vases line the mantle. Blue and white patterned dishes line the built in china cabinets. This is all prosaic description. The room is charming and it has always stayed in my memory. Feels like a hospitable, happy place for gatherings. No photo taking allowed so I cannot show you the dining room, nor can I show you the door and wall of an upstairs bedroom which had a subtle combination of paint colors. Mauve and lavender on the door on a pale green wall. Loved it.
Monet's gardens are quite simply happy, a riot of cultivated flowers in grids that covered several acres. The pink house with dark green shutters is almost obscured by the height of the flowers and the many arbors, each wrapped with a plethora of fragrant roses. Monet's garden has many bees, unlike my Houston garden. But that is another story.
Over lunch at La Musardiere, the little hotel with a sunlit dining patio, Ed asked us which of the 'three parts' of Monet's gardens we liked best - the house, the walled garden or the water lily garden. Most favored the water lily garden, but I cannot choose. I was drawn to each in different ways.
The house was warm and inviting, colorful, probably drafty. Monet laid out his flowers gardens in the front of this house where he moved with his wife and family in 1883. Guide books say he spent 40 years at Giverny, building a pastoral paradise with a Japanese garden and a pond of floating lilies.
On Sunday, we saw the results of his years in his Giverny studio at the Orangerie Museum in the Tuileries. The installation of very long and large paintings was supervised by Monet himself. There is  a contemplative space one enters before viewing the paintings and then two galleries where enormous paintings flood the walls, immersing and surrounding viewers with lily pad seasons.
The first room is very Mrs. deMenil-esque. That white space appears to float. Pure light comes into the space from several directions. There is not a thing here but quiet white space. Planned that way by Monet, so that when one at last enters the two galleries, the mind may have quieted itself from the rhythms of the city.
Each oval gallery has a series of four long, long gently curved paintings. The paintings in each gallery compliment and enhance the others. Monet is painting water here and I assume damp lily pads. So, I found it curious that when I got within inches of the surface of the paintings, I saw that the lilies were painted very roughly without a 'lily' form, really, until you step back several feet. And he appears to apply the lily shapes with a very dry brush. Painting wetness with a dry brush? And making it work. But after all, he is not so much painting water as he is painting light and he certainly found a multitude of ways to do that.
The Orangerie paintings are very complicated and yet very simple. Monet stood by the pond and watched light play with color and form. Happily for us, he was able to capture this play.
I wouldn't have missed Monet's gardens. They were beautiful when my daughters and I visited them in 1981 and they were beautiful today. Artists' visions enrich us in often undefinable ways. Will a pond of lily pads ever be seen again in this world without reference to Monet's interpretation?
Here are two faded photos from our visit in 1981. The girls look sober and their photograph is awkwardly taken. It was a difficult time for our family. They appear to reflect that.

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If we were to have one meal when we weren't winging it, but making plans to indulge ourselves, where would it be? We've eaten well, but very simply. All food is expensive in Paris. I've decided to email Ginny and ask her what place she would choose to enjoy a perfectly lovely French dinner (or lunch).
Aggie and I are in agreement. Neither of us is willing to spend our money on one fine dinner after another. Are we not in need of fine dining? We are in Paris, the city where fine dining is one of the reasons the world flocks to its streets. What is the matter with us?
Well, the two of us are on overload with sights and sounds, rushing from neighborhood to neighborhood on Metro as early as 8:00 in the morning and then suddenly, it is 7:00 in the evening and we are very tired and ache all over.
So, this first week in Paris, it has been far easier to pick up fruit, a potted terrine or can of aged sardines, a baguette, perhaps some cheese. It has also been easy to drop by the Lebanese place just below our apartment for falafel, hummus and whatever else goes on their tasty plats de jour.

We've had some very tasty and modest meals. Yet, we are in Paris. We would enjoy one great meal, surely. Off goes that email to Ginny.

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