Monday, March 9, 2009
A Garden Immortalized in Monet's Paintings
Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France
Visited late 1990s
Sometime in the late 1990s (1997?), I spent a week or so in Paris with my sister. Paris was warm and sunny, full of music and trees and paintings. The Musée de l’Orangerie had the most beautiful exhibition of impressionist masterpieces by Claude Monet, one of my favourite painters.
At the end of the Paris trip, my sister went back home to the US while I went off to spend a few days in the village of Giverny, where Claude Monet lived and painted for the last 43 years of his life. Many of his most beautiful paintings are of the gardens at his house in Giverny.
I had booked a bed and breakfast for myself before leaving my home in Jakarta, Indonesia. I called the owner from Paris and he confirmed that I would have a room waiting for me when I arrived in Giverny.
So I hopped on a train moving towards Rouen – of Rouen Cathedral fame, painted by Monet in his inimitable style – and got off at the small and picturesque town of Vernon. A short bus-ride along the Seine brought me to Giverny.
When I checked into the B&B, the owner mumbled something about being double-booked. He had a room in his own house for me that night, but would show me to an even bigger room in his friend’s house the next morning, he said. Impatient to get to Monet’s garden before it closed for the day, I dumped my overnight case in a small but beautiful converted loft and agreed to sort out the rest next morning.
The gardens were amazing. I entered and a burst of colour hit me. Different kinds of flowers everywhere, vines making arches over the paths. And an elegant house forming a backdrop to the gardens. I was more or less prepared for the colours, but I hadn’t counted on the fabulous scents of the flowers. Ahhh.
There was more to come, of course, because the garden is in fact 2 gardens. You access the second garden through an underground passage. Across the passage, a Japanese-style garden bursts upon you in all its glory. This is the part of the garden with the famous lily pond and Japanese bridge, immortalized in many of Monet’s paintings.
The water in the pond was still, reflecting the surrounding trees so perfectly that you might think they were growing under the water as well as hanging over it from the land, with the clusters of water lilies suspended in the centre of this mirror image. Fantastic.
The Japanese bridge was full of people. In fact, there were busloads of tourists all along the paths in both parts of the gardens. Many had come across from England, via Paris, for the day. About half an hour before the garden was to close, the crowds started moving out. Suddenly, I had the garden to myself – just me and the lilies and the trees and the breeze passing gently over the water and through the trees… Immediately I twigged that I had to get there early every morning, as soon as the gardens open and leave just before they closed! The day tourists took a while to get in and had to leave a bit early to make sure they didn’t miss their buses back to Paris.
Early next morning the owner of the B&B moved me to his “friend’s” house. I had a whole big double-storeyed house to myself! It had a beautiful garden, modelled – well, poorly – on Monet’s gardens, complete with water lily pond and all. Beautiful in itself but a pale imitation of the original.
After some probing, I discovered that my pal from the B&B was looking after the house while the owners were on holiday. He insisted he had cleared my stay in their house with them. I sure hoped so.
I spent 2 of the next three days in Monet’s house and garden while it was open, enjoying especially the half-hours immediately after opening and before closing when I was queen of the gardens. The sights, scents, the breeze… Oh, so lovely. And the changing light, which Monet has captured so beautifully in his “series” of paintings of the same scene at different times.
The house is beautiful too and deserves a visit for the old furniture and photographs and, most of all, for Monet’s collection of Japanese prints. This includes the famous one of the tsunami – looking at the majestic beauty of the waves it’s hard to focus on the destruction they inevitably leave in their wake. I have thought about this particular print often since the Asian tsunami of 2004.
But at the time the print that fascinated me most was of a young Japanese woman doing her toilette. She’s fixing her hair before a mirror while a baby feeds at her breast. The woman seems so cool about the feeding – no big deal, she might feel, after all I do this several times a day! The baby seems to be taking care of itself while the mother focuses firmly on her own toilette.
On my last full day in Giverny, I took a half-day off to go explore the nearby town of Vernon, which has a lovely church and an old and very pretty mill over the river. Giverny itself has a small and old church, where Monet is buried.
My last afternoon in Giverny absolutely had to be spent in the gardens, of course. In the evening light, I silently bid farewell to my friends the water lilies, the beautiful trees, the clusters of flowers in the “first garden” (in front of the house). I promised myself I’d be back… One day…