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An Afternoon Chez Claude Monet

While in Paris visiting family, I took the train out to Giverny and spent a lovely day visiting the home and workplace of Claude Monet. If you have the chance to visit Giverny, I would highly recommend it. You leave from Gare St. Lazare in Paris, which, interestingly enough, was the setting of another Monet painting. Sadly, a present-day viewing of the train station struck me as much less romantic than Monet’s rendering of it, but it’s still neat to see.

An Afternoon Chez Claude MonetThe train ride, on the other hand, does not disappoint. Within minutes of leaving Paris, you hug the curving Seine through green fields and gentle hills until you arrive in the town of Monet’s home and refuge.

Even though Monet was a painter, the visual experience is just one portion of a visit to Giverny. This morning while reading I came across a quote by Walter Meigs that put it into words in a neat and concise way: “Experience, even for a painter, is not exclusively visual.”

That’s not to diminish, in any way, the visual experience of a visit to Giverny. Monet’s gardens, his old stone home, and the iconic Lily Pond are stunning. The garden is an explosion of flowers in every family and color you could ever imagine. Monet was an assiduous botanist and gardener, and he approached the laying-out of his landscape with a scientist’s eye. It shows.

The secluded pond, its arching green Japanese Bridge as charming as the paintings of it would have you believe, is the stuff of a nymph’s fantasy land. Even Monet’s house is a barrage of colorful walls, dishes, and furniture. Everything about the property screams: art!

But even more than the pleasant flood of color you see all around you are the myriad other ways in which Giverny tantalizes your senses. The smells! Every inhale brings with it a new blend of rose, lilac, freesia, ranunculi, and freshly- cut grass from the bordering fields.

The sounds! The bullfrogs belching out their mating calls throughout the otherwise placid little lagoon. The birds hopping from rose bush to colorful rose bush. The crickets in the surrounding fields. If you close your eyes and do your best to momentarily block out the clicks of the cameras and the tour guides spouting wisdom in every language, you can catch a fleeting glimpse of what this place must have sounded like to Monet himself. He must have heard nothing but nature’s notes.

The sense of touch! The soft clusters of lilac against your skin as you lean in to inhale its scent. The feeling of the gentle sun as it comes sprinkling down through the shady leaves of the surrounding trees.

And since I feel compelled to round this out by including all five senses- the tastes? Alright then. The taste of the quiche you can have, sitting in a little cafe across the street from the gardens. And the ice cream that follows that. These spots, of course, did not exist for Monet, though I’m sure he tasted many savory meals in his bright blue kitchen.

One can see why Monet had such a prolific career while painting in this edenic setting. Everything about this land and home inspires you to think, hear, and breathe in its beauty.

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Allison Pataki
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