The Flowers of Giverny.
Impressionism. This one word is capable of sending many an art fan into raptures and the attendance of a museum soaring. The founder of this movement is an unassuming Claude Monet. If he was a master of color theory, he let his paintings talk about it. The followers just keep increasing. Even today, even after the mercurial Van Gogh’s dismissal of the movement and his subsequent invention of post-impressionism, it is Claude Monet who is the poster boy of wannabe painters. Part of the allure is the fact that Monet painted everyday objects that don’t lose display value in your living room as your religious beliefs change.
I had one day to spare and decided to give Rouen a go. The Normandy food scene was magnetic. Read somewhere (Lonely Planet) that Rouen is home to some of the best-preserved past-millennial architecture in France. So off I went, early in the morning catching the train to Rouen. It was chilly and the Ham-n-Cheese sandwich from the deli in the railway station was quite nice.
As the train keeps chugging along, my thoughts return to the socio-economic situation. Given the chaos building up in the financial as well as the social structure of the world, which you only see if you really want to see, predicting the future is getting easy and difficult at the same time. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say that mankind is bracing for some of the worst recession or depression in the near future. It will be a 21st century near-death experience. What is difficult to predict is how the fallout will manifest. One of the things I see happening is the return of religious fervor. Man needs something to make him hope for better things. The economic outlook is not going to be one of them. There are no great leaders in today’s world who have the charisma to rally mankind together. More than leaders, today’s man is not ready to be led. It is becoming too insulting to be led by anyone else. Another caveat here: when I say men, I mean men and women in equal measure.
As the train pulls to a stop I read the name of the place. Vernon. Somewhere I remember that Vernon is the place that connects Giverny. It was still early in the day and I made a snap decision. In fact it was a no-brainer. I got off the train and within minutes was on my way to Giverny, in a bus service. In about 10 minutes I was walking to Claude Monet’s famed Giverny house where he spent the last 43 years of his life.
To call the place a house and a garden is to call a museum a person’s living room art collection. The garden is home to thousands of different flowers. Maybe I am exaggerating but you can find rows and rows of different kinds of flowers. It was drizzling the whole morning and the gray sky provided the perfect backdrop and adequate light to shoot some glorious images of flowers. The poppy garden section of the attached museum is a fantastic place to just sit down and gaze at the mesmerizing carpet of colors. Though Monet painted hundreds of versions of his famed water-lilies’ it is a pity that none of them hang in the museum near his house. You will find them scattered all over the world, revered by everyone alike.
The Japanese garden of Monet is what you would imagine reading about Zen gardens. Calm and blissful would be two words to associate with the garden. The tourists keep pouring in and the garden takes it all in its stride. The maintenance is impeccable.
After completing one of the pilgrimages of an art addict, I had to leave Giverny with a heavy heart. Sometimes you feel that you are destined to visit certain places and for me it felt that way in Giverny.
I took the next train to Rouen and I was running late. Entry to most historic monuments close by 6-7 PM and I had about an hour left on the clock when I came out of the railway station. I had a mental list of places to visit, but had to rearrange them due to the change in travel. I was undecided on which place to give up, the cathedral built on the site where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake or the Notre Dame Cathedral. The question was answered as I stepped out of the station. The cathedral spires were visible from the station and I started walking in that direction. On the way was the Castle of Rouen where Joan of Arc was imprisoned before her trial. It’s a formidable structure imposing itself on anyone walking out of the railway station. I had no time to admire it’s beauty at this point. I was literally running to get into the cathedral before it closed its gates.
The cathedral is another breathtaking monument. By now I have lost all ability to recall superlatives to describe what I see. You have to excuse me because this is my first visit to Europe. The cathedral is under heavy renovation and many parts are not open. The inside is impressive as usual. High arched ceiling, gorgeous stained glass windows, impressive and tall columns. They all give a feeling of airy lightness to the building. This building so impressed Monet that he painted numerous versions of the towers in his characteristic impressionist style.
Once out, I made a whirlwind tour of a few places. The Church of Joan of Arc was closed. To reach the church I walked through the street Rue du Gros-Horloge, a landmark in itself. As you walk along, you pass through a huge clock with a single hand. It is a mega version of a MeisterSinger. Or is it the other way around? Only more ornate and imposing. The street just oozes medieval character. It is like you just woke up in the middle of the night after watching Lord of the Rings and magically you have been transported to the setting. I don’t know how the people of Rouen feel about their daily living. It is like living in a fairy tale movie set. Maybe they feel a little retro and long for a life in the Metro.
I dined at ‘Les Maraichers’ a French heritage restaurant. I had a chat with two American ladies seated next to me who were on a leisurely vacation through France. I went for a three-course meal, which was highly recommended by my neighbors. The entree was asparagus and the main course was fish. The dessert was thinly sliced pineapples. Out of the world, as usual. No wonder the restaurant is so highly recommended by everyone.
My next-table neighbors were so funny. One of them had something to comment about almost everything happening around us. She came from Massachusetts and in an instant we had so much to talk about Boston. Though I spend very little time in places I visit, I make it a point to read a lot about those places and it comes in handy at times. Seated a little away from us was a couple. The lady seemed French and the gent not so French. They were putting up a great show feeding each other. We had so much entertainment watching them.
By the time I finished by dinner, bade goodbye to my new-found friends and reached the railway station, the last train to Paris had already left and the station wore a deserted look. I made a mental note to always enquire about the timing of the last train in future day trips. After more wandering around the town, I finally found a small hotel for the night. By the time I did, the streets of Rouen were deserted and the town had gone to sleep. These times, especially when you stray into one of the side streets that has cobbled streets that is older than your entire ancestral memory and block after block of ancient houses of similar history, it really feels creepy and makes you believe that you have wandered into a dream. No worries for me though, I was so tired I slept like a log.