Sunday, October 25, 2015

time and Giverny

This year, I gain an hour twice: today, when Daylight Savings Time ends in most of Europe (only Russia and Belarus do not observe DST) and next Sunday, when it ends in most of the States (Hawaii and Arizona do not observe it).

Ah, the gift of more time!

In fact, France and Spain are weird about the issue of time. Geographically, they are due south and in Spain's case, even to the west of the U.K., yet for political reasons, time-wise, since the end of World War II, these two countries have chosen to align themselves with the rest of central Europe, so that Paris, just south of London, is one hour ahead of it in time, even as it shares the time zone of Warsaw, which is nearly 900 miles to the east. (An expat here from the States writes about the joy of being closer, for just this one week, in time to the US in a NYTimes article here.)

And so today, I wake up to a brighter morning, but I know that the sun sets at 5:42, as opposed to yesterday's luxuriously later 6:45.

This makes for an interesting situation at Monet's gardens (which shut down for the season in a few days). The closing time this week and only this week is after sunset. (The gardens close each day at 6 p.m.)

Wouldn't it be grand to be in Monet's garden at dusk? You can only do it now, this week and hope that it will be a sunny set of days, so that you can actually witness the sun recede from the vantage of this magic landscape.

And true to the forecast, I wake up to a sunny day. Looking out at Francine and Michel's garden:


Breakfast first -- the magnificent, delectable, artfully presented (then gobbled all too quickly) breakfast.


And then I set out. (A Sunday walk in the country will inevitably put you face to face with cycling enthusiasts in France.)


But suddenly, I'm undecided. There appears one solitary cloud in the sky. Well now, where there is one, there will be more. What if, what if the skies cloud over by afternoon? What if I pass on this beautiful morning light in the garden in favor of an evening dapple that in fact will not materialize, giving me, instead the Normandy grayness I have come to associate with trips to Giverny?

When I made my travel plans earlier this month, my stay in Giverny was never supposed to be about Monet's garden. I just needed to stay away from expensive Paris, without going far. I wanted a place to walk. I found this delightful b&b here and I thought no more about it. Yes, I'd go to Monet's garden, but mainly I would take in the October colors from the paths that meander into the Giverny hills.

But now that I am here, I feel the onset of that Giverny pressure. How should I optimize the visit? How best to use the good weather and avoid the crowds?

Ed has always said that I'm one of the most risk-averse people he knows and so perhaps it is predictable that when I stepped outside and saw that first cloud, I ditched my evening-at-the-garden plans and headed straight for Monet's house and garden now.

And it was not very crowded at all. I got to it just a few minutes after the opening hour and right away it was obvious that end of October is not many people's favorite times to visit Giverny.

The fact is, 99.9% of the 700,000 who came here this year, came for the gardens and the assumption is that by this time of the year, Monet's gardens kind of looks like your own garden back home: over and done with. Limp.

Oh, but they're not limp! The use of perennials may be the backbone of the garden, but now, in late fall, it's the annuals that still remain vivid and strong: dahlias are the flower of choice. As is the cosmos. As is the beloved capucine (nasturtium).

Let me lead you through the garden, in the dazzling morning light of autumn. I first fell in love with perennial beds in England, but here, in Giverny, the image of my own garden was first formed.


Monet's gardens are not intimate. Or, you could say that one must find intimacy in their enormity. I feel that way about the farmette gardens as well. You must take in the whole and that whole includes the farmhouse and the sheep shed. Of course, my aspirations are tiny, really teeny tiny compared to what Monet worked (or, had his and Alice's children work) to accomplish.


His "second' garden, the one with the pond and, come summertime, the water lilies, is where I spend most of my photographic minutes. I have to wait a little for the people to pass, but they do pass. It's early in the day and late in the season -- a gentler time to be here, for sure!



For Monet, the pond was an essential element of the garden: not only did it provide a base for the water lilies, but it doubled the beauty of the plant life around it.


I have assumed that the lilies would be over and done with and I am not wrong in this. Fallen leaves have taken their place on the water.


And then I take a second look. One lily still remains!


Sometimes in Monet's garden, you are so drawn to what is at foot level, that you forget to look up!


And then you look down and up and down again and all around, and the joy is just huge!


I am so deeply, deeply satisfied!

(a selfie on a time release)

And of course, because Giverny has not had a hard frost, the other masterpiece of this place -- the Grande Allee de Capucines is at its most glorious full bloom. Looking toward the house:


A closer look at the beloved nasturtium, not unlike mine, but here, it's trailing from beneath the dahlias:


Looking from the opposite end, toward the gate (where a kiss is taking place):


I leave in a daze.

You have to walk through the gift shop to exit and my hand has greed written into it now. I want so much to take this morning home with me!

Wait. Pause. Don't buy. You cannot take it home.

But but -- this is beautiful, and look at this dish, and this set of...


I ask the sales lady -- if I come back toward the end of the day, will they let me into the store? (The store is after the ticket check and they do not normally allow you to come back inside on the same ticket.)
Yes, of course. Just come late. It will be fine.

My garden visit is over. But I have lots to do today still!

I visit the Museum of Impressionism. They have a display of Monet's garden photography and as I walk through the (nearly empty) rooms, I think -- perhaps I should have come here first. It's very inspiring. I understand the challenges of photographing the place -- I've just gone through it. It's helpful to see how the masters did their craft (in much the same way that reading good books helps you to become a good writer).

Alright. Cultural stuff to the side, I head for the trails. It's a glorious day, though the clouds are indeed multiplying.


I pick a 2.5 hour trail into the hills and yes, it does offer grand views of the Seine River valley...


...but halfway into the walk, I get lost.

The problem with having a trail map is that once you are off trail, you have no idea where you are. I am so completely lost in the forest that I get edgy about it. Every acorn drop is a startle.


I come to a fenced military base and the warning signs have dire symbols that even the non French speaking person would understand. They mean keep out or else.

Eventually, I decide that I have probably strayed so far off course that I'm likely to emerge in Paris by the time I leave the forest. I turn back. With great relief. Happy to see civilization again. And the River Seine.


And Giverny.


And now the afternoon is creeping up on me and I have some decisions to make. Giverny is suddenly feeling very populated, in not an unpleasant sort of way. Because it's Sunday, the small groups of tourists are in the minority and the French presence is palpable.

(close to Snowdrop's age?)

Think of it this way: if you lived in, say Paris, and most of the stores closed on you Sundays, wouldn't you force yourself to take your family on an outing into the countryside? Giverny is a good choice -- it's close, it offers a nice stroll (with beautiful fall colors -- here, you see my beloved Gaura against a backdrop of flaming ivy)...


... perhaps a visit to the garden, perhaps a lunch en plein air. (How can I tell who is French? Well, the language, of course, and, too, French people have very sensitive-to-cold necks.)



So, should I join the lunch crowd? Except for yesterday's creperie, every eatery here closes early today.

I have a plan: why not go to Les Nympheas? It's a cafe restaurant just outside the entrance to the gardens and I love it for its kind staff. Not long ago they saved my life, or at least my day, by finding a way for me to get back to the train station in time for a train to Rouen. It's a simple place, but it serves solidly good food, despite the fact that most of its business is from the tourists that flock here after a walk through the gardens. (So much is it tied to tourism that it closes next week for four months, just like the gardens!)

I come in at 4, just a little while before they, too, close for the day and I have a lovely quiche with a salad...


... and, because it's my last day in Normandy, I take a slice of their apple tart, with Normandy cream -- a cream so naturally sweet, that no one would ever think to put sugar in it.


The staff and management gather around the bar at closing time. I ask if they've had a good year. It was okay -- I'm told. I sense their tiredness, even though they are professional and swift and always, always obliging.


The cafe-restaurant has a lovely gift shop to the side (both are owned by the Monet Foundation). Wouldn't you want to bring home some flowers for your winter table back home?


And now it's after five and I take the plunge. The skies are clearing again and I walk over to the gardens and ask the admission guard if I may reenter to pick up something at the gift shop and to take a picture or two.

He shrugs with a half smile and waves me in.

I feel incredibly lucky and guilty, too, because no one should have their cake and eat it too and here I am, just as the sun is about to set and the place is so empty, SO EMPTY, that it's almost as if I have broken in after hours and now am stealthily making my way through the typically crowded even in the best of times alleys and pathways.


It is a beautiful hour! One that can only bring tears of joy.

Quietly, stealthily, walk with me.


The Grande Alee, one more time, because it's different now, in the evening!


The bridge, empty.


The last rays...


And now the sun has set.



And a little giddiness takes over too, because why not play for a bit? Why not indulge myself in something I would never be able to do in high season or even shoulder season, in fact any season at all, except just this week, when the sun sets early and no one in their right mind would choose to visit Monet's garden in Giverny.



I leave just as they're getting ready to close.



One last look...


...and I'm out on Giverny's main street again. The sun has set...


... the strollers are ambling toward waiting cars. Me, I'm ambling over to the bakery, where madame has promised to save half an evening baguette for me. Since my quiche wasn't filling enough to serve as both lunch and supper, I thought I'd beg off some of the Neufchatel cheese from Francine and eat that for a Normandy supper, accompanied by the Normandy (hard) cider  that my hosts have left in my minifridge.

And when Francine returns from a coastal visit with her brother (the traffic! All those Parisians returning to the city after the weekend! It took forever!), she is generous as always and brings out not only the cheese, but some fruit and her wonderful home made quince squares and here's a real treat -- slices of foie gras that she just happened to have at home.


I ask her why they decided to move here (now some thirty years ago), because surely during the high season, it must be tortuous to face the daily crowds outside. She laughs. When we moved here, Monet's house was still in disrepair. Yes, it was Monet's house, but the gardens were destroyed and no one came here. The investment in them (much of it from American sources, BTW) happened later. We are lucky because we are at the edge of the village. No one bothers coming this far. Our friends, living closer to the heart, have had to make far greater adjustments!

The moon shines brightly over Michel and Francine's home and garden and I hope over your home as well.


Post Scriptum:

After two days of rather massive photo postings (44 today!), I'll be slowing down for a bit. Tomorrow I travel to Warsaw and an in-transit day is never very photogenic in my mind. Surely airports and train stations are no Monet's garden at dawn and dusk, though perhaps the great artist may, at one point in his life, have disagreed.