It’s October, and the Monet Center at Giverny, looking deserted outside, is filled to bursting with tourists inside. I don’t know what I was thinking. That Monet is popular only in the summer? And that school had started and tourist attractions were relatively empty? (What a typically American thought.) We had just come from Normandy, and the quiet roads of Normandy’s back country had spoiled me. I expected the same solitude to be had at Monet’s house and garden as I saw myself sauntering among late dahlias and asters and cosmos, and, if I was lucky, among ancient roses. I wanted to get a feel of the place. Wanted to walk where Monet had walked, wrapped in his reveries. Wanted to sit quietly at The Pond. Get lost in a water lily. Sit tailor fashion on this famous, green Japanese bridge and let myself by mesmerized by the water’s soft ripples.
Or lie in the green, flat bottomed boat that I saw hidden among the foliage near the shore, rocking gently back and forth. No doubt, Monet sat in it all the time, pondering his lilies.
But no such thing. The garden was overrun by people. Trying to stand still to admire a field
you were shoved around a bit by the folks trying to get by. Their unencumbered voices killed the solitude of the place. And it was no better in the house itself where a long wait finally permitted us to enter, only to be rushed through without an opportunity to savor Monet. Monet at breakfast at his solid table. Monet in that blue-tiled kitchen. Monet in his sitting room. Monet in his studio. Impossible to take it all in in all this rush, to imagine him there, to feel him there. To absorb it all. The Monet shop was no better. Wall to wall people pushed us this way and that, and we had enough.
We left the Center, desperate to find something that would take us back to the late 1900’s—to this spirit of a quieter, gentler, laid-back kind of life that the Impressionist saw and painted. Nostalgia had me in its grip. And so we walked. Down the
with its lovely gardens and solid, unpretentious homes and came after a while to the very place I didn’t know I had looked for—The Hotel Baudy.
American painters had found their way to an unassuming boarding house around 1886 and had persuaded the proprietors, Angelina and Lucien Baudy, to turn it into a hotel. As word spread of this lovely village called Giverny not far from Paris with its perfect light and a scenery too charming not to paint, and of the presence of Monet, and of a hotel that could be lived in, Givery and The Hotel Baudy were taken over by expatriate painters, the largest number of them Americans. The accommodating proprietors arranged for the sale of exceptional art supplies, even built a studio for their charges, and fed and hosted their guests so well, some didn’t leave for years. And the rest is history.
I knew little of this that day–had never heard of The Hotel Baudy, knew far too little about Art, except that I adored the Impressionists, and so we stood, looking up at the hotel and thought that it was too lovely a spot to pass up. Its white and rose-colored lace front was precisely what I had wanted without knowing it.
We lingered for a moment, trying to decide whether or not we were to have dessert on its terrace across the street from the place, because it was such a lovely day, or whether we should go inside. Luckily we chose to go inside, and that’s where I finally met the painters from so long ago–the Americans, the French, and those from all over Europe, who had come to paint and to live in Giverny from about 1885 on until the beginning of WWI.
We opened the ancient door to this ancient lace place–in fact the name on the sign to the left of the door above reads ‘Ancien Hotel Baudy’–and came face to face with the very bar that Monet had a drink at with Cezanne and with his new friends from across an ocean.
Here, I saw, was the very place that American painters had made their home away from home.
Here was the dining room where they ate.
The parlor where they drank and cajoled and talked and smoked.
We sat down at an ancient table in the old bar and ordered dessert.
Is a picture worth a thousand words, or what?
The proprietor did speak English, by the way, which was a pleasure.
And then we sat and drank in the atmosphere of the place and ate slowly and happily. No one else was there, and in the silence of of this old hotel, I could hear them—these famous painters from long ago, laughing, talking, shouting, discussing, greeting one another, arguing about art, or quietly pondering the very impression that a small village and village life and a grand countryside had imprinted on their hearts and minds, and had found its path by way of a brush onto a canvas, for us to see, and to ponder, and to adore.
http://www.vernon-visite.org/rgb3/colony_giverny.htm (The American Impressionists at Giverny, France)
To read the Chapters of Diary of a Naive, The Novel, click here . . . .