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Paris 21 June 2016

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Today we took a train ride 80 miles out to Giverny to visit Monet's garden. I usually start by telling how we get there, but today, one pretty picture at the top to show you why we go.

According to the Fondation Monet, half a million people make the trek every year, most of them in great big busses leaving early in the morning and returning in time for lunch. No pressure. We decided to manage our own transport, and give ourselves as much time as we wanted.

From our place across the street from the Forum des Halles, it's going to be a Metro ride to the Gare Sainte Lazare, and then a train ride to Normandy.

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<p>Gare Sainte Lazare at rush hour</p>

Gare Sainte Lazare at rush hour

For country cousins like us, that's a challenge. We left early and allowed plenty of time to figure out what to do. First, find the right hole to go down, then get through the gates -- we already had our tickets for the Metro, so that part was easy. Next, find the right metro line, down half a dozen stairways and up a few escalators during the height of rush hour. Then squeeze onto a crowded train ... three stops ... Sainte Lazare.

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The SNCF computer wouldn't sell us tickets, so we consulted a human in the SNCF billetteria, who told us just how to catch our train. We had a delicious pain au chocolat et noix and waited for the announcement of the track for our train ... found the track, found seats, and waited ... and waited. We knew the bus to Giverny is scheduled to leave 15 minutes after the train arrives and, sure enough, just to add a little anxiety, the train left 16 minutes late, and continued to lose time all the way to Vernon, the nearest stop to Monet's garden.

Turned out not to be a problem. The P'tit Train to Giverny was waiting for us and all the other folks on the train bound for the gardens, and so off we bumped through the picturesque and historic little city of Vernon, across the Clemenceau bridge, and seven kilometers to Giverny.

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On a grey day like today, the colors are practically luminous, and the flowers cry out to be photographed. Monet collected flowers from all over the world, and the modern curators have used his notes and other historical evidence to try to recreate the colors and placements that the master wove into his garden. One critic said that Monet created every painting at least twice, once when he planted the garden, and again when he framed and painted. Neither of us could resist taking flower pictures, but all these photos are Rochelle's.

Of course everyone wants to see the water garden. Monet was much influenced by the orientalism that was so new and compelling in Paris when he was working; his house is full of prints (reproductions; all his originals are elsewhere) that he collected and loved. The use of water and flowers in these images inspired him to buy the land across the road (then a railroad track) and develop its little stream into a pond where most of the flowers above thrive in the moist warm Haute Normandie environment.

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Despite a steady stream of people, including bunches of same-aged children being herded by teachers, these gardens didn't feel crowded. Even the children – well, some of them – were awed by the gardens, and were diligently sketching what they saw. Lots of pictures were being taken. People were waiting for vistas unspoiled by people – not easy given the crowds. And then the gentle rains began.

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The bees continued with their business, the tourists continued with theirs, the rain fell gently, umbrellas bloomed ... but the nature of the place kept everyone good humored and awed.

There are two gardens here, the Nymphea (Water Lily) garden, and then the "French Garden" organized along the lines that Monet enjoyed: big colorful unruly blocks of flowers and foliage. And then there's the house Monet lived, worked, and entertained in.

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<p>The French Garden (left) and northern-lighted Studio</p>

The French Garden (left) and northern-lighted Studio

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The approach to the house through the French Garden is less awe-inspiring, more comfortable and homely. Monet's studio is full of eastern light and its walls covered with paintings by him, his friends, and those he admired. I can easily imagine his friends lounging here while he worked.

The kitchen was clearly the studio of the other member of the family, his lover, wife, muse, and favorite subject, Camille Doncieux. Knowing that Monet in Giverney was surrounded by a wide circle of friends, it's easy to imagine happy dinner parties in this cheerful yellow dining room.

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Leaving the site in the rain, we unfurled our borrowed umbrella, then saw an ice-cream truck persisting in the rain. Walking on, brolly in one hand, cone in the other, we are stopped by a little family similarly huddling under a brolly. In French, but with difficulty, the man asks, "Where is the entrance to the Gardens?" I point the way and ask, also in French, "Do you want to speak English instead?" Still in French, he replies, "Oh, No, French if you please." So I tell him (in French) where to find the gate to the Water Garden. He turns to his partners, and in Brit-accented English, obviously his native language, says to his partners "So you were right, straight ahead." 

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Back to Vernon, train back to Sainte Lazare. We walked the mile and a half from the Gare to our place through busy late afternoon pedestrian traffic. This is not a place to grow old; the crowding is inexorable and mostly out-of-body. We stopped for a pick-us-up at the ZA Café Litteraire across the street, then came home. A little later, out looking for a small dinner, and found a pitiful Thai dinner -- no Thai flavor, no French flare. So far, except for the one extraordinary meal, Paris food is expensive and inferior. 

There's a Festival of Music in the Marais, our neighborhood. In the City of Bizet, Ravel, and Satie I'm sure the Silly Fathers expected there to be real music, but what they've gotten is loud tin-eared bands blasting head-banger anger in every square. No "music" involved: monotonous just-faster-than-a-healthy-heartbeat noise organized to produce an emotional effect ...and thirst? Safe to say none of the city fathers are around. Heavy police presence. The restaurants are empty, but the bars are thriving.

We're watching soccer with the sound on. The French commentary and the crowd sounds are preferable to the thumping and screeching coming from below that goes on until 3am.

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