After a busy week together, our immersion group scattered to the four winds on Saturday. One colleague went to Normandy, another to Marseilles, and a third to Belgium. We also left Paris, taking a day trip with our host family to Giverny, before spending the rest of the weekend with our friends in the countryside.
Having marveled at impressionist works in the D’Orsay and L’Orangerie, we were excited to visit the epicenter of France’s most famous art movement. Legend has it that Monet first glimpsed the sleepy village of Giverny out of a passing train window. He returned to rent a house there and never left, buying the property and building from the ground up the garden that would feature in his most acclaimed works.
Monet spent more than forty years in Giverny. Long before his house was turned over to the Académie des Beaux-Arts and tourists began to throng there to see his famous water lilies, a different group of visitors were drawn to this unassuming dot on the French map. In addition to numerous French impressionists who shared Monet’s passion for the area’s verdant landscapes, an entire colony of American painters set up shop in Giverny, greatly swelling the village’s population, which only numbered a couple hundred permanent residents. One even married Monet’s stepdaughter.
Besides Monet’s house and gardens, there is also a small impressionist museum in Giverny, as well as a somewhat out-of-place warehouse-cum-museum dedicated to the restoration and display of various engines, motors, and machines, many dating back over a hundred years.
Monet’s gardens are closed during the winter months; when we visited in April, they had just reopened. On the one hand, we were a bit early in the season — much of the flora had yet to bloom, the vines covering the building’s crushed brick facade were desiccated, and the weeping willows were far from reaching the leafy magnificence they would attain in the summer months. On the other hand, there were hardly any other tourists there, and Monet’s gardens feature such an extravagant diversity of flowers that there was plenty of color to dazzle the eye even on this rainy early April afternoon.
Sunday morning found us in Verneuil-sur-Seine, a run-of-the-mill town situated in a bend along the Seine river where our friends live. Though we did see a theater performance back in Paris later that night, Sunday was the one day during our two weeks in France that we took a respite from sightseeing, instead spending a lazy afternoon with our friends.