Sunday, August 3 - Vernon and Monet's Giverny

We awoke docked in the small town of Vernon (population about 40,000), to a view of the surrounding hillsides crowned with mist and the promise of rain in our immediate future.  Taking the advice of our ever-upbeat Tour Director, we donned our windbreakers, grabbed our umbrellas and sallied forth to the buses that would take us to Giverny.

One sidebar: in a continuation of last year’s lower appendage injuries that put a cramp in Gary’s style in Vienna, sometime during the night when he got out of bed he managed to turn his left ankle, which left his participation in the day’s activities a bit in doubt.  However, the resourceful Viking folks came up with a an Ace bandage with which he could brace the joint in question, and so we were off like a herd of turtles to brave the uncertain elements.

After a 15-minute drive over the serpentine country roads of Normandy, we arrived in Giverny (population 150), source of so much of the inspiration of the second half of Monet’s life.  The dusty pink farmhouse that he spotted from the train and transformed into a home for himself, his second wife Alice and their combined eight (!) children is exact in almost every detail to what Monet experienced until his death in 1926.  Ultimately, he added onto the structure of the original farmhouse to create an atelier (or studio) in which to finish the works that he started outdoors (en plein aire), as well as additional space for the maid, the cook, and the seven gardeners who helped him to bring the fabulous gardens into bloom out of the empty field from which they were fashioned.

Monet's home in Giverny.

Beautiful Bamboo tree stand as you enter Monet's famous flower gardens.

It is interesting to note that the world has America, with its open-minded and forward-thinking art investors of the late nineteenth century, to thank for bringing Monet and his fellow Impressionists to the prominence and compensation they so richly deserved after their disastrous attempt at an exhibition of their works in Paris.  It is also due to the philanthropy of other Americans, particularly the Wallace family of Reader’s Digest fame, that Monet’s haven in France has been restored as completely and faithfully as it has been.  Much of this restoration was based upon photographs taken in Giverny during the artist’s lifetime and the recollections of those who visited him there in his later years.

On a more recent historical note, there are seven British airmen interred in the cemetery of the small church in Giverny and a monument created from a propeller of the plain in which they were shot down in the village during WWII.  Monet himself, his wife Alice and several of their children are also resting in a portion of the cemetery to the rear of the church; the main portion of the cemetery occupies a rising plot of ground on the left side of the building.

Our bus was again delayed by another wife who was separated from her husband in the village, and who apparently lost herself in the current exhibition of Belgian Impressionism that has been mounted at the Giverny museum.  Once she was safely back with us we returned to the Neptune, where are local accordionist/singer serenaded us on board for our “Taste of Normandy” lunch experience.

By this time Gary and I were both ready for a little down time, which we proceeded to take while some of our number went for a walking tour of Vernon.  We got him set up with ice on his elevated ankle, I read some of the book I had brought on my Kindle, and it was time to sleep a little while…

At about 3:30 p.m. I woke to inviting sunshine and a scattering of fluffy late-afternoon clouds, and decided to repair to the lounge to start documenting the day’s activities.  The optional painting class was still in full swing at the bow end of the room, so I settled myself a little ways away so as not to distract or be inordinately diverted from my own endeavors.

After capturing the morning’s excursion I felt drawn to undertake a little exploration of Vernon on my own, so I struck out for the large Gothic church that was easily accessible from the Neptune’s berth.  My route took me through some narrow streets that gave one the sensation of having been transported many hundreds of years back in time until I arrived in front of the church.  Unlike others of the churches we had seen in other parts of Europe, this one did not have the typical large plaza in front of its main entrance.  And it was interesting to observe the varied architectural elements that spoke to the building’s construction history spanning the 11th to the 17th centuries.  The most prominent of these were the flying buttresses and gargoyles from its earliest inception and the ubiquitous rooster capping off the steeple’s weather vane.

The interior was modestly decorated but still imposing with its soaring vaulted ceiling and intricately carved wooden pulpit.  A spectacular pipe organ crowned the choir loft, and the musician in me longed to hear it thunder and whisper in the solitude and lengthening shadows of the waning day.  But this was not to be, so I was left to simply dream of the magic it is able to impart when awakened…

A leisurely stroll brought me back along a slightly different route to the Neptune; on my return it was captivating to observe families young and old frolicking together in the balmy climate, so unlike the morning’s damp and overcast offering.  By this time Gary’s ankle was not as swollen and he was refreshed from the morning’s exertions, so we worked together to download pictures from his camera and work just a smidge on what we look forward to accomplishing during the rest of the voyage.

The amazing staff had all their bases covered.

I have neglected to mention until now that today is our 7th wedding anniversary!  My sweet Gary somehow managed to bring (pristine even after being packed away in the luggage) a beautiful card for me to commemorate this milestone in our personal history.  At the end of another gorgeous supper that focused on the variety of mushrooms used in French cuisine, we were treated to our own petite lemon mousse tart with its sparkler centerpiece, to the strains of “The King” again caroling “Love Me Tender.”  It was an enchanting end to the day…

More tomorrow – au revoir!

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