Back in April 2012, in the early days of spring, I was among the first ones to hop on a small city train heading for C. Monet’s house. It’s a short ride from Paris to Vernon, and then a 30 min bike ride into Giverny. (The train tickets were only about 23 euros, and bike rental was around 10 euros)
I stepped out of the train station without a map of Vernon or Giverny, rented a bike with a questionable brake system, and headed off in some direction. Only about 2 or 3 minutes later did I realize I had no idea where I was going. Somehow I thought there would be big signs pointing towards la maison de Claude Monet. To those who read, please do not repeat my mistake of riding the bike on the highway. Cars honked, drivers yelled in unpleasant French, large trucks sped by… only to find out that there was a bike trail on the other side of the road. Nonetheless, it was worth risking my life to catch a glimpse of my idol’s life.
The scenery along the way left me breathless. It wasn’t grand like the Italian cliffs or the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It was a very simple beauty. In early April, tiny yellow wild flowers were blooming all over the endless French plains, with a faint hint of mountains in the background, and a stream chasing quietly alongside the sounds of my bike tires.
After a few moments of serious self-doubt, I finally saw road signs welcoming me in Monet’s hometown. I have been to the master’s house 7 years ago with my high school French teacher and friends. However, at that time, I was too ignorant to understand Monet and his works. Now, 7 years more seasoned, and having stayed in France for a year on exchange, I returned still attempting to grasp his genius in his paintings.
It was a bright, cloudless day, and I walked into Monet’s gardens with flowers near full bloom. I turned my head to the right and saw the familiar house in pink and green. I walked a little further away from the gardens and arrived at the lily pond, where the grand master drew inspiration for his many paintings, including the infamous Nymphéa housed in l’Orangérie in Paris.
Staring deep into the pond, shock and calmness overcame me at once. I was surprised that the colors Monet saw in the waters, all the vivid oranges, dirty greens, light blues and everything else in between, I saw them too. His paintings suddenly became so real to me. It was almost surreal to connect with someone in the past, and understand from his eyes that he paints with imagination and utmost honesty.
I rode my bike back to the city (on the right side of the road this time). Paris was beautiful under its lights and colors, but with a little added imagination, it was magic.