Friday, January 25, 2008

France - Part Deux and a Half

My Day with Monet, a Most Intriguing Lunch (Tongue)
and a Farewell

While Chris and the Cronces were immersing themselves in WWII history in Normandy, I spent the day with a delightful local tour guide, Ariane Cauderlier. I found her through the efforts of the owner of our bed and breakfast in Giverny. Since Chris would have the car and our bed and breakfast was out in the countryside, I was pleased a guide with a car was available.

By the way, the bed and breakfast, La Reserve in Giverny, was beautiful and one of my all time favorites. The owners, Marie-Lorraine and Didier Brunet, have built a most exquisite home to look old yet with modern conveniences. Didier stripped windows and fixtures from an ancient manor house and reused them in the building of La Reserve. Brilliant! That’s me waiving from our bedroom window.

But back to Monet’s gardens - pictures just cannot convey the beauty of it. Lush, overflowing and a riot of color. The beds are replanted for each season of the year. Again, a digital camera was priceless. I took hundreds of pictures, which I sorted through at home and edited down to my favorites. What a joy it is to not worry about film, cost of developing, etc. I believe the lily pond with the Japanese bridge are probably the closest to how it looked in Monet‘s day.

I have seen many pictures of the yellow dining room, but the reality was much different. It felt like walking into the middle of a rich gold egg yolk. Maybe it was the time of the day, but wow! Pictures portray the room as a sunny yellow, but it is so much more intense - like being wrapped in a rusty gold cocoon. I could feel my cholesterol rising as I stood there. (See…there I go with another food reference. Sorry.)

Ariane was a delightful companion and tour guide beyond compare. Her knowledge of Monet’s life is encyclopedic and she shared it with many anecdotes you just could not learn from reading a guide book. Tour guides are not allowed in the house (the French are strange sometimes), but Ariane has a secret connection with someone at the foundation that manages the museum, so she chatted away in every room bringing the times and world of Monet and his large family to life for me. I even got a peek of the vast gardens and greenhouses where the out of season and upcoming plants are nurtured for the gardens around the house. The area is not open to the public, but Ariane knew just which path to walk up so we could view it from a neighboring driveway.

As an interesting side note, and something I did not know, Monet’s home and gardens were in ruin almost beyond repair when a group of impressionist loving Americans created a foundation to save the property. The French were only too happy to allow such a fortuitous circumstance, thereby saving a historic property, small village sinking into obscurity and the memory of a cultural icon.

Later in the day, Ariane drove us to a nearby village to visit the grave of Cami, Monet’s beloved first wife. On the way to the village, we passed the house where they lived before moving to Giverny (which happed to be for sale and made Ariane very excited). One of Monet’s famous winter scenes was painted just outside the front door. It was fun to compare the picture to the reality.

From Giverny we drove across the Seine to the medieval town of Vernon. Rich in history and with many small half timbered, pre-10th century houses tucked along the streets. One stop was the Colligate Church of Notre Dame which dates back to the roman period (end of 11th century) but its construction continued in the Gothic period to end in the 17th century. The church has a plaque which has puzzled many a visitor and scholar…dedicated in 1072 "to the Holy Mother of God." There is speculation that it means God is a woman - not that it is referring to God’s mother - also an interesting concept. The stained glass windows by a contemporary French artist couple are stunning. These pictures just can’t do them justice.

Ariane recommended a lovely small bistro for lunch where I encountered something completely new for me - beef tongue (well, what did you THINK I meant? You‘re such a juvenile.) It was the special for the day and I asked Ariane if she liked it. I applaud her great effort at keeping the look of revulsion at bay and neutrally commenting that her great aunt would always order it if she saw it on a menu. I figured anything good enough for a French great aunt was good enough for me and ordered away! I LOVE TONGUE (no, now really, stop it…you’re just getting stupid) It was delicious - beefy, tender, cohesive in a perfect kind of texture way. It was served with boiled potatoes and parsley/caper sauce on the side.

The instant I got home, I started on a hunt for a recipe. Not that easy to track down, but I finally found one on the internet, with pictures on how to clean and prepare it for boiling. Chris just wrinkles his nose at it, but I am a convert for life, and like Ariane’s great aunt, will order it wherever I find it. I will post it here if anyone is interested but I can hear you all moanin' and groanin' - eeeuuuuwwwwww!

Sadly, it was time for the Cronces to head home the next day. So we decided to have our farewell dinner at the same little bistro in Vernon. It was a cheery evening and the food was delicious. Again, I was surprised with something I have never tried before - bulot, which is what the French call whelk, a sea snail. They came with Melitta’s shrimp starter, but she was a-scared to try them, so, “give them to Barbara, she’ll eat anything.” You think we've had just a tad too much wine? No was a memorable trip!

Next France episode - a church trippin’ on acid! Tomorrow we head for Florida in the motor home. Yeah! Only three weeks late.

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