We went to Giverny last weekend to visit Claude Monet’s house and garden. Over 17 acres, the artist directed a crew of as many as 15 gardeners to create subject matter for his paintings. For the last years of his life, he focused intently on the reflections and form of the water lily pond. In the summer, there is never a peaceful moment in the garden, while the gates are open.
Thousands of tourists, many delivered in giant tour buses, reverently file along the narrow paths, looking at flowers and trying to see what Monet saw, when he saw his garden. It is a beautiful garden, and immaculately maintained, but not so much more so than many other gardens of its size and scale. What makes it a place of reverence — a sacred space — is the collective agreement that beauty exists here. And that comes from Monet’s stamp. The subconscious reasoning goes, He saw extraordinary beauty here, therefore, I might catch a glimpse of it too.
Even with the crowds, it’s possible, simply because we think it is. And because in this garden, we take the time to just appreciate what is in front of us in an attentive way.
It was my third trip; the first time as a writer and photographer on assignment, the last two as a tourist among tourists. As much as the garden, I like the train trip to Vernon, the careworn bar across from the station where you rent extremely marginal bikes, and the beautiful ride to Giverny. It only takes a half hour, riding along the Seine, on a bike trail that crosses horse pastures and manicured backyards. On this trip, I had a deflated tire by the time we’d crossed the Seine, and a sweet Norman woman brought all four of us to her house, and produced a tire pump that didn’t work, and then pointed us to a gas station with one that did.
In the garden, standing on a path near one of the famous Japanese bridges, a guy with a massive Canon Mark VI mounted on a tripod said to me woefully, “That bridge is never going to be empty, is it?” and i said no. He wanted to get the picture Monet had painted, one with no people in it, with calmness and harmony radiating off the canvas. But Monet had 40 years to study the beauty of this garden — without busloads of tourists pressing through — and we only had a few minutes.