You know how you sometimes picture a thing in your head, but when you get there, it’s entirely different. When the long weekend rolled around, Andrew was still swamped with work and couldn’t come out to the country with us, the Saturday morning train out was packed with people, we had to sit on our suitcases. In Vernon, where we got off the train, there were no taxis. While we waited for a taxi in the cafe adjacent the station, a waiter served us hot chocolate, his long yellow fingernails tapping disconcertingly against the white porcelain cups. It felt a bit like one of those persnickety British children’s films when things start off wrong and there’s an unruly cast of characters.
Once we had our rental car and a map, (no gps available) I turned right. An hour later, wishing I’d turned left, we found ourselves on a peninsula, marshland, deer, but no landmarks in sight. Finally, we arrived at a resort, and there were golfers in sight. I jumped out of the car with my large map but as they gazed at it, they shook their heads. It was a tricky area to navigate and they admitted they only knew how to get home from where we were. All they could tell us was, “Where you want to be is across the river. Get across the river and you’ll be fine. There’ll be signs once you’re there.”
Sure enough, it appeared we had been on the wrong side of the river, where things were topsy-turvy. Once we found the bridge, and got to the other side, things and events straightened up.
The next day found us finishing lunch under the trees in the garden of the Hotel Baudy with friends who’d driven from Paris out to Giverny where we were staying in an old monastery. After lunch, we’d gotten directions to a path for a walk along the hills above the village. We all needed to stretch our legs. Someone said let’s race, the younger kids sprinted up with ease, their feet like wings, breezing thru daisies and buttercups. At the crest, we looked out over the view. We were lucky with the day. Blue sky. White puffy clouds. There were red poppies dotting the high grasses, like in the painting, “Poppy Field” at the Musee d’Orsay. We’d even once bought the fridge magnet.
The path kept to the top of the grassy hill, thick thorny bushes creating low arbors on each side, then clearings looking down onto the valley and the Seine river below. Here and there people sat on stools, easels set up, sketching on canvases. In the middle of a high meadow, a large group formed a circle. Talking about art, yoga, who knew these days, maybe internet detox. We passed them un-regarded and eventually headed back down to the crowds milling through the village. We’d already been to the gardens that morning, filed along for a turn to make pictures on the footbridge in the Japanese area. We had sat for a moment facing the pond, the weeping willows, reflections of the clouds in the water.
Monet painted about 250 oil paintings of this pond and water lilies. The paintings are in collections around the world. It is said he “didn’t like organized or constrained gardens. He planted flowers according to their colors, and left them to grow freely.” Maybe it is this unrestrained quality that attracts people to his work. A sense of the wild natural world as it is, moving in color and light that with a blink of the eye disappears. The crowds are growing so we get up to leave, but my thoughts trail to the famous painter sitting and looking at this same pond years ago, toiling in a paint smock day after day to recreate what he saw. I would probably look at his paintings differently when next I saw them. I wondered if the girls would feel the same. A slight connection.
After we got back down to the village with our friends, we decided to head out to Roche-Guyon, which was only a few minutes away, have some dessert there and tour the castle. We were walking back to our car and going down a side street when we ran into a crowd of people barring our way. “Why are you waiting?” people were asking and shuffling to try to get past. “Is this a line waiting to leave?” I ask incredulously. Someone answered that it was. A huge crowd waiting to leave didn’t really make sense. “Are you on a bus?” This might explain it. Yes. On a bus. Yes. That must be it. I grabbed the kids hands and followed a man and a lady who were working their way through the crowd, despite complaints. “Hey, who do you think you are?” thundered a man who had to be George from Seinfeld’s Uncle. Definitely from somewhere near New Jersey. We ignored him. He kept up a loud call, “What’s the big idea. Where do you think you’re going. Where are those people going?”
Sure enough, the bus crowd had been blocking the lane. We got through and out to the end of the lane, laughing and imitating Mr. New Jersey. Obviously, the bus crowd hadn’t realized their mistake.
Zoe said, “It’s just an acronym for the human condition.” I think you mean analogy, I said. Oh, yeah, right. “It’s just an analogy of the human condition. Everyone is afraid to question until that one person breaks the conformity of the crowd and realizes they can.” On the ride back through the fields by the river, we laughed again at the situation. See girls, I said. That was a perfect example. Just because someone says it is so, doesn’t mean it is so. Check for yourselves. Look at the situation. Take your own assessment. Approach most things with a healthy dose of skepticism. You know how people are. We all nodded our heads and looked out at the scenery.