I’m sitting on the steps leading down to the city from Sacre Coeur. It’s quintessential Paris and yet not… all those who surround me are foreigners or newcomers – Africans strumming guitars and singing, Scandinavians doing Skype videos, laughing and shouting in tongues, Hispanic men carrying heavy cases of beer combing the crowd for potential clients. The sprawl of architecture glows below, soaking up the last rays of sun this early evening, a couple days before the summer solstice. The Montparnasse and Eiffel Towers poke their noses up like Great Dane snouts sniffing prey, above the uniform shorter, pale, more distinguished traditional edifices. I will miss all, yes, all of this and what it means. It means that I am the luckiest girl in the world. I will never forget.
What do I carry with me from an experience such as this year at the Cité…
Here’s one view from Giverny. Ah, Giverny, not my first time but then again and again.
“On continue par ici?” asks one woman to her partner as they meander through the gardens. “Pourquoi pas?” he responds.
French couples, and yes, also the tourists, stroll along the tiny stream paralleling, not without pleasing deviations, the Nymphéas pond. Moments of spring/summer heaven, now the day before the summer solstice. Hoards, busloads of tourists and then at midday a blissful break. They must all be eating, those French and foreign foodies, no picnics here, but in the Village of Giverny the outdoor patios are sans doute pleins. They love their food and their drinks, the French. Every restaurant and café and bar full at all hours of the day…an early café, then le petit déjeuner, then lunch – la grande bouffe, (the movie of that title a mind-blowing ecstasy of food gorging), and then the mid-afternoon coffee for a pick me up, followed by the apéritif before the dinner hour, and then the dinner, a smaller version perhaps of the lunch, and finally a dessert, perhaps a drink afterwards, and maybe late cocktails with friends. A full day and night of ingesting. Yum. Or not, depending on one’s view of the value of productivity vs. leisure.
I stare hard at the water lilies in bloom at this very moment, provoking an inner grok of Monet coming from breakfast in that joyful dining room and kitchen, carrying his easel and brushes and paints, wandering over to the lily pond. Just here or over there today? The light is filtering to the west, therefore …
Did he foresee this piece of land, this house, this garden inundated with Japanese tourists, screaming children, German fathers attempting the perfect photo? Like Van Gogh when I came across his story in Amsterdam a couple weeks back… did Monet imagine the fame, the appetite, the hunger, the longing for any detail about his life? What did he or Van Gogh eat for breakfast? Did they have lovers? Were their models friends, consorts, prostitutes? But were they, the artists, happy? Van Gogh and that ear suggest perhaps not – those years in the asylum of Saint Remy. Yet Monet, so portly, with his unusual arrangement of sick wife and lusty new love, plus this gorgeous spread, he surely would have had times, hours, days of bliss. I, for one, am in paradise sitting on this bench in his garden listening to the birds chirp. Tweet.
Are artists happier, allowed to indulge in this childlike wonder? Imagination, plus skill, plus time, plus confidence, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness must lead to some sort of ecstatic wellbeing. Or is it the opposite? Individuals filled with angst and sensitivity and foolish optimism banging their heads against the wall, thinking, believing, this is it, my chef d’oeuvre, my best. Surely the world will receive the work with, with, …with what? Excitement, welcome, money, promises, fame, awe?
What are we all thinking? (Not to place myself within the category of Van Gogh and Monet, but still, there is the question…) Nonetheless, I, for one, simply wish for more time to keep working, wherever…Norway, Japan, France, anywhere. Many hours each day to do whatever it is one does with all that hopefulness…start new pieces, fix errors, throw some out, obsess about the others, just to be allowed this gift of moments, the freedom, space for the ideas to come, to marinate… to erupt….to please, to disappoint and then the need to begin again.
Ah ha, we say. I had an idea. Like the children we seem to be – no responsibility to anything beyond ‘the work.’ Would I do better to start that orphanage I imagined ten, fifteen years ago? More impact, for sure. There is no question. Art, writing, are filler perhaps, to stave off the underlying void, the base comprehension of yes, mortality. An avoidance of truth, like ants busily carrying those leaves hither and thither as if industry were an end in itself.
And yet, there is this – this openness, so distant from the preoccupations of business, of computers, of negotiation, of money, and of course, of death. This – Giverny, Monet, Paris, all heaven. For now just this and a goodbye.