About Charlene Kwiatkowski

A lover of cities, I write about urban spaces as visual and literary texts

In Monet’s Secret Garden Part 2

You may remember Part 1 when Monet came to the VAG in summer. Last month I had the delight of walking through his gardens in Giverny.

IMG_6230

It was a crisp and beautiful October day. As much as I loved Paris, getting outside of it to experience the French countryside was time well spent. The Artist and I arrived by train in the town of Vernon where shuttle buses are waiting to take loads of tourists to Monet’s house and gardens in the nearby and much smaller town of Giverny.

IMG_6153

We hopped on the first “shuttle” we saw (Le Petit Train Givernon), which was actually a rickety open air train that came with a pre-recorded tour of sites along the way from Vernon to Giverny—a nice bonus. We loved it!

IMG_6148

Looking back through my Europe photos, this was the day of brightest colours. I’ve been telling people since I’ve been home that Europe doesn’t have the vibrant fall hues like Vancouver has (particularly the reds), but lo and behold, we did see red!

IMG_6187

Monet is famous for painting outside but he also had a studio in his house, which looks more like a living room. My artist-husband was jealous of all that light. You can see Monet’s love for colour even on the exterior. When you do step through the front door, you notice each room is painted a different colour. My favourite was the yellow kitchen.

IMG_6168

IMG_6177

IMG_6182

Touring Monet’s house doesn’t take long so we spent most of our time wandering under arches and walking down aisles of geraniums, roses, daisies, sunflowers, and other flora I don’t know the name of. What a visual feast! I could see why Monet wanted to spend the last part of his life here.

IMG_6169

IMG_6210

Imagine having this pond in your backyard! There are actually two green Japanese footbridges at either end. I also saw some dilapidated wooden boats and pictured Monet sitting in one, transcribing light onto canvas to come up with these masterpieces on display in Musée de l’Orangerie.

IMG_5916

Giverny is basically a one-street town. At the far end of the main road is the church where Monet is buried, along with his family.

IMG_6254

IMG_6245

This view capped off a peaceful day spent in the place that brought Monet such joy.

IMG_6250

If you’d like to know more about Monet’s gardens and who tends them now, read this fantastic article.

IMG_6223

Advertisements

On Emerging from a Station of the Metro

We arrive like children on the first day of school
Backpacks bigger than our bodies.

Overeager smiles, no sleep the night before
Pointing at everything.

That church! That café! That door!
Everything so old it’s new.

The city moves faster than our fingers
We learn to get out of the way.

I try out the language like I cross the street—
Quick prayer for minimal damage.

When people are kind
The lights along the Seine double their glow.

You eat a baguette as you walk
Because you can do anything!

Paris is the girl who brings the best lunch to school
The rest of us hoping she’ll share.

IMG_6012

End of Summer at Ross Lake

I almost don’t want to write about where my husband and I camped this long weekend for fear of exposing this hidden gem to the masses (not that there are tons of people who read my blog, but still).

IMG_5176

When we broached the idea of one last camping trip before summer’s end, I remember a friend mentioning Ross Lake in Skagit Valley Provincial Park (near Hope) where campsites are first come, first serve (which is great because all the other local provincial parks that accept reservations were unsurprisingly full).

IMG_5142

We assume most people take Fridays before a long weekend off so they can get a head start on the R&R, but that was not the case with us. We figured if we left early Saturday morning from Vancouver, we could still have a chance of snagging a spot. We decided to take the risk.

It paid off.

We arrived around 10:30am after travelling what seeemed like forever down the bumpy and dusty Silver Skagit Road leading to the northern tip of Ross Lake, where the campground is.

IMG_5190

A suspension bridge along Silver Skagit Road. Hubby likes to fish under here.

IMG_5206

Very proud of his rainbow trout that he wanted a pic of before he released back into the Skagit.

The coveted spots along the lake were taken but there were plenty on the inside up for grabs. This was a beautiful long weekend of summer. Where was everyone? Do people not know about this place or does it have something to do with the mosquitoes? THEY ARE RELENTLESS. Even with bug spray, my husband and I have too many bites to count. We saw many families with see-through net shelters erected around picnic tables, which was a smart move. The mosquitoes are far worse at the campsite so we spent almost all our time at the lake.

IMG_5144

Ross Lake straddles the US/Canada border with just the northern tip reaching into Canada. Thanks to this article in the Georgia Straight, I learned it’s only available for camping on the BC side during the summer months when the water levels are at their highest. Here’s a helpful map.

IMG_5169

I loved venturing out in an inflatable kayak we got to borrow for the summer and paddling into the States and around the marshes where Canada geese like to hang out. See the swath of land cut out of the mountain in the photo below? That’s the border line. Fortunately no passport required for this crossing.

IMG_5149

There’s a dirt road that leads from Ross Lake campground to its counterpart on the American side, Hozomeen campground. A perfect place to camp for a Canadian-American couple, ha!

IMG_5135

IMG_5179

I was craving a last lake swim and got plenty of opportunities, as well as some quiet reading and writing time too. Goodbye summer, September here we come.

IMG_5181

IMG_5155

Hope all of your Labour Day weekends were restful and rejuvenating. What did you get up to?

In Monet’s Secret Garden Part 1

He’s arguably the best known painter in the world. His scenes of nature and Parisian life grace calendars, purses, notebooks, umbrellas, teapots, and even socks (check the VAG gift shop).

IMG_5080

Of course I’m talking about Claude Monet (1840-1926), the French Impressionist painter who influenced the course of modern art with his unconventional techniques. He painted outside (which wasn’t done at the time), and his quick, loose brushwork aimed to capture an impression of something, not the thing itself (hence the label Impressionist, which was first used by critics in a derogatory sense).

The Vancouver Art Gallery is currently showing 38 of Monet’s works from the Musée Marmottan in Paris. In an interview with the CBC, the exhibition’s curator Marianne Matthieu says:

[Guests] have to visit this exhibition as if they were an invited guest of Monet. All the paintings have been selected personally by Monet [while he was alive] to describe his career, his life.

I visited the VAG last Tuesday evening (when admission is by donation) along with everyone else in Vancouver, so it seemed.

IMG_5078

The exhibit takes you chronologically through Monet’s work, beginning with some scenes with figures in them before the majority focuses all on nature.

I liked knowing Monet picked these works out himself. It made me wonder, Why this one? What did he like about it? What did he achieve with this one?

I enjoyed seeing paintings of his I had never come across in other galleries or books:

IMG_5087

Claude Monet, Le chatêau de Dolceacqua, 1884, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

IMG_5088

Claude Monet, Vétheuil in the Fog, 1879, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

IMG_5091

The picture does not do this piece justice.

Monet painted the same scene many times, in different seasons and different times of the day to study the effect of light on a subject. Light was his subject.

IMG_5096

Claude Monet, La Seine à Port-Villez, effet rose, 1894, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

The two below were the only figurative works included. You can see the loose Impressionist style best by looking at the undefined faces. And the little boy practically blends in with the flowers.

IMG_5084

Claude Monet, En promenade près d’Argenteuil, 1875, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

IMG_5092

Claude Monet, Sur la plage de Trouville, 1870–71, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

The didactic panel for the image above talks about how sand was lodged in some of Monet’s canvasses because he painted these beach scenes outside. Talk about the nitty gritty.

I had assumed there would be more water lily paintings given the title is Secret Garden and Monet’s gardens in Giverny are synonymous with his grand, rectangular water lily paintings. This was the most “quintessential” one shown at the VAG, with the characteristic pastel blues, pinks, and purples:

IMG_5098

Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1903, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

There were also these two beautiful wisteria panels hung to mimic the oval rooms at Musée de L’Orangerie where Monet’s famous water lilies live.

IMG_5109

But there were other paintings that were darker and challenged what I thought I knew about the painter.

IMG_5102

Monet devoted the last two decades of his life to painting and cultivating his gardens in Giverny, a work of art in themselves. After touring the exhibition, I was surprised Monet chose so many of these works to depict his career  when he has hundreds of others to choose from. But perhaps these works came closest to communicating his artistic vision?

IMG_5107

Claude Monet, Le Pont japonais, 1918-24, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

In 1902, Monet was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes, and his works during his later years became increasingly abstract and darker. Notice also how much of the blank canvas he lets show through. The curator’s remarks accompanying this room below suggest the anguish and grief of WWI seeped into Monet’s canvasses, particularly his weeping willow series.

IMG_5118

IMG_5119

Claude Monet, Saule pleureur, 1918-19, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

After all this heaviness and twisty contortions, Monet’s very last work closes the exhibition, returning to the light and soft palette that infused his earlier work (albeit looking unfinished). I thought it was a perfect farewell.

IMG_5122

Claude Monet, Les Roses, 1925-26, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Seeing these works has only increased my anticipation of setting foot in Monet’s gardens this fall and immersing myself in his inspiration.

I highly recommend you take in this exhibit at the VAG before it closes October 1!

Paris to the Moon

When a friend found out about our first trip to Paris this fall, she said, “You must read Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon.”

IMG_5071

Considering I love the French language (I requested a Collins French dictionary for my 14th birthday) and reading about their culture, I was surprised I hadn’t heard of this collection of essays on Paris. I had read Hemingway’s memoir but not Adam Gopnik‘s, a staff writer for The New York Times who lived in the French capital from 1995-2000 with his wife Martha and their newborn son Luke.

It was a very serendipitous read. Many months before knowing about the book, The Artist and I had booked our accommodation on the Left Bank in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of the 6th arrondissement. We/I chose it because of its artsy and intellectual heritage. This district had a vibrant café culture in the 20th century where Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and the like would think their thoughts, exchange their thoughts, and write their thoughts.

I wanted to feel a part of that, even if the area is more glam than bohemian now.

Guess where Gopnik and his wife lived during their time there? Saint-Germain-des-Prés, literally just a few blocks from where we’re staying! I basically read this book with a map in my other hand so I could follow his daily visit to the butcher and baker, his favourite walk pushing the stroller across Pont des Arts, his run around Luxembourg Gardens (using the busts of Delacroix as his reference point) and his route to fulfill un café crème or bûches de Noël craving at Gérard Mulot or Ladurée.

After reading so much guidebook-type information on Paris, it was refreshing to vicariously live “ordinary” Paris. When Gopnik mentions iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, he talks about it in the context of something unexpected, like a news story that involved a clash between an American tourist and a French elevator operator. He uses this story as a springboard to philosophize on a key difference between the two cultures (absolute professionalism versus absolute tourism). I’ll leave it to you to guess what ideal goes with what culture.

I love how Gopnik can take the simplest things—for example, an error message on his fax machine (erreur distante)—and find a parallelism with French intellectuals and politicians who flash the same message “whenever they run out of paper or ink or arguments.”

But it is his reflections that come out of raising his son in a new place that stay with me the most (and provided some chuckles).

He swam, I realized, exactly the way that after five years I spoke French, which also involved a lot of clinging to the side of the pool and sudden bravura dashes out to the deep end to impress the girls, or listeners.

Midway through the book, Gopnik confesses the real reason he and Martha packed up their New York life and moved to Paris was to avoid raising their son with Barney and all that that inane purple dinosaur represents in American culture.

‘We want him to grow up someplace where everything he sees is beautiful’ we said, and though we realized that the moment our backs were turned our friends’ eyes were rolling, we didn’t care. We knew that our attempt to insist on a particular set of pleasures for our kid—to impose a childhood on our child—might be silly or inappropriate or even doomed. We couldn’t help it, entirely. The romance of your child’s childhood may be the last romance you can give up.

(spoiler alert: life doesn’t turn out the way you plan, leading to some hilarious moments in the “Barney in Paris” chapter).

Perhaps I enjoyed this book so much because I share the author’s romantic inclinations and could picture myself writing a book like this, my own Paris to the moon adventures while sitting in a garden or café. While we’re only there a week and I have a tendency to sightsee ambitiously, this book makes me want to pause long enough to notice the light.

We love Paris not out of ‘nostalgia’ but because we love the look of light on things, as opposed to the look of light from things, the world reduced to images radiating from screens. Paris was the site of the most beautiful commonplace civilization there has ever been: cafés, brasseries, parks, lemons on trays, dappled light on bourgeois boulevards, department stores with skylights, and windows like doors everywhere you look . . . I see the moon these days from Paris because I once saw Paris from the moon.

Happy Campers in Manning

Last weekend, my husband and I camped with my sis and her family for the first time at Manning Park in the Cascade Mountains. From Vancouver, it’s only about a 3 hour drive—not far for a beautiful and, in my opinion, underrated provincial park.

IMG_5057

Gorgeous view of the Cascade Mountains and Lightning Lake

We loved it. We were too late in booking to get the prime camping real estate on Lightning Lake, but we still enjoyed Hampton Campground further east along the highway near the Similkameen River. You hear traffic noise at night but it’s not too bad, and it’s only a few minutes drive to Lightning Lake which is where we spent most of our time.

IMG_4962

Lightning Lakes is a chain of four lakes that comprise the main recreational area of Manning Park. Lightning Lake is the biggest and furthest north, and then the lakes are subsequently named Flash, Strike, and Thunder. Lightning Lake is the most accessible since there’s a parking lot right beside it. The other lakes you have to hike or kayak/canoe into (which I’d love to do one day!)

IMG_5012

We had beautiful weather. The lake was refreshing but a little harder to get into than expected because of the wind. We had heard about a bridge that spans the narrows of Lightning Lake called “Rainbow Bridge” so we walked around searching for it.

IMG_4978

My four-year-old niece’s favourite colour right now is rainbow so it provided extra incentive to find it even though we took the very long way around to get to it (oops!) But we saw some awesome scenery along the way.

IMG_4972

IMG_4982

Once at the bridge, many swimmers climbed its wooden rafters to jump off (husband and brother-in-law included).

IMG_4983

IMG_5004

We finished the weekend with a long, windy drive up to the Cascade Lookout. Stunning! You can see Lightning Lake in the far distance.

IMG_5016

IMG_5026

Pointing out the different peaks

We continued driving even further up the mountain until the trees thinned out and we reached the subalpine meadow. We followed Paintbrush Trail for a bit before descending again.

IMG_5056

IMG_5050

It was a fun weekend filled with lots of laughter, water, and family time. I’ll end with a shot of my husband and brother-in-law fishing the Similkameen River, and my niece checking out their catch before falling in!

IMG_4922