Monday in Normandy
Before I begin, I have two corrections:
Caroline only spent 40 Euros to get both of her Masters Degrees!!!
The Figure on horseback on the Basilica was Charlemagne, not Saint Denis.
Today we packed up and left Paris in a drizzling rain. Our first destination was Giverny, where Claude Monet has his beautiful gardens. On the way, Caroline gave us a wonderful lecture on the Impressionists, augmented with photos of artists and their paintings on her tablet.
The Impressionists got their name when they scheduled a salon with the works of the painters who had been refused admittance to the juried art salon. A critic panned their work, saying that they weren’t paintings, they were just impressions of feelings. He called them the Impressionists. Since that was indeed what these artists wanted to do, they took the name for their own with pride.
Did you know that Monet and Renoir painted together, sitting side by side painting the very same scenes but very differently?
Monet’s La Grenouillére
Monet focused on the water and the boats. He used small paint strokes to create the people and although he doesn’t give their features, he gives the impression of different people in different stances.
Renoir’s La Grenouillere
Renoir is much more interested in the people and that is where the focus of his painting lies. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Miscellaneous factlets about different Impressionists:
Renoir was considered the painter of happiness because he used beautiful light and red shadings to make his subjects look healthy and rosy.
Monet was painting three poplar trees. The next day, when he came back to paint them again he found someone there preparing to cut them down. Monet had not seen and captured the poplars in the light he wanted, so he paid the woodsman every day not to cut the trees. Once Monet achieved his desired effect, he didn’t come back and the trees were cut down.
The Impressionists were freed to paint outside when paint tubes were invented. Up until that time, the painters had to mix the paints themselves and use them before they dried.
They turned away from the formal posed sittings of royals and high society to paint real people doing real things. They were not concerned about perfect pretty pictures. So they captured the grit of work, unpleasant expressions on people’s faces, and people living their lives.
Degas painted two women ironing, one clearly pressing down on the iron, the other yawning.
Monet outfitted a boat with the easel firmly attached and that is where he painted.
Degas painted the behind the scenes of dancers and his series of trains and train stations (definitely not a subject previously considered worthy of painting) showed them in their smoking glory as shown here.
That’s just a smidgen of what we learned.
Giverny was exquisite, the gardens overflowing with every type of flower and color imaginable. The water lilies were in bloom and we stood on the bridge that he frequently painted.
Monet was apparently strongly impacted by Japanese paintings and the walls of his home are filled with different ones. Every window of the house overlooks some part of the garden, which is very extensive. When Monet and his first wife, Camille, moved there with their two little sons, they were very poor and Monet tended all of the gardens himself for years and years. Later, when he became wealthy, he still tended the gardens with perhaps one helper.
The walls of his studio in his home are covered with his paintings. Caroline confided that among those paintings are some originals, but no one points them out to avoid theft.
Go to http://giverny-photo.com/ and click on his home, his gardens, etc. to see many images of this beautiful inspiring place.
We next drove an hour to Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake when she was only 19 years old. Acting under divine guidance, she went to meet king Charles—who had assumed the title Dauphin (heir to the throne)—and ask his permission to expel the English and install him as the rightful king. He didn’t believe in her visions and so he dressed in ordinary clothing and stood with his people. However, although she had never seen him, Joan bowed in front of him and asked him why he was wearing such strange clothing. So he agreed to give her an army.
Joan of Arc, acting under divine guidance, led the French army to victory over the British during the Hundred Years’ War. Unfortunately, afterwards Joan was arrested, tortured and burned at the stake as a heretic by the English and their French collaborators. When they asked her what she wanted, she said she wanted to see the cross, so someone went and took down a cross from a nearby church to stick in the ground where she could see it. Another person fashioned a small cross of sticks and gave it to Joan, who put it over her heart under her chemise.
In the ashes, they found her heart unburnt- which they attributed to the cross that protected it. Not wanting to bury her remains and encourage pilgrimages to her burial site, they threw her ashes and heart into the Seine. The river from Rouen to I don’t remember where has ever since been considered holy water.
She was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint more than 500 years later, on May 16, 1920.
We saw an amazingly intricate Gothic church- the Abbey of Saint-Ouen. The Abbey building has a tower on either side, neither of which is attached to the Abbey. Rouen was bombed very badly so some of the statuary is gone from the façade. You can see photos at https://www.european-traveler.com/france/visit-saint-ouen-huge-gothic-abbey-church-rouen/
There is also an enormous astronomical clock in Rouen from the fourteenth century. You can see a picture at
Next, we rode two hours to Bayeux, where we saw the Notre- Dame Cathedral which is another intricate and beautiful church within a medieval city of ancient buildings and cobblestone streets. See https://www.bayeux.fr/en
We had an amazing dinner tonight of roast duck, which I’ve never had before. Then we walked around the city and after that I went on a fast walk for about 40 minutes with Caroline and Sarah. Caroline walked with us before she went on her evening run. I feel very invigorated, which means I’m going to be very sore tomorrow because we went at a great clip.
Caroline naturally walks quickly. Among all of my wonderful memories of this adventure will be continually trotting after her as she leads us on our walks (and because I stop to take photos).
Caroline spoke to us about Normandy- it grows 400 different kinds of apples and 365 different kinds of cheese. They fly Normandy’s coat of arms, which is a golden lion on a red flag- and they fly the American flag right next to us. There are monuments to Eisenhower and other US generals. On one wall of a building we found a photo from the war with the caption: welcome to our liberators.
I have never considered D-Day from the perspective of the people of Normandy. Tomorrow, it will be deeply etched in my mind as we spend the day at the landing site of WWII and hear about it from an historian. So, more tomorrow about that.