One of the biggest impediments to my photography practice has always been my emotions. I’m not talking about the self doubt – though that has stopped many a creative process throughout my life. I often find myself taken by intense emotions when witnessing the beauty, majesty, and soul of a place. And then when I snap that picture, the images seem to fall short of what I experience in that moment. Often I don’t see it until I get home and download the images. Wait, what? No, that does not do that moment justice! And then there are the times that I (being a chronic overshooter) am so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of images I took that I just can’t choose which images best match the experiences I want to share or the emotions that those experiences engender! The process is exhausting and I find it may take me days, weeks, months, and even years before I’m ready to finally wade through the folders and to share the beauty of what I have encountered.
My family trip through Normandy (with a sidestep into Brittany) in May of 2016 was one such emotional ride for me. Finally getting to share that part of the world with my husband and my girls, while also discovering new gems I never dreamed would tickle my fancy was just magical. The sheer amount of photos and the attached emotional responses were overwhelming and while life was taking it’s customary chaotic turns for this gypsy Foreign Service Family, I never got the chance to just sit, edit, process the emotions, and share what it was about those places that touched my soul.
So here I am – 3 years later – finally ready to devote the time and confront the emotions that come with remembering, editing and sharing. My girls are now grown and that brings up new emotions while I edit, knowing that those times of us all together are going to be fewer going forward, making the process all that much more bittersweet.
My kids are used to me dragging them to places they are underwhelmed by – shopping malls, ancient gothic churches, caves, museums, national parks – you know, pretty much anything when it comes to teenagers traveling with their parents. So I planned our trip to northern France knowing that I would probably be more excited about it than they would be.
When my oldest daughter arrived home from college I told her about the trip and asked if there was anything in Normandy besides Omaha Beach that she wanted to see. I was shocked when she came back to me and said, “Monet’s gardens look cool. Let’s go there.” Giverny is technically in Normandy. It’s just way south of the route we were planning to take from Brussels on the edge of the province! But given that this was a one of those few times she actually showed any interest in something even remotely related to French artists, I jumped at the opportunity and rearranged our itinerary.
Now, even I was not on the bandwagon for this particular destination before this. I mean, how many times have you visited the home of some historical figure and been completely underwhelmed? And while I love Monet’s paintings, I just couldn’t see how visiting his home was going to add any more to that appreciation, especially given the crowds, the weather, the possibility that we missed peak blooming season, etc. I could not have been more wrong!
Since I tucked this stop into our first day of travel, we arrived at a less than ideal time – well past opening. It had been raining on and off all day. We did find the group entrance ( I read on Trip Advisor that they would supposedly honor pre-purchased tickets and help you skip the line at the main gate) and were let in without a fuss – right in front of a huge school age group. Oh boy. This could get unruly…
But coming into this part of the garden first, going to the right and experiencing the water lily pond was just what was needed to start this little adventure off on the right foot. The gardens were gorgeous even though we were a little past peak bloom for many of the spring flowers. The paths are set up so that even with lots of people, you still get a good feel for the beauty of the pond, and can see for yourself the inspiration that Monet must have experienced himself. Sure there are some people in my shots; but I found that they often added a certain “je ne sais quoi.” And everyone was so well behaved. No pushing. No lingering too terribly long at each vantage point (I may have been the offender here). And I never felt too hurried, even by my own family!
The thing about the gardens is what do you focus on? The overall picture? The particular design of each garden? Individual flowers? The reflections in the lily pond? Oh I could spend hours playing with light, textures, and points of view! I get especially lost in the reflections and capturing that classic Monet feel.
Mindful that my daughters’ attention spans could only endure so much of my photographic fervor, I limited myself and we moved on to the house and gardens. They also did not disappoint! So many flowers! So many opportunities for the romantically nostalgic to get lost in dreams!
The house, however charming, is, well, a house. You’ve seen many a house preserved as it was (or might have been) from the historical time period it came from. But there are aspects about it that do have you imaging Monet and his family living there. For me those moments came when looking out of windows and doors into the gardens. And then there was his collection of Japanese engravings. It’s always interesting to see what another artist collects in terms of art and those items they choose to put on their walls that they did not create.
At the end of the visit, we all agreed that the experience was well worth the stop. Even my youngest, an artist herself with little interest in French impressionists (imagine my horror when she admitted that to me!), came away from the experience with more appreciation for Monet’s work. And so, a little bit soggy, we all happily piled into the car and headed to our next destination on my (almost) ultimate French road trip.