As we all know, there’s the fantasy of Giverny…


…and then there’s the reality:


New Yorker magazine cover of June 5, 2000 by the great illustrator Ian Falconer.

 From April to October Monet’s garden at Giverny is open seven days a week and half a million “culture tourists” make the pilgrimage to this tiny village to see the famous Japanese bridge:


When I was there last month the wisteria on what is called the “superstructure” of the bridge was just starting to bloom…


…but the famous water lilies don’t blossom until late July. Since except for bullfrogs calling to each other there was nothing of interest going on in the water, I spent my time watching people take in The Most Famous Japanese Bridge in France:



And then I went exploring in Giverny. I took a walk down the main drag of the village (pop. 505) called, of course, Rue Claude Monet. At the far end of the long wall that keeps Monet’s houses secluded on Rue Claude Monet there is a big green door…


…which is Monet’s old garage door, where he used to pull in his Panhard Lavassor that he bought in 1900. I know! I can’t picture Monet driving a car either!   As you continue your mosey thorugh the village on the Rue Claude Monet you pass picturesque houses…P1160440

…and the tourist information center and the Impressionist Museum of Giverny  that used to be called The Museum of American Art in honor of all the Americans who flocked to this village to paint with the Master from 1880 – 1926:


Nice restaurant, very nice gardens, bijoux collection.

And then you get to the main hub of social life in Giverny the Baudy Hotel…


…where all Monet’s American acolytes used to hang out in olden times and where they are still doing a bang-up business serving lunch and diner and tea.


In the Petit Galerie Baudy, right there at the Baudy Hotel, there is a storefront where Monsieur Frederic Desessard works, a miniaturist after my own heart:


He very kindly let me photograph him painting his latest tableaux (he does not usually allow photographs of him at work):


And he then showed me how he paints with a toothpick:


Here he’s putting the finishing touches on his copy of one of the rare Monet paintings of his flower garden ( if you want to see the original it’s in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris) and has finished one of the 18 similar views of the Japanese bridge that Monet painted between 1899 and 1900 (see: the top of this post). The portrait of Camille Monet  that M. Desessard has beautifully reproduced is in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

I asked to buy one of these miniatures but M. Desessard told me that he doesn’t sell his paintings, he uses them for the tiny 3D tableaux he makes and sells in his shop.


Photo by Jean-Michel Peers — to see more follow the link below — read on!

Hmmmmm…I think I just got my inspiration for my Giverny Triscuit...


You can find the finished Triscuit at the end of this post.

Anyhoo, If you are going to Giverny, you can’t miss M. Desessard…


Photo by Jean-Michel Peers.

…right on the main drag, at 81 Rue Claude Monet. The French photographer Jean-Michel Peers has graciously permitted me to show you his photos of M. Desessard at work on his miniatures — click onto this link here to see more, and to check out Jean-Michel’s portfolio of wonderful historical photos of Giverny and of Monet’s garden too.

But we, you and me, dear readers, have not finished out our wanderings there. We are going to go further down Rue Claude Monet to the 15th century church of Sainte Radegonde

P1160765…to pay respects to the seven WWII British airmen who are fondly remembered by the people of Giverny; their Lancaster bomber crashed nearby in 1944 and the village honors them with this grave:


British visitors to Giverny leave English coins here.

We will take a walk around the churchyard to the side area where we’ll will find the beautiful grave of Gerald Van der Kemp, the man responsible for restoring Monet’s gardens:


Mr. Van der Kemp lies next to the Monet family grave, the resting place of the Master himself (along with various family members):


Few of the day trippers who come to Giverny bother to make the walk up to Eglise Sainte Radegonde…and it’s not even “off the beaten track”! To really get Off The Beaten Track, you have two choices. You can get out of town on the D5:

P1160437 2

Yes, we are going to walk 4 km to Vernon!

In which case you will walk along the banks of the River Epte…


…on the path takes you past the secluded studio where the American artist (and Monet’s next door neighbor in Giverny)  Frederick Carl Frieseke got the privacy he needed to paint his favorite subject, naked ladies sunbathing. The house used to be home to a community of monks who bred fish to stock the local rivers…


…but do not go fishing in the Epte or the Ru unless you’ve paid your 89 euro license fee :


This is the Epte, which flows into the Seine. The River Ru is a branch of the Epte and it’s the Ru that flows into Monet’s pond in his water garden.

That red signposted on that tree announces that this area is under the control of the Fédération de l’Eure pour la Pêche et la Protection du Milieu Aquatique. You can look them up. France has strict fishing protections on all its streams, brooks, creeks, and rivers.

Other sights along the D5:







Does anyone know what this is? Monique — can you explain your people’s strange foreign ways?




And that’s how you get to Vernon as the lone pedestrian on the D5.

Your other choice of getting Off The Beaten Path is to take Rue Claude Monet alllllllllll the way to the end of town…


…and find the bike path….


…that is easier to walk on than the D5 and “busier” (this is where all those people who rent bikes at the Vernon train station go, but it’s still pretty deserted) and nearly quite as scenic…





…and when you get to Vernon on this route…


…there is this:


The sign says: Attention au chat. You don’t see the chat? He’s there! He’s right there:

P1160702 2

Now, if you really want to get Off The Beaten Track in Giverny…


…all you have to do is take the foot path that starts where the Rue du Chateau d’Eau ends and climb…



…until you find the perfect picnic spot…


Looks like a Plebicula dorylas to me. My guide to French butterflies calls this color “sky blue”. I thought it was a wildflower at first, then I saw it was an elegant French insect.

…where you can sit and plan your next visit to Giverny (maybe walk that highway  all the way to Sainte-Genevieve-les-Gasny?):


I thought I would be finished with Giverny with this post, having told as many stories about my visit as my dear readers have the patience for…but no, I have one more piece of business. I have a Giverny Triscuit to give away!


Seeing M. Desessard’s copies of famous Monet paintings gave me the urge to do something I’ve never done before: COPY. So here it is, My Monet:


And that’s why we call it a Triscuit.

If you would like to give a home to this original watercolor Giverny Triscuit, please leave a Comment below before the Comments close on midnight June 26 and, as usual, Top Cat will pick a winner totally at random, to be announced when we all get together again next Friday.

This was fun, copying one of the most iconographic works of art of the 20th century. I think I’d like to do it again. Anybody got any suggestions for another Masterpiece Triscuit???

Read more

I promised Top Cat that I WOULD NOT DIGRESS this week (he says my posts are getting waaaay toooo loooooong) while I take you to Monet’s famous garden in Giverny (Normandy, France).


I promise to Keep It Short since my previous reports (last week and the week before) on my recent visit to France have been rather wordy and some readers [Top Cat] say I make it toooooo looooong toooo reeeeeeed. So I’m cutting my three-day exploration of All Things Monet in Giverny down to this one post, probably. But pardon me while I set the scene:


For my first two nights I stayed at a marvelous B&B called Le Coin des Artists, which used to be a cafe/grocery in Monet’s day:


The Breakfast part of the B&B was quite wonderful (see: below… those are the same chairs that you’ll find in Monet’s dining room at Giverny and there was always Katie Melua on the CD player. I highly recommend starting your Giverny days hearing Katie Melua sing “Closest Thing to Crazy”   and eavesdropping on the Belgian couple talking about the high price of French toll roads compared to the ones in Belgium but I’m not telling you that story because I Will Not Digress).


And ahhhhhh!! The Bed part of this B&B was heavenly! I really missed my Top Cat when I saw my room because nothing is more romantic than a fauteuil, n’est-ce pas?


Fauteuil only means “armchair” even tho it sounds kind of dirty.

The windows of my room looked out into the courtyard:


In the evening in this same courtyard the delightful hostess at Le Coin des Artistes, Madame Laurence Pain, serves chilled Loire Valley wine with the resident chow (see below: those orange protuberances at the end of the table are chow ears):


I could tell stories about the dogs of Giverny, who seem unable to contain their curiosity and excitement  to be in the company of such world travelers as  moi...


…or the cats of Giverny ,who don’t


…except for this little girl (below) who must be part Siamese for all the talking she did here in Giverny’s “Medieval Quarter”, which consists of one rue…called Rue aux Juifs (Street of Jews) if you can believe it…


…but I will not digress!!!  Neither can I tell you about the many stone walls I had to climb to snoop  into courtyards that are hidden from the street, such as this one (below) where they hide Monet’s so-called “Blue House” where he used to grow his vegetables…


…but Non! Non! I will not digress! We are here today to visit the Monet’s garden at Giverny, so let’s get to it:


This is the map (above) at the entrance to the garden — they do not sell or give away maps of the garden when you pay your 9 euro ($12.50) to get into the garden, which I was telling the young Canadian couple on line with me, who were on the second day of their 6-week driving tour of France  (so they took an iPad photo of this wall map to take with them) and then the guy, whose hobby is geology, wondered what kind of rocks this was in the wall because to a rock hound the world is one big rock puzzle, to whom I said well, if you like rocks and you have a car you  should go see one of the Wonders of the World (rock-wise) at Mont St-Michel close by here in Normandy and they said “Mont What?” etc. but I Will Not Digress


…although you see the guy with the dog (above) on the typically looooooong line to buy entrance tickets: Yeah, me too, I asked myself, “What kind of nincompoop brings a dog to Monet’s garden???” but I saw him later  outside the garden sitting with the dog and I offered to watch the pup while he went inside but he said no thank you, it’s his wife who wanted to see the garden — they have been here before as they often sail their boat from England and moor it on the Seine in Vernon (closest town to Giverny on the Seine ) which goes to show you that people have the most surprising stories if you take the time to chat… but I Will Not Digress… Let’s get to the GARDEN!!!

This is what you see after you enter the garden through the gift shop and pass the lavatories:


Those are espalier’d apple trees IN BLOSSOM!!! and the sign that points to “House” is of course pointing to Monet’s famous pink house:


I timed my visit to the garden so that I’d get there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and yes, it was still plenty crowded.


But I like crowds. In case you haven’t guessed, I like talking to people when I travel because, well, I’m a professional travel writer and in order to write about travel I need stories. What better way to get them than to get people to tell me theirs? Like this mother/daughter pair (below) I helped because they didn’t speak French and the ladies working in the gift shop are, excuse me for saying, kind of snotty, but I Will Not Digress:

P1170140 2

And I LOVE Chinese tourists because they wear the best hats:

P1170141 2

And for the most part, even tho it’s crowded,  people are aware of other people trying to get a Monet Garden picture and do not walk right into your shot…

P1170217 2

…but not always. And then, if you’re me, you hope that someone with an outrageously fab Monet-Garden-Visiting-Outfit steps into view…


How the gardeners work amidst such teeming humanity I don’t know…


…although I trailed two women gardeners who were pulling off the dead tulip heads with such a delicate manouvre that I was entranced by their gentle touch but I Will Not Digress


But let us rejoice that some people, even in the madding crowd, are able find their private moments…


…which I, as your typical Nosey Parker…


…am only too happy to butt in on. But here’s my redeeming feature: I am the person who, when I see young couples taking “selflies” in places like Monet’s garden, I walk up and I ask “Would you like me to take your picture?” and then I art-direct them so that I get great shots of them in situ (I’m great at setting a scene and getting informative background) and I even tell them “Go on, kiss!” and they DO because I have that kind of trustful face and all.


Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 1: If you hang around past 5 o’clock, all the day trippers leave and the place becomes very empty and even the guards are so happy that the day is almost over that they relax their eagle eyes and go MIA so there is no one to yell at you for taking pictures of the rooms…


…so you can stand in Monet’s bed chamber and snap away all you want (photos of furniture are forbidden!)…


…and there isn’t the usual looong line to get the permitted photo out of Monet’s window…


…so you can take in the view that Monet himself woke up to. I usually try to get people in my photos of landscape so you can gauge the scale so…Merci, straggler tourists who are in my picture of the overcast skies of Giverny at 5:30 May 10, 2013:



I want to live like Alice Monet and see a garden like this when I walk out of my kitchen.

This (below) is Monet’s other bedroom window seen from the ground (the house is very narrow) , part of a series of pictures that I took of all the edges all around his garden property because you never see that part of his garden but I Will Not Digress:


I like this picture because it catches the wind that blew in from the depths of Normandy all through Giverny, fluttering the tulips and the tourists:


So. Here I am, the next day, enjoying a lunch of hard boiled egg and baguette sandwich (which I made from breakfast items at the B&B) after trudging to the top of the hill that looms high above Giverny…


…when through the telephoto lens of my camera I peer unto the Jardin de Monet in the valley below…


…and I see that the D5 (a local highway that in this bend in the road is grandly called Chemin du Roy — King’s Way ) runs right past Monet’s garden. This road is built on the old railway line that bi-sects Monet’s property — his famous Water Garden is on the far side of the D5 there. And I think to myself  This I gotta see  but I have nine hours of DIGRESSION to achieve before I check out this Chemin du Roy from ground level:


It’s 8 o’clock in the evening and I am the only soul walking along this stretch of highway…


…where you can  see the paradise that is Monet’s garden, big as you please!  Without paying 9 euro!



The only barrier here is a spike fence and some scraggly shrubs:


All you have to do is walk up to the fence and stick your camera between the fence railings and you get the most beautiful scenes of an empty garden…


…and vistas that are just not available to you when you are actually IN the garden with the hoards of tourists :


I loved being here, in this silent and lonely twilight…


…taking photos of the landscape that really makes much more sense from this perspective:


These are the famous “paintbox” beds of flowers that oh! Made me tremble with pleasure seeing them like this (as compared to seeing them from inside):


You can not get a better shot of the alley than this, from outside the garden walls:


It helps that Normandy is so far north…


…that you still get the gentle evening twilight…


…that best illuminates the spritely colors of flowers…


…so much better than daytime sunlight:


Amazing, right?


Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 2: Walk along the D5 after closing hours in Giverny and have this impossibly beautiful garden all to yourself. I did not see another soul the whole time I lurked here. This last picture, you can see, is blurry, which told me that I was losing the light…


…so I walked back into town,  to Rue Claude Monet, the main drag of Giverny…


…and I wished I weren’t so far from home…

P1160915…and went to bed with sweet dreams of my Top Cat and the pictures I would paint of “my” Giverny.

The next day I paid my last visit to Monet’s garden. (I also moved to the town’s only hotel which I did not like so I Will Not Digress further.) It was sunny, which is not so great for photographing flowers so I will only show you this picture (below), which shows the hill on which I sat when I got my bird’s eye view of dear Giverny (that white boxy thing in the background is a pumping station that you will pass half-way on your climb to the top):


This is the last photo that I took of the garden…Farewell, Giverny:


I know that we did not get to the famous lily pond in Monet’s famous Water Garden in this post so I’ll have to show that to you next week when I’ll have a Giverny Triscuit for you, which I did not paint this week because  I’ve been very busy making sure that the backyard cats aren’t dead :


That’s only Bibs, who looks dead but he’s just snoozing under Oscar’s watch.

And keeping an eye out so that the indoor cats don’t kill each other :


That’s Cindy, glaring up at Taffy who is hogging her chair.

But we still have the Paris Triscuit to give away!


And the Triscuit goes to…Jen A.!!!  Congratulations to a long time reader of this blog who recently sent me hummingbird feathers to add to my collection — you have never seen feathers soooooo small and so sparkly as hummingbird feathers but I Will Not Digress, no sir, not meThat’s for next week!


See you next time under the wisteria!






Read more

This is how I started almost every day that I was in Paris these past two weeks:

I would go to my local cafe and have a nice little pot of tea with tartine (buttered baguette with jam) and plan my day’s outings with the aid of my outstanding booklet of detailed maps of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, while trying my best to eavesdrop on the colorful regulars. On only my third morning here…


…at Le Nesle brasserie on the tiny dead-end Rue de Nesle in the 6th arrondissement…


…(I never had an evening snack here, only breakfast) the sweet bartender knew that I liked my tea sweet and he automatically put six extra sugar cubes on my saucer.  I really enjoyed the crowd at the Nesle (pronounced “Nell” when you’re talking to French people, but pronounced “Nestle” when you’re talking to yourself).


One day the boys were trying to remember the name of the actor who played Columbo on TV. Another day they were talking about how few French people went to the Champs Elysees to watch the President lay a wreath under the Arc de Triomph in honor of VE Day this year:


I like it that street cleaners pop in at Le Nesle for a cup of espresso between rues:


And I really like it when Bobo shows up:


Bobo runs into Le Nesle as if the Le Nesle is THE BEST PLACE EVER FOR A DOG TO BE!!!!!!!! and he sniffs everyone at the bar, accepting Good Morning pats from his fans, and then he follows his owner outside to a table on the sidewalk:


That’s a good place to say Bonjour to friends and neighbors passing by:


It is against the law to smoke inside a cafe in Paris, so smokers have to sit out on the sidewalk…


…which is why I did not sit outside, ever, at any cafe in Paris even thought that meant I missed sitting with Bobo and his human. Also, it was mostly cold and drizzly while I was in Paris and I like to be warm and dry.


Away from Le Nesle, my very top highest Tea Priority was to make a visit to Mariage Freres, the Brothers Mariage, known as the Princes of French Tea, in the 4th arrondissement:


The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervade each cup of tea, worte Henri Mariage, one of the brothers who founded Marriage Freres in 1854.


This shop, at 30-32 Rue de Bourg-Tibourg, is deliberately old-fashioned in its operations as both a tea retailer and as a Salon de The.


The staff, which is young, male, and dressed in white linen suits, gives you a tea-buying experience straight out of the 19th century.


Upstairs, there’s even a little Tea Museum.


The decor of the Marriage Salon de The is totally J. Peterman Colonial…


…with lots of wicker and rattan and palms…



…with the Art Deco clock that says it’s always Tea Time:


The tea menu is eight pages long…


…but I already knew what I wanted:


My pot of Vanille des Isles came with a book about L’Art Francois du The in case I wanted to cram on The French Art of Tea while my Vanilla of the Islands steeped. I got a kick out of the little shovel in the sugar bowl, and the sugar that looked like teeny bits of rock candy. What can I say? I was born in Montana, so some part of me will always be a hick.


The service was very professional, not warm but not condescending either, and nobody reprimanded me with their typically French horror of being photographed in a public place  until after I’d already got all the photos I wanted anyway. There are actual laws in France forbidding people to take photos of people in public places without their permission, and I hardly ever ask permission — especially if I think they will say Non. This attitude of mine irritates some French people’s last nerve, which I soothe by  apologizing in fluent French while giving them a big dumb American smile. Now, you might be surprised to learn this, but there are some French people who do not give photo-happy American tourists a break because they are just out-and-out snots and I know this for a fact because I had to travel all the way out to the “seedy” 19th arrondissement to bring you this tea story:


This is the boulangerie at 83 Rue de Crimee of award-winning female baker Veronique Mauclerc:


From a review in Elle magazine: This neighborhood boulangerie is killer [awesome]! In particular, their caramel pastry is worth the trek [to the “seedy 19th arrondissement]. It’s my Proustian experience. I’d go back on a scooter just for those caramels. Or something close to that.

In her so-called Salon de The, Veronique Mauclerc offers a degustation (tasting menu) of her breads (it’s spelled out right there, on her ardois/blackboard) for about $15:


When I arrived at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a single customer in the shop but the middle-aged sales person, standing with her hands clasped behind her back, still seemed overworked as she wearily answered my inquiry as to the possibility of partaking of a degustation. After some pointed questioning on my part I got her to admit that yes, they do serve tea and bread in the salon, which she indicated by a flip of her shoulder was in the back of the shop.


The Salon de The is a single  wooden table in a hallway between the shop and the oven — one of only four remaining traditional wood-burning bread-baking ovens left in Paris. The couple shown here were just finishing their coffee and rolls and were very gracious about making room for me while they gathered their things to leave. The place was now empty except for me, the customer, and the passive-agressive shop assistant.


It was while I was photographing this famous wood-burning bread-baking oven that I heard the shop assistant mumble something about “photographie”. That’s right: she literally said it behind my back. So I put the camera away and settled into a chair, awaiting my own Proustain experience with France’s most famous female bread maker. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And it dawns on me that I’m being iced. I have transgressed the unwritten law of Paris snots, Thou Shalt Not Be American, and I’m never getting service, no matter how long I wait, or if I do I can’t be sure there won’t be spit in my tea.

So I gather my things and walk to the front of the shop and I say to the shop lady, in English “I guess it’s too inconvenient for you to do your job, bitch,” and I leave. I head to the metro station and as I turn the corner I see this:


It’s busy and noisy and fast-paced…


…the shop assistants are very helpful in answering customer questions about the types of bread they make on the premises and as I wait to pay for my pain chocolate I see that the ovens are behind the glass wall and they are just about to roll in a tray of baguettes. I say OH! Les baguettes! And I raise my camera…


…and the shop assistant yells to the baker: “Yannick! the lady wants to take your picture!” And Yannick goes:


I take the photo and I holler to Yannick, in English, “Thank you!” And Yannick waves back and calls out: “Sank you!”

Artisan Boulanger Bio, 62 Rue d’Hautpoul. Yo, Veronique Maclerc: This is how you run a bakery, bitch.

When I went for tea at the famous Cafe Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse that forms the border between the 6th and the 14th arrondissements…


…the head waiter showed me where I could find Rick, the American artist who sketches in the cafe every day…


…and the banquette where I can find Mickey, the 20-year old house cat who rules the roost at Cafe Le Select:


The tea is always good in Paris cafes because they have  machines that get the water really hot hot hot. I like that.


I can not look at the crowd at Cafe Le Select


…without thinking of the wonderful book that Rick Tulka drew about  Cafe Le Select

6 Paris Cafe



…called Paris Cafe: The Select Crowd:


You can read about Rick and see his art by clicking on this link


…or you can meet him at Cafe Le Select (with fellow blogger and Friend of Rick, Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts:


Meanwhile, back in the corner banquette, look who else has also showed up for work — ordered his coffee, opened his lap top, spread a towel next to him so that Mickey will sit within purring distance…


(He was French and not a big talker or else I’d have more info to give you about this Monsieur, but he’s clearly One Of Us, seeing as how he brings a towel and all.)

And then it was off to Giverny…


…where my sweet room at the B&B (Coin des Artists, which used to be the village grocery store in Monet’s day ) came with a tea service at my disposal…


…but I didn’t make tea in my room, preferring the great stuff that came with breakfast…


…(note that those chairs are copies of the chairs in Monet’s diningroom) and the Happy Hour that came with a happy friend named Toddy…


…whose ears you see in the center of this photo of my other favorite beverage:


On one of the three days that I spent in Giverny I walked 4 kilometers to the neighboring town of Vernon…



…to research Monet’s life in Normandy, and to reward myself with afternoon tea at Cafe Globe:


Cafe Globe was filled with lots of local French people such as these two gentlemen:


Even though the couple sitting next to me were Americans with their Rick Steves’ Guide to France I really enjoyed my tea time at the Globe and here’s why: When the old guy in the background of the preceding photo shuffled up to the bar to pay for his lunch I asked him if it would bother him if I took a photo of his jacket:


Mais non, he said: I wear this because les Americans were the heros of my childhood. Then, because he was so proud of his system for the portage of cash,  he made a lengthy exhibition to the barman about how he keeps his money in his hat, which looks as if it’s from The French Foreign Legion, and I didn’t get to ask him for more info about how he got his jacket because I was laughing too hard about his hat.


Normans. They are a separate breed of French. I was reminded of this on my last day in Giverny, when I stopped in at the famous Hotel Baudy, the old hangout when Monet was still alive and this village was crawling with young artists who wanted to be Impressionists when they grew up:


This is a very lively place with a huge lunch crowd and an enormous dinner crowd made up of the tourists who day trip to Monet’s garden. I had my 2:30 tea in the front room, where the bar is, which is in effect a front row seat to the three ring circus that is Hotel Baudy…


…where I could keep my eye on everyone who came for lunch…



…or came in for a quick cup of coffee, like these honeymooners from Spain:


This American lady took their place and I watched as she sounded out the menu, and then adjusted her scarf so the Hermes logo was visible:


I didn’t like her at all. Then a village regular came in for his kind of amber-colored eau de vie, which was served in a wine glass:


He had  ripped trousers, scuffed shoes, and was in need of a haircut — he looked just like Monet before the world fell in love with his haystacks (when he was poor and undiscovered)!!!!

Giverny bar

And here is where I bagged that rarest of photographic feats when stalking the Frenchman on his native turf:


I caught him doing the Gallic Shrug!!

And now, in order to keep up with this thrilling saga one tea cup at a time, we must whisk ourselves to Marrakech, Specifically, to the Casbah :



On a rue called Tadla (which looks exactly like all the other rues in the casbah which is why I always got lost whenever I went out and could only found my way back by accident and slow process of trial and error):


The Riad (Morrocan home with interior courtyard garden) Orangers d’Alilia was my home base in Marrakech — that’s the French woman, Madame Joelle, who runs it, dressed in white:


It was under the orange trees in the small inner courtyard….


…where Fatima welcomed me to Morocco with a much-needed cup of tea. I’d had a busy morning in Paris, then schlepped to the airport and been  stuffed on a full plane (Easy Jet) that was the most claustrophobic experience I’d ever had,  and now it was almost seven o’clock at night and I was nervous about traveling in Marrakech on my own. It was good to calm my nerves with a cup of mint tea.


There were little russet-colored birdies who flew into the riad to sit in the orange trees and sing. I gave crumbs of my biscotti to them. Now I know why old ladies feed the birds. It’s because they are lonely.


I would highly recommend this riad to any traveler.


I did not expect such understated luxury in Marrakech, or rose petals on the bed…


Mint tea is OK for certain social situations any time after high noon or for calming nerves in the early evening , but I need a real tea when it really counts — at breakfast. For those times, Carol Gillot had given me a stash of India tea lightly flavored with vanilla which I brewed in a little silver pot of just-boiled water:


To make the most of my 48 hours in Morocco I had arranged on Day One to spend the morning at the Majorelle Garden and then travel 20 kilometers to the west of Marrakech to meet a Peace Corps volunteer in a village called Tameslouht:


When I got off the bus I realized that we had not arranged any specific meeting point in Tameslouht, but it was very easy to locate Sara by asking around the village for “The American”. A young womb working at the new community center knew exactly who “The American” was and she graciously made a telephone call to Sara, and while I waited for her I was given a tour of the center’s facilities, which included classrooms for adult education in literacy, sewing, and weaving — as well as two rooms of little kids in day care:


They were told to Say Bonjour to the lady — which they did, in unison, while staring at me like I was a unicorn. CUUUUUUUUTE. Then I singed their VIP Visitor’s Book and Sara came to collect me.


Sara Quinn has a blog about her Peace Corps experience — you can read it by clicking here — and she took me to the home of the President of the Women’s Craft Association of Tameslouht  to inspect the many things they create (subject of a future post). German travelers Wilhelm and Ursula were also checking out the array of clothing and accessories and we all drank tea with Sara and Zenib and Sara’s darling Moroccan fiance, Mustafa:


Then Sara took us on a tour of her town.




The next day, Sara traveled to meet me in Marrakech to guide me around the souk (market) and the Djemma El Fna (main square, where the snake charmers and the storytellers convene) and other insider points of interest but we did not have tea so those stories don’t belong here, except for the part where I tell you that Sara is the cutest damn Peace Corps Volunteer ever:

P1180170 2

I flew out of Marrakech that evening, arriving in Paris IN A REALLY BAD MOOD at midnight. I was so pissed off that I didn’t even photograph the “tea” that was served at breakfast at the hotel I stayed at in Orly Airport.

The next decent cup of tea I had was back at Carol Gillott’s apartment in the 15th arrondissement — I had searched high and low all over Paris for my favorite patisserie — Pithivier! — and found it right across the street . I’d caught Carol in the act of painting a chocolate  Religieuse there, in the background, so this is a tea cup still life that I call  One Paints and The Other Doesn’t:


I’d got an email from a dear blog reader, Laura, about the cafe in the 6th arrondissement that I’d photographed for you two weeks ago — Le Conti. Laura had always thought this cafe was a figment of the imagination but non, it’s real — so for her I made this one of my last cups of tea:


I was instructed, by Laura, to ask about a resident terrier named Orson. Ah, Orson!, the handsome young barman said, “Orson n’est plus d’ici — his owner took him to live on his parents’ farm. Hmmmmm….


I wonder if “sent to live on a farm” means in France what it means in America?


My time in Paris was coming to an end now, and to understand this next cup of tea you must know that my days in Paris had a purpose that I have not discussed with you, dear readers. I had set myself the task of visiting every arrondissement — 20 in all — to fulfill a Wish List (of unusual sights, experiences, personalities) that has taken me five years to put together. It was much, much more physically challenging and mentally exhausting than I’d anticipated. But I’d always planned to end the quest with a big splurge cup of tea in the ultra ritzy 8th arrondissement, as a reward for accomplishing a difficult task.

It was a cold, rainy day and I didn’t bother to wear the dress shoes that I’d packed or this occasion and I don’t have to tell you that after two weeks on the road my hair was a fright — I was a total mess. Still, when I went to both Le Bristol hotel (room rates start at $800 at night) and the Georges V (as I walked in Robin Thicke was strutting out) I was met with extraordinary courtesy. I inspected their tea rooms and menus (both charge 48 euro for Afternoon Tea — that’s about $60) and found them both lacking: the teas at Le Bristol were all very perfumy and came with a rack of pastries that I didn’t have any interest in; the teas at the Georges V were better and the pastries were not as froofy, but there was a piano player banging away in the salon which I found extremely annoying.

I was feeling depressed. Did I mention the cold, and the rain? And that I was fatigued with travel, Paris, myself, and my loneliness? I had wanted this quest to end with a nice big India tea bang and it wasn’t happening.

Then I noticed that right next door to the Georges V was the Prince of Wales hotel. Just as luxe, only open for five days after a two-year long renovation. The hospitality was exquisitely warm and professional, and the tea menu was outstanding. I sank into a leather sofa and ordered Tuareg Tea.


Well, I did ask beforehand if Tuareg Tea was the same kind of tea that I remembered drinking with Tuaregs when I was in the Peace Corps in Niger. Yes, I was told — it’s a black tea served tres sucre (very sugary). It wasn’t. It was a hay-tasting mild tea (did I mention that they’d only been opened for five days? Still working out the bugs)…but I was so grateful for the comfort and quality of the service, and so happy that I wasn’t forced to buy pastries I wouldn’t eat, that I did not go into my usual high dudgeon. I sat contentedly and sang to myself along with the soothing background music, Frank and Nancy Sinatra (Something Stupid) and Dusty Springfield (The Look of Love)…


…and watched people drink champagne cocktails…


…and chatted with the young hostess (that’s her, in the while collar and cuffs) about her childhood in Senegal…


…and wished I had those lighting fixtures in the form of the three feathers of the Prince of Wales….


They would totally work in my dining room.


No, it’s not over yet. There’s one more cup of tea, the one I had after a lunch of pate and baguette and classic onion soup on my last day in Paris, in a hot trendy bistro in the Marais called Les Philosophes.


They had the grace to serve Mariage Freres tea, a perfect way to redeem a trip that was feeling, at this point, like it was two or three days too long. It was still raining and cold and I was tired of Paris but I was GOING HOME!

As I type this, I’ve been home for about 46 hours. I have bought new curtains for the dining room and went on a shopping quest to re-accessorize the kitchen in shades of lime and apple green with a few gun metal and bamboo accents. I’ve ordered French cafe curtains from Williams Sonoma. I’ve been busy. Jet lag gives me a lot of nervous energy but also, I’ve become used to a frantic pace of life (that 20 Arrondissement TO DO List was a massive project that required ten hour days of TO DO-ing) . That’s my excuse for the length of this post — hope you enjoyed your trip in my Tea World!


Read more

Yes, you can get a taste of France in Connecticut.But of course Connecticut is more famous for its local sea food specialties, such as this crab meat appetizer at the S&P Oyster House in Mystic, CT:

I took my dear sweet husband, AKA Top Cat, to Connecticut to celebrate his birthday last weekend, which began with Saturday afternoon tea at Ye Olde Country Inn of Mystic, overlooking the Long Island Sound:

The weather outside was frightful (cold and grey, a bit misty and raw) but the inn was delightful.

In New England, you get used to the sight of muskets on the mantelpiece.

And of course, out in these rugged parts of the Northeast, any reputable Ye Olde Country Inn must have a fierce watchdog patrolling the perimeter:

This is a picture of the eagle-eyed Golden Retriever on duty.

Yes, Mystic Connecticut is a real place with a real pizza parlor…

…and a real Main Street with a steeple…

…with a real independent bookstore (Bank Square Books and of course I checked. They had one copy of my book Le Road Trip in the Travel section).

The town was beautifully decked out for the ChrisHanuKwanSolstice holiday.

I have a soft spot in my heart for red velvet bows…

…and for pubs named The Harp and Hound

…and for small cafes…

…and for little pumpkins lined up in a row…

…(the little fella on the fence — he’s the extrovert, right?).

I want to live in this house:

But not until Summer.

If you’ve ever been to Connecticut you’ll recognize this as the iconic Connecticut house…

…complete with its iconic Connecticut stone wall. You’ll find these old stone walls everywhere in The Nutmeg State:

As you drive through the Connecticut countryside you’ll see these stone walls showing up even in the middle of forests, the only thing left to show where once there used to be a farm or homestead. Our drive out of Mystic kept us close to the shore of the Long Island Sound…

…where all the boats go to hibernate over the Winter.

Then we turned inland…

…and headed for Foxwoods Resorts, the largest casino in North America situated in the heart of the wilderness of the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reserve (this is the view from our 30th floor hotel room):

Well, it was Top Cat’s birthday weekend, and he does love his Texas Hold ‘Em, and he is one of the original card-carying Foxwoods Players from when this casino complex was nothing more than a shed with a bingo hall. Just to show you that You Never Know Where Inspiration Lurks, it was at Foxwoods that I got my big Giverny inspiration when I got a bird’s eye view of this carpet in the lobby of the MGM Grand Convention Center:

To give you an idea of the scale of this design here’s another shot of the lobby — that’s a three-person sofa in the upper corner:

I LOVE IT!  With a little tweaking this carpet could be turned into a great Giverny abstraction. Can you see the flowers of the Clos Normand? The pools of water in the lily pond?  The flow of the Epte tributary to the great Seine River?  Trust me, they’re there. Just as they are here, in my map of Monet’s garden at Giverny:

And in my portrait of Monet on his Japanese bridge, overlooking his beloved water lilies:

I thoroughly enjoyed all your ideas for my Giverny product line — thank you everyone who left a suggestion in the Comments last week.

As for Sarah’s idea that I do an embroidery kit, I wonder if this would do:

Spring and Fall in Giverny, 13″ x 25″

I sewed this in 1990 as a wedding gift for my twin sister. It took about 60 hours, if I remember rightly.

And that’s why I switched to watercolor.


Read more

Monet’s Garden at Giverny, that is.

Then we lay in the masking fluid:

This is the Grande Allee, of course, at Monet’s garden at Giverny (in September, when the walkway is full of nasturtiums):

Lately I haven’t been painting in sky so this means it’s done:

Full page illustration, 8″ x 7″.


Yes, I’ve been working on my flower-painting this week. All you have to do, in order to get better at something at which you stink (see last week’s post), is to just keep at it. I painted for HOURS to get the hang of this. I’m just saying what Thomas Edison said: Sweat It Out, Dude, If You Want To Invent The LIghtbulb.

I’m just saying, too, that there is no need to traipse all the way to Giverny to see a spectacular garden when chances are there is a treasure closer to home. And where I live on the north shore of Long Island, there is a wonderland that we call the William Cullen Bryant estate. Top Cat took us there this past Sunday, about an hour before sunset, to see the last of the magnificent Fall foliage:

I ask you, does this even look real? (Note half-moon bridge made of stone in background.)

As George Harrison, my favorite Beatle, said in the live-in-studio recording of For You Blue on the last ever Beatles album, Let It Be of 1969: “Elbow James is got nothing on this [something].”  I really should Google that line.  It’s been 43 years since I first heard For You Blue and all this time I’ve never had a clue what George was saying, except that it comes back to me at times like this:

Giverny’s got nothing on this corner of Long Island. Yes, that is a perfect little knot garden on a cliff high above the beautiful Long Island Sound, the view from Mr. Bryant’s back porch.

And this is his sunken garden, next to the parterre, which is a lawn for some kind of bowling game, or croquet, I believe.  Oh, yes, Top Cat and I love this garden at the Bryant Estate, in Summer, Winter, and Fall. (I don’t care for Spring so I’ve never been here during those tacky months.) I count this garden as just one of the many benefits of being Mrs. Top Cat, because without him I would never have known that such a darling acre of Earth existed.

But I ask you, why schlepp a whole two miles from your house when you can probably find beauty in your own backyard?

This is Dudley of the Backyard Cats, catching the rays at 6:14 am this morning.  In my backyard, the rule is: Wherever There Is a Sunbeam, There Is Probably a Cat Making The Most of It:

Candy, in camouflage.

Joined by her son, Taffy.

Oscar, in igloo #2.

Bibs, tosey in igloo #1.

Phil, our resident baby possum, enjoying the cat food buffet. We LOVES our Phil. But he shuns the sunshine, so I took this photo at twilight.

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving and avoided the dangerous topics of conversation that can torpedo a family get-together in these yappy, noisy, bloviating times. But as it’s a holiday of Thanksgiving I want to give thanks to you all who read this blog,week by week, giving me your wonderful feedback (see last post re: work-in-progress — I LIKE the “empty space”  advise you gave me — thank you!)

I am so very grateful for your company!


Read more

This Claude Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies (1905) was sold at Christie’s New York last week,on Nov. 7, for $43,762,500. Yes, that’s 43 million, seven-hundred sixty-two thousand, five hundred dollars. This is of great interest to me because I just happen to be working on the “Monet” chapter of my Damn Garden Book (sketch, below, in progress):

All the ladies in this picture are versions of me.

Now, if you’ve read my book Le Road Trip you’ll know that I was not really thrilled with my last to Monet’s garden at Giverny — it was crowded and overgrown (in my opinion) and I was in a bad mood. Nevertheless, I have fond memories of the garden from several previous visits and it is those memories that I am trying to communicate. Also, hey — it’s GIVERNY. What garden memoirist can get away with writing a Damn Garden Book without including GIVERNY???    Here’s my illustration of the view from Monet’s bedroom window (a view he was particularly fond of):

Yeah, I know. I’m really crappy at painting flower gardens. Truth to tell, I’m not that crazy about flower gardens, and it shows.

I would much rather gaze at the Japanese maple tree in my front yard than at Monet’s waterlilies, to tell the truth, especially at this time of year:

And the Japanese dogwood tree on the patio is no slouch in the spectacular foliage department either:

If you look real hard you can see Bibs eating his breakfast from his pink bowl in the background, on the left.

Oh! Frost on Fall leaves is ten times more poetic than dew on a rose petal!

And I can tell you: there is nothing at Giverny to compare to the awesomeness of the American Elm tree near my house on Long Island:

I’ve never been tempted to pick a single flower on any of my visits to Giverny, but when it comes to a hundred-year old American Elm…

Here I am putting my crutches to good use to nab me an American Elm leaf to paint. (This photo was taken by my friend Melinda last month — my knee injury is healing just fine and I only use crutches now for whacking at stuff that is annoyingly out of reach.)

Even my dear husband, the Great and Wonderful Top Cat, knows better than to bring me roses. When he wants to be romantic, this is what he brings me:

This is what I love! A bouquet of beautiful fall leaves! My Top Cat gets me, he really does.

Monet had his obsession with the waterlilies  (he painted 250 canvases of his water garden at Giverny from 1899 until his death in 1926) and I have my obsession with Fall leaves:

One of the pages I am most proud of in my book Le Road Trip is page 56:

I am proud to be the first person to have calculated the going rate of a Monet waterlily painting down to the square inch, which was at that time  $23,319.00.

I think this is valuable information in quantifying pricelessness, in that a Monet painting might be so astronomically/mind bogglingly expensive to buy (see above, $43,762,500) that it might as well be priceless, but nothing is truly priceless. Remember, I used to be the Faberge expert for the same Christie’s New York auction house that sold this latest Monet, and I used to put price tags on all kinds of priceless stuff.

When I wrote Le Road Trip, the going rate for a Monet waterlily painting was based on the June 2008 sale at Christie’s London of a 1919 painting that sold for $80,451,178. Yes, that’s 80 million four hundred fifty-one thousand and change. And yes, that’s the record for a Monet at auction.

However, that Monet was big, 40 ” x 80″ , and the one that sold last week for $43,762,500 was about half that size at 35″ x 39″,  so:

The new going rate for a Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies is $32,060.4 per square inch.

And you are in luck! Because the going rate for a painting of my beloved Fall leaves is FREE — which is well and truly PRICELESS — and today I announce the winners of my 2012 Fall Leave Give Away:

Actual leaf not included.

This priceless painting goes to Nadine!    Nadine, send me an email at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and we will discuss shipping etc!

And the winner of this priceless painting:

… is Bobbi!   Bobbi, please see above.

I wish I could send all you dear readers a Fall leaf painting in appreciation for you all, but I would go broke if I handed out priceless paintings every week. I’m no Monet, after all! (Oh, wait. Even if he were alive Monet doesn’t get the millions… Jeeze. Being a famous artist as just as lucrative as being a priceless one.)

And now I have to quit painting Fall leaves so I can figure out how to paint a damn flower garden. See you next Friday — when I hope to have painted a less ugly Giverny..


Read more