I Have Seven Seconds To Make You Like Me and There’s a New Cat in Town.

Seven seconds is how long I have to convince the average reader to not toss my book aside with disgust and a sigh of boredom.  If a writer does not capture a reader’s attention within seven seconds (it’s been studied by a panel of scientific experts) then that reader will . . . Hey! Where are you going?! Come back here!! 

Dear Patient Readers, I have been working on an itty bitty book about the wonderful flower garden in France that was lovingly designed and tended to by the painter Claude Monet and I’ve given it a rather catchy and sexy title that is sure to grab eyeballs:

Still with me?

My original idea for this illustrated tour of Monet’s garden in Giverny was to keep the book almost wordless, limiting text to one page, and garnishing the rest of the book with three or four quotes from the great Monet himself.

My agent told me that she loved being immersed in the way that I re-created Monet’s world in 65 watercolors, but she wished I would include a few more bons mots from Monsieur Monet. No problem, I said; until I started to dig deeper into the Wit and Wisdom of Claude Monet.

I am an unimaginative, intellectually plodding, highly persnickety Capricorn. That means that I am compulsive about locating all of the stuff that Monet is reported to have said about his flowers and his gardening in the original French, just to make sure that he really said the stuff he is supposed to have said, and that the stuff he really said has been translated by other people the way he really said it.

If only I were a Pisces, I would not be tracking down obscure art journals from 1927 (the fabled July issue of La Revue de l’art ancient et moderne) or wishing evil things unto the authors of the lousy footnotes in most of the best known English language biographies of The Prince of the Impressionists.

You watched me do these irises for the book back in May, when this used to be a blog all about watching paint dry.

I am very nearly finished with my digging — I am still awaiting the arrival of the last book from France that I hope I will have to buy for this project — but I can state with 100% certainty that Monet never said: Yes, I like to run naked through my flower beds at dusk but I keep my boots on because some of those posies have thorns.

To keep my spirits in the spirit of Monet’s garden I have this package of wonderfulness, every day delivering a sweet reminder of the most famous garden in the world:

This desk calendar is a perpetual calendar, delivering one delicious flower from Monet’s garden each day forever. Ariane Cauderlier, the photographer, owns the fabulous L’Hermitage B&B in Giverny:

Ariane knows the Monet gardens — the flower garden and the water garden that includes the famous Japanese bridge and water lilies — as only a daily visitor and next-door neighbor can, and she is authorized by the Foundation Claude Monet to give tours of the gardens, which she does in several languages. You can keep up with all the latest happenings in Monet’s World through Ariane’s beautifully photographed blog here. 

Next week I will tell you how to get this calendar for yourself and everyone you know, sent to you straight from Monet’s garden (it’s not sold anywhere but Giverny), but today Ariane has given me some hot hot hot news from Monet’s garden that you will only read about here! On my blog!

Exclusive: Monet’s garden has a new official cat!

The live-in head gardener and his wife are cat lovers, and lucky visitors to the Clos Normand (the flower garden that surrounds Monet’s house) might have, in days past, caught a glimpse of a tuxedo tabby cat sitting in the open upstairs window, or strolling the garden paths once the gates have closed and the tourists are gone. But as we all know, kitties get old and retire to that great lily pond in the sky. But as we feel sad for the old Cat of Giverny, Long Live the New Cat of Giverny!

And here he is:

He is called Nougat.

Nougat, in its non-cat form.

He is cute! And you’ll only see him here! Ariane says that this is the best photo she’s been able to get because, as you can imagine, he’s a young cat and still familiarizing himself with his estate so he’s much too busy to pose for pictures.

My cats, on the other hand, are never busy, never ever never. And I have to tell you, I’m getting concerned about Lickety. . .

. . . whose sleeping habits have recently revealed a strange change to his personality:

Lickety usually likes to find the fluffiest blankie or pillow in the house and hunker down for ten hours a day. But lately, I’ve found him dozing in spots where I have never before seen him supine, in places where I would not expect to find a comfort-loving cat. Even when I put his favorite towel down in one of his new locations, he refuses to use it:

Then again, what can I expect, when his mother does things like this:

Seen from my upstairs bathroom window.

That’s Lickety’s mama, Candy, sleeping on the roof of the shed next to our garage. It’s her preferred napping perch. So it runs in the family.

OK, for my final seven seconds I want to leave you with a recommendation for a good way for you to not waste your precious hours of life when you could be drinking wine by reading something that stinks. I came across an interesting-sounding book via a mention in the New York Times, by an English food writer I have never heard of: Patience Gray. She became a cult figure, according to the Times, in 1986 with the publication of her book called Honey From a Weed. The Times called this book “An artful combination of memories, recipes, and traveler’s tales”.  It’s also illustrated. This is right up my alley!

Hoping to steal something good from Patience Gray for my next book [which refuses to write itself, no matter how long I wait and wait], I checked the book out on Amazon.com.

Here is the book’s first sentence:

In the last twenty years I have shared the fortunes of a stone carver and during that time, working in silver and gold, have become a craftsman myself.

I have a hard time understanding this sentence. Not only is it grammatically awkward, it lacks musicality — it’s missing a few syllables in its flow. And — yawn — stone carving and crafting. I think I’m bored already but as this writer and this book come very highly recommended, I soldier on until, five sentences later, I hit this:

The Sculptor’s appetite for marble precipitated us out of modern life into the company of marble artisans and wine-growers in Carrara and into an isolated community of “Bronze Age” farmers on Naxos.

“…precipitated us out of modern life”??

I have already spent a good 20 seconds sussing out this Honey From a Weed (BTW, about the title: Ew) and I regret every nano-second.


Life is short. And wine is long.

So is my hair:


This is me, last week (it’s still pretending it’s Summer out here on Long Island) holding the biggest bunch of celery I have ever seen. I need a haircut.

Have a great weekend, my Dear Readers, and may you find eternity in every moment of your day.

30 Comments, RSS

  1. Steve September 28, 2017 @ 11:13 am

    I love the iris artwork, and good for you for tracking down the original “mots de Monet” (?) as opposed to the translations. Always good to go back to the source! Nougat is the PERFECT name for that cat! Lickety may be looking for cool/hard surfaces, if the weather is still warm enough to allow you to traipse around in a tank top!

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:26 am

      Thank you for commenting, Steve, all the way from London!

      I think I have discovered a often repeated “quote” from Monet that is made up, by a man who visited Monet in his later years and reported the conversation, which I think never took place. The language that this writer used for Monet just doesn’t sound like Monet…not in the original French, any way. The English translation cleaned up the language and eliminated Monet’s use of the word “fairies” in his garden and yes, this is all very interesting to me, but I don’t think it would hold to the seven-seconds rule. But I’m almost certain that Monet would never talk about fairies in his garden. He wasn’t that kind of guy.

  2. jeanie September 28, 2017 @ 6:03 pm

    I, for one, had been hoping your next book would be about Monet ever since you painting so many pretty garden things back when (I need another lesson sometime soon!) and when you so kindly did the Jeanie-Monet-makeover. I still have to post about that but now I have a really good hook — a future Monet book by our own Ms. Vivian Swift! Bravo. I love the concept of checking out the original quotes and while I would be delighted with 65 Vivians and NO words, the words will make it all the better.

    So much to love here, but Nougat (great name!) is a real gem. And yes, it looks like the Lickety apple didn’t fall far from the Candy tree. Thanks for the recommendation on the book. My stack is too tall to add too much complication to! And I should have written that … to which to add too much complication. Or bad writing. Like this comment! Now to check out that calendar!

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:19 am

      And than you, Jeanie, for your beautiful photograph of Monet’s lily pond, which is in the book. The original is all yours once I get it published — if you want it.

      It’s now OK to end a sentence with a preposition. It was a silly and arbitrary rule in the first place. You write with clarity and vivaciousness and that’s GOOD writing.

      • jeanie October 7, 2017 @ 12:53 pm

        That preposition thing — so glad that’s history.

        And YES! Yes! A thousand times yes!

        I hope (but doubt) it will see the light of day before Christmas 2017 but soon after. You know I’ll be buying copies for every one of my art-loving, Monet-loving, French-loving friends!

  3. Megan September 28, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

    Cats are weird, that’s what makes them soooo interesting. I agree with Steve, if the weather is warm Lickety may be looking for a cool place to lie, near the food… as for the car, the bonnet is probably warm and that’s why he is lying on it. Our Clive loves to go into the garage. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave and there are warm cars to lie on and decorate with dusty paws. We will never understand cats. Maybe next week he will be doing something completely different?

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:05 am

      I love the name Clive for a cat. And isn’t it the best thing when your kitty decorates your windshield with adorable paw prints? One time I got in the car and woke up Bibs, who had jumped in through an open window and settled down in the passenger seat for a nap. Cats know the good places.

  4. Becky September 28, 2017 @ 7:39 pm

    I love the pictures of Lickety. What a sweetheart. It makes you want to go up and just love him up, and disturb those peaceful moments.
    New book sounds great.

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:07 am

      I know! On cold Winter days I love having him on my lap because he’s huge and warm, and all that with a cup of tea and a good book is my idea of heaven on Earth.

  5. Kirra September 29, 2017 @ 3:30 am

    I love the look of your new book! Good luck with the rest of Monsieur Monet’s quotes. Garden cat Nougat is very cute, and does look much busier than your lovely cats. That book sounds bad, definitely not worth it! What are you going to do with all the celery?

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:09 am

      Top Cat bought the celery at a Farmer’s Market along with a thousand pounds of carrots, and he’s making juice. I’m not going near it unless he invents a fabulous new way to mix it with vodka.

      • Judy Jennings October 9, 2017 @ 11:37 pm

        Vivian, my husband’s parents grew about a million tons of carrots in their garden and JUICED that rabbit food all for themselves to drink. Dad lived to be 93, and mom lived into her one hundredth year. Tasted too much like dirt to me, but I guess it worked for them.

  6. Beth September 29, 2017 @ 3:57 am

    If you refuse to do one on Hadrian’s Wall (and the villages near it), then I’m all aboard for Giverny, which was always my next best choice! Yay!

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:14 am

      I am surprised that there aren’t many books or travel journals of Monet’s garden that feature watercolor illustrations. I know of one, and it’s in French, and half of it depicts the garden in Winter. ??? There’s the famous children’s book about a Swedish girl named Linnea who travels to Giverny with an unrelated older man, which might have been OK 30 years ago when it first came out but today, it’s a bit weird. So yes, I hope the world is ready for an illustrated Giverny.

      And now I have a CAT that I can put in it!!!

  7. Casey September 29, 2017 @ 7:41 am

    Oh yes, I agree with Beth, Yay! I want to wander through Monet’s garden with you. Actually, I want to wander through Monet’s garden and make watercolor painting, but I don’t have any talent, so I want you to do that for me. And I want to see Nougat, too.

    I remember how interesting it was to watch paint dry with you. When are you going to paint something for us to watch? Please?

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:15 am

      I’m putting the call out: send me ideas or photos, and I’ll paint it!

  8. Marg-o September 29, 2017 @ 7:44 am

    Here’s a Monet quote that I am sure he said:

    Please have Vivian Swift paint my garden 65 times and put them all in a book.

    • Vivian September 29, 2017 @ 9:16 am

      Well, gee, thank you, Marg-o, for this discovery. Please let him know that I am heeding his call.

  9. Carol September 29, 2017 @ 1:51 pm

    Love the idea of a Monet book, new cat Nougat is so lucky to live in such a heavenly place and Lickety is adorable no matter where he sleeps.

    • Vivian September 30, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

      I know…I want to be Nougat, too. Lickety got a nice long grooming session this morning so he is now extra clean and fluffy.

  10. Susan September 29, 2017 @ 10:13 pm

    I am new to your blog and am adoring your work, spirit and love of cats.

    • Vivian September 30, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

      Welcome Susan! I’ll tell the cats to be extra cute this week so they’ll make Friday’s post.

  11. Patricia September 30, 2017 @ 6:40 pm

    Lead with the cat. Book lovers love cats (which is why there are so many bookshop cats). Looking forward to your newest book. We returned to Monet’s garden last May when we traveling by river boat along the Seine. Alas, no cat when we visited. But I do visit several cats each morning on my walk in Maui (on vacation from being retired). There are several cats living on the grounds of our hotel. They have tell tale clipped ears indicating they’ve been TNR (trapped, neutered, or spayed) and are fed each day by volunteers.

    The handsomest is a Siamese Tuxedo mix named Cocoa. He always displays himself along the boardwalk for snuggies and admiration.

    Lead with the cat. I’ll buy it.

    • Vivian October 1, 2017 @ 11:04 am

      A Siamese tuxedo, what a heartthrob. How about a book about how Lickety goes to France to see Monet’s garden and visit with Nougat? Wait…why should Lickety have all the fun? I want to visit Nougat!

  12. Felicia Cass October 1, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

    Whew! I’ve been nervous that your plans for making the next decade of your life fabulous might not include painting and writing. So glad (relieved) to know that’s NOT the case. When does your book come out? Some of us include our gift purchases for our friends around the timing of the release of Vivian Swift books!

    And please more watching paint dry! You give the very best lessons.

  13. mae October 2, 2017 @ 5:38 pm

    A long time ago, maybe in the early 1990s, I was looking for food memoirs and books about experiences with food as a theme. Very few people had written them. This means I was rather enchanted by “Honey from a Weed,” because it was unusual. Now that zillions of people are publishing food memoirs about the wonderful experiences and stuff they discovered in villages around the Mediterranean (some good some not so much), I can see that you are able to look at the book with a cold eye and dismiss it within a few sentences. I have a feeling there is a good side and a bad side to this.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    • Vivian October 3, 2017 @ 9:51 am

      You’re right, Mae; food writing has “blown up” in the last decade. It has gotten so much better than it used to be, and I love the blending of food writing with memoir. I have no doubt that when Honey From a Weed (still, yucky title) came out it was ground-breaking, but what used to pass as “literary” writing now just comes off as pretentious. Some writers don’t age well, some do — M F K Fisher still sounds fresh.

      There is so much good writing to choose from that I don’t want to have to struggle to read lumbering syntax. I might be up to the challenge if I were deeply committed to the genre or interested in its precedents, but, alas, I just want to read for pleasure. I still kick myself for reading so much Faulkner and Updike when I was in my 20s just because they were important writers, but I was young and naive. I have more confidence in my taste and standards these days, so I feel safe in dumping books that aren’t love at first sight. Or in seven seconds.

  14. Deborah Hatt October 2, 2017 @ 11:30 pm

    So glad you’re back to working on another book. Bravo! Wondering if Lickety might have diabetes or some kidney failure going on. I certain not hope not, but often kitties start acting in unusual ways when having one or the other (or both) of these ailments. He is a hefty lad, and that is usually a prerequisite for either one of these maladies.

    I love the idea of your Monet book … and so petite too!

    Happy Trails this week, Vivian.

    • Vivian October 3, 2017 @ 9:43 am

      It’s good to hear from you, Deborah. I hope you haven’t had your first frost yet — I hope there’s still a few weeks of a golden autumn for you to enjoy.

  15. Ariane October 4, 2017 @ 2:56 am

    Dear Vivian,
    Thank you so much for your words about l’Hermitage and the calendar, you are adorable.
    I am so glad to see that you’ve done a new book. The question of the reality and accuracy of the quotes is a big one. Monet’s words have been filtered by journalists or writers, that had a greater command of words that he had, because it was their job. They sometimes took liberties with his words, according to Monet himself in the letters where he thanks them for their books or articles. The only ‘true’ source are Monet’s letters.
    About fairies, Monet spoke about ‘les sortilèges’ of his pond (reported by a writer, not direct writing). The magic spell. He may not have believed in fairies (but who knows?), but he could feel far beyond the surface of things.

    As far as your book is concerned, publishing it as it is with a few words of your own or of Monet is an option. it will certainly be a lovely book.
    But I repeat, and I hope your dear Readers will help me convincing you that your strength, your difference is the way you manage to make painting watercolor fascinating. Even for people who don’t paint at all, it is funny, witty, enlightening, captivating. The world needs your tutos! Why don’t you want to publish them? Please give us your reasons, and I’m sure we can destroy your fears one by one.
    A sexy title for your book would then be “Painting Monet’s Garden – 20 tutos’. Or five. Or twelve. Or How To Paint Monet’s Garden.
    Publishing your tutorials would be so helpful for many budding artists that don’t know how to start. You make it look easy and simple, step by step. They can copy what you do, gain confidence and create their own works.
    I’m sure it would be a best seller. This doesn’t exist at all about Monet’s gardens. About painting landscapes in watercolor, there are many books, but never as fun as your writing. Your talent is unique!

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