From “Joan of Arc” to “Monet”Posted: September 9, 2011
After 4 days rest and recreation at Sezanne, we were ready to explore Northern France further and to continue circling Paris as we wait to see our friend Gael, arriving later in the week. As ghoulish as it sounds, we chose the Normandy capital, Rouen, to stand on the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake! I realized I knew very little about Joan of Arc, other than a young, androgynous looking woman who wore armour. I did not recall her being French, being in the military or being canonised a Saint!! Alas, she is a legendary character who lived over 600 years ago. How much of the legend is true to hard to define.
For 12 months, fuelled by the belief that she was an instrument of God, and convincing others, she fought on the side of King Charles the VII and led and won battles that led to his coronation. Her own countrymen, yet enemies, the Burgundians, eventually captured and sold her to the English who had her tried as a heretic. They were afraid of her power and suspicious of her link to “God!” A lengthy trial that took nearly 5 months and is extremely well documented, eventually found her guilty of repeat accounts of heresy – enough to call for the capital punishment – burned at the stake!
Today the place of her demise, is sadly, little more that a Side Show Alley! Incongruent and confusing. If I’d expected sentimentality or even reverence I was wrong. A single cross marks the spot of the pyre but it’s hidden behind an extremely modern church and a square filled with rubble and grass……. Here well heeled tourists order Foie Gras and watch the parade in front of them; locals on mobile phones, street kids with dreadlocks and dogs, even tourists changing a babies nappy on a piece of rubble. The museum has paper cut-out models to tell her story and weird wax figures, the “badies” missing teeth, the “goodies” all angelic and holy looking! A very disappointing memorial to a strong, courageous and intelligent young woman.
Still, it was worth the diversion to the French eastern side of Paris and feel the Normandy culture. So many of the 19 countries we have so far visited have been invaded and influenced by the Normans.
The architecture here is fantastic, we have our first meeting with the Seine; our companion back to and through Paris, and our first real taste of Impressionism. Many of the Impressionists loved to leave Paris to paint in the open air and in the luminous light on the banks of the Seine in Rouen – different to Paris, fresher! It was here that Monet created part of his Cathedral Series, (painting the Cathedral above). It’s here that marks the beginning of the short journey up stream of the Siene, to the little village of Giverny and Monets famous gardens.
On my last visit to Paris, just over 20 years ago, I declined a visit to Monets Garden and left it top of the list for my next visit to France. Its wonderful to realise that goal and a joy to be here. Monet discovered Giverny for himself, (and his family) from the window of a train, when he decided to move from Paris to the country. He found a home a lived here for the last 43 years of his life, establishing, and famously painting “his Garden!” The house and garden are superb and carefully maintained.
As is the tiny village of Giverny. Not hard to see why it became an artist conclave and colony. Many Parisian artists followed Monet and settled here as did a large group of American painters. The village is peaceful, quaint and although home to one of the worlds best tourist destinations, Monets’ garden, it has a low key and original feeling. Full of French boutique hotels hidden behind gardens and facades, we stop at one for coffee. A trip to the toilet ensured a visit past the guest dining room and kitchen, up a small winding staircase to the rooms and guest bathroom, superbly French!!! I wish I could do a tour of more of the Villas and divine homes and gardens we catch glimpses of over fences and down tiny lanes. Alas, Paris beckons, and so, we go!