Tuesday, I convinced some friends to wake up early to head to Giverny, where Monet’s summer home and famous lily pad gardens are located. We arrived at the Gare St. Lazare long before our 10:20 train was supposed to leave. However, no one in Paris seems to be in any type of hurry. Ever. The ticket queue, which when full, is supposed to take 30 minutes. In the parallel universe of France, the half-full ticket queue took far longer, and needless to say, we missed our train. Perhaps because the ticket sellers have conversations with this with anyone who purchases a ticket: “No, you do not want to take that train, you want the later train, I give you discount”
“No, I want the 2:45 train, I need to get back for class.”
“You will not make that train. Take the 4:45 train. It will be cheaper!”
“I cannot take that train. I would like a ticket for the 2:45 train, please.”
“I’m sorry, je nes comprends pas. I do not speak any English. You will take the 4:45 train.”
In Paris, the customer is never right.
With two hours to kill until the next train, I headed to one of the two Starbucks in the train station.
“Mocha frappuccino? You mean Frappuccino Mocha, and no you do not want that, you want Espresso frappuccino.”
“No, I’d like mocha, please.”
“You do not want mocha, to mocha we add powder.”
“I like powder.”
“I will make you espresso frappuccino. Medium, yes?”
I’m not sure why I even bother expressing what I even want in Paris…
After a few weeks here, I’ve picked up a few more French terms and expressions, but better yet, I’ve learned how to speak English to French ears, Franglish, if you like.
Je’voudrai un scoop of glace pistache avec chocolate. On a waffle chaud. Merci.
When my friend’s cup started leaking, I offered to approach the barista and explain her situation. “My friend, her cup, it broke. The coffee drips. On her. HOT.”
“Oh, no problem! I’ll make her a new drink, what does she want?” The barista at the counter was from Spanish Harlem. I only wish I asked how he ended up working at Starbucks at a train station in Paris…
But I digress. We ate a delicious meal of stir fried noodles at the train station, and then boarded our second class car to Vernon, which is where Giverny is located. The plush seats, coat hooks, and outlets offered no sign that we were in second class, and the trip was quick with gorgeous views of the green French countryside.
We boarded a shuttle at Vernon and then walked up to Giverny, waited in line, again, for tickets to Monet’s home and garden, and finally entered paradise!
Well, actually the giftshop, which used to function as Monet’s studio before capitalists decided to profit off of his artistic genius by selling cheap calendar reproductions of his masterpieces…
Outside laid the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen (living 10 minutes away from the Chicago Botanical Gardens most of my life, this says a lot)! Bamboo, roses, lilies, and various flowers I don’t know the names of sprouted colorfully in every direction, completely negating the grey overcast sky hanging ominously above us.
After a brief, hurried walk through the flower paths, we reached the main event: the lily pads. THE lily pads! The ones you study in paintings your entire life, the ones reproduced on coffee mugs and mousepads all over the world, the ones Monet painted as his vision faded and his life drew to an end. The paintings I saw in the MOMA only a few years back were now right in front of my face. Monet was here. Monet painted this. He saw this and was inspired and created something beautiful. Something so much bigger than he ever expected.
Standing on the green bridge I’d seen painted so many times, I finally remembered why I came to Paris: to challenge myself, to see new things, to experience another way of life. It would have been so much easier not to pack up, not to argue with the ticket lady or sprint back from Giverny to catch the shuttle and train back before class, but life isn’t easy.
I had no expectations for Paris, no itinerary, no plan.
But this was it. This was my life. Seeing things I never even knew I’d see, being inspired by I don’t even know what. Sharing an experience with a legendary artist who lived long before my time, whom I rarely think about, and probably will continue not to. And I was there, and it was, put simply, amazing. And I was just so happy to be alive and be there in that moment.