Dreams of Giverny


Time flies. The 25th Anniversary Edition of Linnea in Monet’s Garden is about to be released this fall by Sourcebooks. It doesn’t seem that long ago that my daughter received her own treasured copy from her grandmother. We read that book over and over, dreaming of the day when we could travel to Giverny together to stand on that bright green bridge over the lily pond.

We finally did.

My daughter and I are standing on Monet’s bridge, after dreaming about it for nearly 20 years. Inspired by one of our favorite children’s books, Linnea in Monet’s Garden.

It was everything we dreamed of. The pink house, the yellow kitchen, the pebbled garden walk. Except for the crowds. I was stunned at the number of visitors in Giverny as compared to my first visit to in the late 80’s. You have to snap your photos fast, before yet another group of cruise boat tourists wanders into your viewfinder. We’re still glad we went – it’s a treasure of a place.

Once my mission had been accomplished with my own daughter, I thought it was time to get a new generation of girls in my family dreaming about Giverny. I had planned on buying a copy of Linnea in Monet’s Garden for a niece’s birthday, but the current edition was out of print, and I didn’t want to wait until October for Sourcebooks’ anniversary edition. Luckily, I stumbled upon another lovely children’s book called Charlotte in Giverny (Chronicle Books).

Charlotte in Giverny is the fictional journal and scrapbook of a young girl whose family travels to the Giverny art colony in 1892. The book contains whimsical watercolor illustrations, historical photographs and museum reproductions of famous Impressionist paintings created in Giverny.

It’s a terrific little book and it’s not just for kids. It’s got a lot of art history that’s quick and easy to browse through. Charlotte is a bright and observant little journalist, and brings a youthful sense of wonder to the subject. Charlotte in Giverny offers much more than the story of Claude Monet. You get to hear about the whole colony, and about other American artists such as Lilla Cabot Perry, Thomas Robinson and Mary and Frederick MacMonnies.

Charlotte and her family check into Hotel Baudy upon their arrival in Giverny, just like so many of the visiting American artists in the late 19th century. Charlotte enjoys the boisterous life at the hotel, where the artists often pay their hotel bills by leaving a painting behind. If you visit Giverny today, you can enjoy lunch inside the old Hotel Baudy, or on the terrace where the old tennis courts might have once stood.

Hotel Baudy in Giverny

Degas, is that you? In Charlotte in Giverny, Charlotte meets the American painter Lilla Cabot Perry and her young daughter Edith. The Perrys had a little dog named “Degas” who looks a lot like this petit chien!

A Who’s Who of Artists Visited Hotel Baudy.

The interior of the Hotel Baudy, where you can imagine all of the fun bohemian evenings singing songs near the fire. The walls are full of Impressionist reproductions that might have been left behind by starving artists unable to pay their bills.

You can enjoy lunch on the terrace of the Hotel Baudy, which might be the site of Hotel Baudy’s old tennis court. Karl Anderson’s painting called “Tennis Court at the Hotel Baudy” (1910) depicts a tennis scene on a court right outside the hotel.  To me, it looks as though it could have been right here. See for yourself on the Terra Museum website.

Charlotte gets to know the other American artists who called Giverny home, including Lilla Cabot Perry who rented Le Hameau in the summertime, and Frederick and Mary Fairchild MacMonnies (later known as Mary Fairchild Low) who lived in Le Moutier, a former monastery which was jokingly referred to as “MacMonastery.”

Le Hameau – the summer home of Lilla Cabot Perry and family from 1889-1909

Le Hameau

Le Moutier – from a 1960s era postcard. The former home of American artist power couple Frederick and Mary Fairchild MacMonnies.

Today, Le Moutier is privately owned and protected by high walls, just like it was back in the “MacMonastery” days.

Despite the crowds, you can’t beat a day trip to Giverny in Charlotte or Linnea’s footsteps. It’s a lovely village full of art, history and pastoral beauty. You don’t need to have a daughter to enjoy the trip or these books. You just need to have the heart of an artist.

Recommended visit: Take the train to nearby Vernon, rent a car, or take a bus tour from Paris that allows you an entire day to wander through the streets of Giverny. Don’t rush back!

Additional recommended reading: Charlotte in Paris

Happy 100th Birthday “Dearie” – A Julia Child Tour of Paris

August 15, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth, and with perfect timing, Bob Spitz has authored an affectionate and definitive biography called Dearie (Knopf, August 8, 2012). I just downloaded my own Google ebook edition from my favorite independent bookstore.

If you admire this quirky powerhouse of a woman, you’ll love reading about her upbringing in California and her work at a spy agency during World War II, as well as her life in France and beyond.

For me, Julia’s 100th birthday is the perfect time to reflect on my good fortune in being able to walk in her footsteps in Paris. On a freezing cold day last January, I joined the American Women’s Group in Paris on a private  Julia Child Tour.

We were already shivering and stomping our cold feet when we met at the site of Julia Child’s Paris apartment at 81 rue de L’Université (or as Julia and Paul cheerfully called it, “Rue de Loo.”) We had private arrangements to meet the landlord in the courtyard of the building. We didn’t know what to expect, and were excited just to be there, despite the historically low temperatures.

It turned out that the landlady was an utterly charming French woman. She came out into the courtyard dressed in a fashionable fur coat, with her gray hair neatly brushed back into a black velvet headband. She spoke only French, but our tour guide was able to translate what we were unable to understand on our own.

Madame was happy to share her deceased husband’s stories about growing up as a neighbor of Julia and Paul Child. He was a young boy at the time, and would often ride his bicycle in the courtyard. Julia was never too busy to stop and visit with him, and obviously enjoyed the company of children. Julia’s French neighbors adored her. According to Madame, they remembered her as tall, outgoing and extremely friendly.

Madame told us that her husband’s family received Christmas cards from Julia and Paul for many years, even after they had left Paris. Madame apologized: she had searched for them among her old scrapbooks and souvenirs before our visit but couldn’t find them. She paged through her copy of My Life in France and pointed to the famous Christmas card with Julia and Paul in the bathtub, and said proudly: “I have this one somewhere!”

We were thrilled when Madame invited us up to her apartment, and not just because we were eager to escape the cold. We got a glimpse at an apartment similar to the one Julia and Paul lived in. While the living room and dining room were lovely, with classic wood parquet floors, gloriously tall windows and exquisite decorative wood moulding, the kitchen was excrutiatingly small. We got to peek up the stairs toward the third floor, and I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite scenes in the Julie and Julia movie when Paul used to come home for lunch and a “nap” in the middle of the day.

In our best intermediate French (“Merci beaucoup Madame! Enchanté!”) we thanked Madame for her hospitality. We then hopped on a bus and continued our tour in the Les Halles neighborhood, where Julia used to shop for ingredients and cooking supplies. We finally warmed up with traditional French Onion Soup and a little white wine at Au Pied du Couchon, just like Julia did so many years ago. What fun.

Happy Birthday, Julia! And Madame, thanks for the memories.

Another ordinary looking apartment building in the 7th arrondissement in Paris. There is no plaque, so most passerby would never realize that this was once the home of Julia and Paul Child.

Julia and Paul’s apartment was on the third floor. (In France, they don’t count the ground floor as the first floor – get s a bit confusing sometimes!) A photo of these very windows appears in My Life in Paris.

Madame brought her own stickered-up copy of My Life in France in order to compare the photos to the scene in the courtyard. She pointed up at the windows to show us where Julia and Paul had lived.

Julia and Child’s apartment was on the third floor. Julia began cooking in the original kitchen, which was extremely small even by Paris standards. They later converted the small attic apartment above into a separate kitchen. Paul took the photo that appears in My Life in France (pictured above) from one of these third floor windows, aimed across the courtyard and toward the decorative windows in the other wing of the apartment.

Madame is pointing out the photos of Julia and Paul’s Christmas cards that her husband’s family used to receive. She apologized because she hadn’t been able to find the scrapbook where they had been stored!

E. Dehillerin in Les Halles, a classic French cooking supply store where Julia used to shop. Still a very friendly place to browse.


Our crazy French waiter at Au Pied du Couchon, who led us in a traditional French chanson, complete with a pig nose!

Additional reading: