There’s a reason for the cliché about Paris in the springtime. In March and the beginning of April, it seemed like leaves were appearing back on the trees at an interminably slow pace, patches of flowers here and there suddenly in bloom, one fountain filled and turned on, and then another. And then suddenly the end of April arrived, and the gardens and parks exploded into color. My regular jogs in the Champs de Mars park are now under the canopy of leafy trees, where it seems like just yesterday there hung bare branches. The fences have been taken down from around the main grassy areas in the park, so that on the weekends, the lawn is covered with picnickers, and surrounded by colorful patches of newly-bloomed flowers. And just as predictably as the flowers, as my new ex-pat friends have told me, visitor season has arrived.
We are hosting a bunch of friends over the next couple of months, but first up was my mom. She arrived a few days into the girls’ (2nd, but who’s counting) two-week Spring Break, and we were thrilled to have her. The night before she arrived Piper told me, “I’m more excited than Christmas Eve and the night before Easter that Grandma is coming tomorrow!!” She (Grandma) arrived safely (bringing me more treats from home, including some good old American trashy magazines. I was kind of disappointed to find that pretty much nothing has changed in the world of celebrity gossip—sometimes it seems like we’ve been here for years, and then the same actress is still pregnant and that annoying Jersey Housewife/Inmate person is still front page news and you realize that we have only been gone a few months…). We had lots of ideas for our days with Grandma, but when the forecast for the day after she arrived was promising, we decided to visit Giverny (Claude Monet’s home and garden).
You get to Giverny by train and then bus, so we headed out to the train station in the morning. We arrived at the station to find that our train was leaving in 15 minutes—we waited impatiently for a ticket machine to open up, figured out how to order our tickets thanks to the help of the kind Frenchwoman in front of us, only to get to the last page and have my credit cards rejected. This is just one of the infuriating things that goes wrong here from time to time, and I should have realized this might be a problem since the first time we took the train, I had purchased tickets online but then couldn’t use the same credit card I used to buy them to print them out of the machine. Why? Why? Why? We hustled over to the long line of people waiting to buy tickets from the ticket counter, when I noticed another kind of ticket machine nearby. I ran over and in about 2 minutes flat had our tickets ready to go. I waved madly at my mom and the girls, and we ran to the train, getting right up to the door when the conductor told us the train was leaving and closed the door in our face. The next train? 2 hours later. I had to take a lot of deep breaths there.
Moving on. We wandered around the neighborhood by the train station, window-shopping down Boulevard Haussman, and buying Piper a cute pair of new sneaks at the kids section in Printemps. When it was time for the train, we picked up some sandwiches and drinks from the Paul bakery in the train station, and got on the train. It was packed, but we finally found seats and settled down for a 50-minute ride. Once off the train, we waited around for a taxi thinking it would be faster and cheaper for the four of us, but then gave up and grabbed the last seats on the bus that was heading to Giverny. At this point I will tell you that I was feeling like perhaps this would not be worth the long, frustrating, and fairly stressful process to get there, but when we finally made it through the line and walked into Monet’s gardens, it was magic.
Beautiful flowers, arranged in long rows, in all the colors of the rainbow. Then a walk underground to Monet’s water garden, where he had built a pond and the famous Japanese bridge that appears in so many of his paintings. Despite the crowds of people around, you could imagine him sitting and painting at all hours of the day, watching the way the water and flowers changed as the sunlight waxed and waned—who wouldn’t be inspired to pull out a paintbrush and palette?
The house was next, where Monet lived for 43 years, from 1883 to 1926. Pink with green shutters, the house has lovely views of the garden from many of the rooms. The inside is just as colorful, with rooms painted bright colors and filled with reproductions of Monet paintings, his own collection of Japanese woodblocks, and paintings from his famous Impressionist friends like Cezanne and Renoir. I particularly loved the bright yellow dining room with its massive dining table that seated 14, and the cool blue and white kitchen with its copper pots hanging in a row.
It was all truly spectacular, and I highly recommend it if you come to visit Paris (though some better advance planning as to train timetables and ticket buying is recommended. ahem.).
Anyway, back at home, my mom’s visit had the added advantage of giving me much needed babysitting time so that I could make a nice dinner for us. So, inspired by Monet’s colors and those American black beans that came to me recently, I made Grilled Salmon with Black Beans and Piment D’Espelette Mayonnaise. Piment d’espelette is a mild red pepper spice that is common in Basque cooking—it’s easy to find here, unlike chili powder, and I really love its warm, piquant flavor. The mayo is fantastic—I started with homemade mayo, but you can use store-bought too, and I used the extra spiced mayo to dip cooked shrimp and artichoke leaves. Winner.