Saturday, August 10, 2013


Backtracking a bit because I didn't get a chance to write about this until now.

I was feeling a lil claustrophobic in Paris, I had been there for almost a month without leaving the city environs, and it was starting to make me antsy.  On Wed July 31, I decided to make a break outside the city and head to Giverny, about an hour away.  I made my way over to the Gare St. Lazare train station, and muddled through getting a ticket.  The automatic ticket machines would not take my credit card because it did not have a chip (something Euro credit cards posses), so I waited in the line to get a ticket to ride.  It was about 11am, and I knew the next train was at 12:20pm and I was in no rush.  I queued it up, and had a nice ticket counter help from the fellow working at the window.  I got my round trip ticket, and he gave me the schedules of the returning trains.

I killed a little time outside the train station, picking up the accouterments of a picnic lunch (baguette, a can of thon à la Catalane) and had a coffee while I waited.  I boarded the train, and we sped out of Paris metropolitan and into the lush green country sides along the river Seine. It was a nice ride, and I felt the city anxiety passing.

An hour later, we arrived in Vernon near Giverny.  I hopped the tourist bus to Giverny with all the others interested in visiting Monet's stomping grounds.  The bus dropped us off in the parking lot, and I walked toward the town.  As I was walking with the big group, I saw a stream running.  I left the herd and followed the stream into a sea of lush green hanging vines and trees.  Immediately I could see why this place was so inspirational.  I sat and listened to God moving slowly over the face of the waters, while I watched water mites moving slowly over of the face of the waters.

I found a bust of Monsieur Monet, and decided that would be a good place to have my picnic. I sat eating my thon à la Catalane in a fresh baguette as I watch the wind sway through the trees.

I sat thinking about life and how one day my life will end.  But no one will ever say I did not live my life to its fullest.  I will take Monet over money any day.  There is only one way to live life, and that is to live it.  I think Monet would have approved.

After the lovely picnic and naval-gazing, I made my way over to Monet's house.  En route, I stalked the Japanese tourists with my camera in a way that spoke of deserved karma.

I arrived to Monet's house and immaculate gardens.  The gardens were an ocean of colors.  Seas of purples and blues (I think I could tell the difference).  Yellow sunflower punctuations.  Violet algorithms; Fibonacci's white sequence.. Lines of lavender waving in the breeze.  Bees buzzing about.  It was spectacular.  As always, color affects emotion.

And as I wandered through the gardens, I began to recognize lines and images from Monet's impressionist works--sans the impressionist blur.  When I realized it, I simply said "oh my."  I sat looking down a Monet painting of his gardens, looking at the world he saw and wondered how he dreamed it so differently.  The reality behind the impression was still impressionante.

 I wandered on, through a passage way built by Walter Annenberg, and on to the seas of lily pads.

I walked through the bamboo reeds and over to the bridge that overlooked the lily pads.  I sat for while with my legs dangling off, trying to capture the ripples in still water.  Eventually, I wandered around the bend, and realized that I was sitting on the bridge of famous Monet's impressionist portraits.  It was an incredible realization to see this famous image- toned down to real life.  Next time I see that famous picture in a museum, I will be sure to draw my dangling legs on it.

I meandered through the lily pads, and eventually back to the gardens to take in the floral sight once more.  I made my way into Monet's house and was amazed but not surprised by his affinity to Japanese art.  Walking through Monet's house, it is hard to miss the profound impact that Japan's opening had on French culture, and by extension, Western art.  In every impressionist gallery, you can see the direct influence of Japan.  It is not such a stretch to say that Impressionism is one of the factors that has made France a cultural capital, and that cultural capital is borne from Japan.

This led me to wonder about the French-Japanese connection today, especially through cultural diplomacy.  I remain utterly curious about France's cultural diplomacy ties to Japan.  I see Japan and France in similar geopolitical terms: still players but not quite at the top tier anymore.  Yet still important and relevant, if only for their cultural soft power.  Both grapple with how to define themselves in this changing geo-political situation and how to remain relevant in current landscape.  And both could do more to exert their soft power through cultural diplomacy.

Both Japan and France have cultural diplomacy resources without compare, even if their hard power and geo-political clout is just fair.  Perhaps a French-Japanese tie is the lynchpin behind a French pivot to East Asia, which is full of potential.  I see so many nouveau riche from China and Korea in Paris. Already, France is doing cultural diplomacy outreach to the nouveau riche of China, who are buying up cases and vineyards at an amazing clip.  France is trying to do gastrodiplomacy to teach the Chinese what entails real good wine.  The French have been working to educate the new Chinese luxury consumer what haute couture entails.

I could easily see more profound French connection to Korea, Taiwan and India borne out of French luxury culture and gastrodiplomacy to the nouveau riche.  France is the high watermark of luxury culture.  The cultural tastemakers of Asia, as found in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, all have a taste for French luxury, and that could be greatly expanded through French cultural and gastrodiplomacy outreach.  The brunt of France's cultural diplomacy outreach is to Francophone Africa; and while I think this is important, more can be done for France in East Asia to make its cultural soft power more tangible to East Asia.

And oui, I never quite turn it off.

I left Monet's house, and found it too late to visit the impressionist museum at Giverny.  This was the works of the colony of artists who came to paint at the feet of Claude.  Artists like Whistler and Singer Sargent, among others.  I made my way to an old hotel and cafe, and sat out drinking kir as I worked on proposals to get me gastrodiplomacy bonafides via fellowships.

I caught the bus back into town, and with a little time to kill, wandered through the quaint town to Vernon.  That is perhaps my one regret- I know Paris well, but not the rest of France.  But trains are so expensive, it is hard to leave Paris.

I caught the train back into Paris, arriving around 11pm.  I had a hankering for kebap, so I wandered the streets looking for my fix.  I didn't find shwarma per se, but an adana kebap that did just fine.  It took me a while to realize that the workers didn't understand my Arabic because they were Turkish.  When I switched to my few Turkish words, they smiled approvingly.

All and all, a great day away from Chez Paris. And since imitation is the highest form of flattery, my attempts at impressioning my photos.

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