Very few people had occasion to go to Giverny unless they were just tourists passing though for the day. Thus, considering it was a weekday and the low season for tourism, none of the shop or restaurant owners had much reason to bother with opening their businesses. Maybe, if an errant tourist was lucky, they would find one eatery open on, at best, a Thursday…apart from that, it was a strictly Friday through Sunday afternoon town until late spring.
Maybe that’s what Claude Monet liked about it most: few would bother trekking to the area at all with so little available to allure. Save for the saloon-esque hotel he frequented for the purposes of “philosophizing” (read: drinking). Hotel Baudy. Or L’Ancien Hôtel Baudy, if one must. As Frédéric passed it now, it bore no “overpowering aura” that a person tends to expect from some kind of “important place.” In this case, the watering hole of many nineteenth century Impressionists that included, in addition to Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Alfred Sisley and Mary Cassatt (one of numerous American painters taken in by Giverny’s embracing arms). Once a port in the storm of cruel capitalism (which was really making a go of it as the Industrial Revolution came to dominate over all facets of life in the same century as Impressionism), even those starving artists who had not established themselves at a “Monet level” were allowed the luxury of trading their paintings for lodging and food. This was thanks to the patronizing spirits of the hotel’s proprietors, Angelina and Gaston Baudy.
A crow cawed ominously overhead and, all at once, Frédéric laughed to himself as he stood outside the increasingly ancient edifice with the girl who had dragged him to Giverny, of all places. Merely because he had fallen prey to believing in the trap of a “unique business opportunity” she had told him about in the nearby town of Rolleboise. A twenty-ish minute drive to Giverny—or what Céline viewed as “too close to miss,” “a stone’s throw,” etc. How could they not have lunch there in between this petit endeavor at moneymaking? Logic befitting someone who rarely worried about losing their bread.
Of course, Céline would benefit if she could cajole Frédéric into this exciting chance to be “a part of something great.” All vagueries (not vagaries) that did little to assuage Frédéric before he woke up at eight a.m. to catch a train to the Rosny sur Seine station, where Céline promised she would be waiting to pick him up “right on the dot.” Obviously, being a semi-socialite and classic good-time girl, she was a full hour and a half late to collect him, whilst Frédéric was left twiddling his thumbs and wondering why he didn’t just stay in bed an extra hour when coming across as “professional” was clearly unnecessary in a circumstance such as this. A circumstance confirmed when he was finally brought to the so-called “space”—a dilapidated former apartment building that Céline’s friends wanted to turn into an “arts center.” Sort of like the Anna Delvey Foundation but on a much cruder scale. Céline wanted Frédéric to get in bed with her friends on this “project” because they desperately needed help from someone with actual work experience in the arts. Seeing the “venture,” however, Frédéric could only sum up that Céline’s friends were classic products of rich parents: they had no idea what a good investment was, and had spent Mommy and Daddy’s money profligately. All based on a passing whim they were currently billing as their “artistic” pursuit. Céline was only peripherally involved as some kind of “head hunter,” seeking out different people to spearhead “specialties of the space.”
So far, it appeared Frédéric was the only sap to take the bait, with Céline suggesting that he offer, in some capacity, his talent as an art teacher. Frédéric, who had already sacrificed far too much of his time “teaching” others how to draw and paint (despite his belief that artists could not be “made”), wasn’t at all keen on the idea. Yet, because Céline knew the power of dangling her pussy before Frédéric, she also knew she could get him to concede to at least accompanying her to look at this godforsaken ramshackle in the middle of nowhere. So in the middle of nowhere that it wasn’t even in Giverny. She would also drive him back to Paris, she promised, as a way to sweeten the “offer”—which also came with lunch and a blow job. Not in that order. In fact, the only thing that was keeping Frédéric from totally losing his shit over having to stop off in Giverny—where she wanted to have le déjeuner, in addition to unwittingly subjecting Frédéric to what was, for him, a trauma epicenter—was that he had been freshly blown in the parking lot. Had he not been given that relatively minor release, he wasn’t so sure that he would be standing on both feet right now, as Céline dragged him up and down the same and only stretch of road for thirty minutes in the vain hope that something they hadn’t noticed before would miraculously materialize and also be ouvert.
As they “circled back,” so to speak, to the end of the road where Hotel Baudy still remained after centuries, he thought of her. Julianne. She was the one had made him aware of Giverny. Brought him here to “teach” him something about art’s history that he ought to have already known about. Hotel Baudy was established around roughly 1887, and presently, here it was: a “novelty” posing as a restaurant. Or maybe a restaurant posing as a “novelty.” Either way, profits were being made off the idea of being “close to genius.” As though one could soak it up for themselves by being “near it” long enough. The historical energy still allegedly permeating the vicinity. Just as Frédéric’s own relationship history still was. He said nothing to Céline about it, of course, insisting that his bad mood related to a painting he was working on, and one he couldn’t seem to get right with regard to what he saw on the canvas versus in his mind’s eye. It wasn’t too far from the truth in some respects, for what he saw in his mind’s eye right at this second—having lunch with Julianne in a crowded restaurant all those years ago at the beginning of August—was at total odds with the portrait of desolation currently embodied by Rue Claude Monet, not to mention the vexing company he was keeping. Nothing like Julianne, douce Julianne.
Céline was a philistine through and through. And the worst kind, to boot: the kind who believed she was endlessly knowledgeable about every subject, topic, historical figure, etc. Indeed, she was prattling on about Monet’s finances and how some artists had a better head for numbers than others when, at that exact instant, Frédéric could have sworn he caught a glimpse of Julianne, wearing the exact floral-print A-line dress she had on the day they came here. He did a double take, rubbing his eyes and then opening them again to see nothing as he slowly approached the same corner he thought he saw her disappear into. No one was there. Nary a soul was in Giverny today. In truth, he would argue that he was the only soul, what with Céline having sold hers long ago. And yet, he felt her presence. Some spectral lingering of her memory and what they shared together on that carefree August day, when their relationship was safe, and they both felt as though they had the rest of their lives to spend together. Frédéric never would have guessed that, just a few short months later, she would be on her way out the door. On to “greener pastures” outside of France. But like, literally greener pastures on the border of Germany, where she said she wanted to take a chance on an arts residency that could be “career-changing.”
Frédéric despised “artists” using the word “career” when talking about their art. It was a major trigger and sore subject for him. Also a red flag. That Julianne could turn out to be one of those types of “artists” greatly disturbed him, and he said quite a lot of rude things to her as she packed, including telling her all about what a fraud and a phony she was, and that she ought not bother contacting him again if this was the “artistic path” she was pursuing. The insults he hurled greatly upset Julianne, for she had perhaps been foolish enough to think he would actually be happy for her, encourage this potential success gleaned through the residency. When it was over, naturally, nothing had changed. And any “connections” proved insignificant in terms of catalyzing some grand “shift” in her life from aspiring artist to full-stop Artist. But she took Frédéric’s advice and decided not to reach out to him when she returned to Paris six months later. Frédéric had only heard loose talk of her emergence, as though she was a mythic creature that only other friends and acquaintances had managed to see.
Defeated and dazed, he leaned his back against the wall of Hotel Baudy, staring at the nothing view in front of him. How could any artist be inspired by this shithole? he asked himself. Maybe only a true artist could be inspired by such banality. And he wished, more than anything, that Julianne was with him. He just knew that she could provide an explanation for the how and the why of art. Its strange mechanics and lack of rhyme or reason. Instead, his yearning was interrupted by Céline, demanding to know if he wanted to try another neighboring town and see if something would be open. He forcefully declined, announcing he had a pot of soup at home, and that he would rather eat that than continue on this fool’s errand.
Céline (nor her friends) didn’t reach out to him afterward about any “subsequent steps” for the “space.” He assumed it either never came to fruition, or he simply didn’t seem “hooey” enough as an artist to be what they were looking for. Then, almost a year later, he read about Le Grand Espace d’Art opening under the management of one, Julianne Malgrève. How Julianne might have ever come into contact with the likes of Céline was beyond him, but he reckoned it finally had something to do with those “residency connects” that Julianne had been counting on all along when she decided to abandon him. It was no matter now—it’s not as though he would ever go to Rolleboise or Giverny again. The only art and art history he wished to “absorb” at this juncture was painted in smeared shit along the cobblestones and sidewalks of Paris.