This amazing trip just rolls on! The trip to Giverny was wonderful. We said goodbye to James in London and took the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel to Paris Gare du Nord, then hopped the metro to Gare du Saint Lazarre and took a commuter train to Vernon, in Normandy on the River Seine. From the Vernon station we caught a taxi across the Seine and into Giverny, the tiny village where Claude Monet took his family after leaving the chaos of what was then a Paris in upheaval.

It’s odd. I went to a Monet exhibition in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago, just an afternoon killing time during the HPL Film Festival. And I really disliked it. I didn’t care for his water lillies at all. A year or two later, when writing the screenplay for Aaron Vanek’s film The Yellow Sign, I even gave the evil painter character a bitter rant about Monet. And now, at the strange behest of an eccentric millionaire, I’m accompanying my girlfriend to Monet’s home and gardens to pay some sort of tribute.

I’ve never been to France before. Our first night there, we went to a very traditional French cuisine restaurant, a very nice one. We are adhering to this philosophy of travel: “Be frugal. But when you spend, spend big.” So we had a crazy big fancy meal, total French high cuisine, and I decided not to beat around the bush. I went straight for the goose-liver pate and, yes, the snails. Why fuck around? So I ate snails my first night in France.

The experience is, of course, anti-climactic. As Karen said, mollusks and shellfish are just delivery systems for butter and herbs. The snails were surprisingly meaty, if that’s the word, but indeed they were just there to deliver butter and herbs. Delicious as a result, but not inherently so.

The food was great. And oh, I do love the Euro. We have come to Europe during the first tourist season that is exclusively Euro, and speaking as an American, it’s a fine, fine thing. The prices make sense, the exchange rate is pleasant, and the currency is easy to use. Just before we left, $1 U.S. bought about 1.10 Euros. Very easy to deal with.

Giverny was lovely. We stayed in two different B&Bs, as accomodations were tight. When I say this is a small village, I mean it’s in the low hundreds. There is one very small hotel, and a half-dozen or so B&B’s, and that’s it. But the place is beautiful.

On our first full day I left Karen to sketch the village and took a long walk back to Vernon. Most everything was closed. We hit a string of holidays on our travel that have played merry hell with trains, taxis, accomodations, and stores, but on we go. Nonetheless I enjoyed wandering around Vernon, a town much larger than Giverny.

I did find an interesting linguistic problem. I know no French beyond the basic words of courtesy–German was my language in high school and college, though now I wonder what the hell I was thinking. The result is that as I walked around, trying to summon up French words and phrases, all I came up with was German. I even found myself saying “Ja” to people in stores. Mein Gott!

Speaking of Germans and French, our first B&B host said something that almost ruptured me. She was talking about how busy it was and how hard a time people had getting reservations, let alone turning up without them and hoping for the best. “I turned away four or five German couples in one day last week who just showed up asking for a room. I don’t understand it! These Germans just wander all over Normandy and expect to stay wherever they like.” I couldn’t resist a straight line so tempting, and replied that they’d made something of a habit of it, hadn’t they? Went right over her head. But she spent her first 30 years in Australia, so she was not quite a local.

Monet’s house and gardens were lovely, though of course full of tourists. My earlier impression of Monet’s famed gardens as having all the bio-integrity of Disneyland proved more correct than I realized, given the plethora of tourists and the fact that the tour began and ended in the enormous gift shop (once Monet’s final studio). Monet is big business here, which is no way a terrible thing–just amusing in a strange way. I spent a pleasant afternoon sitting on a couch in the gift shop reading a book of Monet’s life while Karen wandered around drawing things.

This has been a trip of reading. I’m on my fifth novel now, having finished Ian Banks’ The Business (enjoyable) and started Carter Beats the Devil, whose author I cannot recall. Prior to that I read number9dream, a British novel short-listed for the last Booker Prize, which promised to be great fun; instead, I came away with the impression that the author was a gutless fuck who couldn’t create a credible character with a troupe of actors and William Shakespeare as a consultant. Really, the book made me almost furious. I try to read books written by writers better than me (and there are a lot of them), so when I accidentally stumble into one written by someone worse, it drives me nuts, especially when it’s one published to considerable accliam. Ah well.

We said our goodbyes to Giverny on what was, of course, yet another holiday, with odd train schedules and everything closed. Do these people ever work?

Back to Paris, where we had an hour to kill. As with Copenhagen, we decided to take a quick trip into the city instead of mooning around the station, so we hopped the metro to the Louvre stop and walked along the promenade past Cleopatra’s Needle towards the Arc of Triumph before catching the metro again at the next stop and returning to the train station. Then on the TGV–which means something like Train Goes Fast–to Geneva, Switzerland.

More accurately, we are in a small village about twenty minutes from Geneva called, I believe, Bogis-Bossey. Here we stay with Karen’s college roommate, Maria, and her three adorable children. Her husband Dan is a senior trade lawyer for the U.S. government and they have been here for the last five years wrangling with the headquarters of the World Trade Organization on behalf of U.S. free trade issues. They’re moving back to the U.S. this summer. Maria loves this countryside and showed us a fair bit of it while driving in from town, but is ready to get back to where they have family and long-term friends. Her son Sean (about 8) missed dinner tonight and had an attack of shyness that prevented him from joining us. After bedtime, Maria quietly said we should move into the living room to talk because she expected Sean to sneak downstairs into the kitchen for a cookie or two to tide him over. Sure enough, his slightly older sister Anne-Marie burst into the room with a book to show us, timing her arrival perfectly–except I was suspicious, and observed Sean speed-blur into the kitchen behind her. Anne-Marie (9) executed a magnificent bluff to ensure that her little brother got something to eat, and no doubt they both went back to bed believing we hadn’t noticed a thing. The sounds of rustling cookie bags in the kitchen was difficult to ignore, but we managed to preserve the illusion of single-digit triumph.

Tomorrow we go off for a day of tromping around medieval towns or somesuch, then Friday we fly to Malaga, on Spain’s southern Costa del Sol, to visit my aunt and uncle for a couple of days.