I know that title is a bit over the top, but I can’t think of anything else that even comes close to what I want to say.
The first time I went to Paris, one of the places I desperately wanted to see was Monet’s home at Giverny, which is about 75 kilometers northwest of Paris.
I expected beauty and I found it. I expected art, and I got it – as if I’d seen every plant, every walkway, every bridge, every leaf, in a painting. I expected a museum but I found a home, one where the kitchen was the center of everything. I’d gone for the art, so I could walk where Monet had walked, what I got was a space I hadn’t expected, but a space that changed the way I saw the world.
I love to cook. I love to entertain. And when I saw that kitchen, I wanted it, craved it, fell in love with it. I couldn’t resist the combination of the colors – yellow and blue, so bright and cheerful and gorgeous! There was the warmth of it, as if the family had just walked out after a lovely meal. And ever since I saw that kitchen, I’ve used it – sometimes consciously, more often not – as a guide to how my space looks. It’s warm and friendly and although it’s not yellow and blue, it feels the same to me.
And whenever I’ve used food in my writing – and I do it all the time, have written books and stories that are really all about food – from Awakening to Inferno to the restaurant in If I Make It Through December or the coffee shop in The Gossip Queens – I have those spaces from Giverny, those pictures – the ones in my photo albums, the ones in my head, the ones in the book I paid way too much money for when I got home – in the back of my mind. It’s been over twenty years since I’ve been to Giverny but I can walk right back into that kitchen without a single misstep. It’s a touchstone for me,
And I think we never know what’s going to change us, what’s going to show up in our writing, in the way we see the world, in how we deal with what’s in our world, because it’s most often not what we expect it to be. I went to Giverny thinking about art and I left there thinking about a life, the kind of life I wanted, the kind of life I wanted to share with my family and my friends. And it’s turned out to be – often – the kind of life I write about. A life where food and wine and the perfectly presented meal and the gorgeously set table are not just for one day a year, but are part of daily life. So maybe that’s why I often write about restaurants, because that perfectly presented meal, that gorgeous table, the wine glasses and the glowing candles, the colorful flowers, and the shining cutlery, and the food presented as if it were art, not just sustenance.
I know this sounds a bit ephemeral, and it feels that way to me, mostly because I know if I examine it too closely, I’ll lose it. So I’m sharing with you a few pictures from one of my favorite books – Monet’s Kitchen – so you can see what I mean when I’m talking about these things and maybe it’ll make more sense to you than it does to me.