Auvers is the perfect little town. It’s really close to Paris, but seems like a million years away. There’s a grocery store where you can buy a loaf of bread that’s still warm, a butcher, a baker and several restaurants, along with a drugstore, post office, train station, a tiny hair salon…everything a girl could possibly need. There’s a market with all kinds of fresh fish, produce, cheeses, killer roast chickens and other wares on Sundays and Thursday. The town pretty much shuts down on Monday, which is important to know if you must have milk in your coffee. The narrow roads are lined with villas and greenery. Something about it reminds me of lake Como, without the lake and George Clooney, that is.
But there is the river. L’Oise. It’s at least as wide as the Hudson, but much more picturesque. It winds through trees and villages, looking almost exactly as it’s depicted in countless impressionist landscapes (if you ignore the modern blue building on the Mery sur oise side of the bridge).
I’ve been here over a week and I still haven’t felt the urge to venture into the city—even one as beautiful as Paris.
Technically, this region is the Val D’Oise, but also falls under the category Il de France, which also includes Paris. The area is pretty flat with a few gentle hills and lovely outlooks. Even when it’s overcast, you get a lot of light. And when it’s not overcast, it’s amazing. I can understand why so many painters flocked here. In fact, the scenery probably looks so familiar to me because I’ve seen it over and over in so many books and museums. My previous theory was more romantic—that the familiarity is due to the fact that I lived here in a previous life. Maybe I AM (was?) Van Gogh. We both have red hair. Well, at least for the next couple of weeks I do.
Anyhow, Auvers has an eclectic mix of people. There are old people interspersed with Rasta dudes and musicians and artists and yuppies in from the city. And of course, the people who live and earn their livings here. (or maybe the butcher commutes in from Paris?)
The weekend gets pretty crowded with lots of French tourists here to see the Ville de Peintures. I think I’ve heard one American voice since I’ve been here (and I tried to act French and shunned them). At night it’s quiet.
Apparently, there is a thriving Iranian community. Well, I’m not sure if it’s a community or just a family. But a very famous Iranian Muslim moderate woman (considered an evil Mujahadeen by the Iranian government) lives here. I think I saw her at the grocery store buying bacon (okay, I’m kidding about the bacon.) She smiled and seemed friendly.
It’s been kind of rainy and cold, so I haven’t done the sort of in depth exploring I’d like to yet. I want to walk the painters route both to Pontoise and North. I’ve done a bit during sunny patches and so far I haven’t heard the brisk footsteps of Pisarro and Daubigny behind me, as one book promised. But it is beautiful, and some of the scenery, the subtle changes of color, especially in certain light, IS art. It’s also cool seeing the prints posted beside the sites of the paintings that depicted them over a hundred years ago.
I’ve been reading up on Van Gogh and the Impressionists since they’re such a major part of the town’s history and mystique. Unfortunately, I’ve been trying to read in French, so my learning curve is a little slow. But rumor has it, Van Gogh didn’t cut off his whole ear, only a lobe (or knuckle– as I said, I’m reading it in French) And it wasn’t out of some unrequited love for a woman. He was actually stalking Gaugin at the time (consider the implications!). But he did give the lobe to a prostitute. He “dated” a lot of prostitutes. I imagine they looked like Courtney Love.
Also, I’m starting to think that this Dr. Gachet who was Van Gogh’s (along with several other impressionist painters’) “shrink” plays a shadowy role. He lived and had a “clinic” in Auvers. Up the street in fact. He didn’t really cure anyone, but he sure got a lot of great free paintings. Now that I think about it, he just sounds like a normal shrink. To read more about the curious case of Dr. Gachet, click here.
Also, contrary to what I’d always thought, Van Gogh did not die entirely unrecognized as an artist. In fact, he was starting to receive a great deal of acclaim and couldn’t handle the success, among other things. Sounds like a Kurt Cobain thing.
If it rains again, I’ll go to the Musee d’Absinthe tomorrow. I hope they have samples.
Filed under: Impressionists, travel, Vincent Van Gogh Tagged: | art, Auvers, Auvers sur Oise, budget France, Daubigny, Dr. Gachet, expat, france on a budget, George Clooney, Impressionist painters, Kurt Cobain, lesley stern, living abroad, Musee d'Absinthe, Paris, Pisarro, Pissarro, Val D'Oise, Van Gogh