THREE PARIS 1937
A sea of scarlet flowers and rising from it, the tall goblets of tulips; their brilliant orange colour made it look as if it had been painted onto the ruffled petals.
‘Oh how lovely!’ Isabelle stooped and picked one of the velvety, deep red blooms. ‘And what a wonderful scent…like honey and Parma violets.’
Klara sighed. ‘One doesn’t pick flowers in a public park. They’re intended for people to enjoy.’
Isabelle laughed. ‘But I am enjoying them.' She linked arms with her friend. ‘Now Klara, you’re the clever one, tell me the names of these flowers.’
'Well, those are wallflowers, hyacinth over there and pansies. These are tulips, come on, Izzy, you must know what tulips look like.’
But Isabelle wasn’t listening she broke away and stood in the middle of the path, her arms spread wide. 'Look at us! Just take a look at us! Strolling in the Tuilleries garden. Can you believe it?’
Everything was a drama for her, Klara thought. She should have been an actress.
A white-capped nursemaid pushing a pram eyed her in surprise but Isabelle took no notice. ‘I never thought Mother would give in and let us come to Paris. She’s just so strict, you’d think she’d never been young.’
They walked on. Klara began to make up a story in her head of two young, American girls abroad for the first time in their lives. What words would she choose to conjure the heady sense of freedom, the delicious sense of no one knowing exactly what they did? She wondered what darling Colette would make of them. Would she have them embark on some education sentimentale? Ever since she had read Cheri and seen the photograph of the author with her beautiful dark eyes, she had made up her mind she must talk to her. See for herself the creator of those lyrical stories. And now with a commission from the New York Herald Tribune, she surely had a chance.
They arrived at the Great Pond and stood staring into the water. Klara considered their reflections: Izzy, tall and slender, dark hair half hidden by a dear little hat, she shorter, sturdier, sun glinting on her blonde pageboy.
‘The sensible one,' Izzy’s mother called her and remembered the older woman’s anxious expression. ‘I am only allowing her to go on this trip, Klara, because I know you will keep her on the straight and narrow. You are to stay strictly to the itinerary, promise me you will not stray from it and, on no account, must you go to Giverny.’
And she had promised.
A breeze ruffled the surface of the water and she pulled her jacket closer around her, it was only April, after all.
Izzy shivered. ‘Oo, it’s chilly!’ She wore a frock in dusky rose with tucked sleeves and a wide pointed collar. The bodice ended in a peplum around her slim hips so that it looked like a two-piece. It was actually a frock with a softly flaring skirt. You had to be tall and slender as a willow to carry off a peplum, Klara thought enviously.
‘Look at you with those short sleeves, no wonder you’re cold,’ she scolded. ‘You should have brought a jacket.’
‘I know but I couldn’t wait to show off this frock.’
Just like her mother, Klara thought, fashion came way before practicalities. She opened her Baedeker. ‘I know, let’s go to the Musee de l’Orangerie, it’s just over there. It will be warmer inside and we can see the Monet Water Lilies panels.’
‘Swell idea. Let’s go.’
They turned their backs on the city and, it seemed, entered another element. Two oval shaped rooms, sparse and plain, each hung with four great panels. Moving round them, Klara had the impression they were indeed underwater. They had crossed the threshold into the world of the water lily. It was as if they gazed down on the rafts of blooms into the water itself. What surprised her was that the rooms were deserted; they were the only visitors there.
‘Magnificent, aren’t they?’ An elderly man had entered silently and stood gazing at the vast canvasses.
Klara ignored him but Izzy flashed a wide smile.
‘Just too wonderful. I’m only surprised we are the only visitors here.’
‘Ah yes, unfortunately.’ He spoke with an American accent. ‘You see, young lady, like all things there is a season, a time of approval. Impressionism has gone out of fashion. It’s all modernist and cubit art now. Mr Matisse and Mr Picasso have taken centre stage.’
Klara shook her had. ‘Can’t say I like them much. We saw them in New York, didn’t we, Izzy? But these are real beautiful.’
The man chuckled. ‘You think so? You should see the real thing. It takes your breath away. Make a trip to Giverny, that’s my recommendation.’
The air was dank and the sky grey when they came out of the museum. Lamps cast pale pools of light on the pavement. Klara remarked she would like to go to the famous café of writers, the Flore. ‘We might see Hemingway, who knows?’
They plunged into the Metro and emerged in Saint Germane de Pres. Inside the café, there were mahogany tables and comfortable red seats but no sign of a bearded American writer. They ordered café crème.
Izzy offered her cigarette case to Klara. ‘I was thinking of what that gentleman said about the real thing, the water lily pond at Giverny. According to Mother, it is a dream come true. She was invited to the house and gardens and she met Monet; he sketched her, don’t you know? When she’s had a coupla drinks she goes on and on about it.’
Klara eyed her friend. ‘Well, you’re not going to see it, Izzy, my dear. You know perfectly well you are not allowed to go there. We have to stick to your mother’s itinerary.’
Izzy stubbed out her cigarette and took up her cup. ‘Klara, this is the Thirties and we are thoroughly modern women. Who cares about what mothers say? I think we should take that gentleman’s advice and go see the place for ourselves.’