I had no time to properly assemble the planned Question Time for this week, so here's a "filler" that feels like the right tonic for my frazzled, worn out mind. It's been the sort of week that makes me want to cast my mind to calmer waters, and so I'm casting mine to Les Nymphéas.
I remember the first time I saw Claude Monet's waterlilies at the Musée de l'Orangerie. I was 14. I was more respectful than moved by the paintings, intrigued but just a little immune to the layout in the oval rooms. One of my flaws is my tendency to be sceptical about things people fawn over, and this was never more true than when I was a teenager.
That was 1998. In 2000, the Musée de l'Orangerie closed for extensive works, and reopened six years later. Les Nymphéas were moved to a newly-created upper level so that they could be shown under skylights, as Monet had intended. That, I decided, was an interesting enough reason to pay them a second visit on my trip to Paris last year.
The Les Nymphéas rooms are the first thing you see after you buy your ticket at the museum. You walk across a bridge into the a empty circular room painted white, a room to "cleanse" you of the outside world, we were told.
Entering the first of two oval chambers is like being immersed in water. The most peaceful moments I've experienced are underwater. Walking into the room, I felt the same kind of deep calm. Time slows, the immediate world vanishes. The rooms were quite quiet the day we visited. I stepped into a space of cool, dappled light, diffused through the screened skylights, and we were surrounded by the four paintings that span the room, in colours I seemed to feel rather than see.
Sitting there, looking at the paintings, you have to fall in love with Monet's ambition - to capture the magic of the outdoors he loved so much. No photograph, poster, video etc can reproduce the sensation of being there, invited to sit and admire what he so masterfully caught on canvas.
The second room is my preferred room of the two. Intended to create the sensation of standing on the Japanese bridge of his famous garden in Giverny, the colours are cooler but the feelings it evoke are no less vivid - like you have truly left the familiar physical world, immersed in the sensation of light and air. I'm going to sound terribly affected, but truly, if there was ever a room that could move me to tears, this was it.
Why Les Nymphéas left such a deep impression on me this time round, I can't offer a good explanation. The natural light may have something to do with - previously, in a completely enclosed room on the lower floor, you can't escape the feeling of being shut in. We were also lucky to hit the museum at a quiet hour, and had the luxury of relative privacy.
Or perhaps with the passing of time, I've develop the patience appreciate it better.
You can take a virtual tour here on the Orangerie's website. Or even better, leave it to your imagination, and be surprised.
Happy weekend everyone, and Question Time will be back next Friday.