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Dining with Monet

Ariane Cauderlier

Gail Peck is currently writing a manuscript of poetry on the lives of artists Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. These recent poems were inspired by the cookbook Monet’s Table.Monet’s World                                                                                       

China plate balanced against the wall,
compote of peaches ripe for eating
or to make a pie.  Sliced melon on
a saucer, luscious orange
and texture of rind.  Green grapes
good to go with cheese.  Cellared wine to open.
Escape the house into a breeze that lifts
the tablecloth and stirs the leaves.
Summer’s abundance, picnics on the lawn,
and where to find a better garden?
The children play hide and seek while
grownups sit, and if the sun weren’t shifting
it would seem all time had stopped.
A slice of tart still tempting.
Soon dust and shadows settle—
hard to tell what’s real except by knowing
where the weeping willows stand
beside the pond, how their branches brush
the bank, the bark he paints alive with pink. 


  A Day at Giverny

At daybreak, breakfast was sausages, bacon,
eggs, toast from crusty bread, marmalade, half-moon
of stilton in a dish shaped the same, and tea.
Then Monet and his stepdaughter, also a painter,
would head for the countryside or the green studio-boat.

Lunch precisely at 11:30, on the blue
Japanese china, and if guests were coming
it would be at this time.  Dinner at 7:00,
for the master of the house retires early
and is frustrated all the next day should his schedule vary.
If his American son-in-law, who eats slowly, comes for lunch,
the butler is ordered not to serve each dish twice.

The table set three times a day, a vase of bee-orchids,
or clematis floating in a bowl.  Alice will consult
her husband about menus for the week—
baked calves liver, marinated haunch of venison,
mussels with fresh herbs, and if Whistler is coming
it will be pigeon stew.  If rabbit, Monet insists on wild hare.
Delphine irons the linens, Sylvain chooses the wine.
Outside, the gardeners plant and trim.

Monet must capture the ever-changing light, dressed
in a straw hat, overcoat and pegged britches, his beard
now white.  Forever reaching for the sky that will reside
in the pond, and water lilies floating on clouds.

Credit Ariane Cauderlier / giverny.org
The dining room in Monet's home.

  Monet’s Table

To walk through the profuse gardens,
barely a pathway—much of what he painted—
lilacs, wisteria, and the rose arbor I find
sentimental, the obsessive lilies blooming in the pond.
Cantankerous Monet, who controls everything
except the day’s light, in his green boat complete
with easel, surrounded by still water.

Better to sit at the table covered with linen,
yellow-bordered porcelain with blue edging.

                    Mushroom Paté
                      Oyster Soup
                   Duck with Turnips
                  Strawberry Mousse

The cook, ever aware of timing, the ebb and flow
of conversation, knowing the mousse, which is baked,
must be served immediately.  I romanticize.  Unpredictable Degas,
Cezanne’s temperament, all the topics to avoid with Rodin,
late as usual.  Yet, to be in such company, Isadora
as exotic as any centerpiece.  Madam Monet, amused,
but always aware of her husband’s eyes.  All this
before the war, Monet decanting champagne as if
it were ordinary white wine, and everyone toasting the future. 

These poems originally appeared in Alimentum: The Literature of Food; reprinted by permission of the author.

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