Alone on the naugahyde bench. No one else in the gallery. Midwinter in Paris. I’m a student studying Monet’s “Water Lilies.” The wall-size paintings circle me like a wagon standoff in a Western movie. My gaze softens, drawn into the azure waters that embrace the languid lilies. So many hues of blue. Pale robin’s egg, mosaic pieces of shimmering sea glass, bruised forget-me-not petals.
I stand and walk slowly up to the beckoning canvas, looking around the still-empty oval room in the Musée de l’Orangerie. Inside, I am alone in the warm womb of springtime, imagining lotus blossoms delicately perfuming the gallery. Outside, multitudes of frosty crystals blanket the barren gardens of the Tuileries.
Inching forward until my nose almost touches the painting. Does this pond have a scent? Yes, a bouquet of sunlight and sugar tinged with an algae-like mustiness. So close now, my breath meets the canvas. Dust motes gathered on tiny, dried brushstrokes of mineraly oil paint blend with whiffs of piney turpentine.
It is not enough to gaze and sniff. Does beauty have a taste? This pageant of floral sirens blooming in the midst of monochromatic winter is intoxicating. I’m seduced by a kaleidoscope of mossy jades, liquid sapphires, and blushing garnets; enticed into an enchanted realm of dancing and bejeweled water sprites.
Impulsively, my lips part.
My tongue tip snakes toward the water lilies and licks. The paint’s hard ridges are rough—there is no flavor. I retreat, but I’m overwhelmed with the desire to taste art. To be art. To not be separated from beauty, but to dive headfirst into the blues, lavenders, and pinks of the painter’s symphony.
Lingering in the pond of Monet’s ode to eternal spring, the cool waters swirl inside me, the lily pads bump against my interior; I move like blue water; I feel the pastel petals shimmer on my skin. The translucent blossoms rise from the pond on their emerald stems and unfurl in my heart.
I like this new way of being art. Tomorrow: the Rodin Museum… .
This story was inspired by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, at a writing workshop. She prompted us to write for ten minutes about a time when we went too far, or about an object or action that we were reluctant to include in our stories. Hence—my confession.
Paris is also where I first uncovered my desire to experience a place through dance interpretation (not just tasting and licking art but dancing with it.) This happened at the Rodin Museum. You can read about it in Rodin Woke Me Up.
For great current Paris travel tips including dance and music venues, read my story Perfect Paris—My “A” List For Music, Bistros, Museums, Neighborhoods.
You might also enjoy my dance video post of Lil Buck dancing with Picasso in the Luis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris.
Licking Monet is included in my latest book Wild Life: Travel Adventures of a Worldly Woman