By D.J. Wilson-
Glorious sunshine filters through the tall willows as a cool morning breeze softly rustles its bountiful leaves. The whistling of a whippoorwill complements the intermittent sounds of a chirping cricket. I’ve decided to make the most of this picture-perfect day by working outdoors under God’s blue canopy. My laptop, a fresh cup of coffee and two inspiring books surround me. I’d like to share these books with you, where together we may briefly escape to the countryside of France and across glorious seas on a path of adventure.
Book One: Monet’s Table; The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet; Text by Claire Joyes, Photographs by Jean-Bernard Naudin
I discovered this gem quite by accident while perusing books in a local farmer’s market and proudly added it to my collection. Though possessing an air of mustiness, the hard-covered book has become a cherished treasure upon my bookshelf. The book is wonderfully written by Claire Joyes, wife of Madame Monet’s great-grandson. It focuses on the turn-of-the century lifestyle of one of the most influential Impressionist painters of the world, Claude Monet. Joyes explores the deeply personal side of Monet and details aspects of his life at Giverny, France. At his famous house in the beautiful French countryside, Claude Monet and his second wife Alice enjoyed entertaining many friends, including leading fellow Impressionists like Rodin, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and many others. After visiting Monet’s studio and greenhouses, guests were promptly served lunch at 11:30. Alice took it upon herself to learn the culinary likes and dislikes of guests and caringly arranged the deliveries of fresh vegetables from their kitchen garden. Following lunch, afternoon tea was often served outdoors near the pond or beneath the shade of the lime trees. The exterior of the home is known for its beautiful stone-walled garden and Japanese bridge. The richly green Normandy landscape is deliriously inviting, abundant in colorful flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. In the summer, vibrant nasturtiums delightfully overflow onto the path leading to the front door. Lovely afternoons were spent by Monet and guests strolling along the paths of the water garden and crossing the Japanese bridge. Visitors enjoyed the beauty of the blue-leaved water lilies of the pond, the house hidden beneath flowers and vines, and Monet’s spectacular Japanese peonies. It’s easy to understand why Giverny became Monet’s haven and inspiration. In his house, with its delightful yellow dining room and blue-tiled kitchen, Monet indulged in comfort and good living. Fine porcelain, bordered in yellow and blue, was sparingly used on special occasions and for important company. Readers will enjoy the many photographs inside the book and delight in intriguing stories and photographs capturing Monet and the spirit of Giverny. Discover Monet’s paintings nestled throughout the book, such as Luncheon on the Grass 1865-1866. Learn of his favorite recipes, shared and re-created in Monet’s own kitchen by Master Chef Joël Robuchon. The author carefully selected Monet’s favorite recipes for readers to prepare in the comfort of their own homes. I plan to attempt a few recipes, including, Entrecôte marchand de vin (Broiled steak with wine sauce) and Palets au meil (honey cookies) to serve with tea. Today, Giverny is open to the public. The beautiful garden grounds are enjoyed by 500,000 visitors during the seven months it’s open, with tours of the house available. Located west and slightly north of Paris and 50 miles outside the city, it is a must-see destination when in France. Visitors may walk the side alleys and around the garden and enjoy views of the Japanese bridge covered in wisteria. For those of us unable to travel to the French countryside, Monet’s Table invites readers to intimately know Monet and take a soulful journey to his table amidst rousing gardens of fresh vines and rambling roses, through the pages of the book.
Book Two: Around the World in 80 Years, The Oldest Man to Sail Alone around the World – Twice! By Harry L. Heckel, Jr. with Florence Heckel Russell
If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further. Harry Heckel Jr. is your man. Join Harry, the oldest man to travel alone around the world twice, on a heart-pounding, nail-biting adventure. His journey begins at the “advanced ages” of 78 and 89 aboard his sturdy sailboat Idle Queen. Presented in travel memoir format, readers will sail with Harry as he circumnavigates the globe twice, visiting 54 countries and islands. Despite gale storms of rising winds and turbulent seas, Harry proves his strength of spirit facing nature’s adversities. Eight days out of Port de Galets, Harry readies to corner the south end of Madagascar and runs into an easterly gale at nightfall. The barometer drops as he prepares the boat. During the night, a loud crash abruptly awakens him. Harry writes “Idle Queen quickly righted herself, but for a moment, I was too scared to move. Crockery and glass from the galley littered the cabin. Sea water poured in and around joints in the washboards and soaked the cabin sole before running off into the bilge. A heavy book just missed my head. I waited until my heart slowed, then rolled out of the bunk. I stepped into my shoes, unmindful that shards of glass might be embedded there. Thoughts rushed through my mind. If the rigging, the outboard rudder, or the tiller were damaged, this was a desolate place to seek help.” Harry encounters many other adventures at sea, including a possible stroke at the end of voyage one and starvation during his second voyage. Rough seas, storms, isolation, heavy sea traffic, the threat of pirates and an actual attack from a 100-foot trawler weren’t enough to deter Harry from his love of sea. The sea-worthy Idle Queen delivered him to exciting corners of the world, where he spent a greater portion of his time on land rather than at sea. Harry sets forth to explore and experience an abundance of cultures. “From the Killing fields of Cambodia to the Great Wall of China, from a safari in Kenya to bird watching in Japan, this Ancient Mariner soaked up the best and worst of each place he visited.” I am particularly moved by his impressions of destinations to which he traveled. Harry shares “I passed a hot, dry, Southern California-type summer in southern Israel. The coastal plain is farmland: citrus, peaches, grapes, vegetables, sunflowers, hay and cattle. About halfway from the coast to the Jerusalem hills, sparse, scraggly pines begin to rise. The area around Jerusalem is steeply hilly, rocky and arid, with only a few patches of medium sized-pines. Red mimosa trees decorate streets in the towns.” Readers will appreciate the camaraderie amongst yachtsmen and celebrations when marine friends are reunited at port. Sailing provided the opportunity for Harry’s family to visit him all over the globe. His granddaughter, Martha, joined Harry on a four-week tour of Southeast Asia. She shares her grandfather’s keen descriptive abilities. “On the way to the ferry slip in Langkawi, we passed car dealerships from all over the world, shanty homes made of bamboo and tightly woven rods, rice paddies and water buffalo, rubber plantations with buckets attached to tree trunks to catch the latex, and more restaurants than I could count. Not so very different from home, less and more at the same time. Less stuff, more poverty.” While many of his land adventures were safe, Harry encounters danger and finds himself in troubled situations. A great example occurs when Harry is in Nairobi. “At lunch there was an air of excitement. At 1030 that morning a terrorist bomb had exploded at the American Embassy. I didn’t realize that my taxi route to the train station after lunch went past the embassy. As the building came into view I stared nervously up at its empty windows. A huge crowd filled the streets. Their low murmurs sounded like a horde of bluebottle flies. Broken glass crunched under their feet. The taxi inched forward until the mob blocked our path.” You’ll be on the edge of your seat waiting to learn what happens to Harry and his taxi driver just hours after the U.S. Embassy is bombed. You’ll sail and cheer along with Harry, who proves that dreams may come true at any age.
Both Claude Monet and Captain Heckel occupied their time doing what they loved in unique surroundings. For Monet, it was painting and spending time at his beloved Giverny in France. For Heckel, it was sailing and exploring the world aboard his cherished Idle Queen. A quote by author Greg Anderson comes to mind. “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” Perhaps this was an inherent characteristic of their personalities, for each made the most of living every day to the fullest and shared what they loved to do most with the world.