Day Trip from Paris
Remember when I took you on an unexpectedly adventurous journey from Pontoise to the outskirts of Auvers sur Oise? And I promised you: no more bad surprises?
Today, I am going to keep that promise.
The Auvers-sur-Oise Van Gogh knew
The first thing you will notice when crossing the bridge into Auvers sur Oise is that it looks like the kind of French village that, deep in your heart, you have always felt a French village should look like. It feels as though nothing had changed since, say, 1890.
I am not pulling that year out of my hat. 1890 was the year when a penniless and mentally unstable Dutch painter arrived here, stayed for a couple of months and then killed himself.
It’s a safe bet that his arrival went largely unnoticed and that his passing did not create much of a stir either, but for Auvers sur Oise, nothing since has ever been quite the same.
That painter was, of course, Vincent van Gogh.
How does a small, rural backwater like Auvers-sur-Oise deal with the status of a global celebrity?
Incredibly well, all in all.
On the one hand, they have kept the place firmly anchored in the 19th century, at some sacrifice, surely: just think of all the possibilities of crass commercialization.
But on the other hand, they – discreetly and unobtrusively – make sure that the visitors get to see everything they came for – the Auvers sur Oise van Gogh knew The staff in the tourism office are friendly and helpful. Signs direct you to all the places where van Gogh spent some time during his stay in the village ….
… such as his favourite bar
… and Dr Gachet’s asylum…
… the stations of Vincent’s cross, one might say.
And, of course, to the motives for his paintings.
You can see yourself how little has changed over 120 years. A visitor simply cannot expect anything better.
A visit to the local cemetery, a few minutes out of the village centre, is in many ways the most poignant part of the trip:
Vincent and his saintly brother Theo, side by side in the simplest of graves.
I had seen the grave on photographs, but was, somewhat to my own surprise, still touched by the deep underlying sadness of it all. I was also unaware that Theo was the younger brother of the two, and that he was only 31 when he died, one year after Vincent.
In a more merciful universe, he might have lived long enough – it would have taken only a little over ten years – to experience his brother’s rise to global fame.
That would have been the scantest of rewards for his superhuman patience and fraternal dedication. But, of course, it was not meant to be.