"Oh, wow," I said, "That's one place I would love to see, Giverny and Monet's Gardens. I wanted to go on that trip with you so much. Only in my dreams, or the middle of winter, I suppose. I wonder how the gardens would look then?" I said, laughing.
As she handed me the photo album, she said, "Next time I come I will bring my finished scrapbook. But for now, frankly, Wanna, I'm really anxious to see if you notice anything um, different, about these particular photos taken at Giverny." She looked slightly embarrassed. "I just want somebody to believe me."
"Believe you? Hmm," I said, glancing quickly through the album, which included some finished pages and several loose photos. "Well, they're all just what I would've imagined."
I looked up. "Believe you? About what?"
"You don't see him?" she asked, pointing to a photo on one page.
"Him! The frog!" she said, looking around to see if my husband was in earshot. She said in a hoarse whisper, "I talked to a frog who's lived in Giverny since before Monet built his gardens!"
"No kidding!" I said, smiling. "Well, I hear tortoises get to well over 100 years old, but frogs?"
"Yes! I heard it directly from him. He's been there ever since Monet diverted a stream to water his gardens. Monet may have been a great painter, but according to that frog, the famous painter wasn't too well-loved by his neighbors when he did that."
"Well, I'll be darned," I said, "I didn't remember that. Maybe I read it somewhere, but ...."
She shuddered slighty. "Never had such an experience in all my life. I think I've been around you too much; something is definitely rubbing off on me!"
"Pat," I said, "Take a load off your feet and tell me all about it while I get our coffee."
"Well," she said, leaning back comfortably, head on the arm of my love seat, arms crossed on her middle. Her voice drifted into the kitchen where I was getting the mugs down from the cupboard, "It began when I snapped a picture of the famous bridge....
"I noticed this man peering down, so, naturally, you know how people are, I walked over to see what he was looking at. When he saw me, he turned beet red and backed off with what seemed like embarrassment. I couldn't imagine why he was acting that way until I looked more closely."
As I entered the living room, she took a deep, shuddering breath. "And there in the water on one of the lily pads was a frog in a beret, just standing there with his painting gear, looking off toward the edge of the pond. I grabbed a quick shot, hoping I captured him."
"Sure," I laughed, almost spilling the coffee as I placed the tray with our mugs and a plate of cookies on the coffee table. "A frog in a beret! What else would a frog in France wear but a beret?"
She turned to look at me, frowning. "Now, are you going to take this seriously or not?" she asked.
I cleared my throat and composed myself as I reached for a cookie. "Of course," I said. "Go ahead; tell me. I'll be serious."
She handed me the photo. "There! See what I mean?"
I nodded, peering at the photo a second time. "Well, I see a man looking down, all right."
"Okay, then! Now look at the picture after the bridge one. At the edge of that cluster of lily pads. See anything?"
I set my cup on the table and leaned so that the light from the window fell on the picture. I squinted. "Well, it's not too clear but I do see what looks like some kind of little brownish blob."
"Aha," she said, "That's when he lifted his painting case onto his shoulder."
"Maybe I should get my glasses ...," I said, looking around, then turned back to look at her suspiciously. "Why would he do that?" I asked.
"Well, how should I know? All I know is he did; it was like he was balancing it there, thinking about where he was going to set up his easel or something." She reached absently for her coffee mug and sipped, a faraway look in her eyes. "Then he jumped to another cluster of lily pads. Look at the next picture."
"Hmm," I said. "Well, it's hard to tell. You know, those flower stems sort of ...."
"Go on to the next one," she said, waving her hand at me. "Maybe you can see him more clearly there."
"Pat, I hate to say it, but your pictures are a bit blurry ...."
"Oh, I know that! Of course they are, because I was hopping like a fool, trampling those carefully tended plants, trying to get a shot. You can't imagine how frustrating it was, trying to capture that damn leaping frog. I mean, my adrenalin was flowing like you wouldn't believe! I was thinking even National Geographic wouldn't have pictures like this! Look at the next one."
She sat up. "There! See, right in that first cluster. Don't you see him? He's leaping!"
I peered more closely, picture almost under my nose. "Well, .... maybe I better go get my glasses."
She took a long gulping drink of coffee, clearly agitated. "I can't believe you can't see him. It's clear as day; a frog wearing a beret and carrying a leather painting case and a walking cane and paintbrushes under his arm."
I sat back, arms folded. "Pat, you are my friend and I've known you and trusted your judgment forever, but ... well, I don't see anything that looks like a frog in a beret! Are you sure you didn't have a glass too many at that wine tasting on the cruise boat? "
It was clear that she was getting upset with me. "Of course I didn't have too much wine! Have you EVER known me to have too much wine?" She looked totally flustered.
"There's more here in my purse that I didn't put in the album. Let me get them," she said, rummaging through her handbag. "And go get your damn glasses!"
When I finally found my glasses, she handed me another photo. "You know, when I took this one I had already leaped into the water and other people were starting to notice. The management of the gardens frown on people who don't stay on the paths there, I found out."
I shook my head. "Sorry, but ...."
She sighed loudly and flipped her fingers at me. "Oh well, you might as well go ahead and look at the other photos in the album. I tried to capture some of the flowers but my heart wasn't in it, because I kept looking for him. I thought of so many more questions to ask. " She grabbed a couple of cookies and fell back against the cushions.
"Oh, wow," I said. "Everything looks so lush. What are those, geraniums and primroses?"
"Um, I'm not sure," she said, distractedly, eating a cookie and staring at the ceiling.
"Oh, those are really lovely, too," I said. She just lay there glumly, reaching for another cookie.
"And sunflowers! Really neat. I like the angle of that one."
Lips pursed, she sat up and stared at me, thrumming her fingers on the coffee table. I cleared my throat. "I'm really sorry, Pat, that I didn't see your frog."
"Wanna, go get your magnifying glass! Get those Magic Eyes, or whatever you call those strange things you wear when you are working on minis. Please! For our long friendship and old time's sake!" She had a wild look in her eye and I was afraid she was going to knock our coffee mugs over as she waved her arms around.
"All right; all right. Drink your coffee and try to calm down while I go look for my best glass. Frankly, I don't have a clue where my Mag Eyes are."
As I rummaged through the mini clutter by my chair in the den, looking for the magnifying glass, I could hear her muttering from the living room, "Damn it! Of all people you would expect to understand, somebody who talks to snails and skeletons should!"
"Here it is!" I cried, hurrying back from the den with my best large magnifying glass. "Okey dokey. Let's try it with this."
We began looking through the album again, carefully moving the magnifying glass over each picture, top to bottom, left to right. Finally, ...
"There!" she cried. "See? He's looking right at the camera! That's where I finally caught up with him, over on the other side of the bridge. That's where we had our conversation. He hopped from that pad right over to where those sunflowers were."
I squinted through the magnifying glass. "By golly!" I said excitedly! "Darned if it isn't a frog!"
"Wearing a beret! My gosh!"
She flopped against the sofa cushions, limp as a rag doll. "Well, thank goodness! I was seriously considering visiting an analyst."
"Hey, he has clothes on! Why in the world ....?" I peered at the picture, and then at another one that I had overlooked earlier.
"Well, he said he got used to dressing formally in Monet's day and just never stopped. You know how everyone wore all those high collars and loopy bow ties and the women wore corsets ...."
"A frog in clothes and shoes even! Boy, I bet National Geographic WOULD love to get their hands on these! Look at those paintbrushes! How long did you talk?" I asked in wonderment, as I stared through my magnifying glass. "Wait a minute! You are saying that this frog has been alive SINCE Monet's day? Could he possibly really be that old?"
"We didn't talk all that long. There were quite a few people there that day, and I was afraid someone would approach us. And Katherine was already embarrassed enough at my behavior. And YES, he swore he was that old!
She leaned forward on the sofa. "And hey, do you know the famous Monet painting called The Stroll?"
"You mean the one where Mrs. Monet is there with her parasol in the grass?"
"Yes!" she said, flipping through one of her brochures and pointing to a picture of the famous painting. "That one! Well, my friend Monsieur Grenouille- that's his name, you know - says that Monet got the idea ...."
"You know," I interrupted. "I remember a children's book about two frogs who fall in love in Monet's gardens...."
She did not appear to hear me. "Well, he was quite gregarious and said he's outlived several wives. That was the FIRST Madame Grenouille he was referring to, obviously. He's had a long, long family life. "
"Quite a few offspring, right?" I said, smiling at my own little joke. "Get it? Off - spring?"
"As I was saying ...," she said pointedly, refusing to acknowledge my lack of seriousness.
"He showed photographs that he kept in his valise.
"Now get this! Monsieur Grenouille says that Madame Grenouille liked to wear white dresses.
"And he's the the one who painted the first Stroll as she walked one afternoon, with his eldest son Ferenc in the background! He said that Monet stumbled over his painting once and then a short time later when Madame Monet was going for a walk, Monet told her where to go, and then hollered at his son to come see him for a minute. That's how he caught him coming up the hill. Same identical setting!"
"And you believed that? Good grief, Pat!"
"Of course I believed him! Why not? He had his original painting in his painting valise, too! Kept it for proof. Just look at that picture in the brochure again! Monet even had her carry a green umbrella!"
"Well, frankly, it is strikingly similar," I agreed.
"And not only that. Remember Monet's self-portrait in the boat?"
"Well yes, I do. There it is right there," I said, pointing to another famous painting in the brochure she had placed on the table.
She handed me another photo. "Grenouille gave me this himself. THIS is a photo of Grenouille's self-portrait, where Monet got the idea.
"See Grenouille's signature there? Monet just substituted his own silhouette and claimed it for his own and then signed his name in the corner."
"Oh, good grief, Pat. That is so hard to ...."
"Hear me out. Of course I didn't believe him, either, until I saw the actual painting."
"Grenouille's! His ACTUAL painting of Madame Grenouille and his son Ferenc that I was telling you about! We were hidden over behind that bridge, out of the public eye, and he brought it out and showed it to me. I swear to you! I even touched the raised marks left from his painting knife. "
"Wow! I just cannot believe the luck. And to think I almost made that trip with you. What else did he tell you?"
"Well, that was about it, except that he felt better, having told his story to a human being. Keeping the truth untold all that time has really been difficult, especially with the reputation Monet has gained over all these years. But each generation of Grenouille's family all told him not to bother. Who would believe a frog? they would say.
"And you know what? He told me he could finally die in peace, knowing that someone, somewhere, would tell the true story. And then he hopped away, from one lily pad to another, until he was out of sight. "
She looked thoughtful. "I feel so ... so honored that he told me. The only real reason that he said he chose me to talk to was that he could sense that I had an artistic nature and was - get this - a noble person. Can you believe that?"
"Well, of course, I can believe that. You are noble, and very artistic, but to think that a frog could sense it ...." I shook my head in admiration.
She brought out some more pictures from her purse. "Here," she said. "Since you weren't able to go, I brought you a complete set. Sorry they aren't clearer. "
"Oh, good!" I said eagerly. "I am going to scan these at a high resolution. No telling what details I might be able to see later."
She leaned back in satisfaction. "There now! I have told his story, and you believe me!"
I laughed. "Well, now I do, but at first I thought you were leaping to some false conclusions."
I couldn't stop myself. "And then I realized you were jumping through hoops to make me see him." I grinned at her and she grinned back.
"Hush up and pour me some more coffee," she said, holding out her empty cup. As I poured, she frowned slightly. "And I hope to goodness in the future that it is ONLY you who has these types of adventures." She took a bite of cookie. "This one experience was quite enough for me."
"Well, I would've been hopping mad if you hadn't shared it with me," I replied, placing the loose photos in her album and neatly stacking my set. She just smiled wearily, shaking her head, and then I asked, "Well, how's Katherine?"
And we drank more coffee and chatted companionably about our children and other things as we have done so many times over the years.
And who knew that sometime later when I scanned those photos, I would get such great details so I could tell YOU Grenouille's story! Don't you just love modern technology?
I don't recall where I got the two little resin frogs; they were purchased a long time ago. I thought of them almost instantly, however, when Pat and I talked about her visit to Monet's gardens and I saw her photos.
I began with Grenouille himself and debated about trying to put "real" clothing on him, but decided it was not worth the bother. I repainted his coat and gave him an all-over wash. I made him a tie from black silk ribbon and a cape from lightweight black cotton.
The cape and floppy tie are perfect for the era, but that hat is not! He needs a beret, of course! So, I took my heavy pliers and began nipping away at the brim of the hat.
I made him a beret from the same fabric as his cape, and fortunately it covered the remnants of the original hat nicely. Hey, I like that, he seemed to say!
He originally had an umbrella. I chipped it away, later painting the top to suggest the handle of a walking stick, and decided that I could arrange his paint brushes to show his occupation and help conceal the stick a bit more.
So, first I needed to make the paintbrushes. I formed the bristles by flattening/crushing the ends of some toothpicks with my flat-nosed pliers.
After trimming them to the shapes I wanted, I gave the bristles a wash, painted the handles black, then added a strip of silver to suggest a metal ferrule. Lastly, I cut the brushes from the toothpicks, sanded and rounded the ends and touched them up with the paint.
And here he is with his beret on and the all-important paint brushes.
She was resin, as well, and originally had a pink dress and a white apron, which I painted all white.
I don't recall at this moment what color her bonnet was, but I repainted it, too. This provided the base for creating a dress and bonnet of Monet's period.
I looked through my laces for the dress. One long piece made the over skirt, two little pieces cut from the curved edge made the sleeves, one from that same curved edge made the bodice.
I cut apart a different lace to make her bonnet, gluing this onto the painted original.
I coated the front with glue then fitted the skirt flat across the front, trimming carefully with very sharp little scissors around her hands. The excess was then pulled to the back, trimmed and glued in a back seam. I took a length of the lace and gathered the top and glued that at the waistline for the bustle. I used Stiffen spray to shape the bustle like Madame Monet's, pinning the folds to a pinning board until dry.
The last thing I did was glue a piece of the bonnet lace to finish the top of the bustle. Notice the cut-out rosette which forms the back of her bonnet.
Well, it isn't easy to dress a frog, and very hard to make her pretty, but it was fun.
At some point I had purchased two little shadowboxes at Tuesday Morning. They were designed for a baby's room and had a little high chair and playpen and my original plan was to use those pieces in a project with my granddaughters. Well, that never happened, and I realized one of those boxes would be the ideal showcase for my little vignette. Boy, those pieces were glued in there tightly. I thought I would never get them wrenched loose, and you can see the damage done to the lining where I pulled the pieces out. That didn't matter, because I knew I was only going to glue the background at the sides and not the back, anyway. I did pull the excess away, of course.
Here you see one of the little high chairs, with one corner ripped loose in my efforts. Oh, that's Madame getting her skirts shaped in the background!
My goal was to use Pat's photographs for this special box. Here is my first trial effort using one of the scans of her pictures (I did some photoshopping at the bottom so I would have more water for the base. But the willow fronds look too evenly spaced for my purposes, and I don't like it.
Ah, I like this version much better.
Notice how pale these pictures are? While I was designing the scene I only used the quickest printing. After I decided on the final design, then I printed it out at the very best settings.
I Googled for images of lily pads and blooms. I cut and pasted various images to make a printout.
I cut out various sizes, painting the edges black to cover the white.
Here is another test fitting. I want to showcase Pat's photo as much as possible, but he looks kind of short down there. So, I have decided that I need something tall on one side.
At that point I noticed her photo with the sunflowers and thought, Aha! Thus, the sunflowers on the right, which ultimately point toward the two little frogs.
I glued a small piece of dried floral foam to the right corner, sloping it toward the lily pads. After I glued the sunflowers in place, one by one, I added the foliage. The last stage was to paint the foam with a mixture of glue and brown paint, and then sprinkle on model railroad foam.
I used the bottom of the first trial picture to make the water for the bottom of the box, cutting and pasting so that I would have enough. As it turns out, it barely shows under the lily pads and the sunflowers, but I know there is water there!
By the time I was finished, I had formed quite an affection for Monsieur and The First Madame Grenouille.
A very distinguished couple!
Pat said she would like to have met Madame, as well. Me, too!