Contemplate death and feel a stronger sense of life: an afternoon spent in Auvers-sur-Oise

 

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I’ve always had a great interest in tortured artists. I’m not entirely sure why, but I feel that it has something to do with the fact that there’s a part of me that feels understood by them, the part of me that feels a little lost and always pondering life’s deepest and darkest questions. I find beauty in the way that they bring light to pain, beauty because it’s a natural part of being human and living life. Tortured artists help us to remember that our pain can be used to create beauty.

I’ve always felt intrigued by the works of Vincent Van Gogh, most notably his Starry Night (Yes, I know. I’m completely cliché) and his works displaying the everyday life, painting those everyday moments the way they actually appear, sometimes dreary and sad, the reality of how life can be. It’s not all sunshine and butterflies all of the time (though I like it equally when it is).

That’s why when I learned not only about the beauty of the small village of Auvers-sur-Oise but also about Vincent Van Gogh’s small stay there before his untimely death, I was immediately intrigued and put it on my list of places to go during my Toussaint break.

Only about an hour to an hour and a half north of Paris by commuter train, my friend Catherine and I were able to get to Auvers-sur-Oise using our montly Navigo Passes (those things really are golden) and decided to spend the afternoon exploring the little village and the old places Van Gogh used to frequent.

Though you can cover this little village in about two hours max, we took our time, wanting to enjoy every moment and take advantage of the sunshine.

This little village attracts a lot of tourists and thus has a small tourist office that provides free maps of the village, with all of the Van Gogh points of interest marked accordingly. It was really quite handy. The tourist office is quite close to the train station and is marked by the Van Gogh statue sitting in the Van Gogh park (all of the Van Gogh).

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From there, other points of interest include the Auvers-sur-Oise Church, which is a simple Romano-Gothic church that became famous when Van Gogh painted it during the summer that he lived there. Unfortunately, we did not go inside, but it was quite beautiful from the outside, especially with the sun was shining so brightly.

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If you continue walking past the church, following the signs, you’ll also get to the cemetery where Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theodore Van Gogh, are buried. Their graves were quite beautiful actually, looking hardly touched, like a scene from a movie or a painting. It was difficult to comprehend that I was looking at the very spot where one of the most famous post-impressionist painters was buried. Though I’m sure the village tries to keep them in mint condition to appeal to tourists.

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The cemetery is actually quite close to many crop fields. Walking there you almost feel like you are immediately in the countryside (which I guess you kind of are), and just next to the cemetery are the very fields that Van Gogh loved to paint as well as the very fields in which he shot himself, attempting to take his own life (he died two days later in his home). As I stood in these fields, just after having seen his grave, I couldn’t help but to contemplate what must have been going through his mind to want to take his life at the young age of 37. What was torturing his soul so much?

In a way, I feel like we all have a tortured artist inside of us. We all have demons that we fight against. We all have struggles. I think it’s healthy to contemplate these struggles, especially in relation to death. You might think me morbid. That’s fine, but I must say that contemplating death can help you understand life on a whole new level. Death is inevitable. Death is unpredictable. It can come at any time. Death is a natural part of life. So, why do we fear it so much? I’ll admit that I fear it, too. However, standing in that field where Van Gogh not only contemplated death but felt like he was in such a dark place that he willingly called death gives you some perspective. How can we truly enjoy the beauty of life if we do not first understand death and its role in it?

And, that’s the end of my philosophical moment for the day. haha.

Regardless of the ponderment (is that a word?) of death, however, those fields were really beautiful, nothing but simple countryside, but beautiful.

Other points of interest include Van Gogh’s residence while he was living in Auvers-sur-Oise and the absinthe museum. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it was a bank holiday in France on this particular day (November 1st) as well as the fact that it wasn’t the tourist season or the weekend, both of these places were closed. Thankfully, the village does a wonderful job of having some placards of the information about Van Gogh and his time spent at each of the point of interests in the small village. It was also nice just to see them from the outside and take a look around.

Another great thing about this small village is the fact that it has a castle and an abundance of cats! Though the castle now functions as an art museum and costs more than I’d care to pay for a small art museum, the gardens and the exteriors of the castle are free to walk around in, as well as beautiful. Plus, there’s a castle kitty that just might let you pet her.

From what I understand, the castle never really housed royalty of any kind but apparently functioned as a meeting place of different artists, more specifically different impressionist artists. Who would’ve thought this small little village was so popular back in the day?

Another famous impressionist painter that lived here in Auvers-sur-Oise was Daubigny, which to be honest, before I visited this little village, I knew nothing about him. I still don’t really know much about him, because even though you can visit his former workshop and his former residence, due to it being the off-season and a bank holiday, both were closed (We really didn’t pick the best day to visit Auvers-sur-Oise. haha).

All in all though, it was a beautiful afternoon well spent, especially because the map gives you different points in the village that Van Gogh and other impressionist painters painted, which was quite lovely, as I learned a little more about his paintings and took advantage of a free waking tour.

Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city for a little bit, and it doesn’t even have to be a big, grand trip to another country. It can be as simple as hopping on a commuter train for an hour or so, one of the many benefits of the Île-de-France transportation system.

Sometimes, you just need space to breathe.

 

 

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