Tuesday, March 29, 2005

crillon le brave and purple potatoes

Painting of Crillon-le-Brave by Julian Merrow-Smith

Is it all too tempting? The Vegetables too delicious? The weather too balmy? Would you like to eat, cycle, drink and trek your way through this part of the Vaucluse, or simply lounge by a lavender scented pool?

Several people have asked about places to stay here: We know several people who have accommodation and we may even be able to get you preferential rates. Have a look at the links below which range from humble one-person gites to glam houses and hotels. If anything makes you gurgle with pleasure, get in touch with me:
Ruth Phillips
and I can check availability for you.

I will be adding to this set of links and will keep the post up permanently on the sidebar, but for now, here are a few appetizers:

If you want to spy on us, this is the modest-authentique gite of our neighbours, Nadine et Manuel. Manuel is a sculptor and has his own foundry on site. Nadine is a 'formidable' hostess and she cooks a mean foie gras. She also offers 'table d'hôte' (This means she has you and your friends round for an unforgettable meal in her home or garden.)

A lovely house with two apartments and a pool in the medieval hilltop village of Crillon-le-Brave:

Our friend Beverly is an interior designer and has a stunning house in Caromb with quite a few nice artworks (by you know who!) with a garden and a 'bassin'.

Our friends Sean and Lorraine run this lovely chambre d'hote with a pool. Lorraine also hosts cookery courses with Michelin-star chef, Frederic Robert of 'Au Fil du Temps' in Pernes les Fontaines.

....and finally, if it's posh-authentique you're after, try the Relais-Chateau hotel at Crillon le Brave:

meanwhile we are taking an Easter break with friends, flowers and purple potatoes

Sunday, March 27, 2005

easter snog

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Seeing Red - The Passion.

A red painting on the canvas, red chiles in the market, and anger...It is the time of The Passions:

In the past two years the illness and death from Alzheimers of Marcel Bellon, our landlady Ginette's husband, forced her to cede the management of Julian's studio rental to her daughter Michelle. Julian's seven year friendly arrangement with Ginette turned businesslike with Michelle and now, it seems, it has turned nasty. We are angry and it is clearly time to go.

Not without, however, remembering with the greatest tenderness:

Marcel wandering into our house with an armful of flowers he had ripped from Crillonais gardens, asking me desperately if I was his wife and wanting to present his love-token to me; reaching up to hang out Egyptian cotton sheets while Ginette bent over to tend her garden, conversation moving easily between us, across class and culture, in the warm breeze; the umpteenth rendition of Marcel's 'J'étais garçon de café' story; reading (and simultaneously translating from Texan into Provencal) the yearly newsletter from our neighbour Bonnie over Ginette's home made walnut wine; Ginette assuring me we were 'impeccable' when the neighbours retaliated against Bach's fifth cello suite, booming 'chéri fm' at us at 6am; playing for Ginette from the bottom of my heart when she came - despite feeling uncomfortable with the class chasm - to hear me play at a house concert; a room in that house with fluttering blue curtains where a child was conceived but never born ....

Usually I am playing the St John passion at Easter, creating and entering the painful sounds of sacrifice, a ripped veil, of betrayal and of death, and then the joy of rising up, elation and release.

We exhale rather than 'draw' our last breath; In yoga we let go of tension as we breathe out; In music sound comes on the release from inspiration, and in tennis we spring back before letting the ball fly forward. In release there is no resistance and it is the only way to move.

In preparing to let go of the studio our in-breath has been tardy and full of fears but suddenly we are being propelled forward. Apparently it is because of a misunderstanding, but perhaps just because it is time. We are being fueled by anger, but anger is just energy and so long as we do not hold on to it, it can transform and help move us forward. Perhaps it is time for exhibitions in proper galleries. Perhaps things will flow even without the stream of relais-chateau style tourists passing the studio with credit cards. Perhaps things will flow more....?

So, this Easter I would like to say thank you to Ginette for something I can't explain, so deeply is it lodged in my heart. And thank you Michelle, for being the catalyst for us to move out, onwards and hopefully upwards.

And every day, of course, I give thanks for Bach, for teaching me the value of The Passion.

Friday, March 25, 2005


...and while julian was painting these at crillon i was smelling them in the wild on a spring walk along a fairy path.

homecoming take 2

Last night we went to hear Haydn's 'Seven Last Words of Christ' in Avignon. "J'ai soif" gasped the narrator as the rain continued to fall on the papal city......

Of course, sitting in a concert, we drank next to nothing, and on waking this-morning everything was as it should be: Palms of four feet touching; skin cool with the temperature of a thousand springs from wet grass in the cotswolds to the first Himalayan cock crow; shadows of a scalloped roof reflected on chaux; sheets crisp as paper; two lavender blue-grey shutters slightly parted to reveal a slit of Cezanne light, the soft bells of the sheep crossing the mountain and a bird's love-call; a little wet cat nose next to mine and the purr of contentment....

I think the seven last words of Christ, if I understood the french correctly, were indeed:
"Don't drink so much you stupid cow"

Thursday, March 24, 2005

rainy day

They are already rationing water near Lourmarin, I hear, so I am happy it is finally pissing down here - for the prematurely parched earth and thirsty blooms at least, but the timing is rubbish since I am finally home and up for almond blossom tours on foot and bicyclette!

The cats hate it: They go from curly entwining of fur on the bed, tentatively through the cat flap, to the dry place underneath the megane. From here they watch this strange non-Provencal phenomenon: Rain.

Julian has set up violets and an easel upstairs and is going slowly about today's painting.

Yesterday was the last whizz to Grenoble and I am back with the usual assortment of sentiments: Relief, mourning, love, excitement, emptiness, boredom, wife-belonging, little-girl-lost....Julian and I have had our usual space adjustment row (over our neighbour's home made foie gras and a celebratory -why not today?- 1995 bottle of sauternes) about computers at the dinner table followed by a sleepless night.

The prima donna's homecoming is not supposed to be like this.

And yet, is it not these quiet in-between times - of subdued light, emptiness and silence (well, Gillian Welch is playing on the cd, does that count?) - which recharge us if we will allow them? That's what they say, so I am trying (and mostly failing because I am a crap Buddhist) not to fight it.

Mirella's last rehearsal yesterday was full of the wisdom of the rainy day; the breath within the phrase; the 'vergule' within the text. Guiding the actors through their words from the Chartreuse de Parme (on which we, the orchestra, were commenting musically) she explored the comma - the silence - as the place where you grab rather than lose your listener's attention; and the big word - in this case 'tué'- as something which could be more powerful drained rather than full of emotion.

I was reminded of Roland Barthes who says about the violin and cello melody in the Andante of Schubert's first piano trio:

"All I can say is that it sings, it sings simply, terribly, at the limits of the possible. But is it not surprising that this assumption of song to its essence, this musical action by which song seems to manifest itself in all its glory, should occur precisely without the collaboration of the organ which constitutes song, i.e., the voice? It would seem that the human voice is here all the more present in that it has delegated itself to other instruments, the strings: the substitute becomes more real than the original, the violin and the cello 'sing' better or, to be exact, 'sing' more than the soprano or the baritone, because, if there is a signification of sensuous phenomena, it is always in displacement, in substitution, i.e., ultimately, in absence that it is most brilliantly manifest."

The word tué was like this, heartbreaking because of the very absence of emotion.

We can all, I'm sure, live our philosophies more easily through art than through life, but through our art we can at least taste perfection together for a moment; swirl it round our palettes, feel it at the tips of our tongues, and at the backs of our throats. Now the show is over we spit, dash for a train and return to our chaotic lives.

Mirella was working on a line about the Countess improvising on her piano alone at night. The actor's timbre had a a gauzy curtain of romance around it. We thought louvred shutters, long tresses, the tinkling of ivories - all the normal clichés.

"Believe me" Mirella said.
"I have played the piano alone at night, and it is not romantic"

-And she, like the rest of us, returns to her unglamorous life.

Monday, March 21, 2005

audiences and orchids

The first lizard orchid of spring appears ....

A few of my readers have been asking if audience numbers make a difference. I can but give you a few examples:

On Thursday, with the Musiciens du Louvre, the hall was half empty and I couldn't find my way in to the music. The audience' response was damp and muffled. However, a nurse who was present said afterwards that music had saved her life, in particular concerts like these. The concert, despite my own disappointment, suddenly took on meaning for me in retrospect and I remembered that touching one person's life is enough.

On Friday we were playing in the Stendhal University which was responsible for commissioning the project. There were thirty Grenoblais brains (apparently Grenoble is famous for huge brains patting around on tiny legs living side by side with ski-hunks) perched on the seats and they didn't seem to understand that we were simply telling them a story. Did they have too much grey matter? Perhaps they couldn't let themselves be innocent enough....? Who knows. Anyway, despite them, I simply loved playing that day. I was in love with Mozart, Haydn and Mirella, with caressing bow-strokes and buoyant bass-lines, and I just put it out there. For whoever.

On Saturday we were in a tiny village in the Vercors. Mirella, having walked, in her concert black, straight to her father's funeral the previous day, had just heard that her mother was in hospital after an attempted suicide. Her beloved project had been getting very little response up until then, even by the bloody Stendhal University, and it was disappointing. On Saturday, however, we were willing it to be taken to the hearts (which, after all, is the organ from whence it was created) of our large audience. Mirella was clearly finding some relief in the musical episodes and when cheering broke out at the end, it meant more than anything to all of us.

Yesterday, in our little trio concert, I obviously touched a priest (!) but more importantly, all through the concert in the first row, a mentally and physically handicapped child was dancing with me - with hands and head moving in a spiky or graceful manner depending on what he experienced in his sound world - and I played all evening for him. (Sorry Ottonello)

In Peter Sellars' extraordinary production of Handel's Theodora at Glyndebourne I emerged after each performance feeling like I had been in a humanist prayer with the audience for four hours. The silence after this production was coursing with the tears that come with the of release of ego; it was stillness itself.

I have had my fill of ostentatious halls full to the brim, and indeed there have been moments I will never forget. In particular with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, where we all seemed to be joined - from the person in the back row of the audience to the timpanist, to the sixth cellist; all sepals on the stem of Nicolaus Harnoncourt's baton connecting us to the rich soil of Beethoven. Real Conducting.

However, playing in churches in small villages with old men and kids wandering in squinting from a sunlit boules game, where the concert is free and the music a surprise are by far preferable to me these days. To be able to be the first person to reach out a hand and offer Mozart to another human heart....what better job could there be?

And so in conclusion, there is no conclusion. There is ego sometimes and at other (better) times there is not. Warmth is certainly preferable to numbers, though numbers can create warmth. Catching the wide eye of a child or seeing the tear of an elderly person can be enough to open the door into the music, but on another occasion I might become self-conscious. Sometimes it's all there and I feel nothing, and at other times there's nothing and I feel everything. Always, if I can touch one person, it is worthwhile.


I have finally fallen in love with Marseille - just in time it seems, as my chauffeur to the station informed me smugly that they were 'clearing it up'. In addition to building a tramway (top marks), it seems they are also clearing out all the Algerians from the attractively scruffy centre.

What I love about Marseille is that you can be in a souk buying cinnamon one minute, a fish market buying luminous spiked oursins from a stroppy fisher-woman the next and in a gothic church listening to Bach after your apero sipped in the Vieux Port by evening; What I love about Marseille is that it is NOT Cannes, and that it brings - or brought? - some hope that we could all possibly hang out happily together someday sharing our rich and diverse cultures.

Yesterday I had a concert in the Eglise des Accoules. Since I was losing 200 euros by not playing with the mdl and I had to leave at seven from Grenoble, I was not pre-disposed to have fun. However, after my encounter with said oursins, plus glow-in-the-dark starfish, eels and other delicacies on the port, camera-snapping happily away to the smell of seaweed and the sound of people buying their sunday poisson feast, I was practically delirious.

My only disappointment was that for lunch, in an attempt not to have yet another sandwich, I ended up having the worst Salade Nicoise I have ever had in Cafe Ripoffsville in the Vieux Port. Slammed on the table by angry waiters practicing for the tourist onslaught, it consisted of a teaspoonful of tinned tuna and two tablespoons of tinned beans on three leaves in a vat of mayo. And I was pretty much told to bog off as soon as I had finished because I was a lone diner. When I noticed that the girls on the next table were equally unhappy with their shrunken moules and soggy frites, I told the proprieter his restaurant was "honteux".

In my disdainful flurry I left my beautiful new Nikon Cool (no more) pix on the restaurant table, and they surely will not report it to the police because I was such a stroppy cow. It had some wonderful pictures on it too which should have been here....(a flat ochre white-shuttered building with the shadow of a seagull flying across it and a starfish of the same hue) Perhaps that's karma for you.

(George is right. I am the customer from hell! He has insisted that if I ever come to his restaurant in Rhode Island he is going to fly from France for the experience.)

The concert in Marseille was half full and we were feeling rather despondent. It was also, despite soaring temperatures outside, glacial. How people think we are supposed to move our fingers at a hundred miles an hour when they are rigor-mortised with cold, I have no idea. However, we swung, and I noticed that the Madrid trip had crept under my skin as in the La Follia variations I found myself launching a bass-line taut with the clenched sexuality of a trocadero. I think the young Priest Ottonello had rather a crush on me as afterwards he gushed - admitting to not being able to take his eyes off me; claiming I had the face of the Virgin Mary looking at her child (shame about the ass, I say!); saying that listening to my bass line was like walking on a lagoon and that my husband the painter had "such a beautiful model!". (OOOh I love compliments! Especially from priests - the ultimate in unavailable.)

We were invited afterwards to dine on truffle omelette and Chateau Petrus at a couple's house on the (yes THE) Corniche. The hosts were attractive in that well travelled (friendship bracelet from Nepal, Namaste greeting) designer way and apparently their house is just like walking into my favourite magazine-Cote Sud. They had made a spread for fifteen but, since none of us knew about it in advance and were all stuck to train timetables, there was only the dreamy Ottonello and the recorder player.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

le mas des vignes

Last night we celebrated the launch of Shifting Light officially with George and Jo, at a restaurant perched up above the emerging almond foliage of the Ventoux valley - Le Mas des Vignes.

Because it was 24 degrees, I have foolishly put away all my winter clothes and decided that now it is summer and time for the linens. Of course it is freezing in the evenings, it could still snow and the restaurant laughed when I asked for a table on the terrace, assuring me that in March, it is very dark at 8.30.

We have a varied history with the restaurant: Having possibly the most breathtaking terrace in the Vaucluse, it is often somewhere we have been drawn to for a special occasion, whether it be the descent from a long walk, a new commission or to celebrate the arrival of a friend. They have always welcomed us whether it be in shorts, walking boots, posh frocks, or paint bespattered trousers, but we have often been disappointed. The food tended towards pretentious and over-priced and the owners over-zealous - so involved in the theatre of being restauranteurs that they left little room for your own experience of the evening. This was fine if you were in the mood for:
"Voulez-vous deguster mon clafoutis avec les cerises acceuillies de mon jardin a moi?"
chirruped by the proprietress (as she aimed for the vocal range demanded of a drag queen singing Tosca and the body language of Nureyev on extacy.) But sometimes you simply want to be left alone to talk.

Until this year we have preferred 'La Colombe' - to all appearances, Le Mas' poor sister further down the route du Ventoux. There, an honest hard-working Alain cooked honest fayre at honest prices and his wife served charmingly, her north african chaleur increasing with each visit. However, like so many restaurants in the area, they were forced to sell up both the business and their house in St Pierre de Vasssols (which we considered buying). The wife reclaimed her profession as a hairdresser in Bedoin's 'Passion Coiffure' and was to be seen streaking old ladies' brittle sun-bleached wisps, whilst he got a job at a tacky seafood restaurant on the ring road in Carpentras. They were miserable.

Recently we met the wife in Shopi buying cat-food and toothpaste respectfully, and she informed us that Alain had a new job, as chef in the Mas des Vignes. So we decided, to Georges's horror ("Oh no! not their first night! That's so mean!") to book on his opening night and thus show him the gratitude we felt for the many excellent meals he had cooked for us down the road. The son had also taken over from the scary proprietress and her timid husband at Le Mas and it was time for another visit.

It's fun doing restaurants with restaurant owners, especially humorous ones, and Jo and George treat us occasionally with stories fromAl Forno . Last night's titbit was inspired by the snogging going on at the next table to ours, and was of a day when, seeing a couple in her restaurant embarrassingly close to love-making, Jo was forced to reprimand them:
"No dessert for you. Get a room".

It seems like non-attachment to beauty is the theme for spring, and throughout the evening we discussed the similarities within the professions of the cook and the musician; the ability to watch your creation disappear either orally or aurally, like the Buddhist mandala sand paintings blown away as soon as they are complete. For a visual artist this is harder. The artist is not forced to let go of his 'finished' process until it is sold. It lures him back for more tinkering or repels him towards a reactionary canvas. Though more challenging, it is still essential to move away from the objects psychically and start creating afresh. The same goes for websites and in 'launching' shifting light, Julian also has to let it go.

Apart from the weirdest 'amuse guele' (I love these because they are free, and I love the expression which translates as a dishette that 'amuses your gob') of a 'foie gras creme brulee' which tasted like sugar coated leather paste, the food started off very well. Julian had a snail open ravioli and we had scallops with curry and coconut. Both were scrummy. A nice bit of rabbit and polenta (which was enhanced because it had a ton of cream in it) followed, but the eternal fondant or moelleux de chocolat was sweet in a condensed milk kind of way and we left with a slight cloying of the bouche. However, we were still laughing.

And, while laughing, I would like to thank Ruth publicly for her comment on Julian's asparagus, linking our two blogs in one hilarious amourettoid swoop.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

plein air

It's 24 degrees, the birds are all a twitter, the almond blossom is out and plein-air painting has begun!

These are the days to savour without thinking that they will turn into a parched summer; days in which to gaze upon tender shoots and buddings without a care that they will mature and eventually die; days of practice in non- attachment to beauty.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

playing away

(This is my friend Louise playing in our home. Isn't she lovely....?)

More trains: This time towards home, sat in between a woman in pajamas and stillettos, and a piggy man swinging a pendulum in front of his private parts. Perhaps he is divining whether or not to sell them off for 'amourette', or merely guessing if he'll get lucky with pajama lady.... What the heck, it's spring, it's HOT and everyone should be allowed out!

Julian and I have been thinking - about websites for gites and festivals in the vines; about walking tours, paintings small and large; about the fact that this is our wonderful life and we'll miss if I remain in absentia.

Julian has spoken up about his fears (how grateful I am to be married to a man who can do that!) of becoming a bearded old crust in the corner of the studio with the cats licking paintbrushes for nourishment, should I not be around to help make the bridge between the loner and his world. We have considered daily rituals for him to make that connection when I'm gone - a morning walk, lunch in the Bedoin bar and of course setting up the easel in plein air. I, meanwhile, with the liberation that comes with having my beloved entrust me with his feelings, have realized that, however extreme, everything I do from now on must be a building block for a future based at home rather than on the TGV.

To me, three things are clear: The first is that I love playing - playing opens up my heart and my spirit. I have to play, and on the high level to which I am accustomed. The second is that I believe we should be paid handsomely for what we do and that the money is out there. Thirdly, if I am not 'playing away' I need to attract inspiration to me to keep me alive musically.

"Build it and they will come" (said Kevin Kostner floatily but oh so truthfully in 'Field of Dreams'). Julian has built is site. He is now trying to let go and trust that it will bear fruit. - And I want to build a festival. However, I vow never to be the person (and there are many) who becomes lazy in her playing because her festival is comfortably on the doorstep of her Provencal mas, whilst the invitees mutter "Yeah, the place is amazing, the food and wine are to die for but the only drawback is that the old cow who runs it insists on playing". I vow to continue to - as I was once accused by a presque dead desk partner - 'chercher trop'.

As I work through these weeks playing Haydn, Cimarrosa, Rossini and Mozart in snow, mountains, heat and dust, I am meeting many of the good muso folk of the south and building valuable contacts: The principal violist who is desperate to move back down to her family home in Lourmarin, a well known baroque violinist in Caromb, an oboist who lives in a chapel near Montelimar, never sees his kids because he is always on tour and who shares my longing to do the Bach cantatas...and I realize that after this difficult year or two are up I will have a good idea about what might be possible.

(.....oh, and we will both get beautiful and slim and fit, and drink less.)

I therefore propose a low alcohol toast on the terrace which is not yet a terrace, to believing in spring; to new growth (and new shrinking) everywhere!


(.......mmmmmmmmmm. Bring in the glowsticks!)

first night

Tonight was the first night of our show about Stendhal, 'Fabrice et Gina', in Grenoble. There were, despite funky posters all over this rather ugly town, twenty people in the audience. Most of them were from the Musiciens du Louvre Office. Hope they enjoyed our base lines in Haydn, Cimarossa, Rossini et al which, as instructed by our chefesse, we made sure were on a 'nuage' not a 'fauteil'. A friend of a friend in the audience and with whom we drank afterwards said music had literally saved her life so it made it all worthwhile.

During the day I climbed a small mountain (nt as nice as ours)to have a small salad and, surrounded by snowy peaks, contemplate my life and my marriage: It clearly needs some attention but I have lots of ideas. For now, trust me when I say I do not intend to be on tour for this many months ever again because I have found who and what I have been searching for for forty years and they are at the foot of the Mont Ventoux waiting for me to come home.

ps. over dinner, because some poor sod was eating andouillettes, my colleague Genevieve informed me of a french delicacy hitherto unknown to me: 'amourettes'. She described it thus:

"The nerf of the private part of the cochon"


Monday, March 14, 2005

commission notes

Our friendly and patient solicitor is still waiting for his painting barter while the Seasons come around again, quinces turn into boats and soon Brendan's original desire - irises - will be out again for the second time. Meanwhile a website has been born, spring is sprung and the inspiration is flowing. We're on the way up.

Here is Julian's most recent email to B:

Dear Brendan, remember me? I have been, whilst working up to doing your painting, - irises will be out again soon - busy with this new site which I hope will provide the where-with-all to support my dearest wifey. Any way today I did this little sketch for my painting a day site and I was so pleased with it I started a large one of the same (rather than the flowers in a jug that I had planned for you). I thought with your holidaying in St. Tropez an all it might be rather fitting - or perhaps not. Waddya think, does that excite? It is quite large 73x60 and will be worth around £900 if it works out (but I figure I owe you interest) If not then I will do something in the still life/ flowers mode as planned. Course you can make a decision when I have finished it. Lots of hugs j

and the reply:


funny really, I first read that as "nightshift- friday"....funny really.....

web site for the wife - she's got one already, I've seen it. Is this to support/promote her fiddling or are we on to something new and exciting..?
(what is the difference between shiftinglight and stillives...?)

and on to reflections...(excuse me, I didn't do the St Trop bit thankyou...I'm not that common...I have a proper cotton panama....) yes, looks interesting as you say and anticipate I shall find the end result pleasing...carry on would you.

regards to wifey and I am going to try and get to that bloody studio this year....

Bj x

Julian is wrapping up small paintings and I think a spider has managed to find it's way into an Ojai bound package. Special Bonus.

I'm on the way out again after a coffee on our terrace which makes life worth living. Not sure how much internet I will get access to so a bientot.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

don't go

don't go away again mum.

Provencal Big Hair

We have big hair here too, specially blow dried and mistral-swept for the occasion of sitting on a rock.

dining solo

Part of the joy of touring for me is eating out solo. Rather than care if the meal is up to scratch for the society I keep (and, let me tell you, it is high), worry about lack or lose myself in an abundance of conversation, I find it is possible to relax and immerse myself in the experience, both of observing other diners and tasting. Once I have opened my book (which I rarely read) my fellow mangeurs stop thinking I have been stood up and leave me free to take my pleasure. Also, with an open page and my eyes wandering ceiling-ward, I clearly have lofty enough thoughts to distract me from the book.

In an attempt to ban pizzas from my life and eat a healthier diet, I found a Moroccan restaurant in Grenoble bursting at the seams. There I could have a vegetarian cous-cous and thus not mix protein and carbohydrate. With a good sting of harissa on my tongue and a warming soup lapping up the airy grains, I remembered the same on rooftop cafes in Djemma el Fna, and preceding spontaneous dancing in the Sahara, and worked the room with my eyes:

A table of two friends - one couple of whom I can see: He, balding and warty, doesn't stop tale-telling. He seems to be amusing the other two but his wife - dressed in leopard print, boss eyed and over hennaed - is so embarrassed by him she is actually drinking the melted ice-cream in her glass before reaching for too many baklavas.

The couple who have just had a baby: This is their first meal out because she has finally got her figure back. They have no need to talk but they sure know how to coo. Their gaze wanders from the baby floating in the cot to the merguez floating in the soup and back again; they take pictures with their mobile phones and are happy in their baby glow.

The couple who have forgotten how to talk (Oh, haven't we all prayed we never become that couple!): He is at peace with just being there in silence but her disappointment at years of him not communicating puckers her lips and draws her eyes in towards the bridge of her nose. Her fingers drum the table, whilst his rest calmly on his napkin. Occasionally they both look over to Baby Couple and remember a tender fragment of their history.
A woman on her own with a book but not reading: Too underdressed to be on a business trip, so probably some kind of artsy person because she is really going for the food, and What! Wine too?

The happy family: Moroccan parents and children in Saturday best ladling their soup onto their grain from the communal bowl, laughing and talking and making us believe all over again. In love, and in the power of cous-cous.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

on the road again

Taking a quick plunge into the mossy feet of the Ventoux before driving our well fed and marched guests to the station, I picked up a phone message from the Musiciens du Louvre:
"Mirella and Claire's father will probably die this week. He wouldn't let go of Claire's hand. Can you get on the next train?"

(Some voyage, it being a strike day but we won't go into that)

So, I'm back in Grenoble doing a music-theatre project on the city's beloved Stendhal. I haven't met Julien Sorel yet but artistically it is good to be grazing once more in the pastures of gourmet quavers. I'm not sure how the second violins who are chaps respond to being asked to play 'croches fleuries' but they could surprise us.

My friend Louise wrote a text waiting for her severly delayed plane at Marseille:
"...very much approve of your life, house, cats, husband, mountain, light etc. only the mistral needs amendment"
I would add that the touring also needs amendment:
I forgot my royal jelly from the market so will have to start the 'cure' all over again; the diet will have to wait again (though yesterday i had a rice cake and an organic carrot for lunch and I haven't had a pizza yet); I didn't get time to hug my neighbours after their dog was put down; Manon has given up her morning snuggles because half the rim of the hole she makes for herself is missing; I can only see Julian's new boat pic in cyberspace; I will miss the first almond blossom and I DO miss my husband...

This isn't a whinge because I am well and happy. More an ode to the imperfection of a perfect life.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

walkie - talkie

A relatively mac-free few days with friends walking eating ...and 'talking' (what's that?) does wonders for the soul, and indeed the thighs. Yesterday we walked up to the bergerie on the Ventoux where the thyme and pine perfumes were so intense they were almost rude. Today, having been nourished by one of Julian's curry fests which left our chef guests George and Johanne from Al Forno speechless, we walked along the two ridges of the Dentelles de Montimirail. We consumed our piquenique of salami and gherkin sandwiches leaning up against one of the chilly teeth in a razor cold mistral and, crossing over to the second ridge with a good tail wind, we indulged in many more food breaks as suddenly we were in the pre-balmy heat of early spring. We leaned up against the warm white rock munching chocolate whilst sun reddened our winter noses and we could just hear the miniature mountain orchids and irises murmuring about their imminent entry into the light of day. They were accompanied by the roar of the wind chasing us from the opposite ridge. The latter was so loud at times that, closing our eyes, we could have been sitting on the banks of the M25 or on a stormy Cornish sea-cliff.

Sales on Julian's blog of small paintings are - relative to the season - reaching fever pitch and we have experienced a small moment of exhalation as space appears in his head, he stops panicking, destresses, lightens up and starts to relax into the moment. However, it isn't long before something else creeps into the available quiet area of his brain and The New Idea is born.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted!

The New Idea is to put up a website of walks in Provence; to be the Wainrights of the Vaucluse. Given this would mean going for long walks together to time, map, photograph and paint the itineraries, in spring, summer, autumn and winter, I'm all for it, especially if it gets us out and away from computer madness. After all, it was the walking boots that I wore along with the posh frock at the wedding at which we met that really did it for Julian and we have a tradition to keep up.

Back at home Oscar is in love with our guest Ronald. Despite the fact that he is allergic to cats, Ronald has been seduced and spent the evening with an adoring Oscar on his lap. Julian wants to know what perfume Ronald wears.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

mouse in the house

Our guest, Ronald, is allergic to cats but Manon, in revenge for being shut out of her chamber, managed to deliver a very energetic mouse under his door at five o'clock this morning. "Good morning Ronald" it squeaked, but Ronald did not hear.

Aren't Cats supposed to keep the house mouse free? If so, why do ours keep bringing them in from the fields? The last one we found had escaped from the princess and electrocuted itself on the switchboard, but Julian found last night's under a wriggling sock and released it back into the wild through the dogon cat flap. One life saved.....

There has been a chorus of wailing princes serenading our princess through the night. She must have started giving off some pheromonally interesting vibe though she seemed utterly bewildered by their attentions:

"Cor what great fur" - they chorused.
"Please can I go to sleep again now with my mummy and daddy" she replied
"Not till you give us a bit...." etc

They have skulked off now to find some more totty because yesterday we gave Manon her first birth control pill. Our girl on the pill! More than my Mum would allowed me aged ten months.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Dogon Dream

Well, O.K, it is snowing here too. Just enough to powder the crown of the Ventoux, and the mistral is busy blowing it all off. Ha Ha!

I've only been home a week and I'm already thinking about traveling. Not touring. Traveling. To Africa. It's not that I actually want to go now, but when I stop running for any length of time, the dream surfaces.

I went to Africa when I was nine, at the height of apartheid. Near Windhoek my father was kidnapped during his exhibition throughout which he proclaimed the slogan 'Reserved For Everybody'. Meanwhile I, watching women wash their bright clothes in the river, springbok racing and kalimbas being thumbed, was absorbing faces, colours, smells and sounds that would rise to the top of the pile of memory - over and above Nepal, India, Bali and Morocco - throughout my life.

Growing up surrounded by my Dad's collection of Dan, Yoruba and Dogon art I felt particularly drawn to Mali, and one of my most extraordiary possessions is a Dogon sculpture of horse and rider - Animal rising up out of the earth and Man rising up out of Animal. Grounded, reaching towards the heavens, and very very sexy!

Mali has soaked through my skin and flavoured my blood and one day I will have to dance it out. I have had occasional go's (In a state of near trance at a Youssou N' Dour concert I was told I dance like a black woman; I prefer to teach Bach cello suites to a circle of cellists initially on the djembe; the first thing I do when I come home from tour is shake out the fatigue of inertia to Salif Keita etc) but these activities only scratch and thus inflame the itch.

From June till December this year my itinerary (because I am doing the summer period with the Musicens du Louvre) is already solid touring: Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Salzburg, Bremen, London, Lewes, Oxford, Stoke, Milton Keynes, Woking, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Norwich.....I can't exactly arrive home for christmas dinner and say "OK darling, thank you for the foie gras. Now I'm bogging off to Mali."

I say 'I' because, unlike the orchestral gigs that precede it, I am beginning to think it is a journey I have to do solo. I have always put it off - happily agreeing to eastern adventures with my more orientally inclined girlfriends - so I could do The Big One with my handsome prince when I found him. However, the possibility did not occur to me that my handsome prince may not want to spend weeks eating sweet potato and groundnut stew, throwing his hips around and banging djembes, or indeed that he might have a life of his own to lead and a lot of small paintings to sell.

So for the moment my trip will stay a dream if Julian and I are ever to see each-other. We will surely escape a Provencal summer some day, rent out our presque mas to cat lovers, go camping a deux in Ireland or Brittany and catch some good folk music; we will hopefully find the resources to visit my brother in Thailand, his brother in Singapore, my mother in Italy, my best friend near Jerez, his brother in Alfaz and his sister in Wales. Even more urgent is our need to spend quiet time at home here in paradise.

Nothing wrong with having a dream, even an unfulfilled one. Most of mine have come true so far as, alongside djembes and dogon masks, I was also dreaming baguettes, bicycles, sunflowers and not regrettin' rien. However, a word to all you single gals out there, don't put The Dream Journey off till you get The Dream Man!

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Last night we were invited for a 'simple supper' at our neighbours from heaven- Nadine and Manuel. Fumbling our short way by starlight along several rows of vines, we followed the glint of a kitten's eye and the smell of soul-food until we saw the winter warmer glow of candle, firelight and a hearty welcome.

Manuel is Antillian, a sculptor and a hermit. He is not interested in money, and lives simply, creating rather fine bronzes (many of them, it appears, of large hipped women 'en faisant pi pi a la nature' ) in the foundry attached to the house. Not for him the work ethic from which I suffer, and in answer to my question about how his 'travail' is going he replies:
"Je ne travaille pas. Je bricolle"

He, a creature fashioned it seems, like one of his sculptures, from the very environment he inhabits, claims to have absolutely no desire for things material, or to be anywhere other than where he is, amongst the thyme and the olive trees, his dreams kept in tact by his extrovert companion. She, whilst also working nights at the maison de retraite, obviously deals with bills, rent, sales, publicity and the rest of the world, as if warding off anything that might come crashing in on her beloved's creative bubble.

Julian also has hermetic tendencies and will often not deal with anything which involves talking to another human being. Indeed he was quite happy, when I was on tour for three months, eating his way through a sack of baked potatoes and speaking to no-one which unfortunately included the bank and the telephone company and cost us rather a lot in charges.

(Though we blog-pimping, gallery-flirting, canvas-whipping wives seem to be such bullies in the playground of Being Married To An Artist, are we really the ones seeking control, or is it perhaps the dreamers, terrified of the unexpected in the outside world, who do not want to lose it?
Enter the dreamy control freak's perfect bubble: The Internet.)

Luckily my hermit can very easily be lured out of his bubble towards very nice food, and indeed he was lured last night. With the weight of the website off his shoulders and two sales already under his thermals, Julian was on good form, inviting us into the french translation of his particular (and adorable) brand of bubble. He offered Nadine, who was struggling with the seasonal absence of bacteria in the initial stages of making her own yeast (don't know why she doesn't just buy it down the boulangerie) a choice of any living things found in our fridge any time I was away for more than a week. Yum! Make that two baguettes!

A 'simple supper' (bowl o' pasta, salad and a bottle of red wine, no?) it seems, is not possible in France. Four courses are obligatory, as is bread with each, and The Diet (going well till now - an oat for lunch, soup for supper and tea in place of alcohol between 6-8) went down the fosse septic. Nadine served up Corsican fegatelli (chorizo with knobs on) grilled in the fire till dripping glorious fat all over the toast, followed by stuffed cabbage, fromage, and the best tarte tatin I have ever had - all apples and caramelly crust without any boring pastry bits. Admittedly it was more simple than the seven course welcome dinner she cooked when we moved in (which started on the terrace with a champagne cocktail), or even the impromptu snack she left on her kitchen window for us on christmas eve (which was a bloc of her own made foie gras worth about fifty nicker) but it was huge, it was delicious and I am as stuffed as the cabbage and just as farty.

We - the Cougieuxians - given the impossibility of our dream of renewing the whole hamlet to it's former glory and having an artist's colony - are talking about having a colony of bees. I can see it now, the big rectangular hats and kinky white outfits.....
'Galerie des Cougieux: Nature Mortes, Paysages, Pi Pi a la Nature et Miel'

That's my kind of neighbours!

Oscar and Manon were very confused as to why they weren't invited to the party (they would have been welcome except that they would have been eaten by the cat) and spent the whole evening waiting at our friends' gates, leaping galantly out to walk us the two metres home at midnight.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Stop Press

Julian's new site - Shifting Light - is finally up and running! The idea is that there will be a new postcard sized painting posted on most days for as little as £50/$100. Please click on the side bar to have a look and feel free to comment. Any feedback would be very helpful.

Meanwhile perhaps I'll get a bit of space (both physical and cyber) around here!

Cat Flap

Julian's masterpiece - The Adobe Meets Stone Henge Catflap (copyright) - was created while I was off doing Glyndebourne. It arose out of an ongoing argument we were having at the time - he against a plastic brown flappy thing stuck crookedly in a beautiful blue provencal door and I for our cats being hunters as opposed to couch potatoes.
"I'm not spoiling the outside of the house with one of those" he said.
So I let my case rest, hoping that the normal oblique resolution would come in the form of him doing what I wanted but very artistically, saying it was his idea, which is what happened. It took him a day to make as he had to knock through a 3 foot thick stone wall and mix up the chaux (traditional lime) with the ochre sand from the back of the house. On the second day he had to rest.

Yesterday, during a severe pre-hailstorm drop in temperature, The Masterpiece came in for a battering and we thought it was ruined. Oscar came thundering in after a fright - either from the half-tailed abandoned moggy with luny yellow eyes or a wild boar - and the door came flying off into the kitchen creating a very cold hole. Luckily, the man at 'Animalis' gave me a new one when he saw the amount of Science Plan I was buying and The Masterpiece lives on.

Then, at night, at about 2am we heard That Noise - the one where you know your darling girl- kitten is being rammed (from the German word 'rammeln') by the spiky pink pipette of a male cat. Over supper (with no laptops) we had just been having the ongoing discussion about whether or not to spay her. (Not so secretly we both want her to have beautiful Manonesque babies: We do not feel able to bear denying her parenthood when we have been denied it ourselves; Julian has never seen the miracle a cat litter being born and since he will never see me giving birth to our baby, this would be a good second; What if we lost one?; You have no idea how much he loves them). When we heard The Noise, however, some protective instinct to look after our vulnerable teenager took over and we both went running - presque nus - into the starry night, barefoot on a carpet of hailstones, to rescue her. She was nowhere to be found and we knew sleep would not be forthcoming. However, peeping into the spare room I saw her all curled up like a prize cumberland sausage on the bed. Was she, like all teenagers, feigning sleep after being out on the razz, having slipped in the back door as soon as her horrid parents went looking for her?

Some of you appear to be wondering whether we are mistaking our cats for dogs when we take them for their walks. Maybe it is due to their being half Siamese, but they do indeed leap and shimmy their way with us of a morning to sniff thyme, listen to woodpeckers and crunch their feet on iced ochre; to give thanks for another beautiful day. Meanwhile, we give thanks for them.

And yes we did go this morning. After the first coffee and before the second.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Two bleary eyed hung-over people descend in grubby bath-robes to the pierres (a little bit too) apparentes kitchen of their provencal mas. Their heads are full of blogging, html, movable type and adsl and they are winging their way to the kitchen table where they sit mac to mac for the next 13 hours. Jewel, Kate Rusby, Handel and rather a lot of homespun humming provide the background music to THE CONVERSATION:

"that's how Howard does it then..."
(freshly squeezed juice)
"oh no, couldn't connect to coquette"
"he doesn't put his sizes in at all!"
(Second coffee)
"i want to go to petite's party"
"oh bugger"
(First glass of wine from the cubi)
"a restaurant in marseille!"
(Julian's amazing home made Vindaloo)
(Fourteenth glass of wine)
"Send me an email darling and i will get you a gmail invite"
(Hot chocolate)
"if it's true I'm nearly finished!"
"goodnight darling"

It's not too far off how we've been living - what with my new found joy in blogging and the infinite redesign of Julian's website. Although the line about gmail is pretty sexy in a sad way, where has all the romance gone?

Like two parents trying to look after their children, we have decided on a set of three ground rules to try and bring it back:

1. No computers on the table at mealtimes.
2. A walk with the cats every morning after juice and before coffee.
3. A bottle of wine ONLY between us : two glasses for me and three for him.

I'll keep you posted.

ps thank you my boyfriend is a... for letting me know I am not alone in a conversationless world

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

more mysterious

Mysterious has her breakfast outside, (it's ten degrees and the sun is HOT) and contemplates the continuing question of what's in a name....

When I was with my with ex-boyfriend, Franck, the Rochellais presq'in laws had great trouble digesting and spluttering over my name so finally, having been the victim of much oyster-flavoured spittle, I gave them the option of calling me by my first name - Eleanor (Eleanore). They leapt at the chance and thus my gamine marine phase was born. To them, Eleanore was elegant, charming and somewhat subservient to their beloved son. She demanded nothing, nor did she say "f**k" or "Wot?" and she did not drink too much. After a couple of years I realized she wasn't me, exploding in a plea to revert back to "(splutter)rrrrruuuuuuussssss(splat)"

After all, a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose..
And a ruth is a ruth is a ruth is not an Eleanore.

vera drake

Last night we went to Avignon to see the new Mike Leigh film, Vera Drake.

A trip to the to the Utopia cinema always makes me feel very smug. To get to the cinema we have to walk past various delectable lingerie shops which, of course, are always next to delectable patisseries (the reason you can't go into the lingerie shop) across the vellum coloured stone square, brushing the rough walls of the pope's palace, past two posh restaurants we can't afford - Christian Etienne and La Mirande - YET (but will of course when you all start buying J's new line in small paintings...coming soon!), into a picturesque courtyard and thence a rich velvety room with 'poutres apparentes'. The latest telerama ffff world music c.d from harmonia mundi plays while we get comfortable in our squishy seats. And that's all before we've seen the film. Afterwards there is always the temptation of the tarte aux olives at the Grand Cafe next door...It beats the Streatham Odeon, and it's cheaper.

'Vera Drake' is extraordinary, and for Julian and I, almost painfully close to our roots. In the film we are invited inside a series of cockney interiors which are the same as those of my Great Aunties Peggy, Olive, Agnes and Ethel, and Uncles Sid and Arthur. In the delicious absence of TV and ipods, they are filled with the bustle of incessant tea-making (which was indeed a cure-all in such households), and whistling and humming (a tradition Julian and his family carry royally on. When I fist met them, they were all humming to themselves whilst making tea). The film has a lot of silence, and indeed it ends thus, in a silence both pregnant and aborted of it's usual life.

Mike Leigh, it seems to me, has matured. When I think back to his previous films - of which I was always a fan - I remember I saw them at a time when everyone I knew was in therapy; a chorus of twenty- somethings revealing secrets and lies in big passionate speeches. We were, in a way, the 'therapy generation'. Perhaps we were also a generation addicted to drama...? We developed intimate relationships with transitional objects such as pillows and chair legs - writing letters to them, holding them close as we would like to our mother or father, screaming at them and and playing with them as our inner child.

I am by no means against therapy. I am even qualified as a Voice-Movement-Therapist. However, apart from the healing power of creative process, one therapeutic approach alone 'worked' for me and critically, I feel, it was based on the Buddhist principles of acceptance, loving kindness and a clear rather than a cluttered mind; learning to contain and transform rather than throw out one's feelings; aspiring to a life of non-attachment rather than identification with pain and above all a commitment to rising above rather than swimming around in one's ego. All very tall orders but life is a tall order.

This is where I feel Leigh has changed. The energy in his film is just as dynamic but all the more powerful for it's containment. Perhaps this is also where there is something to be said for the English (for this is a quintessentially English film) 'reserve' he illustrates so perfectly. Perhaps our pillow hugging generation has at last come to appreciate that containing emotion is not always bad and, if based on buddhist principles rather than repression, British Reserve can be one of our great qualities.

(ps. BEFORE THERAPY, I hardly dared play my cello in public due to crippling stage fright , AFTER THERAPY, however, having revealed so much embarrassing stuff in front of someone I was paying, playing beautiful Bach on my beloved cello to those who were paying me seemed like a piece of piss!)