Tuesday, May 31, 2005

ladies, unguents and ceremonies

slideshow - 15

Walking amongst the ochre cliffs next to our house - les 'Demoiselles Cofféees' (the hairdressed ladies) - we came across a stone sculpture and I wondered what feminine ritual might have taken place during the night and, since he was not responding to our whistle, if they had sacrificed Oscar.....

The wedding celebrations started at Beech Hill exactly three years ago today: A white horse craned over the stable door to see the thread of fifteen be-robed women entering the studio and ceremoniously laying down their unguents. Amongst them there were professional masseuses, professional cellists turned masseuses, professional cellists turned Alexander, yoga and pilates teachers, dancers, and many more who were were simply willing to pummel and varnish, polish and plait in preparation for the my wedding day.

For four hours we sat in our kimonos and bathrobes and, over fish pie, champagne and nail varnish jobs, all the girls ever I've loved started to exchange stories and compare journeys. Pockets of relaxation and beautification practices erupted spontaneously in corners between women who had never met or who had known each other for forty years. As I lay on the massage table, having my cheeks packed in clay, my toenails turned the sea-lavender colour of my bouquet, my hair drenched in Ayurvedic oil, my callouses scrubbed with a Neal's Yard orange paste, my spine aligned and my forehead soothed, all by hands that had taken care of me over the years, I looked at these glowing faces involved in this age old ritual. Like a creature about to set sail on an unknown voyage, I knew that they were my tribe and that wherever the wind blew me or whatever crude seas I might ride, they would always be by my side.

I had had another experience of quiet ritual amongst women in Morocco - ten of us airing cous-cous, painting henna designs on one-another's feet and weaving together in a Bedouin tent. Sadly it was under less than fortunate circumstances with the footsteps of their abusive men almost audible from the mountain passes. However, similarly to me on my way down the aisle to meet my prince, a world was created, just for a few hours, apart from the linear melody of a life. Whether the melody be harmonious or discordant women are capable of creating a safe haven outside time, outside the tension between man and woman where the feminine can rest and replenish itself; the drone of one's own kind.

As my friends departed and wished me well, I gathered my cream organza wedding dress and sparkly sandals together and made my way over to the farm where Julia had made me up a bride-to-be's suite. I knocked at the door with a perfectly relaxed hand, only to find that no-one was there to welcome me. (It turned out that Julia's daughter had returned earlier and, unaware of the ceremonies that were going on, had locked me out!) So I walked back to the studio accompanied by two Tibetan spaniels, sat on the step listening to the bleat of the sheep, got out my very first IVF injection and plunged the needleful of hope into my thigh. I made up a bed on the sofa and lay awake all night. Though sleepless I was not restless, the sense of fifteen beloved arms still bearing me away into my new life as Julian's wife.

Monday, May 30, 2005

last days of may

This week we have a timely guest renting the gite opposite. Three years ago, almost to the day, Julia offered up her Sussex home for our barefoot wedding. She opened her doors, her lawns and her trees to have a ceremonies under, marquees on, and dance reels around. Above all she opened her heart. Now she has moved on from those humble beginnings and she arrived here replete from hosting a convention of Tibetan Rinpoches at Beech Hill Farm!

Julia is, amongst other things, a poetess, and she has asked me to to illustrate musically, her beautiful collection of 16 poems called 'The Rhythm of the Year'. We had our first meeting last night, and if you read the last post you know what kind of space I was in - not here, not now and certainly not very creative! However, here are the words which conclude her poem on June, which allowed me to be simply where I was and, as one must in all creative work, dare to start from there:

How soon
Do we allow ourselves
To reap the rich rewards
Of all our changes?
Which season
Do we hold
Most dear in our hearts?
The might-have-been
Of soon
Or now - this moment -
Not sooner or later
But now - this time -
This year

In the gite garden, the green figs promising a summer spent dripping over the wall, we spoke about the sound of 'the rise of unseen sap', an 'insubstantial scarf of mist' and the 'meteoric swoop of swallows'. Her words are as musical as any I've found and it is going to be an exciting project.

We are working with two old folk melodies which take on each-other's rhythm or lilt and which, at the key points of March and September, become indistinguishable from, the unsung compliment to, the light lurking in the darkness within one-another; we are working on a general rise in pitch and increase in vibration as the months move towards midsummer, and the power of the sound of silence.

I asked Julia if I could reproduce some of her words here, and so here, as it draws to a close, is May:

This Maternal month
Of full bloom
Building and Bursting
Into growth
Rushing towards midsummer
With open arms
While behind the green camouflage
The nesting pairs
Sit tight
Against the black and white

And the ending of the month,
When the Easter colours
of purple and yellow,
Crucus and daffodil
Dim and disappear
into a sea of green,
Hedges overflowing
With meadowsweet,
The sinking wave of early summer
The thin wafer
Of the new moon
Soon to slide into the sky
On the back
Of warm evening smells.

Here, where I sit
In this circle of scent
Dripping soundlessly
Off the long white
Moments of the wisteria
I am held in the arms
Of birdsong,
The swelling sound
Of cattle-call,
By the meteoric swoop
Of the swallows
And the soft blessing
Of the first drops of rain
Falling fatly on the ground
Marking on me
In their melody
the blissful scent of summer
And the memory
Of the end of this day
Of the end of this month
Of May.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

passing traffic

I'm having an agonizing time trying to stay present at the moment. With only eight days before I go off for the summer. I feel like a small pea pod into which I am trying to ram a kilo of peas; like traffic whizzing past my own life. I am already psychologically packing, winding up having just wound down, clenched with the inner fury of being anywhere but here and now.

Julian and I are hardly harmonious as a result of my turmoil. He, Mr Inside, simply wants to get on with his work and then, in the afternoon, have a glass or two of rosé (whatever time it is and without his wife counting) whilst watching the tennis in the cool. He wants not to plan. He wants all the shutters and windows closed to keep the flies and the soaring heat out, and in the evenings he wants to chill over episodes of 'The White House' on DVD.

I, Ms Outside, want to fling all the orifices open, have day-long walks holding hands, cycle to market together, lunch on the terrasse of a new restaurant I've heard of in the Calanques, eat summer leaves and get thin, have all our friends to creamy dinners, have long intimate evenings together talking and drinking fine wine, be teetotal for at least five minutes, see everyone, see no-one, meditate, party, scrimp and save, splash out....I want to cram it all - an entire summer of fun, weight-loss and gourmet intimacy - in to seven days.

I am sitting in the shade of a provencal mas looking down the lines of vines to a swirling coombe, writing in a huge font on my ibook. The birds are tweeting and Manon brushes tenderly against my hot ankle. Broom perfumes the air and swifts slice through the sky over a glinting emerald cornfield . I have spent an afternoon on a sun-lounger studying the meaning of crosses and squiggles on my Rameau score with assistance from my ipod. My brow is still furrowed.

Someone swishes past on a horse (just part of the normal sunday traffic along with cycles and ochre-bottomed children) and they say:

" Un meilleur bureau que ça, ce n'est pas possible"

Just for an instant, I catch the Holiday in Provence scent on the breeze, see what they see, and then it is gone and I am mentally packing again.

Wednesday is our wedding anniversary. If I go on like this I guess we might just have to opt for fine wine and a few episodes of 'The White House' as they seem to be all my long-suffering hub and I can agree on right now!


Friday, May 27, 2005

a bowl of cherries

Another delicious morning ramble with Julian in 27 degrees - calves brushing up against floodlit banks of red and heads dipping under branches pendulous with darkening fruit. Broom dominates the olefactory sense - yellow pouches spilling their summer holiday smells of pineapple, coconut and honey - and the cats chase a bright green disjointed lizard tail. I steal a cherry. It drips down my chin...

We picked through the details of last night's dinner: A sculptor, an architect, a cook, a musician and an artist gathered in a Bedoin village house eating monkfish tails cooked sublimely with spring vegetables and drinking a light red Sancerre. We are making friends outside the obligatory expat set (who, very kindly, adopt English speaking newcomers on arrival) and we are spending whole evenings discussing art and, of course food, in French!

Aptly settled on rich North African rugs in an ochre room with an excellent collection of paperbacks in view, Julian mentioned the recent discovery that the music of a Berber tribe in Morocco had been found to be 'exactly the same' as the music of an Irish village to which people travelled miles for it's unique folk tradition.

Manuel asks: Can you tell the nationality of a composer in his music? Does it depend on to what degree the music is connected to, or how much it has departed from it's folkloric roots? (Think Bartok, Sibelius, Janacek, Delius...)

Elsewhere, in the riveting discussion on Gail's blog, questions are being posed (inspired by an article about reducing literature to palatable plots for children) about how many 'unique' plots there actually are once the authorial voice has been stripped away. I ask myself also how many 'unique' chord structures there are. After all the blues took route in Mali and Irish Folk music is very close to baroque music.....

I'm chewing on various theories along with my stolen fruit:

The same forms appear over and over again because art, surely, mirrors life. (I also believe the form's presence is felt even through it's absence but that is a whole other subject!): The tension of home (The Base) - Moving away from home (The Journey) - Going back home (The Transformation); Tonic - Dominant-Tonic; I-V-I; The Golden Section. Add or detract to this shape the ingredients which go to mould the authorial voice:

Architecture, Climate, Ceremony, Time, Nature, Religion, Education, Diet, Animals.....

And ponder 'The Voice' as it is used in day to day life (giving sermons, whispering confession, singing in protest, communicating across valleys, gathering herds, sending to sleep, proclaiming love, healing, entertaining, distracting, celebrating...)

...and perhaps it is just possible that, across the seas, the forests and the deserts from each other, with our universal need to sing, to dance, to tell stories and to makes homes, there might be two Romeo and Juliet stories, two folk tunes, two buildings, two painted skies that are, in their essence, 'the same'.

Just being present in this gorgeous late spring moment, I think, however, that my life has nothing to do with journeys or transformations. I think that it takes the simple form of the temptation of a glistening bowl of cherries. Then again, would it not be the bite of the cherry that led me into temptation and off on my journey towards my transformation....?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

a year in the mallow

To celebrate one year in Les Couguieux Julian and I went for a genet-scented walk the colour of a child's sun. Before coffee and macs! We thread in between ours and the neighbouring hamlets - Les Fougassets and Les Jacomets - and I pondered upon how little we know of the Provençal language.

Les Couguieux, it appears, is mils-spelt on the olde worlde sign on our wall, which is why we are always corrected by the locals:

"We live at Les koujou"
"Les quoi?"
(Trying another route through the vowels) "Les coojeux"
"Aaah! les Coogayaux!"

On finally understanding (our mouths still open and twisting on the difficult last vowels, wondering whether or not to close on the x) we are often treated us to a lengthy reminisce about all the sheep, chickens, hermits and madmen who have ever eaten from it's manger, crapped in it's hayloft, fallen in love and divorced in our house, found their inspiration on it's mountain and lost their minds in its caves....


On the recently erected bright blue bus stop (which tells us we can call for a bus any time...?!), however, they have finally got it right and added the critical u after the g, making it hard and releasing the lips, teeth and tongue onto the bouncy castle of vowels that follow.

As for the meaning, we were informed by the lady who sold to us that it was named after the bright blue flower that comes in spring. Apparently however, it is this pink flower we believe to be a mallow. There is no translation in the dictionary.

Mallow Hamlet.

As for the others: Les Fougassets, I presume, relates to 'fougasse' the provençal (and in my opinion highly inferior) version of the Italian focaccia which comes sprinkled with rosemary and salt. Jacomets remains a mystery and I am planning to ask Gail and her Dogs when I will meet my first live co-bloggeuse for l'apéro next week.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

animal update

slideshow - 23

Despite his normal healthy antics - bounding, rising up on pointes to chase butterflies, rolling and being statuesque in and (most thankfully for our recently reupholstered sofas) gnawing on - the vines, and despite a good appetite for his vitamin and mineral rich nuggets, Oscar is still losing weight. We can get our hands round his torso, poor puss. Being a hypochondriac I just had to rule out aids and super cat-destroying worms from ochre environments or mice who, once ingested, come back to life and chew kitties to death from the inside.....so this morning I was up early to take him to the bio-vet.

As I was waiting, being incurably English, I introduced the subject of the weather to my fellow animal owners, talking enthusiastically about the recent rain, and how good it was for the 'terre'. The peasant dog-owner present, bent over doubtless from grape picking, simply raised his earth-bound eyebrows to me as if I were just another luny tourist and said:

" La pluie a simplement lavé les feuilles."

I stood corrected and tried complimenting him on his rather ugly terrier instead.

Entering the vet's ramshackle shrine, I glanced at his medicines which, as far as I could see, resembled those of my aromatherpist in Brighton: Oils of rose, lavender and bergamot and, overwhelmingly, the scent that has come to be associated with the vet for all Ventoux creatures, cintronella. He squeezed Oscar's tum, poked his bum, gazed into his eyes and inbetween his claws for signs of terminal illness, wrote an illegible scribble on a scrap of paper and as good as showed me the door.

A part çela, Monsieur, tout va bien?"
"Il faut le vermifuger"

So that's it, I thought, the killer worm has got our greycat.

Elsewhere (but not far), the terrible poisoning that led to Nadine and Manuel's shnauzer Rudai's death is not forgotten, but a new baby schnauzer is proving a sweet distraction even if Nadine is covered in cuts and haematomae from his enthusiastic first weeks. However, the other animals are not happy. Lily misses her brother, Moise sleeps on his grave and, steeped still in grief, no-one is making friends.

The hamlet's stray tom (whom we call Ralph) meanwhile, turned up one morning for his windowsill feast looking like he had been in some tragicomic Tom and Jerry accident: Shorn mysteriously in four pink places on his face his odd furlessness suggested burns by an exhaust pipe or a tyre. In sadness at his disfigurement he has moved in next door for comfort, but their cat Moise has moved out in protest.

We are mixing up Oscar's worming pill with cod-liver oil and hoping he will put on the quarter of his weight he is lacking. In a fair world, we would be able to gift him five of the ten quarters we are both carrying extra due to the Chateauneuf du Pape diet. He would be cuddly again and we would be slim and gorgeous for the telly coming to film the happy family in June.....

I realize I never say anything about Manon. That is because she is simply Manon, simply a cat. She does all the right things, purrs loudly, sleeps on our bed, washes her stunning markings till they shine pristine....and we love her exactly for her straight down the line glorious catness.

I guess the BBC will just have to take us as we are.

Monday, May 23, 2005

cherries and the Atkins diet


It is a big day for the stall on the bend in our road and, judging by the smile I received on my way to market, I think I may even have been the proud holder's first customer : The first cherries have come out! Safe on their branches they have been quietly plumping and rouging themselves ready for their debut on the stalls and now they are picked and stacked in their boxes with their parent trees waving them on their way into our stomachs, and the Ventoux looking proudly on.

Last year we almost missed them entirely as we had decided to do the Atkins diet. We did it for two days and felt constipated and unhealthy. Worse still, walking past a wild cherry tree heavy with fruit, we found ourselves like small children in front of the sweetie counter staring at the sherbet - filled spacecraft or the red twisty liquorice, not 'allowed' to gorge ourselves. We went home to eat ham and eggs and thought to ourselves: 'This is ludicrous'. We stopped the diet immediately.

The poppies are crowding the banks and will nod a glorious translucent goodbye over the next week as their twins in hue flood in a little higher up. I have slowly learned not to be sad about their departure. Sometimes I reckon this season comes as a technicolour illustration of the natural law of letting go; that if you do, something new will spring up in it's place; that I could miss the burgeoning fruit if I gaze too intently at the shriveling flower.

At this time of year I always think about our little tudor cottage in Sussex and the difference in Julian and my reactions when our tenants suddenly gave notice: I was paralyzed with fear, desperate to write as many emotionally manipulative emails as was necessary to prevent the change. Julian simply laughed and said "This could be the most exciting thing that has happened to us! C'mon - for a laugh, let's just go out and see what we could get if we sold the cottage and bought somewhere here...." He almost dragged me screaming to the estate agent and the first house was saw, naturally, was 'Les Cougieux' - our beautiful home. Where would this gal, so terrified of change, be if it weren't for the other cherry on her stem? Probably still in the womb......!

Now the greatest challenge for cherry no.1 is to let go of the new ponytail hairstyle sported by cherry no. 2 who can't be arsed to get a haircut.

Slightly shy still of their full carmine richness and with some still following the lead in sweetness, these lovely fruit come nevertheless with a tasty message for control freaks and they mark one of the happiest days of the season.


(ps...and a big thank you to oiseau for believeing in my photography talent and giving me a flicker pro account. Now you can see my blog and other photos larger than life just by clicking on them!)

Saturday, May 21, 2005

something fishy

A free morning in Bilbao commenced well in a palatial bathroom under a Grohe shower which was more like a massage under the Victoria falls than a routine morning ablution. At breakfast "Good Morning Darling" in the velvet of Alan Ewing's delectable bass had the same effect. I was beginning to recover from the yo-yoid travel of the day before.

On then to the Guggenheim. This building, with rippling wavelets reflected on it's canape, it's shifting crescent- moon shadows and the hourly mist swirling up around it from an aqua marine pool, reminded me of a magnificent battered steel lily rising out of an Icelandic hot-spring; a silver fish floating on a cloud; a great peace boat launching the city into a better future........so mobile, so playful, so calm, so huge and yet so intimate. I don't think I have experienced any architectural thing so alive as this, or so soulful.

Apparently Gehry's design was influenced by the shimmering scales on the silver fish in his mother's stall and, placed in Bilbao with it's bustling mercado de pescado, this made total sense. Wandering around this slippery ode to the sea I realized that not only are dogs like their owners, but fish mongers also resemble their fish: The sardine seller dark and oily; the cute shrimp gal tinted with rose lippy, pink highlights and blusher; the monkfish trader long in the jowl and whiskered, the octopus merchant capped with hair-tendrils in a purple bubbled top and the plaice man flat-faced and mottled.

The concert was in an auditorium from a world of chamber music rather than divas and diamonds. Unlike the massive performance which was demanded of us in the Grosses (an understatement) Festspeilhaus, the concert in Bilbao had to be a more intimate. The Maestro described it, curling his hands tenderly around the imagined phrases like he might a newborn child, as a 'bonsai' performance or, in the more energetic arias, 'semi bonsai'. Unfortunately my diva- self decided to pop up in the rehearsal: Squished on a bonsai stage, my view of the three most important people - the section leader, the Maestro and the concert maestress - was blocked by a tall Japanese violinist and her big-haired desk partner and I caused a bonsai fuss. Consequently in the concert my colleague and I found ourselves on podiums. Playing on a podium feels to me like trying to tango on a paving stone. My feet, whom I have rigorously trained to rest flat on the floor and ground me in their Camper non slip unco-ordinates, were sliding around and flipping off the cliff-edge like sardines trying to get back to the water and consequently my knees, trying to keep them in order, felt the strain.

A (very) late night, a (very) early morning and two flights (north south north, naturally) later we were happy to find ourselves in another 5 star hotel for a couple of hours before the rehearsal in Valencia. The huge dustbin bags under my eyes were slightly reduced by an ipod moment by the pool (Thank you Kate Rusby) and my body, having been glued to various forms of synthetic upholstery of dodgy design throughout the day, grateful for the chance to breathe, stretch and float. The acoustic in the hall was perfect and we rocked. I was on a high and it was delicious to run off stage into the palms 'n sun, and the arms of three graces - my three Valenciana nieces whose sensible parents had hijacked the school bus to make sure they heard and shared paella with their Aunty Ruth.

In Paris Orly, three gospel singers (watch out for them in Paris, they're good!) were quietly working out their harmonies on 'Amazing Grace' and this fish, though battered, was transformed into a magnificent lily, at peace and floating on a cloud called nine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

two strawberries

Today I went for my second mammogram. At the first they said:

"We can see something irregular. Nothing to worry about, Madame Merrow-Smith, but we would like to keep an eye on it. Come again in four months"

So there we are, four quietly agonizing months later, my faithful husband and I, in the Carpentras echographie joint, waiting. At last they call my name. You can almost hear the mispronunciation:

"Madame Feel-lips"

I want to hit them I am so nervous.

There is nothing like medical experiences in a foreign language to freak one out, and after a near fatal ectopic pregnancy and an IVF in the very same town, I should be used to it, but I still find it terrifying, as if suddenly I will misunderstand the words: "I'm sorry Madame but you only have ten minutes to live unless we lop your breast off now"

I am ordered to make myself 'torse nu'. I guess this means bra an' all so I think I do as I am asked. I am remembering a moment in a hammam in the Atlas mountains when the body parts of my traveling companion and I were ordered hither and thither by the ample pummeleuse, but the instructions were often misunderstood and I ended up in a very rude position. There was much laughter and shaking of uninhibited female flesh therewith...

Suddenly my reverie is disturbed by the blonde bombshell nurse as she yanks my right breast up onto the tray, splays it out and lowers an upper tray onto it, flattening a naturally round plump thing into a painful pancake. All I can think of is:

"Is this how the strawberries feel in the jam when the bread is pressed down on them by the sandwich-maker, forcing those fruit to squelch out of the sides and drip down onto the plate in protest....."

She says (I suppose):

"Get your left breast out of the way you moron"

so I whip it over to the left making room for the right breast to spread her flesh comfortably on the tray. I think to myself: "What do they do with walnuts?"

Two Click 'n Ouches later the nurse disappears for ten minutes, leaving me 'torse nu' and petrified in my nakedness. i feel so vulnerable and wonder why they would not allow Julian with me into this moment between cancer and not - cancer.

"Right one again" she says and flattens me once more, this time down to 5.4 according to the docs orders. Trouble is my breast doesn't want to be flattened that much and lays resolutely at 5.6.

Ten more minutes alone...

"Impeccable" says the doc, not looking directly at my torse nu.

Oh, I think, not only am I healthy, but I have impeccable breasts. Marvellous, Vive la galanterie.

Monday, May 16, 2005

planes, trains and wheatfields

Not only is there ample rehearsal time with French orchestras - a good thing - it seems travel time follows suit: To get to Salzburg for a rehearsal on wednesday afternoon, I am asked to leave on Monday, spend the night alone in a bleak hotel practically on a runway and surrounded by gabbling air hostesses in grey uniforms downing sick-green cocktails, travel all day north west to Paris to join the rest of the gang at dawn the next day and then head back south-east en masse via plane and bus to the final destination. A day early. On my return I am asked to take a six hour train journey to go and pick up my cello where it has arrived back from Spain in a van with all the other instruments going "baaaaaaaaa" across the Alps. This is where I drew the line. Direct flights on the day were not expensive and would have saved the orchestra three nights in a hotel, but then again traveling like sheep all clustered together armpit to armpit is obviously easier for them to organize, even if it means that almost thirty percent of the short trip is spent traveling. Add thirty percent to nine months on the road and you don't get much time at home.

In the UK things were the other extreme and no better: For an entirely unknown programme playued by people who have often never played together before the rehearsal slot was normally three hours on the concert day. This is why English musicians are well known for being ace sight-readers. They don't have a choice. For me, a slow (but naturally deep!) learner, this is not time enough to let the music enter in much past the cerebral cortex, and happy happy quavers wouldn't stand a chance of being anything but a (brilliantly executed)exercise. In terms of travel, I once went from London to new Zealand for TWO DAYS to play six Brandenburg concerti in one concert. The entire trip door to door lasted four days. I was jet-lagged and Cloudy Bayed out of my mind, of course. When I asked if I could go a week early and stop over to see friends and acclimatise in LA they laughed.

This is why we fall for ipods in moments of timeless, spaceless, colourless, flavourless, airless weakness.

Imagine the relief then, on returning home, to spend a day pottering down poppy-lined lanes, picking a few spanking new cherries, stroking furry almonds, checking out funky roofed mas' and surveying potential landscapes with Julian. Suddenly there is so much colour and air!

Here's a lovely one Julian discovered a while back on such a potter, and here's an email from the owner who simply popped up from out of the wheat-field and found his own house:

"Dear Sir and neighbour,

Looking for paintings about landscapes of Provence on the web, I have
discovered your work and I have appreciated your talent so that I
downloaded the images on my PC.
A while ago, I was looking attentively "A Field of Wheat at St Pierre
de Vassols" 46 x 33, oil on linen, July 1998 and I recognized the
back of MY mas, since we have bought the estate in 2000. We have
restored it, preserving its original structure; we only have destroyed
the line of cypresses to enlarge the path behind the house.
For us, it's a real pleasure to see our mas immortalized, and what a talent !
I do know you must be very much in demand and I'm afraid I'm
disturbing you. But I wished to tell you my pleasant surprise; I hope
it will be possible to meet you one day and perhaps to see one of your
Thanks a lot and excuse me for my english : I'm french and provencal
to my fingertips !!!
Best regards


It is good to come home for two days, even if much of it is spent washing knickers and visiting the airfrance website in preparation for the next grand voyage between wheatfields at St Pierre de Vassols and the gleaming new concert hall in Valencia.

In Memoriam

K died three weeks ago. During a walk after the rain gathering unguent soulfuls of the pungent smells of life, in which I know K truly rejoiced, I picked this bouquet for my friend and colleague. With it I thank him for all his smiles, both physical and musical. He was a wild flower.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

dinner for two

Oscar decides to pass on the salad.....

Saturday, May 14, 2005

happy happy

I shiver down to breakfast in the Hotel Mercure in Salzburg, the land of Mozart. (Poor old Mozart, from whom they have wrung Mozart perfume and mobile telephone rings.) It is eight degrees, quite a shock from the thirty at home, and I have, as always, packed the wrong clothes. It is hosing down with icy rain and I am wearing Birkenstock sandals. At the buffet, Bircher muesli is the only healthy option and I order a cappucino from the bar. The cereal is over-sweet and the coffee mediocre. I am fumbling with having to speak at all first thing in the morning, let alone in two foreign languages -

"Gruss Jour";"Bongott";" Haben si gut dormiert?";" Je voudrais gerne eine caffé boiren"...

- when suddenly everything begins to rattle and shake. Glasses teeter on table edges, six-seed rolls tremble and whirlpools appear as if from nowhere in coffee cups........ The singers have arrived! Their booming salutations ring like giants through the room rendering our small talk insignificant. The aerobics class for the four prize larynx', with its timbre and acoustic testing on "Pass the milk" (How deep in my belly can I feel it? Are my nostrils vibrating perfectly?....), has begun and the waitresses quake to their milky alpine core. What a hell it must be to live inside your instrument!

Five minutes is about as much as I can take this early in the day so I return to my room with a schwarzbrot and sausage lunch wrapped in a napkin to attempt a loving kindness meditation on divas.

Later, we work our way through Handel's glorious score. We are asked by the Maestro to play arias about tender love like a huge Salzburger Knockel; he invites us to have a token titter about the aria called 'free and gay' at his expense ("It's a good thing", he adds) and, since sheep must always appear in Handel somewhere, he produces an on the spot woolly lollop on his rostrum to illustrate the bass line he is searching for ( "you know - like the end of the arte program"). The 'happy happy' aria, with it's stream of finger-twisting quavers will hopefully be happier in the concert once we have learned the notes.....

We arrive at the fugue, and the bass, the indomitable Alan Ewing, enters softly from right behind me. I am trying not to push the sexual metaphor here, but his voice actually does pour into my ribcage like schlagsahne, lubricating my insides, and it's celtic ring actually does inject golden decibels into my soul like royal jelly... The tears come at last - a crystal fountain released from within. Any breakfast annoyance is, naturally, instantly replaced by adoration.

The next evening we share this moving tale of Galitea's grief (and, as far as I understand it so far and I may be wrong, consequent transformation by a toad into a fountain....?) with 2400 music loving dirndles (yes they even make them in Indian silk check) and lederhosen in the Grosses Festspielhaus. It is electric: The happy quavers fly, gay crotchets bop, grief-stricken minims wail. We have a standing ovation. The Maestro holds up the score in the age-old tradition of conductors and Handel takes his much merited bow with us.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

On a lonely road

In between flights at Charles de Gaulle - that collection of centipedes wriggling us out to possible futures (including that very rich one)- and contemplating two months in a bleak Austrian Studentenheim, I fell, finally, and fatally, for the ipod mini.

I sit on my cello`s flight case in the departure lounge, touch the screen to select the itunes freebies and discover, as if someone somewhere knows I am on a lonely road and I am travelling, that they are all by my beloved Joni Mitchell. I kiss its shiny skin and let myself be caressed.

Suddenly it`s playing `Little Green`- the song Joni wrote for the child she felt unable to take care of, who she gave up for adoption but with whom, in later life, she became happily reunited. Her voice sounds like she is naked on a tightrope in a huge sky, very high and clear like thin air. It cracks occasionally and I think she`s going to fall....

Gripped by this raw quality I find myself once again haunted by the jagged line between breath and annihilation. I cannot stop thinking about K`s suicide, by the image of his body on the railway track, his song silent now, forever.

A friend who has adopted is angry. She knows the tendrils of abuse that can strangle an innocent life and has given Clara - my Godchild - the miraculous chance for a brighter path. She cannot find it in her heart to forgive K.

Another friend, the estranged father of whose son committed the same act, seeing the fury in her son`s broken heart, has vowed never to succumb to that way out, though there are times when it feels like the easiest. She may never forgive B but his death may yet save her life and that of her young child.

Is it the ultimate selfish act to rob those who love and need you of your life-blood, of even the dream of an answer one day, when things are better? Is it inverted arrogance to think that the worst of Daddy is worse than Daddy No More? Is it the ultimate cowardice?

As I crouch on my big white case I am beckoned to pre-board, and as I rise my anger at K`s abandonment rises with me - like vomit, unbidden. The feeling, having dreamed of the a chance to nurture a child of ours and having that chance denied, is malicious:

"So this is what you want, K? Attention? Everyone talking and emailing about your shining spirit without having to deal with the nitty-gritty of you; the ordinariness of you? That, whilst your children stand black clad staring at a black box the grownups say is Papa but which they can never open?"

I`m struggling with emotions I cannot control and yet still I want desperately to forgive, clutching at the hope that those of us who can might possibly buoy up those who simply cannot.

Later, I sit alone in my Salzburg hotel room, my ipod gleaming on my attempt at the lotus position, and I arc the tip of my finger round to select Jack Kornfeld`s forgiveness meditation:

"Forgiveness is the act of not putting someone out of your heart, even those who are acting out of deep ignorance or out of confusion and pain."

I`m working on it, with a little help from my silver ifriend.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


It is Sunday and it started out with a mistral and a hangover.

Our neighbour, Nadine, slapped me briskly on the backside and said "C'était bon le foie gras, hein?". "Yes" I replied, joining in the bottom-slapping "it was great and it's still in here". She nodded in agreement.

Right, I thought, however shit I feel, I am going to reduce this mass. Yesterday's two hour uphill bicycle marathon clearly did not do the trick and so today we are going for a long walk, au moins. The BBC are coming in June, for God's sake!

It was then that the heavy lidded headsplit of a hung-over morning gradually turned into a day from heaven.

Julian decided, being one PFP ahead, he could afford a day off, so we commenced with oysters in the Carpentras brocante market - 6 euros for twelve of the sweetest I have ever had (minus the muscadet - good girl!) on a plastic plate - and the as the ocean slipped down my throat, I felt the seaweed dive cleanse me of my excesses and invigorate me for the walk we planned on the Dentelles de Montmirail.

A walk 'just over one hour' guided by my beloved was (of course, and this time, thankfully) two and a half hours long, and a provided us with a heady tour of mountain wildflowers whilst tracing the fairy-lit vine terraces of the 'dentelles': Wild snap-dragons, valerian, wild gladioli, curry flowers and cornflowers, greater periwinkles...all perfumed with the near Bahaman pinapple-coconut cream of new broom cut through by flowering thyme.

On the way home, a small diversion to find the perfect painty view of Crillon-le-Brave for the summer season led us to a hidden bank of blue irises, a parade of organza flags fluttering in the diminishing wind. Once home veg curry and ''Days of Heaven' on a sage coloured sofa....

Wow. Surely my bum must be smaller after all that pleasure?

On Tuesday I will be in Salzburg. I am meeting my friend Iris 'outside Mozart's house' for dinner and I would like to bring her violet-scented armfuls of her name-sake.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


As I sped round wildflower banks on my bike, in tandem with swifts and swallowtails I got to thinking again about my favourite words. And again I came up with:



Because it is full of promise; because it is wild; because it is English; because it is becoming an endangered thing; because it is fragile; because it's contents are random; because it sings of simply being, for nothing and for no-one....?

And there is always:



Because it is untamable; because it's depths contain colour-secrets; because it is infinite; because it is wet; because it is blue-green; because it reflects the sky; because you can't build on it; because it links continents...?

Those, for whatever reasons, are my two favourite words.

My favourite sentence recently came from Rohinton Mistry's extraordinary novel 'A Fine Balance':

..."His legs swallowed the distance in urgent gulps."

- And my favourite colour is that of new vines back-lit by the Provencal sun. I drink this in every day with my morning coffee.What word could describe this colour best, I wonder?

Friday, May 06, 2005

mindfulness on a vélo

It is the jour de la bicyclette in Bedoin (or should I say 'vélo'? much more sporty). The route du Mont Ventoux is closed and lots of taut men in lycra are purring or puffing (depending on their level of fitness) up it against the fierce Mistral.

As a special treat, I dressed up in my best mistral gear (sweat-pants to keep the goosebumps away, a light floral skirt to play in the wind, a sleeveless T-shirt for sun-tanning and a fleece to melt the ice) and took my vélo out for a spring potter. Using a trip to the post office to send off a mountain of Postcards From Provence as a feeble excuse, we meandered around about a tenth of the way up along meadow-starred paths, watching poppies nod their luminous approval like the crowds lining the route of the Tour de France, new cherries - lime beads just ready to blush and fatten - bob on the leafy trees, and cloud-lozenges appear in the azure blue. While the cyclists were all patting themselves on their sweaty backs in self- congratulation about reaching the summit (men!) my vélo and I were quietly practicing spring mindfulness.

Julian and I have been talking recently about mindfulness....

Some of my Eastern philosophy books never made it further than the kitchen shelf in our recent move from Crillon, and whatdya know - I came down one morning and my husband was reading 'The New Meditation Handbook' by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso! For a man who talks so fast he swallows half his syllables, who takes time to prepare delicious food he, despite his protestations, simply CANNOT savour ("It's because I want to eat it while it's still hot" he said when I questioned him. This argument fell down however over the cold chicken salad the next day.), and for someone who, three seconds after waking is humming madly and doesn't stop till the gentle snoring starts, this is a very interesting development.

Goody Gum Drop's mindful practice took it's favourite form today - that of pea-podding our luncheon peas (two of which feature on today's postcard), and I got into quite a rhythm:

pop. squeak 'n slide. push 'n ping
pop. squeak 'n slide. push 'n ping
pop. squeak 'n slide. push 'n ping

- All done with three swift movements of the thumb; a single three-fold gesture; a sarabande in green-time. For a moment there I was sure I was indeed freewheeing along the three-fold path.

We shall see if Julian learns to savour his food, to say anything without me having to say "Wot?" afterwards, or if indeed his hum ever does turn into an 'om', but I have always maintained, and now more than ever, that Julian is actually much more mindful than I. Whatever, we are on a beautiful journey together...

(.....after all, the journey is the goal, not the summit, and even if you do have fancy lycra trousers that doesn't guarantee you'll see the green cherries along the way.)

Thursday, May 05, 2005


It has been suggested (by friends and relatives, not a hot publishing house)that Julian and I make a book of Postcards From Provence.

The paintings would make a great coffee table jewel in their own right, of course. However an alternative has been put forward that we partner his paintings with my writing. Therefore I am trying to put together a portfolio of posts that I think would be suitable, either as examples of my marvellous style (ahem) or that might provide a valid commentary to particular small paintings on Julian's site. Maybe it's the mistral addling my brain and maybe it's because suddenly all my carefully crafted words just sound like drivvle about my life... but I can't get my head round it. So here's the thing:

If there is any particular post which you really do think is good writing or could be worthy of a place next to one of Jullian's paintings between a noble book cover, could you let me know which one?

No other news to impart as I have been cutting and pasting and then deleting posts all day and J, unable to keep up with demand (he sold 'vineyards at chateauneuf du Pape' twice in the middle of the night!) has been writing invoices and wrapping up paintings...

...Except: that this was the answer I received from my mother to a question about whether or not my brother could make a 10.30 flight from Naples from her place near Brindisi:

"Just finishing , prinying,binding boiok, translocating, designingcollecting
leaflets & postewrsin one town, delivering in 4 others, going to London on
Monday, back with Joh n Bunzl on Thursday, two fora to arrange ... nota good
time. So sorry..."

I know it's the election day and she is working hard for The Simultaneous Policy , and that our communication can be blurry even at the best of times (and maybe I did write the question in chinese by mistake)but ....

Now you can see the where my marvellous style comes from!

(Bless you Mum, and Bless the Simultaneous Policy.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

as good as it gets

Warming up before the concert in Grenoble I found myself back-stage on a nice padded chair.

'Chair'. Nice word. Evocative in french of the flesh it supports, or allows to spill over it. Feeling very comfortable, the 'chair' of my bottom buzzing with my bass line, I wondered (very) aloud to the stage hand why we could not have these comfy chairs on stage as opposed to the faux Provencal wooden slatted ones.

"The maestro has forbidden them" he said.

I replied " J'ai des trous dans mon cu à cause de ces chaises" and turned swiftly on my angry heel only to bump straight into the maestro himself.

Not a great start to my career with the Musiciens du Louvre.

I must have been forgiven. The concert was thrilling, improvisatory and daring. All I did was remember to play the pearly entrance of the andante on an exhalation and the rest was like riding on white water rapids, boating by moonshine on a still lake, being enveloped in the warm arms of the archetypal Father. His electricity did not make him forget his generosity on stage and when the horn player played a bum note he winked as if to say: "Don't fret, it's gone, let's go" and when the flute player started her exquisite solo, he welcomed her into the ring with a radiant smile and she bloomed. I was reminded of a great jazzer with whom I once did a session who, just as I was about to start a very hairy solo, opened his arms wide, bent at the knees and said "Sing it out, baby!"

The finale of the posthorn serenade peaked with the casquetted trumpeter riding in on a yellow 'La Poste' bicycle playing his rustic melody and distributing mail to the maestro and the punters. The joy in the hall full to bursting and in my heart was explosive.

This year I have, after eleven years, decided to take a sabbatical from the three month Glyndebourne tour - a decision mostly to do with needing to spend some time with my husband. I will see my first Provencal autumn, EVER, and I will not have to go to Woking or Milton Keynes. In it's place I have already been asked to do recordings of Mozart symphonies with The Maestro in October. If this is what a 'spirit of prosperity' generates - with both Julian and I hardly able to contain our creative excitement - I recommend it!

Julian picked me up at Avignon TGV station and I took him for lunch at our favourite brasserie, 'La Mère Germaine' in Chateauneuf du Pape. As we were walking along a path in between new vines, the summer breeze making my light cotton skirt flap, he slid his hand beneath the back of my waistband and said:

"Welcome Home...... and how nice to have something warm that's not furry."

As good as it gets?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

may day

We woke late after a bumpy rosé - tainted sleep, Manon snoring away between us being cat-essence and most definitely of this world. I wondered where Oscar was, and yet again, that feeling snuck in through the shutter light that this little grey soul could be too fragile for this world.

Two emails informed me that one of my oldest friends had given birth to a son, Daniel, and that a colleague and friend, K, had been found dead on a rail-track.

K was a wonderful cellist, playing classical, jazz and Scottish folk music with the same honesty, reverence and sometimes refreshing irreverence. He was a kind and sensitive man, a recovering alcoholic who, despite the passionate support of his friends and colleagues, and especially his beautiful wife, who all believed in his ability to choose sobreity and life, just didn't quite make it.

Over an al fresco lunch Julian explained to me how the song cycle of the nightingale (who was still serenading us even though it was way past his bedtime!) lasts three minutes whilst that of the whale lasts twenty four hours. Once slowed down and sped up respectively they are apparently very similar. As humans we are simply unable to perceive the frequency to which these animals are attuned. How much is out there that we shall never see or hear or smell; that we shall never know?

Suddenly I am full of wonder, at the secrets of the heart and of nature. One life ends and another begins. One is too, too short and yet we have no idea of the intensity, of the frequency to which K was attuned. Perhaps he had simply had his quota of intensity - both joy and pain - in his forty years and perhaps, like that of these spilling spring days which contain the blue shadow of the bleak winter, it was enough for one life? Who are we to judge or even comprehend?

I look at Oscar, merging with the vines - sunlit beacons of hope on one frequency and rows of grave-markings on another; I think of the brief time our little soul-child spent and wonder if he simply knew it would be too much out there; I remember the absolute knowledge, when in a coma for two weeks aged eighteen months, that there simply wasn't enough room for me. Then I changed my mind; I look at Oscar; I imagine how Sophie is looking at Daniel now, and I wonder, maybe as she is doing, how any being can contain so much, and for how long.

I pray that Daniel lives his life, simply, fully and that K's two small children will one day perceive their father beyond his abandonment of them, with love and forgiveness.