Tuesday, February 28, 2006



Leslee runs art, yoga and meditation courses from her barn in the Dordogne. On yesterday’s postcard painting she wrote this insightful comment:

“I am going to be unpopular here but I believe in taking a more Buddhist approach- we simply suffer when we are attached to the outcome, in this case, having to possess one of these little gems. Isn't it enough to be mindful of how you feel when you first see it, and how if affects you the rest of the day?”

Her comment felt like a southern breeze moment of understanding in the middle of a fierce mistral of “I want it now baby now”.

We have been answering hundreds of emails from potential buyers - some disgruntled, some patience personified - with their fingers on the button. We are trying, and probably failing, to convey the spirit of this one man’s daily brush practice; his humble warm up. We are attempting to make people see that there may well be a bijoux landscape or still life out there for them in time if they just let go and give the poor guy some time to paint! Meanwhile, as Leslee says, the beauty of the project is that they are out there for all to savour.

Yesterday morning, Julian and I stood on the roadside amidst the rubble of dusty painty t-shirts, mink poo-filled rusty bean tins and wormy beam bits that we had dumped from the window of the hayloft in September. On the spot we made a commitment to start work on the gallery. We even decided to have someone else – preferably someone from Canosmose - do some work for us.

A postcard sized painting and a mimosa bobbing visit to the market later there was a knock on the door and Yves – the dancing bio-dynamic hemp man himself – walked in. We hadn’t seen him for months but he must have caught the vibe on the approaching mistral. Hugely in demand and an expert in the field of organic building and restoration, it seems he has chosen us without us even having to call. He wants to build a dancing hemp floor for my yoga practice, and fill the dynamic stones with a lime mortar which will ‘rayonne’ into my cello practice whilst serving as a backdrop for J’s still life paintings…..

After a year of very hard work and a particularly disastrous beginning to 2006, I think the landscape meant for us popped up on the screen just when we had let go of the purchase button.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


lettuce 2

The day the New York Times article came out, Julian decided - interestingly - to go out shopping at about 7am East Coast Time, like a man who couldn’t stomach being present at the birth of his own child. The purchases started coming shortly afterwards like early contractions and I was alone watching the thing go into labour on the screen.

Fastcard purchase number 24367*****card transaction…
Fastcard purchase number 24368*****card transaction…
Fastcard purchase number 24369*****card transaction…

When J returned we sat swatting our way out of the thick swarm of emails – an average of 3 a minute – replying, refunding, red-dotting - until there was no available category left. We woke in the morning laughing.

Hidden amongst the purchases were other requests - for J’s ‘piquant’ images to appear on a Californian chile label and a book of postcard paintings. New names for the site have also been proposed (‘Shifting Paintings’ or ‘Shifted Light’ being but two) and a spoof letter arrived from a friend:

“Dear Julian,

Attached is a photo of my cat Guggenheim. Please paint him with
something French, like a baguette or garlic or you know, and with
some of those mountains and houses and French nature stuff in the
background. And make him look French, maybe like with a beret or
something, or just like a certain "look" in his eyes - you know, sort
of an oolala thing. I've been to France, so I'll be able to tell.

I need it for next week.”

There seems to be no doubt about it that on February 23rd, our lives changed.

Returning from our ‘inspirational’ walk with the cats this morning (now made infamous by the Big Apple Rag), we stood gazing at the falling down pile of stones held together with red sand we call home and planned, for the zillionth time, the renovation of the hayloft into a studio and a gallery, moving swiftly on to the rescue of the ruined remains attached to it, the lap-pool for my daily kilometre and midnight skinny dips à deux and a room of my own. For the first time, it actually seemed that the dream might, just might, come true.

Then, having done my daily meditation in the vines, I got to thinking: What is the dream, exactly?”

Anyone could take this bizarre brush with instant fame as an excuse to sell out, dumb down, cash in. Julian’s desire, however, is not to mass-market a product. It is to be free to paint; not to be tied down to what others want but to let sable and oil lead him over canvas’ grainy terrain or silken gessoed card; to take risks and to be true to his artistic heart knowing that there are people out there who trust him.

And mine?

Yesterday I went shopping for our celebratory dinner and to choose small vegetable gems to paint. In the Marchés de Provence I picked blood crimson marbled tomatoes, cherry speckled lettuces and I bought five very expensive tea-pink roses that I paired with pale mauve wildflowers. It was then that it hit me how simple my desire is. It is to be quiet of mind, to be healthy and to be surrounded by beauty. It is to be home with my love and to be happy.

Elsewhere in the world this month, many of my friends – all in their forties - have given birth - one through scheduled cesarian as a single Mum by a donor, and another having defied the disease (endometriosis) that prevented us having children, popping a sprog eight months after her wedding day.

On this sun-bleached day in the Vaucluse it feels to me like everyone everywhere, is giving birth to their dreams.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

sold out

ex lemon

Within an hour of people getting up and reading the New York Times over skinny skimmed soy lattes and lox and cream cheese bagels Julian, in our scrappy unrenovated little corner of the Vaucluse, had sold out. Two computers running on full speed, two sets of dodgey maths skills and one bottle of champagne and 29,000 page views later we are exhausted. The car bill is paid and, for a brief moment, life is utterly other-worldly. Even the knobbly lemon, so rudely commented upon but which has hung affectionately in our kitchen, found a home. Well, several actually. It doesn't know what has hit it!

My mum the astrologer says it is 'Neptune in Aquarius transiting opposite Saturn in Leo'.

Now all that remains is the late risers' disappointed 'all sold' emails, a request for dog portraits to deal with and tomorrow's celebratory lunch at Pernes les Fontaines.

For the hook go to:


(scroll down the right column to multimedia and click on 'currents' - 19th Century art sold the 21st century way....)

Meanwhile I would like to raise my glass to Jo and George(our dear friends whose fault this all is), Donna (who wrote the article), and of course Julian (who is 47 tomorrow). 'Way to go' as they say over there in the land of frenzied painting buyers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006



I am recovering from the Lyon project with the help of armfuls of mimosa.

On reflection I see that my exhaustion, and that of my musical colleagues, came largely from spending a month trying to create something beautiful and having it consistently destroyed. The theatre director we have been working with seemed compelled, every time there was a moment of acute tenderness, to overlay it with something of violence: An air of reconciliation obliterated by the deafening fall of a plank; a raw but affectionate adieu smeared with the shocking image of a staring figure with a mouthful of mud (though J did say it just looked like potting compost and was not shocking at all); a proclamation of fragile love torn apart with shrieking and a mother’s lament illustrated with a symbolic abortion. Meanwhile any tenderness that sprung up between the players was ripped to shreds.


It had been promised that we – the musicians - would be involved in every aspect of this exciting production. In the end we were simply passionate guardians of any remaining beauty.

A ‘deeply committed Christian’, this director was a man who was repelled by beauty and the human spirit and who was playing at hubris.

What kind of art is that? And what kind of a Christian?

Surely art is not beautiful because it is a sugary thing but rather because it is an alchemical container for the whole of human experience, helping us to find resolution and meaning. If it simply laid out the horrors of the world for us to see, what would be the point?

The mimosa from the Côte d’Azur was late to the market this year by three weeks. As I gazed at the innocent sun-fluff and inhaled the scent, I was grateful it waited for me to come back and hold its unadulterated beauty in my arms.


Saturday, February 18, 2006



A home-coming after a long absence can be a matter of simple resolution – a dominant bounding straight back to its tonic - or it can be one of those excruciating late Beethovenian cadences - insistent and apparently meaningless discords keeping you stuck in the darkness, flattened intervals tugging you backwards, two notes which should, in a perfect universe, belong together being repelled by an unknown force. Just when you are scraping the bottom of hope, when your heart aches from the effort, all the threads un-knot and you are home.

Beethoven didn’t write our home-coming score so when, on my first morning in Les Couguieux, Julian got up, got in the car and drove off for the day saying “I’ve been cooped up on my own in this house for a month and I need to feel free”, I just had to trust him.

I struggled for about an hour with a sense of biting rejection and of incomprehension. I put my birthday cd of Earth Wind and Fire unplugged on at full volume, and set about cleaning our nest, first in anger and then in an increasing acceptance and a desire to make home a place J wanted to be once more. After three hours I realised that (as my clever husband had pointed out on leaving) a day alone at home was something I have been craving since we met. I cleaned an insomniac’s chocolate milky drink stains off the stairs, smelled about 20 pits of paint-speckled T-shirts in a bacheloid anthill to check if they belonged in drawers or in the ‘dirty’ basket, hoovered sculptures of fallen cobwebs, wiped the dusty film of a month’s US soaps, BBC series’ and four entire viewings of Lord of The Rings off the telly screen, separated yoghurt pots of turpentine from coconut milk, scraped a mouse’s remaining organs off the spare bedspread, washed down the terra cotta tommettes and sprayed fresh linen with organic lavender water.

J returned in the early evening healed of his angst, having spent the day giving tlc to the body and ego of his battered Renault Mégane. (What IS it about guys and their cars?!). The car was dressed with new tyres, hubcaps and carpets and seemed quite as beaming as its master. He prepared a delicious meal of guinea fowl, with cinnamon creamed chard, watercress and loads of roasties. Haydn violin and pianoforte sonatas played and the resolution, after an unexpectedly difficult cadence, was very sweet.

Awaking the next morning after a night of torrential rain, the skies cleared and an email pinged its arrival. A piece written by a friend of a friend on Shifting Light has been bought by the New York Times and is to appear next Thursday. “YOU WILL BE VERY BUSY” says the friend of the friend.

Thursday, February 16, 2006



February is a shit time for many and it seems everyone and everything - particularly the God of car maintenance - has really got it in for us this year.

We started off in our trusty nearly new Renault Megane at the beginning of the month towards Avignon to see a movie. Just outside of the village there was a frayed little putter and the car dutifully coasted off the road. The motor was fucked and the bill three weeks later after tow number one was 2600 euros. Then the gaggia chrome coffee machine broke. Then Julian got the most horrendous flu. Then he chopped the handle of the wood-burning stove in half instead of the oversized log he was aiming for. Then, returning from Lyon together(where we happily consumed lots of strange têtes and innards of things in great bustling bouchons) after the last performance, thinking "We are finally on route home", J filled the petrol engine of the loaned car with the habitual deisel. Tow and drainage (by pastis swilling mechanic) and cost number two ensued.

Then there was the nasty cat who, taking a fancy to our pretty striped Manon, was squeezing through our hand crafted dogon style cat flap and eating all Oscar and Manon's vitamin healthful Cat McNuggets, making their hairs stand on end with terror and leaving the very undesirable odour of Ambient/Erotic Cat room-spray everywhere. J lay in wait for the rogue's next visit, caught it at its antics, locked the flap and, ignoring the advice of our friends to squirt it with a water pistol, he beat it around the room with a broom, venting all his rage on the poor creature. The next day there were 9 inches of snow and we never saw the cat again....Ouch.


We got our own car back two days ago with its spanking new wotsit head, and in celebration decided that I would drive home from Valence after the two gigs this week, and that we would have lie ins, lunches and breakfasts together like normal people. That God of mechanical things, however, decided he hadn't prodded us nearly enough with his fork. The car started veering noisily to the right on the motorway and I was left with a tyre burst waiting for tow number three.

There have been other little things but I won't go into that. You get the idea.

The thing is, it could have been much much worse and,though our mini break plans in Skye have been buggered, we won't be able to put the gallery window in or get the floor down until next year, or the new computer for J's web-design, no-one died. The other thing is that people will die, including us, so the question is, are we reeds weathering the storm or are we brittle sticks being broken by every gust of wind?

Yesterday, standing behind the crash barrier in the freezing rain waiting to be towed for the third time in two weeks, I managed to laugh. However, my poor battered husband is not laughing.

Can I be a reed with his rage just as I am becoming reed-like about matters Megane? Can I accept and not judge another person's 'undesirable' emotion about being torn to shreds on his journey just as I accepted a tyre ripped by something hard and unexpected on the road? Can I keep laughing? Can I still see the beauty around me which he has taught me to see even if he is blinded by anger right now?

Today is the First birthday of Shifting Light - Julian's phenomenal Postcards from Provence. Stop by if you have a moment, admire the beauty and wish him well. He could do with a boost right now.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006



The dress rehearsal and first night of ‘Il Primo Omicidio’ came and went like a beautiful woman and her shadow passing through the hangar: The first free and full of grace, and the second a chilling thing of no substance.

Our chef has reached the end of her role as educator, has dropped the rod and has sprung back into the fleshy joy of being one with us. In Saturday’s dress, liberated from our roll-top desks, we sprung up to meet her, trusting our own voices, finally, to be the glorious and imperfect things they are. One note gave birth to another, one colour highlighted the next and we filled each other up like love-lilos, riding the waves of the music and drifting on the sound of the dancing air.

A triumph. But you know what they say: “Good rehearsal….”

Last night was the première and it seemed someone had pulled the invisible thread that bound us leaving us floating around in self-fabricated igloos. We had had Sunday off and, unlike my restful pottering in soft Provençal light, many had rushed home to sleepless babies, a gig in Paris, frozen pipes, chicken pox…the real world. Sometime on Sunday everyone had got the jitters.

There were many versions of stage fright visible only to the connoisseur: Nausea so bad that butterflies are mistaken for a killer virus, jumping jack bows, jello-wobble vibrato, hyper-ventilation and sore knees. Luckily the latter (caused by gripping the cello’s ribs) was my body’s sole indication that I was not feeling entirely normal. However, the sum total made for a bit of a mess.

The bows finally came and, though not on the usual post perf high, I think we were shot through with all sorts of feelings – relief, forgiveness, hope and, yes, love. We had been on a roller coaster ride together and now, the first night over, it was time to relax and enjoy. As the actors folded neatly down from the waist and the musicians thrust their duck asses up in to the air behind them, I squeezed my most challenging colleague’s hand and whispered a heartfelt bravo. A bravo not just for getting through the solo with all that judgement now back-firing on himself, but for still being here and daring to be naked amongst the victims of his wrath.

I feel sure the beautiful woman will return.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

the bath

blue cat on green moss

10.33: "I'm on the train to Lyon! Arriving in an hour!" came the wake up call from my five-day flu infested hub. I was still in the fug of nightmares about being fired from Scarlatti's hareem. I zapped on the ring for the coffee, showered and was on the bus.

J descended the stairs at Lyon station, scarved, red-ring-eyed and muffled, and...ooh what a thrill it was to meet and hug him rather than to be met and hugged.

Ill Julian lasted about ten minutes in the Lyonais freeze and another 12 hours watching rugby on satellite tv and drinking sage tea (whilst I did the dress rehearsal) in my sweaty résidence before we took the train back home together.

You could say it was a wasted visit but there was a critical element: THE BATH. We both agree it was worth the €60 round-trip for Julian to have had a rose scented bath.

What a glorious day awaited us back in the Vaucluse. Much restored by his tub shaped ablutions, a little tlc and a centrally heated hotel sleep, we were able to walk the walk with our darling blue-cat-on-green-moss. On it we met three people walking one donkey and vowed that, at whatever cost, this would be our last winter without a bath.

soft light

Thursday, February 02, 2006



The ball dropped from my hands (too hot a cookie to carry for more than an afternoon) and was swiftly picked up by….

Our chef!

I have rarely felt so beaten down by a project. Glorious arias have been ground into a paste of ‘Was the accent here or was that last week? Shit, I know I didn’t articulate that note well, I’m in for a thrashing during midnight notes….’. At the price of nine euros an hour – surely that must be the minimum wage? (not that I should consider myself above that) – we seem to be plastering our score with layers of analysis like too much bitter chocolate spread, digging into the dough till there is nothing left but unappetising scraps, and we are chucking that negative ball of energy around as if we are bored out of our skulls and there is nothing more entertaining to do.

The most frustrating thing is that the ingredients are perfect – a great team (with all it’s imperfections), a triple Michelin star chef and a delicious score.

Except, in my humble sous-chef’s opinion, we are overcooking everything. I feel like one of six bakers sitting round a hearth. Rather than quietly allowing the yeast to ferment and the dough to rise and making a toast to the wonders of alchemy, we become involved in a heady analysis of flour and water, and consequently a burning dispute about whose quantities produce the perfect loaf. Meanwhile we do not hear the tell-tale fizz and sizzle come and go and our bread is spoiled. We seem to have forgotten to trust the process; that simple whole ingredients are best when you don’t meddle with them and, above all, that the perfect loaf exists not in the mind but in the heart of the baker.