Saturday, April 29, 2006

first light

Sunrise at seven and we sneak in to see the gallery flooded with first light.


Week one is completed, and the gallery has a good skin on it which sighs and blushes as we enter. Yves has often mentioned that houses are like human bodies, with a skeleton, flesh and a skin, which is why putting concrete in them stops them breathing and makes them constrict. I didn't understand this on the course we did as profoundly as I do now, at the end of this week's work.

We also, thanks to Julian's multiple skills (and not after just a teensy bit of stress) have hot water again. We are sitting à deux for the first time in two weeks, in an orderly space. There is no-one playing Sufi trance music or mixing lime and hemp and we are feeling strangely lost in the sudden emptiness of the afternoon...

Never mind. It will soon be time to have a glass of grassy white wine and prepare our supper of roast chicken, morilles, fresh peas and a bottle of Côte Rôtie left over from a less romantic Valentine's day.


At eight in the morning, Les Couguieux is a serene and balmy paradise, the sun shooting through the vines and illuminating the little table where we have our coffee with emerald fairy lights. By about ten o'clock, however, the wind starts to rise and by midday a ferocious mistral is blowing at 5O miles per hour (drying a washing machine load of clothes in minutes and scattering 50% in the vineyard).By five o'clock the shorts are replaced by trousers and it is time to light a fire.

"Ways in which we are grown up" says Julian, showered at last and in long trousers. "The other day I broke my tooth. Then I went to the dentist and now it is fixed! And we have builders in! I've never had builders in. Have you?"

"No, darling" I reply.

It is always a wrench to leave, even for Bonnard and Rameau.


Friday, April 28, 2006



Inspired by the energetic spiral of which Yves talks, and a traditional provencal staircase we had been looking at together, I had a particularly satisfying session on the seventeenth number in the Art of Fugue; following the upward and downward turn of sextuplets, the contact on the string like a potter's hand on her wheel.

In the gallery the second 'couche' had been applied 'al fresco' to make the finish and after my practice I took my turn with the trowel to the Sufi trance music.

"Lightly. Listen to the material. Do not force it, like a caress"

Indeed, knees bent and loose, I did find the spiral, my tool turning in a figure of eight against the wall's new skin: Staying present in my fingers and with the material, not leading from my solar plexus, feet or hands, and not following either. Just being. What is meditation if not this?

The Titanium white and the finish have brought the walls to a gleam now, and when in Carpentras to get veg and plumbing bits and bobs for Julian, I had a sudden urge to see red against the white. I went into my favourite patisserie and bought a glistening strawberry tart for us all to share for tea.

Julian laid low, packing up paintings, doing plumbing and electric jobs, and writing out invoices. Just now however, he crept into the new space, made a hand print and thus had a little private taloche with just a glass of wine and the cats for company.He's not very into Sufi trance music or groups and that's more his scene. However I sense he might have felt a bit calmer about the overwhelming plumbing and posting problems if he had spent some more time bringing the radiant gallery to life. Today it simply was not possible. Next week, hopefully, he will have a chance.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Art of Talocher


The Art of Fugue gave way this morning to the Art of 'Talocher'. Spreading the hemp and lime mixture on the wall was, well quite simply, sexy; a kind of white readybrek which made me hungry for breakfast; a creamy oatmeal face-pack coaxed in to the stones with a 'langue de chat' (trowel).

"You have to make the cat's tongue vibrate a little when you put it on" said one of the team.

The conversation moved on to Messaien (with whom the chef de chantier's once girlfriend shared a house) and Boulez and Stravinsky's Sacre de Printemps. Not your average builders. Meanwhile Yves worked as hard as everyone else whilst he held forth. He certainly practices what he preaches. And sometimes there was a still silence you could almost taste as we all taloched away.


"Don't masturbate the mixture" said Yves to his disciples, and, aside: "Men!They always think they have to agitate everything!"

Leila, Yves' nine year old daughter, is on a break from her Steiner school and is on the chantier with us. She, along with everyone else, took to her taloching with joy. She is a ray of light, and, when I showed her the pictures of her father later, she said, her big brown eyes gleaming:

"Ah, comme il est beau, mon père!". It's true, and every daughter should say that of their father. I know I do! (Are you listening, Dad?)

When you enter the gallery next month there is a small area to your right which is Leila's work.

yves and leila

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

chant de la pierre

the dance

All of yesterday was spent knocking down a steel-enforced concrete wall. It was a reminder of the rigidity of the material used so readily by contemporary builders and, when it came down, the stone sung out. Having prepared the mixture and let it rest over night in large bins, today the team applied the foundation ‘gobetis’ - lime and pumice; the surface to which the ‘corps d’enduit’ (lime and hemp) will adhere. Watching Yves in his designer hemp gear bend at the knees and throw the mixture at the walls with a light flick of the wrist as fine as any Bharat Natyam mudra, I knew the dance was on!

Meanwhile, in a dusty living room, I started practicing the Art of Fugue, which I will be playing next week. Working on a simple ascending and descending line of eight notes felt completely in tune with the humility and honesty of the work going on next door. We are all simply following the lines.

Picnicking under a plane tree, its leaves emerging just in time for the heat – it is getting up to thirty degrees now – on asparagus and strawberries, we discussed with Yves the current trend of ‘pierres apparentes’ - showing the stones. Many people now are building in concrete and making a façade of stone. The stones from which the old Provençal houses were built, however, are a humble material found in the fields; constructed lovingly and with wisdom so that the house stands. Then they are covered with the luminous ‘enduit’ made from lime so that they look beautiful. Even the beams are plastered. Grander houses were constructed with dressed limestone to show off a person's wealth.

"You paint over steel, not gold" said Julian later as we remembered the eighties penchant for stripping pine doors.

The vogue for stones and beams 'apparentes' ('à l'ancienne' or 'à la provençal') is not actually anything do do with provençal style. It is merely to show that the house is actually made from stone and not breezeblock. Boldly celebrating the mechanics of the thing, as in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, is one thing, but it is entirely another, I believe, to slap on a façade of modest material in the name of authenticity. It is imitation rather than understanding.

All this to explain that our beautiful stones are fast disappearing under a luminous white render. I will miss seeing them but I know they are there, lain like a dry stone wall, holding up our four walls with pride and singing out the ‘chant de la pierre’.

the dance 2

Monday, April 24, 2006

The chantier begins


The Spider debate continued (not without a great deal of sulking) whilst J dug holes in the sandy floor of the hayloft for eventual mains drainage and a dreamy tadelakt spiral staircase. I awoke this morning after a dream of singing baroque music perfectly in an open top car, having resolved my issues and at peace with the idea of having some fun. Julian told a story over breakfast of not having had any pocket money as a kid, and his big brother buying a tin of condensed milk with his first paycheck which he could eat in front of his siblings to impress them. I guess maybe Julian’s tin of condensed milk grew up to be a spider and perhaps I am yet to contact my inner multi legged insect. We shall see.

The jolly driver of the hugest lorry I have ever seen must have flown through the tiny hamlet of the ‘Pousse Chiens’ to get here, and the arrival of the ‘chaux aerienne’, ‘chanvre’ and ‘pierre ponce’ this morning, with its special squiggly emblem designed by Yves himself, put everything in perspective. It seems the open topped fun is on hold for today, at least, while we digest the enormity of this project.

Julian is slightly nervous but doing very well at letting go control. The fact that an artist is at the helm helps. For him, to go to his studio and paint while the work he always imagined he would be doing is done by a team of eager young fellows, must feel like being in the audience listening to a piece of music you know inside out when you are used to being on stage playing it.

Over a market day lunch of gooey goats cheese, salad and vigneron bread, we agreed that to know that our ‘chantier’ was the training ground for these pig-tailed wide-eyed lads in an ancient technique, and was promoting not just the health of our own house but of many more to come, felt very moving. In this case, I do not wonder at the appearence of the word for song in 'chantier'. This is a building site that sings.

chaux arrives

Sunday, April 23, 2006


vine shoot2

The Scarlatti project finished in Grenoble yesterday and I found myself almost ecstatic playing the arias for the last time. The colleague who has ruined this project for all of us stood alone afterwards at the 'pot' clutching her champagne glass as everyone hugged in celebration. I, like the rest of the company, could not bring myself to thank her, but her cage of solitude is still tugging at me.

During the three days away from home the vine shoots have shot out of their gnarled parent and the skirt of the Mont Ventoux is bright emerald. The air is drinkable and sweet with new wheat and flowering grasses and tommorrow a new chapter begins with the bio-dynamic team arriving to build Julian's studio and gallery.

Julian, meanwhile, wants (and deserves) a trophy. The trophy of his choice is called a Spider. It is red with an open top and it goes very fast. It's a classic. What would it say, this toy, to our fellow villagers? Would it simply say we are freewheeling? And if so why not?

I am supposed to be saying "Of course you should have a sports car darling. Have two!!!". I am finding it difficult though. I am saying it then taking it back. For sensible old me it's too soon, too rash....there's the kitchen and the terrace and my room still to do. And there is the gold tooth he may need and the septic tank will will probably have to replace.....

I, apparently, am no fun.

posk vines

Monday, April 17, 2006

eggs and irises


The Parisians, Beligians, Germans, Dutch and English are down for the Easter weekend. Little hamlets we pass on our morning walk, normally silent and at rest, their pools covered and blue-grey shutters closed, have been flung open, coming alive with children and al fresco feasting, and the market is bursting at the seams with people. Folk transported from Kent are smearing goats cheese straight from the waxy paper onto baguettes instead of eating fish and chips straight from it’s Daily Mirror wrapping, and those from Dusseldorf are buying lavender flavoured saucisson instead of wurst. The Route du Ventoux is chocca with antique Citroens and feverish cyclists their streamlined lycra being led by their long noses, racing to the top. The stall owners are fresh from winter hibernation and geared up for the season. They will not look like this at the end of August!

On Easter morning we walk in search of bearded irises for the table and, finding those at this altitude all closed, return with a small bouquet of grape hyacinths, wild garlic and forget-me-nots from the meadow.

I see an old woman also clasping a bouquet entering the small stone-walled cemetery at La Colombe.

“Bonne Fetes!” I cry merrily. Julian suggests that perhaps my enthusiasm is a little inappropriate given that the woman was probably going to pay her respects to a deceased husband..…Then again, I do wish her, not the crazy jollity I feel, of course, but peace. Perhaps also she might lunch surrounded by children and grandchildren, or indeed find a small bird’s egg to remind her of the continuing cycle of death and new life.

bonnes fete

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


vines and gold

"When I was dancing” said Yves, our bio-dynamic builder who danced and was friends with Margot Fonteyn “I would start turning, and I would keep turning until I was simply ‘tournant’ - a thing turning in space. Now I am a builder and that is still how I work.”

The house is in chaos. There is packaging all over the living room floor, newly gessoed boards on jam jars on the kitchen table, invoices all over the room-with-an-identity-crisis (office cum bedroom cum bathroom cum meditation cum practice cum writing room cum cats’ killing room cum mouse morgue - whatever). There are piles of laundry serving as cat-nests and there is no space for lil’ ol’ me.

“Can you pick C up from the station? That way I can have some space for myself in the house” ; “ I need to get to my yoga class I simply have to have some space!” ; “”Today is the hundredth day of our hundred days of meditation and there’s nowhere to sit and besides I will be in the car if you don’t pick C up from the station” ; “Could you move your packaging out of the living room, I can’t breathe” ; “I can’t move my bow in this room which used to be my space” etc.

I started thinking about this ‘self’ and this ‘space’ this ‘self’ apparently needs. I started wondering how it is that people remain spacious and live as a family of nine in a shack. Gradually (with the help of meditation and yoga, admittedly) I began to catch a glimpse. I was supposed to be in my yoga class, and meditating along with my virtual sangha for our two hundredth day, and practicing, but I was driving to the station to pick up C. I started to think about where I wasn’t and how everyone around me had forced me into this corner of where I didn’t want to be (why couldn’t he post his painting later, she catch the bus…). I began concentrating on my breathing, becoming aware of my fingers touching the wheel, bearing my fellow meditators in heart and mind when suddenly it happened – I was simply where I was. The world kept turning. I kept turning with it and there was so much space!

I met C at the station with open arms.

Friday, April 07, 2006

provence in bloom



Julian has a new system on his Postcard site which means that we have time for blossom walks. It means also that we are not going to bed with hundreds of disappointed New Yorkers and Atlantans and Californians at night, and that there is space in the day after 'l'heure du ping' (the moment he posts his daily picture and the mac starts pinging, and which usually co-incides with apéritif time) to actually cook and eat together. Unfortunately, after having been a helper for a week for some Southern American ladies and gents touring the area and having first 'researched' and then taken them to all my fave vineyards and restaurants, I seem to be suffering from the trop mangé bug . This bug essentially means feeling my stomach knot itself around three portions of foie gras in two days, my head throb with buttery sauces and my energy depleted by too much viognier and syrrah. I am taking the traditional birch juice cure for 'drainage' (the French are really into drainage and I guess they have a fair amount to drain) plus black radish and artichoke tablets for my poor old liver and for digestion...


Despite my queasiness, we have walked and walked. We have seen cherry blossom ghost white by moonlight and apple blossom paper crisp by day; plum blossom framing the Ventoux and almond blossom turn pink in a final blush before it drops. It all goes by so fast. Letting go, letting go.....

blossom 1

....and loving it!

Sunday, April 02, 2006


pink blossom

Julian awoke refreshed from a day off painting and, as I tried to urge him to postpone the third coffee, swap his bathrobe for walking boots, and come with me into the spring morning, he did what he does best – he made me hoot at my ridiculous compulsion to dam the flow and fence him in to a schedule the minute he rises.

“Little fences everywhere, you’re putting little fences up all the time! Just like the model farm I used to play with: ‘I’ll put a little white fence here to keep the cows in and one there to keep the dogs out, I’ll surround the house with a third for extra protection…..’”

Eventually, of course, having deconstructed my fences, he did have a third coffee and we did walk out across the dandelion studded vineyards and into the spring.

Taking a new route to the west, we found ourselves padding through orchards of wild plum trees with their intense pink buds, cherries just bursting into smile and almonds in full fluffy bloom. Dew lay like fairy foil over a field of new wheat whilst the sheep and village bells rung out a day of grace and grazing. A breeze was blowing from the south causing a diagonal rain of petals to fall from two almond trees that formed a magic arch over our two-pronged path. Surely the gates of heaven looked like this, we thought, as we passed underneath.

Bouncing back home, we made toast and sat to eat it in the vineyard. Having finished his, Julian reached for mine and took a huge bite.

“That’s mine!” I said, pulling my toast behind my coffee bowl.

Julian went up to his studio to paint and to be in a fenceless place. I followed him twenty minutes later, having once more struggled out of my self-inflicted pen, and tried to explain this:

“It’s not about you nicking my toast. It’s about guilt and calories. You see, I am only allowed” (by my self-inflicted rule book) “ two pieces of toast, even though there is plenty more bread on the table. If you take half of one, I cannot simply go and get another because I’ve already exhausted my ration, whereas you, fenceless and free, can simply go plop another slice in the toaster.”

This sad rationale is related to:

‘If someone else bought it, it has no calories’
‘Someone else’s leftover chocolate mousse is not fattening’

I don’t actually consciously believe any of this shit but sometimes I see the messed up little machine of my unconscious at work and I wonder what it would be like to open the almond gates of heaven every time I felt insecure, instead of putting up another fence.