Wednesday, November 29, 2006


the autumn easel.JPG

Last night the wind and rain combed through the poplars and now only a few green-gold clumps cling on. The tips of the cherry trees are doing a ritual fire-dance and, as I look in through the studio window, Julian is painting clouds.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

love poem


The last time I wrote a poem I was thin for the only time in my life because I didn’t eat for a year. All I could do was drink cheap Bulgarian wine and gaze at the remaining fragments of a smashed affair. Turning it's shards round in my hand, remembering what it was like to my touch and recalling the perfume and the stench of it was all it took for thirty five poems to pour out of me. Then I met Julian and, thinking I could only write poetry when suicidal with unrequited passion, I stopped.

Six years later, at Arvon, John asked us to pick ten objects, to feel our feet on the ground as we sat with them, to turn them around in our hands, recall the smell, the sound and the touch of them, and to write an ode to each. He reminded us, just as I remind myself when I play the cello, to feel something stir inside us, allow it to rise up and, without articulating it in speech, let it flow down our arms, through our hands and our pens and on to the page.

‘Every poem I write is a love poem’ he said later, and I realised that to give something my attention is to be in love, whether it be with the bastard that broke my heart or a pair of trousers.

So here, fresh from Devon, is my love poem to Julian's 501s.


Stiff with dried oil paint
Like obedient eggwhites
Whipped into shape
Your painty trousers stand to attention
Waiting for the muse.

At four, when it is getting dark,
Your ballet legs
Tiptoe off and step into them.
An ochre bum,
A spot of poppy on your groin.
All the odours of Provence
Stroked down your thigh
And your bare kneee,


Sunday, November 19, 2006

red and gold


Not sure what our friends spiked our dinner with last night but, judging by today's painting, it was pretty psychadelic.

We drove home 'topless' in the mini, fields of red and gold emerging through the mist. New England eat your heart out!

Tomorrow I'm off to Devon for some inspiration and hopefully a decent pint of bitter. Happy thanksgiving everybody!

Saturday, November 18, 2006



“I would have them all one colour” said Henry about the handmade tiles. We had arranged the colours temporarily into two groups - into sea and sky, and autumn leaves.

Over espresso with our friend, we got to talking about families - about whether or not one likes one’s parents or siblings and, if one doesn’t, does one love them? Does one continue a relationship with a blood relation if the only thing one shares, is history?

In Henry’s case there seemed, after thirty years of trying, to be no more point.

Alone again in our kitchen-to-be we de-segregated summer-sea and autumn-leaf tiles, laying them out to clash happily on the temporary peninsula. An unconcious reaction, no doubt, to the somewhat chilling familial tale we had been listening to.

It was time for breakfast. Julian thrust yesterday’s bread in the fire on a piece of bamboo hand-crafted into a toasting fork.

“It’s like being a grown up and a boy scout all at the same time!” he bubbled, his curls jiggling up and down.

We are excited. After almost three years here, the kitchen is suddenly more than a dream: There are plug-points and a potential layout where electricity and energy move unhindered through the room; Julian will have his granite worktop at last (and his tap); Monsieur Trazic has come to measure for the glass front door through which the burnished light of the low sun will pool onto a terra cotta floor; Bright tiles are waiting to disco on the splashback….

We are happy. Autumn this year is one of the most colourful I have seen and it’s right outside our door. We have come back from a run (Julian’s third in his snazzy three month old Nikes) on which the cherry trees hollered their last scarlet ballad before the frost to a backing group of butternut poplars. I am preparing for a day painting boards with gesso and packing prints. Hopefully there will be time to paint. We are a team.

Over muesli and toast we continued the conversation about families – preferring to think of them as mini-societies; as groups of people who do not choose each-other because they fit together but rather are thrown together, becoming golden opportunities to aspire – aspire ‘cos it can feel impossible at times - to rise above our judgements and perhaps catch a fleeting glimpse of our shared humanity.

I had a sudden urge to build a big area of brightly coloured tiles in Henry's house.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006



We have a new diet. It’s called the Pudding Diet. It involves me being allowed to buy all those things with NO ENTRY signs written across them like the ‘crème de chataîgnes’ - a delectable brown goo made from local chestnuts and sold in the veg market, twirls of which in yoghurt are the ultimate midnight fridge raid.

The idea for the diet came as we were laying pooped and pissed on the sofa after steak, trompettes de mort mushrooms and salsify chips washed down with a very decent red and white from our trip to Chianti. It was our first proper meal in weeks.

“At this point” Julian giggled “The svelt Coralie would have a ‘petit pot’ of yoghurt.”
“She would also probably have stopped drinking with the last salsify chip.” I replied, slurring 'salsify' and hiccuping on 'chip'.

And so the pudding diet was born as a way to force us to stop drinking when we stopped eating. We calculated, roughly, that there would be the same amount of calories in the three extra glasses of wine that we would probably consume over the next couple of hours as there would be in a modest dessert.

We have yet to explore the meaning of modest when it comes to dessert, but last night we shared one bottle of wine - a triumph of restraint.

Whilst I am on the subject of puddings, our kitchen has made the leap from pile of rubble to potential bio-chic thanks to the organic ingredients of hemp, lime and pumice. Whether it’s mixing in a vat, throwing the ‘gobeti’ on the walls, filling or plastering, the whole exercise – unlike working with plaster or concrete - is like glorified cake making. The only difference is you don’t want to lick your fingers afterwards. Well, you do, but it is not advisable. Better to wash them and head for the chestnut cream.

When the delivery man for the underfloor heating phoned today, he asked for 'Madame Marrow-Shit'. Clearly the word is out that we are doing an organic renovation with a member of the marijuana plant family.


Monday, November 13, 2006



The fields are drenched in honey and the golden fringes of poplars light up the maroon foot of the mountain. We are off to Les Halles in Avignon, which is closed, via the Godin shop, which is closed, and the organic butcher, which is also closed. It’s Monday in the Vaucluse. We forgot. We rejoice, instead, through mini windows, in the trees and in lute music .

We do, however, locate a bathroom shop and Julian falls in love. At first sight. With a tap. A tap that costs 450 euros.

We have talked that very morning about crushes.

“Have you had a crush since we married?” I asked as the first puddle of light made its way through the window and landed on our pillows.
“Would you tell me?…..Would you want to know if I had one?”
“Only if it were disturbing you.”

A pause while the black redsart sang and Manon licked my nose.

“My friends x and y tell each other when they have crushes.”
“Yeah, well, that I can understand. They're both touring. But what am I supposed to say? It wouldn’t exactly be fair. You’d come back from each tour telling me your crushes and I’d say – ‘well, I brought in the logs’ or ‘I painted a quince’ or ‘ I watched the last series of Six Foot Under’….”

Today Julian had a crush. He looked at that tap and he blushed red as the morning songbird’s breast. He talked about the object of his love all the way home and then he painted a painting which would just about pay for a lifelong companionship with the tall thin brushed blonde water dispenser.


Saturday, November 11, 2006



“…here in princeton at the end of the fall making sudokus of the
fragments of fallen leaves
and other mad things that we artists do on behalf of the sensible
people that get on with running the world….....”

During a recent correspondance with my Dad from his rather swish residency in the Centre for Advanced Studies in Princeton, it occurred to me that, as a wordsmith and a master documenter of minutae for the last fifty years, he could have been the Original Blogger .

When we were kids, we threw twenty darts at a map of our neighbourhood in South East London, and in those random landings 20 Sites n Years was born. My brother and I were encouraged (sometimes forced!) by both our parents to enjoy the humour in the apparently meaningless appearance and disappearence of a bollard, the miraculous growth of a violet in between two paving stones in Rye Lane or the beauty of a new rust stain on a drain cover, just as we were to explore a new sound on a prepared piano. No wonder, then, that two terra cotta soul-mates make me smile.

My ol’ man, now nearing seventy, is keeping up with the times, still finding beauty in the every day and documenting it. He has put up a blog, but is a bit shy. Currently he does not appear much in person. You have to scroll down to October 27 to hear his voice, but as someone who has received letters, faxes and now emails from him for forty years, I have no hesitation in suggesting, though still in its infancy, you watch this space .

Also check out his ongoing treatment of a Victorian novel - another would-be-blog that was born a half a century too early!

While I’m on the subject, another friend worth watching is The Irish Patient- a diva's perspective on taking care of her spouse who is recovering from cancer in the UK National Health system.


Friday, November 10, 2006



On my morning run I remember that the world is a bigger and more ordered place than our plaster and parsley covered floors lead me to believe. The vines are no longer trussed up in copper, and the degree to which their gnarled skeletons are exposed as they stand to seasonal attention is almost rude. Bitter-leaf red, coin gold and acacia crops glint in sloping strips and my stress flutters downward with the beech leaves.

I return with enthusiasm.

Having taken up all the terra cotta ‘tommettes’ in my room to lay the hemp floor, I am trying to rid them of the burden of plaster and cement that clings to their backs. So far, between Baticrap and Bricotrash, I have been given conflicting advice from men in green uniforms and women in blue ones; I have taken tips from passing joggers and I have been sold an expensive product by a kid lost inside white dungarees. I have soaked them in smokey this for 6 months, fizzy stinkbomb that for 10 minutes, been on the brink of buying a high pressure water thingy machine and attacked them with screwdrivers and scrapers. I have one square metre clean and twenty-nine covered in crap. I am overwhelmed by them lounging up against the wall. My enthusiasm has waned suddenly and I am close to tears. Then I spot two tiles which were made for eachother and I smile instead of weeping. There are still twenty-nine square metres left to do but they seem a bit friendlier.

Meanwhile Julian just gets on with it. What a hero.

The skate I bought for the beurre noir was dumped last night – it smelt of ammonia - but we gobbled up the tatties lyonnaise and the capers. Today I brought a cep back from my trip to buy plug sockets and tiles and it was very fine with pasta and a dusting of red sand. We ate on the sofa moving hand made tiles - vert provençal, cuivre, tournesol- around on the floor. It was another renovation highlight.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006



What does it mean when you look everywhere for your wallet and finally find it in the fridge?

Is it symbolic, after a friend had doused the house for your ipod and hinted that there are vague 'indications' that it might be....'upstairs'..., that you find it in a box of tampax in the loo?

"Where's my shovel?" asked Julian.
"Have you looked in the living room?" I replied.

This one needs no psychobabble to unravel. We are living in a pigsty. There is nowhere to put anything. All is dust and chaos. I go and sit in the mini, which I have just cleaned, for therapy. One day there will be order, but right now, to add to the madness, Julian's site has crashed for the second time in two days and it's all too much.

...except that we have skate wings in the fridge to go with capers from a friend in Tuscany's tree.....

Julian dances in from his hemp studio, taking a surprising sabbatical from his web fury, and waltzes with me on the wreck of an ex/future kitchen floor.

"Pasta with cheese will do fine. I'm not really into eating tonight."


Sunday, November 05, 2006



We had crossed the border into Italy by eleven, and the first stop on Minou’s maiden voyage was to join a throng of animated motorists sucking the foam off their morning cappucci and rolling their r’s at a service station near San Remo. Already we were in a foreign country and Julian was hopping up and down with his cup and ‘cornetto’ like a child with bucket and spade on his first trip to the seaside.

On the fifteen-hour drive to see my mother on the southern Adriatic coast we passed by some of the greatest art and architecture in the world. Plain green signs flashed nonchalantly up for Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome and Napoli as if they were pointing the way to Blackpool or Dusseldorf. As if food could make up for the lack of Michelangelo hands and leaning towers, we devoured spaghettini alle vongole on a palm fringed terrace in Rapallo and tagliatelle with white truffles in Orvieto.

Our destination – Martina Franca in Puglia - was a stranger land indeed than that first coffee bar. The landscape is dotted with ancient twisted olive trees and white-capped clusters of stone cones called ‘trulli’. These structures, originally throwaway agricultural buildings, are now being eagerly transformed into rotund living quarters for English trolls arriving on Ryanair in search of the good (and the warm) life, one of whom is, of course, my mother.

Looking radiant, she met us in the piazza of the white lacy town of Martina where we proceeded to feast in a simple trattoria amongst her new friends. My Italian, learned only from opera, came into its own in this warm open company and my heart beamed to see the embrace in to which my mother had been gathered up. Over antipasti and panna cotta the conversation kept on returning to the subject of being foreign. In it, Antonio explained that the word, still used, for people not from the immediate town or hamlet is ‘forestieri’ and I was struck by the image of wild uncultivated folk crawling - albeit on budget airlines - towards the bright lights from their shacks in the woods.

Entering the curved chalk walls of my Mum’s kitchen trullo, I stood in the clean minimal space, listening to the madrigals emerging from the bedroom trullo and admiring the boxes of almonds from her orchard tucked under a wooden bench, the beautiful stone floor heated from underneath and the light coming from subtle shades above…., and the Victorian house in South London in which I grew up seemed islands away. It was as if I were watching a life free from history, floating in space, standing on a clean slate, just like, as a child, I watched men take their first steps the moon. That night I slept like a newborn baby.

In the morning we went to Alberobello market where we found velvet purple carrots, seabass curled stiff with freshness and ceps. There I
instinctively bought the ingredients for a typical Puglian lunch – sprouting broccoli, anchovies and orechiette. Back in the trulli, I started to prepare the meal and, as I opened a draw, my fingers touched a familiar surface – the ridged handle of old British Rail knife, which my mother had rescued from oblivion fifty years previously before their cutlery was replaced with plastic. In that moment memory, and along with it, history, flooded back into the room.

The foreign white country disappeared from underneath my feet and I was back in the hall of mirrors.

On the way back, we ate ravioli with black truffles and deep fried porcini after seeing Piero della Francesca frescoes and haggling for a very fine jelly mould near Arezzo. Then we returned to the Easyjet destination which we forestieri call home. There, in the building site without end, we drank a very fine bottle of Chianti, cracked open Puglian almonds, and fell into a contented sleep.