Thursday, December 28, 2006



It’s an odd thing, a Christmas with neither church (or my wordless version therof) nor children.

To mark the holiday we did go to our own temples: We went to the temple of Avignon market where pink lobsters squirm and green oysters glisten, and we went to the temple of the mountain where we picked thyme, which we used in the temple of the kitchen to infuse chocolate ice cream. We downloaded carols onto itunes and sang along to In The Bleak Mid-winter, and we cried a little. We cried from gratitude for the sung text of Christina Rosetti, for feet warmed by the fire, cold cat paws on our laps and a ‘pintade chaponais’ well stuffed with chestnuts, but we also cried for the absences which open our hearts and make the spaces between plenty ring out like gongs.

‘What Can I give him; Give my heart’

Behind the boys’ voices, somewhere in the bass region of the organ, I heard the sound of emptiness which no amount of nuzzling between furry ears or champagne guzzling could take away.

‘Maybe it’s time to rethink…’
‘What? At our age?’

Meanwhile, here is the real Christmas Story told in cheese:


The beautiful Mother Mary


was feeling blue because there was no room at the Inn.


So the she and Joseph (who was, as we gather from Monty Python, a blessed cheesemaker)


lay down on a stable bed


where she gave birth to a son (which was pretty wierd because as far as she knew she was a virgin but miracles do happen) and suckled him at her breast.


Then three wise men came from the East with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, proclaiming him the Christ child and worshipping the baby Jesus.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Joyeux Noel

joyeux noel

It feels like we’ve only just walked off stage and we are already being packed back into the touring bus. The people in front of me are reclining into my face as I try to read, and into my cello which is resting on the seat next to me. My elbow is fighting with the instrument’s hips and the macaroons I bought in Toulouse a week ago for my friends in Amsterdam are surely being crushed, the bitter almond, rosewater and coffee flavours crumbling together in the bag. Turning up the volume on the Bach French Suites I attempt to drown out giggles, sweet nothings, gossip and politics. It is too early for other people’s noise, too early to kiss colleagues or to chat. At the risk of being no fun, I wrap myself in isound, put the hard covers of my book between me and the world, and preserve myself in antisocial behaviour. In each of our different ways we are all careering towards eight o’clock when we breathe in as one body, and the music starts.

Today the five hour journey ends in a fine hotel - one with a pool, a personal nespresso machine, bathrobe and slippers. I skip lunch, borrow a bathing suit, into which I just about manage to fit, book a massage, order a salad and slide into the water. After seven days of cramped travel, rehearsals and concerts, the tension bursts out of my knees as I kick, and floats down from my shoulders to the tiles at the bottom of the pool. My elbows unfold, my neck releases and I am long again. Then, having been pummelled hard with pepper oil, I get back on the bus for the gig.

The chef’s moods on this tour have been variable and we are never quite sure what he will deliver. He has already stopped one concert because of some poor biddy coughing in the front row (Give us a break, maestro, ‘tis the season of chills), watched her, baton still poised mid-symphony, as she and her stick hobbled up the hundred or so steps to the exit and recommenced the concert. The magic was gone and the music a mere obligation.

Two minutes after the appointed hour, the chef walks on stage on good form. I am sitting up front, which means I can slot right in between the bass and middle line, like slipping both arms into cashmere sleeves and, as the Simphonie Imaginaire unfurls, the bliss and the groove of Rameau undo me more than any massage could. On the day of the last concert, however, though I want to let rip, I find I cannot. Instead I shut all portholes firmly and look out at the sound waves, which seem to be moving around me without meaning.

And then, suddenly, I am in the Paris rush to get down South for foie gras and oysters, amongst the coiffed spinsters clutching exquisitely wrapped gifts, the dreaded alcoholic mothers-in-law, the tactless brothers, the executive sons and prettified great grand children, all flooding into their families. I’m informed by phone by mine who has only just stopped working that the house is a mess but full of food. We shall improvise the rest.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Sitter


The sitter’s right shoulder juts forward in defiance of posing naked in February. The blurred eye above it looks back into the canvas while the left appears to be marching in to her childless future. A lock of hair breaks free from her comb and forms a question mark which is answered by the tip of the pony tail curling around her neck, leading the way across her collarbone, out of the picture, in between her empty breasts, over her bloated stomach and down to the scar which travels from hip to hip.

Sally stood in front of the painting, now hanging in her father’s kitchen. Never one to diet when she was happy, she had put on two stone since then. Silver hairs were beginning to sprout from her temples like a crown of experience and two deep lines jostled for importance where the slope of her nose used to turn seamlessly into her forehead.

Her father, hunched as he had been since she had known him over a table, was clipping postcards for a collage. His right hand didn’t seem to have left his silver jubilee mug of milky tea in thirty-five years, except to snip the end of his gauloise cigarette, while his left lay aging on his work surface. On the edge of the table was a keyboard of cigarette burns.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” Sally ventured.

Until the portrait, Max had never praised Theo as an artist. His oblique comments would run from: “The website idea is brilliant. I wish I’d had it.” to “Of course it’s a very specific market, Provence” and. “Perhaps he could knock a couple off for me?” But in the instant he saw the portrait, Max started to take Theo seriously not only as an artist but also as a son-in-law. Theo, wanting to milk the respect, had gifted the portrait to Max where it now hung in pride of place.

“It’s the best thing he’s ever done.”

Sally looked from the portrait to the random display on the wall: A series of orange peels cut, fashioned into pitted penises and framed, a ravishing charcoal fantasy of a musical score and an invitation to the Queen’s garden party at which she knew her father intended to wear blue Nikes. She looked back at the portrait and wondered what he saw when he looked at it; whether he saw her, saw the sadness even, or if he merely saw skilfully organised paint.

“Have you got any interesting commissions?” Sally projected into the industrious silence.

“Oh” The syllable fell into his beard and joined the sardines he had had for lunch. “This and that. You know. I’m making a suduko puzzle from the autumn leaves I gathered in Princeton”. Max suddenly took his tired eyes away from his work and blinked at Sally. “You know, the couple opposite me have just adopted a baby from China. It is so lovely and they are so happy. You know, I never thought anything about this adoption lark, but when I saw that child….Are you and Theo…? Because if you’re not it’s fine, but if…well, if it’s money…, you know I will always help you out.”

Sally’s hands, clasped behind her back, fell to her sides and in that moment, she knew that the rotary pens, brushes, charcoal and pencils were only transparent objects and that, even through the fence of them, he did see her. He always had.

Sunday, December 10, 2006



The first snow has been laid like ermine on the shoulder of the Mont Ventoux. The smells of wood burning and stew leak out from behind heavy doors. The pom poms on the plane trees perform their last jig in the naked blue of an empty sky as a robin heralds the winter. The air smells of thyme after rain.

In the village the residents nod their heads and lower their lids at each other, snug in the knowledge that from now until June it is no longer about lavender and the sound of the cicadas, about renting out your gite, about selling your pots, your authentique farmhouse, your sunflowers or your editions of The Times. It is no longer about dodging campervans or cheap sun, about sweating up the mountain.

No, today the organic butcher is happy to discuss the cut of veal and give me the bones, and the baker has bread left and time to chat at midday. Our neighbour pops round for a coffee for the first time in six months. We talk about the truffles that will come with the first frost, a baby born to a mutual friend, and make a date to share her quince tagine.

The village and its villagers heave a sigh of relief in the silvery silence.


Friday, December 01, 2006



I have been an avid juicer for fifteen years and Julian has caught the bug. Every morning we make a fresh brew of vitamins and let it slither down our parched throats, savouring its zing as it coats our tongues and tummies with creamy orange, pink or green goodness. It has become as necessary a wake up ritual as tooth cleaning or washing my face in cold water and is a good way to say sorry to my liver for the night before. Now winter is coming we are moving into carrot, apple, beetroot and ginger juice. Sweet red velvet in a glass.

Having been loyal to the same juice extractor for all those years - a now caked and crusty Moulinex - we decided our millions of glasses of health-drinks had earned us the right to a really fancy one. Last week, in the new Boulanger micro technique-electrique superstore, we flirted with the metallic red Riviera and Bar Juice Fountain. Before we could say beetroot we had designed our kitchen around it and we were obliged to bow down to its alluring offer of ten (apparently) simple (apparently) interest free monthly payments.

Having done the paperwork for the ‘financement’ I was informed that I needed a cancelled check and one of those blasted ‘RIB’s (official sheets of paper with ones bank details) of which the French are so fond, plus my passport. I paid the deposit and returned the next day with the documents. After signing twelve pieces of paper, having photocopied both of our passports and scribbled ‘annulé’ across a cheque, I was asked what my husband’s profession was, what orchestra I played for and how much he earned. They might as well have asked me to run naked round the store. When the words ‘artist-peintre’ (even a rather successful one) were not known to her computer screen, she tried ‘musicienne’. No chance. Julian, wearing a face as sour as a grapefruit, was storming round the ipod section and when he returned I watched her fingers slide over the sweaty keys searching for an acceptable profession for us. Seeing that his agitation was not speeding the process up. I persuaded Julian to bog off do the grocery shopping in the hypermarket. Half an hour passed and my serverina came up with the word ‘salariée’ which seemed to do the trick, and the agreement finally popped out of the printer. At the till, however, the pretty plaited cashier saw that we had been overcharged by eighty euros, which took another forty minutes to sort out. Then she asked me to pay fifteen euros interest. I thought back to Julian and my initial disagreement two hours previously:

“Come on Ruthie, let’s just buy it on the credit card and get back home.”

“No! This is interest free!”

I sat, beaten, waiting for Julian on the concrete lap of the shop, not caring about further dirtying my worn cords. My new toy, as exhausted by the ordeal as I, leaned against my hip. A few minutes later my husband rolled up in the spanking new mini, the roof half open and the climax of a Brahms piano concerto pouring out. He opened the door with a wholesome click and grinned. The girl at the till gazed at us. The artiste-peintre and the musicienne, who they couldn’t finance. Who would have thought.

This morning we juiced the remains of the Clementine still life paintings and a grapefruit.

“Where’s the foamy bit?” Julian asked. The juicer’s delivery was clean but we missed the gunk.