Monday, October 22, 2007

rialto ritual

a short hop on the gondola over to the rialto market for pumpkin, fennel, soft shell crab and porcini mushrooms:

on the way to market


fennel in venice


soft shell crab

Thursday, October 18, 2007

meanwhile, here in Venice

Venice creaks awake: Shutters squeak then clang; the big bells ring; boats are released from the chains of their mooring and seagulls herald the morning. A pigeon shits on the windowsill, blood-fat mosqitoes fly, tired from a summer of feasting, into the day, and the water continues, as it has done for all time, to lick the stucco from the bottom of the building.

The razor clams are still in the market and we have them for dinner. As they meet the boiling water they split from their shells, their engorged tips poke out, and they waggle like small excited members.

Umbrellas protect the figures as they move accross the bridges like silent shellfish.

The fennel boat just misses the rubbish boat and almost bumps in to the post boat.

I made three jokes in Italian.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Not being a tourist in Venice

We arrived at the giudecca just as the autumn sun breathed out its last on the lagoon. An immense cruise ship was pulling in at the same time, dwarfing the Santa Maria dome and the lacy arches of San Marco, and the vaporetto curved around it like a nimble mouse before letting us, along with a surprising amount of Venetians, down at Palanca.

This time we are in an apartment, and have today been able to fulfil our dream of going to the Rialto market, buying every delicacy we can, and then going home to cook. The shopping bag soon filled up with sweet razor clams, succulent shrimp, heavy red chestnut porcini, baby flowering zucchini crisp as apples and tasting slightly fishy, curlicues of burgundy treviso, and copious handfuls of fresh leaves. Weighed down further with a couple of bottles of suoave we made our way back through leafy campos and alongside canals reflecting sea green boats and houses of crumbly red bricks, over wooden bridges and past cheese sellers, gondola repairers, book binders: Everywhere the light danced, on canapes and hanging vines, and in the ripples made from the water traffic: People seemed to hang upside down in the canal as they crossed over the ponte Santa this or into the fondamento San that.

We bought plastic sheeting to protect our friend's table on which we first cooked and ate, and on which Julian then painted a postcard from Venice.

Now it is time for dinner.

When I do concerts I never feel like a tourist because I feel like I am giving something back. Maybe I am misguided but I have a similar feeling today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

the observer


I was running, pounding my feet to the rhythm of my indignance. It had been a petty argument, best forgotten, but I was holding on to it firmly using it to bolster my pain like arranging and rearranging pillows of brick. Then I remembered to stop thinking. Immediately I heard the butterscotch trees erupt with the sweet twitter of tits’ song and saw the golden poplars bow.

Silly me.

In the yoga class we were being asked to swing our arms in cartwheels. First, in front of us, and then behind. Then we were to swing one in front and one behind. This gave us the giggles because it was a left brain thing. When I finally squirmed free of my desire to get it right and stopped overloading my poor arms with information, I was reminded that beautiful natural movement is best achieved with a quiet mind, and that our constant thoughts and judgements only disturb flow and block energy.

Later, in the lesson, still in Bach’s E flat prelude, I repeated the exercise with my student. Then I applied it to the first and second notes (we’re making progress!) - the leap between the bottom and the top E flats. The arm curves round the cello like a boomerang, leaps like a springbok, lands light as a feather and comes to rest. I watched as my student started to perfect the gesture, and then as, just before landing on the top string, her mind moved in and locked her wrist so it could lay claim, saying “’I’ landed here” rather than “Oh look! it just landed here”.

I have been trying to cultivate a non-violent observer in my own practice; one not attached to interpreting, to pleasing or healing, neither to doing myself, or the composer, justice. Just listening. Miraculously, in the fleeting moments when this observer is present, perfect movement, humour, depth and logic result. The pulse becomes as strong as the bowing poplar, the melody as natural as birdsong and the organic harmonic progressions, simply revealed, make the music glow like butterscotch.

Friday, October 05, 2007



"NON, I cannot clean this" The dry cleaner from Pressing La lavande made it sound like the rug from Morocco was infested with tribal termites.

"And that will bleed" The Tibetan blanket I had brought back from Nepal was clearly going to leak something worse than blood on his green plastic floor.

He checked out the inoffensive pastel floral quilt from Carpentras market, approved it and checked a box on the ticket. I was struggling with his self importance, and oblique racism. He, meanwhile, was waggling his finger and tut tutting. Have some bloody imagination, I thought. You'd think a Yak wool natural dyed rug from fès would brighten his day, but no. It petrified him, threatened him, caused him to shut the shutters on beauty.

"I have to do a test" he said, hiking his glasses up over his beaky nose up onto his lined forehead, and revealing eyes that alternated between fright and disdain. He reached for a silver vessel that looked like a mini cocktail shaker and sprinkled powder on to the exotic fabrics. We waited, he for disaster and me to relax. Nothing happened.

I gently tried to prise the shutters open; told him a little of my travels, but all the while wafting total respect for Lavender Pressing his way; agreed that natural dyes posed a challenge, but isn't life full of them and don't they make the world go round etc....

Having initially rejected seven of my eight offerings, I left with a ticket with eight checked items.

I got the NON treatment from the women who work at the Mairie too. Glad for their pensions and holiday and maternity pay, but not happy to sit in the prettiest building in the village serving their community, it was NON all the way for my adoption questions. How can I legalise a signature from someone in the UK, I asked. Can they legalise it in an embassy there or do they really have to take time off work to come to a small village in the Vaucluse? NON (et OUI). And Can I have a 'certificate of morality' from the mayor who does not know me? NON. They were, quite simply, horrible. I asked to have a meeting with the mayor.

The Mayor, as people with confidence in jobs they know matter, says OUI. To everything. Not only that but he's prepared to legallise any old signature and give us whatever we need. No-one has to take time off their jobs or away from their family in England. That's ridiculous. And besides, I think he is quite in to having a little African child in the community.

..."And when are you starting a music festival in the demoiselles Coiffées?" he asked. Now there's a question.

"What about all the fire regulations?" I asked.

"Well there are always regulations...."

PS check out my friend Elena's zest for all things multicultural and wonderful.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007



I hold the pot in my hands. It is my first gardening experience, and an emergency. These bear’s breeches we have rescued from the garden centre are pot-bound. I turn the plant over. Its roots are meshed together like a plate of pasty bucatini. On carefully cutting the plastic away I see that they have turned back upwards, spiralling round the earth in a crazed attempt to find nourishment.

This image stays with me for days, and I don’t quite know why.

I have a new student. She plays the Prelude to Bach’s Fourth Suite, very well, but I cannot hear her inner drummer. Neither, I suspect, can she. There is, though she plays in tune, simply no resonance in the big fat E flat major chords and, though she plays in time, no pulse. I get out my djembé, asking her to drum on the main beats as I play the notes. I see that her wrist does not spring back in release from the impulse; that there is no follow-through and that her arm stays rigid in mid air till it is time to hit again. I try to get her to create a first impulse that gives birth organically to the next seven within the phrase. I talk about - and demonstrate as best I can - skimming stones, preparation and follow-through in a tennis stroke, the release in our step and the bouncing of a ball. I push her around quite a lot. We swap roles. Slowly her wrist becomes responsive to the wood of her bow. She starts to follow the natural logic of her body rather than the chaotic judgement of her mind and, on the dominant chord, I finally get the goose-bumps Bach deserves. As I drum, letting my fleshy palm sink deep in to the animal skin and feeling the lightness of the release back out of it, I understand something about my roots.

My roots, though I was born there as were both my parents, do not feel ‘English’. They are not about bluebell woods and toad in the hole (though I love both things), nor are they the Goons or lawns or dandelion soup. They are somewhere between Hungary (Sandor Vègh), Peckham (where I danced - and kissed - for the first time) Catalonia (Pablo Casals) and Mali (the Dogon art with which I was surrounded as a child.). These are the elements that have taken root in me, and I realise that what I am profoundly homesick for is this soil.

If we have a family will my roots reach back in to that soil as new shoots reach for the sunlight, I wonder. I do not know the answer.

Meanwhile, if I can only find my musical family, the quartet repertoire is waiting. How I ache for it.