Saturday, January 29, 2005

yoga and music in art

Notes from the cybercube at the Bastille.
Walking through the louvre a bobbed gamine is preparing a class of students for the impressionists, comparing the sketch with the real thing in an Ingres portrait:
"Parlons des fesses!"
"Qu'est ce qu'on a gagne?"
"On a gagne les FESSES!"
Only a french art teacher would be talking bottoms. And there are many to talk about in the Louvre, in particular some large horse bottoms purple from slapping...
But that is when we start getting overwhelmed and giggly. More seriously, we have purchased 3 day museum passes and are immersed in beauty.
A corner of a Bonnard painting captures my eye: A peasant in the background doing a perfect trikonasana- front leg anchored in the earth and torso freely untwisting up towards the sky, unravelling his spine of it's hard labour, and suddenly art and yoga meet in an Orsay moment.
Matisse's violinist, a head full of clouds, front leg anchored in the physical and back leg drifting in the world of the spirit, is pinned against a window frame looking out at the world like christ on the cross freed from religion and welcomed into art. This what it feels like to make music! How did he know? (Answer: he was a violinist)
The room of Bonnard at the Beaubourg has Julian's eyes brimming over with tears. What does he see in his thin and fragile self portrait? Just a man like him, with soap and a chest and a chin to shave? On the opposite wall a chair is not a chair but is a collection of multicoloured fabric, so how does it not float? I decide Bonnard has to have been the original Georgina von Etzdorf...
Braque manages a coffee cup, cigarette, ashtray and whatever other simple breakfast paraphenalia all in one miraculous swirl, like Manon and Oscar's markings. (Hello Manon and Oscar...are you eating your dinner?)
Meanwhile, in Cafe Flore, we see the chewed up and SO handsome face of Vincent Landon having his coffee and we are ridiculously excited.
Off to the Musee Picasso, hopefully via the perfect brasserie.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

julian's studio-to-be

An exciting day at les Cougieux. It's minus four degrees. Ouch! Long walks became very short and grumpy as the wind bit into our faces. Thierry came to measure up and do sums and here Julian is holding the tape to the future studio..! Several single mothers rang up meanwhile about accomodation chez nous in Crillon and tomorrow morning one who is a cellist from Mazan is coming to have a look. I secretly hope she will like it and can carry on the tradition of solo Bach pouring out of our windows, provoking Monsieur Giraud opposite to ask if we can "baisser la musique" - as if there were a knob on the fingerboard we could turn to do so. (Many an afternoon in Crillon I have wished there were a knob on his voice-box!).
The afternoon was spent, then, at Crillon. For me it consisted of wiping a thousand gourmet dinners off the sides of the crap fridge and washing machine. Julian decided (poor sod) that painting two new little jewels - an oyster shell and two chilli peppers - for his Duane Keiser-eat-yer-heart-out website was preferable to ruining his babysoft skin with Cif cream cleanser. (Who has a performance with the Musiciens du Louvre tomorrow?). Anyway, job done at last! (Oooh that ancient cheese still waiting in the fridge from Adam Glover's first still life essai did rightly pong. Sadly the picture remains unfinished because we bought a house just before the last apple could be perfected and Julian became a plumber and electrician for the following six months.)
On the way home the Ventoux was shrouded in a pink frilly snow cloud and the shepherd brought his various horned- herd through the streets of Bedoin to their February home.
We are spending a last evening with last night's leftovers (minus choc cake, dam!)and Manon and Oscar; we are going to miss them terribly. Luckily Nadine and Manuel, who call them 'Princesse' and 'Grisonier'are very huggy and they will probably be fattened on foie gras and spoiled to bits. Julian and I will have to channel all our lovey dovey towards each other instead this week. A good thing!

gnarled vines

The Viognier, the Pretending King and the Plonk from Paul all went down well with Malcolm who, before he lost consciousness, vowed to pay a visit to the maker first thing thismorning. Amazing to think that this nectar is brewing in the heart of these gnarled creatures. I am reminded of a wise old dancer in stillness, a lifetime of movement concentrated in her posture.
Plans afoot for stage two, meanwhile: Yesterday a visit to our landlady threw up some synchronicity, and when I suggested we try to find someone to rent the part of the house Julian does not use, she said she had been thinking exactly the same thing. Her nephews Thierry and Fabrice are coming round at midday to give us an idea how much stage two would cost, my Mum miraculously gave me 500 quid for my birthday and Julian is playing with various fortune-making schemes inspired by Duane: A gallery of small paintings called Shifting Light (I though of that name!), A Painter's Journal called Permanent-Red (where you will be able to check out his side of the story)and his own sleek new look Yesterday there were two small paintings hot off the easel so we are waiting for them to be snapped up.
Tomorrow we are off for a week together in Paris and then I am taking Julian to Madrid for his birthday present, to see the infamous Spanish Portrait exhibition.

Monday, January 24, 2005

pot roast with thyme

It's snowing today, down from thirteen degrees to zero! We have been to a sparse market where stall holders rubbed their hands and we bought salted pork belly and loin to cook with beans, a good camembert and a chevre and the bio man's rye bread. I have been out to Paul Vendran at the Ferme St Pierre. He sells the best cubi in the region and, happily, is a close neighbour. When I said that Malcolm - who used to make wonderful wine at Domaine des Anges - was our supper guest Paul, along with his pricey Roi Feignant, chucked in a bottle of Viognier which he had just bottled. Here is the view when I went out to pick thyme for the pot roast.

half way up the Ventoux

Thighs a bit tired the next day but it was worth it!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

warm ups

Getting to Bonneuil sur Marne is a pain. After the Vaseline smooth trajectory of the TGV from Avignon, I find that the Paris metro is a bumpy ride for fat ladies with a cello on their back and a suitcase preceding their bellies. Once in the infinite labyrinth of metro and RER I am confronted with several sets of clacking doors, which open an inch or two for a seductive second when I slip my little ratp ticket in, and then close. I manage to get my suitcase through to the other side but the frames lumber apart about the width of one of my buttocks and we, my cello and I, cannot squeeze through to recover the bag. I take the cello off my back and push it through but, having activated the barrier at an above average height for luggage, it has demagnetised my ticket and I am left alone on the other side. I am sweating through my moisturising cream as I watch several dozen potential criminals slip through and not steal my invaluable instrument. I scream at the man in the ticket booth who eventually lets me through with a touch of a button and I am reunited with my belongings. Then I discover that all the escalators are broken.
On arrival at the theatre, I set out to do my regular warm up and chuckle at the comic pair my desk partner, Hervé, and I make: I sit calmly, breathing into my bow-arm, trying to feel the nerve endings go right through the horse –hair (a tip I got from Paul Newman in ‘The Hustler’) and into the vibrating string; I do the rubber pencil trick on both arms to check for good balance and response at all points on the stick and fingerboard; and I plod up and down D and E flat major scales slowly in thirds. Next to me Hervé has zipped through a whole Piatti Caprice – all in a region of the instrument, which does not feature in our score – in the time that I have travelled zen-like from the frog to the heel of the bow. Next come a Boccherini Concerto and one by Servais, all repertoire which goes at the speed of the TGV and which I have always avoided. This is his only moment to show off as for the next hour and a half we only get to play tonics, dominants and sub-dominants, mostly at a walking pace. My warm up is geared to get them in tune, but more than that, to be as responsive to our chef’s, and Haydn’s gesture as I can. I do not know the purpose of his warm up. Secretly, I suspect that he is warming up to control rather than abandon, rigidity rather than flexibility, but that’s probably just me being dead jealous of his awesome prowess.
Hervé is, I suspect, somewhat of a closet misogynist, which is why I am not leading as stated in the programme. He sat comfortably in the first chair at the first rehearsal and I clocked immediately that even if I were leading he would never want to follow me so I chose not to challenge him. I clocked also that it pays to act a little coquettish around him to pander to his male ego. Unlike my experience in Lyon, however, this male is a good musician, comes with buckets of charm and humour and gives me a red rose for my birthday. The differences between us have the potential of a good team.
Our leader, P, is a cross between a Bee Gee and Gerard Depardieu. He always arrives late, usually because he has found the local Michelin star restaurant and is having a huge meal, but you forgive his puppy-sweet head immediately. He has tight spirally curls which bounce when he does, lively marine blue eyes and a square but humorous grin. He is a poet and in his solo I close my eyes to the marionettes on stage while he inflects his tender story.
Today our chef says she has an ‘ame romantique’, and so we go for full- bodied expression. Every performance is an invitation to a different feast, with different turns of phrase flavoured and savoured, and I look forward to each unfolding. What a joy it is to make music like this, and what a relief after three months of four-square Mozart in Glyndebourne under the baton of a conceited surf-bum.

still life- cup and clementine

I am on my way to Paris again but this time I am forty-one. I have narrowly escaped my official seat in 8/68 - sitting next to a lunatic who says he has 'fesses fragiles' (fragile buttocks) - and am free to muse.
Yesterday was my birthday. Special morning treatment from my beloved included - amongst other things! - fresh mango and orange juice. My gift was a painting of the wonky cup from our favourite Cornish potter, which I bought Julian for Christmas and which featured in our discussion on depicting organic and non organic objects. It was partnered with an equally organic clementine and was the first, maybe the last, in the series of 'shower paintings'. It took my breath away.
Julian has become obsessed with a bloke called Duane Keiser who, on his website, advertises, paints and sells 'A Painting A Day' It has become one of the morning rituals getting up, as one used to for the first cigarette, for today's tiny bottle top, kiwi or wineglass, and Julian is trying to work out a way he can pull off such a coup through his site. Firstly, the title is great, especially as it begins with an A and therefore will come up first in google. Secondly, Duane must be awesomely disciplined. However, though bringing in $100 a day on his postcard paintings alone, I'm not so sure he would ever have the spontaneous generosity to paint a beautiful wonky cup and clementine in the shower for his love's birthday.
Julian's eyes became sealed to his computer screen early on, so I was glad when, returning from a little wander with the kits, I was spontaneously asked to join Manuel and Nadine on a walk. I had no idea they meant half way up the bloody Ventoux, and if I had I may not have agreed, but squeezing through lime rock passages and treading needled and canopied paths under a double rainbow on the ascent to the 'bergerie', was a wonderful way to celebrate. It was followed (thankfully, as I had only had a bowl of artichoke and cep soup and had walked - and farted - up hill for four hours) by dinner out with the sort of friends who, when they get out their diary, you see "truffle omelette" written on Wednesday; the sort of friends who laugh heartily at the unfortunate consequence of soups - once famously in Jo's face as Julian got up to go to the loo - and with whom it is perfect to unwind and celebrate yet another year in this odd but miraculous life.

My arrival at this age marks my acceptance of a path without children. Last year - the doomsday age of the IVF clinic's favourite line: - We don't treat women over forty - I was watching whales and dolphins off the coast of Monterey and, though with Julian and a close girlfriend, I was drenched with the grief of infertility. This year, half way up a mountain with a wonky cup half full and its fruitful accompaniment in my heart, surveying the terrain of our new life I felt a huge sense of excitement and I knew that the longing had become belonging.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A birthday present for my love

It is the 'jour de greve' on the SNCF . My train was of course one of the casualties of the strike and so I braved an earlier one. Luckily, because of the warnings in the media, no-one has ventured out of their city and so, having left my cello with a colleague so as to take up less space on the overcrowded reduced service, I find myself streaming down south with four seats all for me in first class. From the window I watch snow turn to rain, wind, and finally a soft breeze; black ploughed fields turn to burnt sienna; pine trees relax into their southern wiggles and skeletons of apple trees turn to cherry.
Our pockets are being burnt: Julian's by the rent for his studio in Crillon and mine by having to cover most of our other costs. Something is wrong and we have pretty much decided that the studio has to go.
The questions arise therefore about space: His creative space, my creative space and our space as man and wife.
At les Cougieux we have a 'remise', a long stone hayloft: Currently a ruin, it would cost 6000 euros to concrete the floor and turn into a shell from which Julian could - if the light was adequate- paint; just about a year's rent at Crillon. Once done, stone slabs inserted in the wall would be the only access from the ground so he would be private and able to go 'out' to work. After a morning's immersion in lavender or lemons, a simple turn around the hamlet would bring him back home for the delicious lunch I would be preparing with seasonal produce from the market. Meanwhile The Ventoux would be looking over him, protecting his wealth corner. The new masterpieces would go straight down the shoot used for the hay to the lime-washed garage which would, by now, be a money-spinning gallery space with glass doors framed in iron and a dinky sign saying 'Galerie du Mont Ventoux'. I would be standing in the luminescent doorway welcoming the cyclists.
We also have a big room at the end of the house: This is supposed, when the floor has been concreted to stop the walls falling away from each other, one towards Bedoin and the other towards Carpentras, to become my room. This is where I will be able to play Beethoven to the cats, write my bestseller gazing out at the lush mountain, and give lessons to people who come from far and wide for inspiration and Julian's cooking. There I will practice yoga and meditation and become a very calm sentient being...
Unfortunately we cannot afford to do it.
In the real world my room whistles with the freedom of being practically open air and is too cold to contemplate vigorous bow stroking let alone meditation. Julian is trying out the seashell grey Hammam style shower he built as a temporary alternative to the studio and plans an imminent move to the guest bedroom. I get home and this is on the easel and I am told it is "A birthday present for my love"

What a lucky girl am I.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

sculpture garden

The digi-camera finally arrived. A bit late as it seems to have gone round the hamlets. An evening walk then, just to show you where we live, and the small joyful things on our doorstep: A path in rose-light, a dusky olive grove and, above all, Manuel's sculpture garden.
These are just two of the little spontaneous stone sculptures he makes when he walks the flagging old dog at dawn and dusk.

Seeing them always makes me feel like we share a secret art garden with the fairies, and are truly blessed to be here.

Other joys today included the fruits of a late night surf: a friend found in Madrid via a cd she had made and an email from a very old friend in the US who I'd googled and found. The renewed connection made my heart sing out in the knowledge that love is never truly lost, especially with broadband!
Another dear friend asked me if I have yet done the "cabbage soup diet", which book she gave me. Oops. Hope she loves me anyway.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Left-over cous-cous and I insist that we put the computers away even if it is for ten minutes. ("What would you say if your son ate his dinner infront of his laptop?").It turns out to be much more than ten minutes and we do, over our €22 a 10 litre cubi of vin de pays, what I love doing best: we have one of our spontaneous art talks.
The brush stroke and the bow - how are they similar? Julian - who used to run the Renoir Cinema in London - recently showed me the amazing film - 'The Hustler'. In it, Paul Newman talks about what it is like when he is truly on form: He says that the snooker cue is not just an extension of the arm but it is also "full of nerve endings". We talk about whether or not a brush stroke can regenerate itself as a bow can, or a pebble thrown and skimming water; at what point the rhythm of the gesture takes over from the head; the control gives way to momentum. We hash out crooked cups and crooked quinces and how they are different due to the judgement of the onlooker; how quinces are expected to be wonky but cups perfect; the dynamic between a perfect solid object and an organic one; the imperfection in the voice of the opera singer which is exactly the moment we, the audience, break down.
Julian is doing a virtual image using photoshop of Val's fireplace, changing the perspective and moving the window and the surround sound TV, and placing a vibrant Merrow-Smith above it. It is their 15th wedding anniversary and they want 15 things. Oscar is doing his inside-out trick and Manon is curled up in post licking girlie beauty sleep. We are back on track.


We - two clouded folk, fugged and fuming - have emerged from a two-day growl back into the world. Just in time, thankfully, to hear the shepherd’s bells and see the huddle of sheep bottoms nodding down the lane.
Julian has been working on his website in the only warm room with a telephone connection – the kitchen. Even without the frost of an unresolved argument, this is often a very frustrating process to be around. It involves hours of staring at the screen with furrowed brow and clenched teeth, only to shriek at the occasional triumph of a line appearing or disappearing or a change of dot colour, or a move from comic sans to apple gothic font. I, pottering around trying to enjoy my days off in our home, am shut out until I am called upon to respond ecstatically to such barely perceptible changes.
The question: Should I ask my friends to whom I have given 5 free tickets if they would like to contribute to the collection the singers are making for the victims of the Tsunami?
The argument: Global versus local perspectives on charity; A talker and a loner; One person from a small broken family needing attention and one from a large happy family needing space….
The answer: There is no answer, just listening and time.
Fifty percent of the musician couples I know, many in marriages I have looked to for inspiration, are separating. When it feels like I am falling too I hold on to the fact that Julian is at home when I am; that when we are we talk; that he isn’t (and does not desire to be) on tour immersed in music, made and therefore so easily confused with love, in Paris and Venice with all the beautiful people…and I swim energetically back to shore.
When I get there, there are treats: Val has said yes to a big still life commission, there is fizz in the fridge, Oscar, drugged up to his eyeballs on cinnamon, spent the morning sniffing in my drawer full of large pants and is divine, Manon caught two voles and a feather, Julian’s site is finally up-ish, and there’s couscous for dinner.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

two aspirin, lunch outside and a walk in the mistral

Last night our neighbours came to us for dinner so of course today I have a whopper of a hangover. I must do something about finding a balance between the enjoyment of living in the middle of Cote du Rhone vines and the pain of having yet another beautiful day obliterated by alcohol fug.
After lunch outside ( I thought it was pretty amazing in late October, pictured here, but in January¦.!) watching the de-balled Oscar glint blue in the hot sun my head was still throbbing so I decided that a couple of aspirin and a walk in the mistral was the only answer. Pacing through the architectural rows of vines renewed order to my fuddled brain. The wind picked up and roared down the path like a jet plane ripping through the blur and clearing my thought paths. I began to see again: pewter blue lichen and lime moss. I smelt the mat of thyme and wood burning stoves from other hamlets, returning home to ours thinking "I am alive!".
Or, as Julian said last night:
"Je suis en vie"
I thought it sounded like "Je suis envie" - I am desire, and corrected him. Then Nadine said that Julian would still be speaking French like a Spanish cow even after 30 years of living here. It was meant to imply that Julian would always be charming, but for a person who rarely speaks even his own language, after a whole evening of heroically making himself understood in a language he has never learned on subjects ranging from God through adoption to removing a cat's testicles, he was understandably hurt.
Nothing that a good slice of last night's chocolate cake couldn't help,along with the pleasure of finally packing up and sending off Adam Glover's huge still life. As a celebration he came home with a cabbage saying "Don't say I never buy you flowers".

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

oscar's castration

Oscar has had his proud sacs of manhood removed by the infamous monosyllabic vet and is now an inanimate and incontinent sausage on our laps.
My first encounter with Nicolas was by phone when I tried to book an appointment at six months for them to be neutered. His answer was “Sept mois”. When I presented, as a way of practicing my French, the case of a friend’s kitten who got pregnant at four months by her brother, he simply put the phone down on me. I have since heard that he is the best vet in the area, and that he cures all the wild horses on the Ventoux, but that he rarely speaks.
On arrival this morning there was a gaggle of pet owners at the door; plump peasant ladies with their beloved Mi-mis and Dou-dous , a downy beautician and two cow piss yellow hunters. The conversation amongst us was aglow with respect for the man inside, and ranged from vaccinations against cat aids to contempt for the local Leclerc supermarket’s new car park design. When it came to be Oscar’s turn I entered the shrine and was overwhelmed with the smell of lavender, clove and citronella oils which are his main medicines. The vet himself seemed to be an animal in a man’s skin – quite a hunk if you like a bit o’ rough. He was gruff towards me, but swift and almost tender towards Oscar as he put him to sleep and snipped out his little sperm making factories. He said two words to me: “Castrer” and “Vingt Quatre euros”.
Nicolas is just about to leave for his annual holiday, which, I imagine will see him in the wild corners of the mountains living off thyme and snow and growing a long icicle encrusted beard….

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

diary of a commission

Back at the house, the next episode in the story of a commission emerged through the ethernet: This one is for a still life, which commission our whacky solicitor preferred to payment when he acted for us in the sale of our house in England a year ago. Despite his wait while Julian re-plumbed and re-wired our house and his aborted visit to see us last summer (where he got as far as Carpentras from the Var and turned back because he could not find us and was too proud to ask the way) he is still a witty correspondent and is making do with the two paintings of Venice he actually gave us cash for.
Here is the most recent correspondance:

On 25 Oct 2004, at 2:05 PM, B wrote:
listen, although I have difficulty in finding where you live, I do actually know where you live, so I can have people sent round if I want to many fingers do you need to hold a paintbrush... I may have the unneccessary ones removed...

Sent by Julian: Wednesday, October 27, 2004 8:50 AM
Subject: Re: liars,crooks,cheats and thieves
I need my fingers! Will have something special for you before Chrimbo' am working hard with no distractions, wife in Lewes and parts north doing Glyndebourne until mid-December so just me and the cats. J

On 27 Oct 2004, at 11:23 AM, B wrote:
so is she commuting on a weekly basis or have you got rid of her for the season
and the love nest - does this mean that all is finished and you are back to painting just canvas not walls ?
any more exciting commissions secured ?
questions questions
B x

Ten weeks pass.This time Julian has been busy creating his new fluffy style which is not ready for the big wide world yet. Since Christmas he has been redesigning his website. Suddenly he has a pang of guilt and writes to B.

Sent by Julian: Monday, January 10, 2005 8:33 AM
Subject: Re: liars,crooks,cheats and thieves

Delays ,delays, just a little note to say I am still working and trying to find you the right thing. Will get something to you soon. Happy New Year to you and yours from me and mine. Julian

On Jan 11th B wrote:

yeah,yeah,yeah.....and I'm not quoting from the Beatles (I'm too young).
reciproations on the filicitations etc.,. how was it for you - over here or over there.
surprise gifts for me this year were a waffle iron and a BBC publication of the TV series "Grumpy Old Men"....what's going on?
Big kisses all round


demoiselles coiffees
Originally uploaded by ruthphillips.
The heat of this January day had us walking out to the ochre rock formations - the Demoiselles Coffees - baskets atop our shoulders and hanging at our sides to fill with cones for the fire. A gauze stole curled around the snowy top of the Ventoux which pierced the sky as we stepped lightly on the moss and red sand. Manon got all fluffed up when she espied Robert the local sleek pointillist male. We noticed he was still well endowed and, after a tempting moment contemplating the beautiful babies they would have, we changed our course. We rummaged and ramassed between the pines like two simple folk living off the land and I was filled with a desire to make bread and preserves, Since I am a pretentious musician who eats foie gras and sleeps only in Egyptian cotton sheets and not a provencal peasant, this desire will probably get no further than the romance of this page.

another blue morning

Morning in les Cougieux.
Luckily I do not have a hangover because I have insisted on a new policy; that when we go out to dinner we decide in advance, rather than when both of us are completely sozzled, who is going to drive home along the windy roads. Needless to say it was me, but I am feeling smug now.
When Julian opens the shutters the light is dazzling and Manon and I both squint. It is half past nine and I have failed yet again to get up early enough to get the cats to the vet, to have Oscar’s pert furry balls chopped off, and Manon denied any possibility of motherhood. As a childless couple I think we are unconsciously resisting the joy of a litter of our own. Manana.
We sit over beetroot and carrot juice, mac to mac, our apples almost kissing. Oscar is obediently overseeing the email collection on Julian’s lap and suddenly his master's tears are falling into his fur. The weekly art-letter has come in with the story of a cold night, a dog, and going to the studio anyway. Julian is touched and he melts. It is in this open space that there is so much room for my love.
He soon spurs up again in a brief debate about galleries versus the internet. It is one of many we have been having recently, the most interesting being about what I would call soul, which he thinks of as a sort of plasticine from which we are all fashioned.
Oscar is acting distant towards me and I wonder if it is because I am always on tour. Is Julian just trying to make me feel better when he says it is only because my tits are too big for him to contemplate room on my lap.
It’s time for coffee. Pull that chrome gaggia lever and out it treacles. Mmmmmmmmmm………….

Sunday, January 09, 2005

jess, beth and amy

During my week in Paris with the Musiciens du Louvre I take my luxurious morning coffee in the Cafe Beaubourg. I walk daily round the Ile St Louis and along the Seine gazing up at cream louvred shutters and through lead windows where people like Jacques Brel and Juliette Greco surely live????????? I discover where I can have the best tarte salee - in the Maison Berthaud ice cream salon, and see that most French men having their business lunch still look like my teenage heart throbs, Guillaume Monsingeant and Vincent Remy.
The music making is wonderful, by which I mean full of wonder. And love. How one is ever supposed to lose the post Christmas bidon , however, when playing a bass line is likened to whipping up a sabayon; where we are encouraged to add more olive oil or make our crotchets more gourmandes, and the patisserie next door has award winning galettes, I do not know.
What I do know is that it beats touring in Woking and Milton Keynes.
I return on the 31st of January to a house full of beautiful girls. Julian's brother Pete has arrived en famille from Alicante with a box of Rioja and a huge ham on the bone. It seems to have been spun from bees, so like nectar is it. It rests, a macho object, on our farmhouse table.

jess and beth 1
Originally uploaded by ruthphillips.
It is balanced out by the pretty sparkle of Jessica (13), the sultry beauty of Bethany (11), and the explosion of innocent joy that is Amy (3). The two older girls have already made firm partnerships with Oscar and Manon and they are to be found most times nursing their new crushes on the soft curves of the olive green sofa.
Julian and I, reeling from xmas extravagance, have pulled out the budget stops on the way home from Avignon TGV, at the mammoth supermarket, Auchan. We knock up oysters, foie gras, roast lamb and rice pudding for seven. The girls are up for anything and get very slightly pissed on the sweet wine. They nibble the foie gras despite my description of the poor ducks with their bursting livers, and devour the oysters in the hope that they may find pearls, bur also with an adventurous taste bred from growing up in Botswana and eating strange worms and snakes on their bush camp fires. Amy exclaims with great excitement that we are 'eating the sea'. I pity the city children who can only stomach pasta with no sauce eaten separately from the adults. There seem to be so many.
On New Year's Day Amy wakes us on the pull out bed with a purity, which puts my gigondas-infused blood to shame and we drive to the top of the winter wonderland of the Mont Ventoux. There I sledge for the first time, my head nestled in between Julians thighs, screaming with an abandon which has been hibernating too long.
Throughout the few days Amy had more energy and joy in her body and soul that I have felt for a long time. She hauled the sledge up and tobogganed down the mountain for six hours, then climbed up to the 'Dentelles de Montmirail' in a fierce mistral, to view the valley of Gigondas, On the rocky pinnacle I crushed wild thyme in my hand and gave it to her to smell. A first. Mmmmmmmmmm! She voyaged through all this with laughter that simply said "Here and Now is Good". I believe she came to us as the laughing Buddha.
Late at night we chewed the Fat and the Faith; The Foie Gras. A family of Born Again Christians entering into to the shock of a messy 'mas' and the two humanist artists who live in it poses a question: Where do we meet spiritually? It was good to debate, to search for the point where we loved; where we accepted and respected each other. It's a work in progress, and an important one for 2005.

les cougieux

Originally uploaded by ruthphillips.
the happy house of julian and ruth, manon and oscar.

christmas under the ventoux

Our first Christmas and New Year celebrations at Les Cougieux, at the foot of the Mont Ventoux, are crammed in between trips to Paris and Valence with my orchestra.
We decide that shopping must be done in style and drive to the market, Les Halles, in Avignon. There we spin at the epicentre of French celebration. The meal on the 24th will be a la Francaise : Twelve Fines et Claires d’Oleron oysters, coquilles St Jaques and bass. For the following days we choose wild duck (with extra gizzards thrown in and a few goose heads for rich deglazed sauces), pigeon and foie gras both mi-cuit and raw. We make a leap of festive faith and go for the traditional provencal winter vegetable we have no idea how to cook, cardoons. It looks, with it’s ugly spiked back, like a cross between celery and a stegelosaurus Rex. It is supposed to taste like a cross between celery and Jerusalem artichokes without the farts.
The 24th is a balmy thirteen degrees but, despite our commitment to spending four days inseparably together, Julian whirrs off to the studio on the bike to finish something mysterious, which may be delivered by reindeer and a red nosed father later on and I am entrusted with budget table decorations. I choose to go a - berry picking at the foot of the far-from-bleak Ventoux and meditate on what this holy day means to me – an aspiring Buddhist who believes in Bach married to a lapsed Catholic who believes in Cezanne and the human spirit. My favourite carol pours spontaneously out of me and as I sing "What can I give him? Give my heart." amongst the bare vines back-lit by the sun and away from canned jingle bells in Sainsburys, something begins to makes sense.
As we are hanging fairy lights around one of Julian’s new fluffy still lives to the sound of the Kings carol service on broad band there is a knock at the door. Nadine and Manuel enter with a flamboyantly wrapped vin de pays. I recover some warm-ish fizz from the ‘boghole’ and we sit by the fire sipping, stroking cats and bavarding. There were no plans, the room is in no particular order though candles burn, no feast is lain and no expensive gifts given but there is love and gratitude everywhere.
They leave after an hour saying "I know we don’t see each other often, but our hearts are with you" and a huge bloc of Nadine’s foie gras appears on her kitchen window as a rather fattening afterthought.
We open a Beaumes de Venise we have been saving, and spread her gift on pain de seigle we toast in the fire. Then it just happens, the feeling steals round us: It is Christmas.
As I jab at the oysters I am told it is present time.
"If I were a painter I would bring a still life…."
Julian brings out the framed self-portrait, which, along with the fluffy yellow still life I adore, are my gifts.
"Yet what can I give her? Give my heart…."
He does just that too.