Monday, February 28, 2005


We never had a 'crémaillère'. Just couldn't fit one in between cleaning the paint off the kittens' tails (with white spirit, ouch, until we discovered local olive oil to be the best paint remover) smothering ourselves with the third gallon of hand-cream after removing the third tonne of 'gravats' in our renault megane, moving in, receiving the parents in law and me going off on tour for three months. However, had we had one we would, naturellement, have invited the very attractive organic butcher and his son (who make the best sausages in the world) in what was then our local village - Caromb. Infact he had already invited himself. This is how it came about and this one's for you, Kim.

"Nous avons acheté une maison a Bedoin"
"Ah vous pouvez nous inviter à votre crémaillère!"
"C'est quoi, une crémaillère?"
"Ah, ca! Vous invitez tout le village. Tout le monde boit beacoup de pastis et les hommes couchent avec tous les femmes des autres"
"Vous pouvez venir a notre crémaillère si vous apportez vos saucisses"
"Madame, Je ne pars jamais sans ma saucisse!"

Here's the cheese seller in snowy Bedoin market who is irresistible and therefore not very good for the diet ("On essaie de faire un régime mais je ne peux pas vous passer sans acheter du fromage - une p'tite tranche de comté fruité, alors!";"Mais vous avez bien choisi le fromage le moins gras, Madame") but whom I wouldn't have minded at the party.


I guess I have missed a trick. Most of the bloggers out there do not reveal their true identity and call themselves tantalizing things such as 'petite' (you all know who I'm talking about) and have children called 'tadpole'. Brilliant! I have always wanted to be mysterious because Mysterious got the boys and the gigs. Mysterious left room for you. Mysterious made you want more not less. Mysterious was always beautiful (and normally slim and blonde)...
However, here I am again, as always, a big brunette wringing every bloody detail out about myself and my nearest and dearest, so I thought I'd introduce us formally for a change.

My name is Ruth. In France this is (mis)pronounced in three ways:
One: R as in c-R-oissant; U as in UGH; TH as in the sound you make when you accidentally bite on the clove in the apple pie and try to spit it out except it is already half way down your throat and is choking you.
Two: R as in saran- WR -ap; U as in t-U-nes when his cold is better; TH as in the noise the gaggia coffee machine makes when it is out of water.
Three: As above but with no effort whatsoever to pronounce TH, so with a hard T as in HAT at the end. This last and most common version is VERY unfortunate as it comes from the verb Ruter, which means Animal Bonk.

"Alors, Animal Bonk, can we start the andante at figure seven?"

Julian, my husband is, in French, conveniently metamorphosed into Julien, as in Sorel. This mysterious Stendhalian figure was a teenage heart-throb of mine and is the reason I am here and married to a Julian in the first place. 'Julien' fits the wild-curled leather-jacketed artist arriving paint-bespattered back from a day at the studio having accomplished several masterpieces of thundery skies over provencal landscapes.
However there is another version which is 'Julie-Anne' which suits my husband when he is weeping at a snowflake, or a Bonnard, or a Bach flattened sixth chord or even (get this) at James Taylor. It also suits him when he is wearing his pinny, reducing and deglazing a sauce to accompany some exquisite meal he is cooking me.

Then there are our two cats - Manon as in des Sources, so no problem there with pronunciation.

..And Oscar. Osca-R as in c-R-oissant, but this time a particularly buttery flaky one, all gooey on the inside and macho on the out.

And the slippers. These have no name and are thus the only mysterious members of the family. Their purpose is to replace Julian, Oscar and Manon when I am on tour.

Saturday, February 26, 2005


We no longer frequent our local supermarket, Leclerc. They have constructed an airport of a parking monstrosity and, on exiting the new filling casino within its walls, we scraped our car on the invisible concrete barrier because the white line was also invisible. There was a veritable collection of car coloured stripes on the spot where we hit, and three days later, having realized their design fault, they built eight big plastic bollards to guide their errant drivers. May it have had something to do with the superb rant I produced in perfect french rantese? or the fact that I dragged the poor supervisor over, stuck her nose in a series of red and green marks? or that I forced her into the be-littered driver's seat (can a kinder bar wrapping really last that long?) so she could NOT see the while line? I think so. However, despite her compassionate "C'est un peu juste" they refused to pay for the repair. I am a awaiting a reply to my letter, which I will probably never get. They need neither our loyalty nor our money. there is a new sucker shopping in Leclerc every day.
So, we now go to market on Mondays, buy our wine from the producers (especially since seeing 'Mondovino'), and shop on other days in the beautiful 'Marches de Provence' which is a celebration of the vegetable, a collection of impromptu still life paintings and in which one can have profound conversations about cardoon recipes (I have the one with anchovies still to try) whilst waiting in line. It is here that Julian bought everything for his still life paintings for the Queen Mary 2 commissions and I intend to go in and show them the reproductions one day. Outside, naturally, the men play boules under clipped plane trees.
Unfortunately they do not sell red label chickens or bogroll, so we sneak into the other supermarket - Intermarche - for those things. You don't know that.

Today it is only 5 degrees but the sun is hot and I wandered onto an oak covered path marked by an orange sun at the foot of the Ventoux to see the lichen exhibition which is currently on show. It's the nearest I can get to ocean colour and seeing it is like drinking fresh mountain water (which we also have).

Friday, February 25, 2005


It is probably stopping suddenly after a bout of relentless bowing and then eating too much birthday chicken mole and drinking the best marguerita I have ever had (Thank you Jo and George) that did it, but this morning I had a very disturbing dream. I dreamed that Julian and I were in a supermarket and we had adopted a little boy. Julian was doing some beautiful fun fathering in amongst the canned tomatoes and fresh meat aisles and it was very sexy to watch, especially as he had his leather jacket on. I, however, was left paralyzed in the toilet roll section, desperately packing yet another suitcase for another journey and feeling utterly unable to bond with this kid or draw on any kind of mothering instinct. I woke up with sorrow weighing down on my eyelids, no little ones around to reassure me that it was just a silly nightmare.
Recently J and I went to see the new Tavernier film together in Avignon called 'Holy Lola' about a couple adopting a child in Cambodia. I think we were both a little apprehensive about what feelings, after our traumatic IVF and pregnancy history, it would cause to surface. (One of the characteristics we had come - with difficulty - to accept was that, though we were going through the process 'together', actually we went through a lot of it quite separately, having very separate emotions at very different times).
Leaving the cinema would one of us, we wondered, be saying "Right. That's it. I'm getting on the next plane and I will not stop till we succeed in adopting a cute Cambodian", whilst the other would be rejoicing in the confirmation that it was the last thing on earth they were ready to put themselves through? As we emerged, very touched by the movie, it turned out to be one of the most harmonious moments in our healing process: Over a beer and a tartine, we acknowledged a new acceptance - that, following the last three years, it would just be too much to go through yet another agonizing 'process', that we were feeling too old; that we wanted to spend some simple time together..... We felt a new excitement at the path not exactly chosen but which upon which we have happily stumbled, of music, art, cats and a Provencal wreck, above all of a rich journey together as husband and wife.
We still cry, and we still dream. The sadness and the longing will always be there, but here I am in paradise, my husband in the kitchen putting today's new bijoux tiny landscape paintings up on his site, and I, typing with one finger, have a small silver cat-soul on my lap gazing up at me as if I were the best Mum in the world.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

terroir - a tasting at chateau rayas

Today is Julian's birthday and also the first day of three glorious months AT HOME!
Because I am a marvellous wife who picks up large hints, I had arranged for a wine tasting at the infamous Chateau Rayas after lunch in the bustling Chateauneuf Brasserie, 'La Mere Germaine'.

We have bought wine for a year or two now from Emanuel Reynaud at Chateau des Tours (the nephew of the Great late Jacques Reynaud of Rayas) and Emanuel had brought his family to a concert I put on at Crillon last christmas. Since then we have been mutual admirers. He, in charge of his uncle's legacy since his death in 1977, agreed to give us a tasting.

The place is the antithesis of the money spinning posh chateau (even though a 1978 bottle will set you back £859.57 at Bury Bros. and Rudd) and more along the lines of the Sicilian couple at the beginning of the film Mondovino - all nature, passion and honesty. Emanuel took three glasses ("Je vous tiens compagnie") from a tacky rack and led us up a crumbling dark staircase to the attic where he keeps the 2004 whites in stainless steel vats. Pouring from a hose, he guided us through the Fonsalett and Rayas made with grenache blanc and clairette, and informed us that the wine would be ready in 20 years, though you could get a sense of it in the 'empty glass' and the 'empty mouth'. Then, clambering in the half light to the reds he took up his mallet and mega-pipette and we entered a musty cellar filled with oak barrels. Each of these held the nectaroid promise of one small parcel of land (one grenache parcel facing the sunrise, one the sunset and one in the middle), which will be artfully constructed together and bottled this spring, and released in 2006/7. Alone with the becapped magician in his alchemical cave, with tobacco and red fruits dancing on our tongues and in between rather a lot of sniffing, slurrpping and guzzly sounds, we discussed a small birthday present for his wife and a few friends of a concert in early June. Now we are talking a possible high quality bartering...

We left, laughing about our paupers' request for an empty bottle for still life purposes, and took his tour into the beloved woods which he says are so much part of the character of the grape, through baby vines with high aspirations and the bonsai intensity of the grandfathers. We were deeply touched by Emanuel and his honest quest for poetry in a glass.

coup de grace in the coupe d'or?

Orchestral politics turned a little nasty under the golden canape of the Theatre Coupe d'Or, and our last night party was tainted for me.
It is possible I have been somewhat of a hit in the band. It may be because, fresh on these shores, I have no past hooks on which to hang easy judgments (YET. We all make mistakes and it could all change. Perhaps it already has). It seems I have been proposed for a huge tour in the summer. My solo oyster-fest was in part a private celebration of this, and Julian had I had already thought our dire financial straits in a state of repose, planning more work on the house (or at least an ability to pay the cubi bills). Then, after the last performance, I heard that wonderful cellists in the Paris region and beyond are sitting waiting for this work; cellists who have worked regularly with the group for years and who deserve it; cellists who also have bills to pay. All of a sudden I am a football being tossed around a political courtroom, feeling like I should back down for moral reasons and I am pissed off to yet again be dragged into the mess. Am I a fool waking from a harmonious dream to find that the reality is quite different, or should I just accept gracefully that this is how it goes and perhaps, having been pushed aside over the last twenty years in favour of people with more energy, less movement, bigger breasts or longer legs, younger people, sexier people, less sexy people, wiser people....that my moment has finally come?
Two years ago I was asked to do a series of Bach passions with a well known group (run by criminals it turns out and which shall remain nameless). I had been replacing the first cellist during her maternity leave. I could tell that i was being asked simply to replace her. I said that I was uneasy with this situation, knowing the girl was keen to come back to work, and suggested we shared the work between us. I never heard from them again. However, two months later I was doing a concert with a french group in exactly the same venue in the Var, a new career ahead of me. I have never looked back.
How moral should we be? If you are true and good does your guardian angel really approve and look after you?

I think deep down I do believe that we reap what we sew.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

marine life

After eleven hours of the TER (TGV for escargots and grenouilles sans bar) from Avignon via Montpellier and Bordeaux to Rochefort) I was ready for some fun, and more importantly some oysters. However there was/were none to be had. Off, then, by bus to La Rochelle, the old haunt of Eleanore (me pronounceable to the then presqu' inlaws) in my 'p'tite marine' incarnation (1993-1997) with hunky sailor horn- playing boyfriend, Franck. Straight to the old haunt - the Bar/ Brasserie 'La Marine' for the douzaine d' Ile de Re numero 3.

(The medium size, apparently the best, is number three, not two. The smallest is number one and the biggest number two. Correct me if I'm wrong Franck. Horrible symbolism there which we won't go into...), pain de seigle (no baguette crap here milord) and a pichet of Muscadet.
Some of the oysters flip wetly off their shells and down my throat with a slight fizz as if still alive, whilst others wait to have their membranes pierced by my molars, releasing me into a belief that all my senses are diving into the sweet ocean. The pain de seigle takes me back down to earth and the muscadet heightens the naughtiness of it all.
With a performance and ten hours return journey still to come, I have to say it was worth it.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

ploughed field

The cello and I are having a day off at home with the cats. After a walk admiring the deep colours of a ploughed field, Oscar rolling in ochre sand and the tiny fish-leaves in a silvery olive grove (Manon stayed at home for yet more beauty zzzzzzz's), I got out all the world music CD's Julian finds a little flaky, starting in India with Lakshmi Shankar and finishing off in Mali with Salif Keita, to accompany me on a broadband blogger hunt. Thinking I would find a host of virtual friends I checked out webloggers that had an interest in the cello but found that most of them seem to be underage anti - abortionists. Now I am left with that o.d. online feeling - numb, mindless, empty, lethargic and alone. Like having travel sickness, homesickness and a hangover whilst stuck in an airport. Won't do that again in a hurry, and think I'll stick to the real world.
Julian came back just at the right moment from a day at the studio with what he called a "pile of poo". I guess you can't do a masterpiece every day.
Neither of us have eaten so we got out the big Jamon (in J's case washed down with a double whisky) to feast on but unfortunately it has dried out and turned into an oversized beef jerky. Still yummy if you forget the torreodors and think neon motorway cafe on highway 101.
Tomorrow I am off to Rochefort for the last of P and B. Ten hours there and ten hours back. I hope my colleague will have resumed talking to me

Saturday, February 19, 2005

cecilia bartoli - take 304

I have, I realized, been on tour now for 6 months. Too long.
I travelled home on the new daily service from Paris to Avignon, the idtgv train, in 'espace zen' - which I thought would be like it's adverts, all spacious with little purple meditation cushions and sushi provided at the bar, but is exactly like every other tgv except more crowded. The alternative to 'zen' is an 'espace party' or something for which I am, of course much too old.

The recordings for Cecilia threw me into a boiling pot of orchestral politics from which I have emerged with a severe headache. Though I am innocent, the repercussions of my being asked and not my desk partner in P and B came at me from all sides like thrashings. A performance, unhappily the last on the tour for our delightful leader and many others, ensued in which there was no joy, no gesture, no feeling whatsoever. I built a wall around myself to protect myself from my colleague who had built a wall round himself and we went through the motions with broken spirits. Like making love without feeling. The tenderness of Mirella's lines made me ache unbearably - for Home, for Mother, for Belonging - while teardrops made their way freely into my f-holes.
I often wonder why we are not more open to the music we are playing, and yesterday I was reminded that sometimes it is just too much; we are too vulnerable and thus it is too threatening to the delicate web of protection we are weaving around our human hearts in this cold world.

I come home to orange clouds in an indigo sky, to one cat wriggling under a bathrobe and another on my lap while I write; to a house cleaned from top to toe by my beloved, and symbolic of his new state of mind. The new website is almost ready to go off to the mailing list, new small paintings of large beauty are appearing and we are feeling hopeful about our future. He has even mended the weighing scales ready to sell paintings by the pound. There is space in our home, space in our heads and space between us. There's a fire burning in our hearth and I'm already warming up.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Cecilia Bartoli - take 223

Free entertainment came today in the form of sitting in, or so I thought, on the Musiciens du Louvre recordings with Cecilia Bartoli on the way to this evening's P and B. Not, however, before I had experienced more RER antics:
This time my helper was a suave student clutching a copy of Boris Vian's autobiography. He kindly helped haul my cello over the man-eating barriers but then continued to follow me all the way to the recording session. Is it possible that at 40, with my box on my back, I still cut a romantic figure?
I am overwhelmed by the wonderful Cecilia, whom I have never heard. I respond to her voice with my stomach - no messing around with other bits. On the word 'piange' she is floating above the band like a spirit hanging and then suddenly she is bursting with the rage of sadness. She opens her wings in ecstasy and then crumples, her mouth down-turned, in despair. She rocks like a mad rap artist above a frenzied bass and keels back from the power of the sound she leaves in the air. Her runs seem to originate in the flutter of her heart and her embellishments from tenderness. Wow.
So I am sitting there, and suddenly I am asked not only if I can takes Clare's place tomorrow in the section but if I am ready, right now, to rehearse. Unfortunately I have had a large espresso with my old friend Hilary in the break so I find myself, tuning down a semitone, fluttering with nerves and a caffeine high, not in the kindly reaches of the back of the section but right under Minkowski's nose as Second Cello. A rehearsal is suddenly a take and I am playing the first rough exploratory horrid out of tune insecure notes of the day in the 223rd take of Cecilia Bartoli and the MDL. Bloody terrifying.
On the way home after the gig, the RER was devoid of kindly cello lifting assistants and my ticket didn't work so I pressed the help button and was told:
" Je vais vous ouvrir si vous me jouez un morceau."
I guess it is slightly more sophisticated than:
"Gis a tune, love."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

paris smells

An olfactory tour of the left bank left me wondering if everything we sense as we get older is simply a memory:

From somewhere came the whiff of my damp 1978 edition of 'Paris Pas Cher' in which I found the amazing 'Bateau Ivre' cafe-concert. there Juliette, Jacques, Charles (1 and 2) and Edith - hitherto locked up in a nasty pink gramophone my nana gave me - came to life in my first sniff of live chansonniers.

Out of the grid, up my trouser leg and into my nostrils that seductive mixture of piss and croissants - The Paris metro. What is it about that steamy dreamy stench? Stale piss ALWAYS reminds me of India anyway and I go into raptures over it, but that was later. It's teenage trips where all the boys on the metro seemed suave and chiselled, holding easels or guitars rather than spotty and pasty boys holding cans.
I am not alone, I know, in being utterly seduced by it every time, and I hear the London Tube does it for the frogs too.

Issymiyake. Thought this scent was out of fashion but it's freshness brings back hair memories - mine short and blue, his which I am stroking on a coach trip somewhere between Assisi and Bologna a cornfield swaying in the breeze. Perfume really works here - lightly perfumed men especially, in nice coats (Parisiens have nice coats, lots of them). Nothing butch or pink, just a passing suggestion of a hidden wish.
Of course they kiss alot so it's worth making the effort:
2 kisses.
"Bonjour, Comment allez vous?"
"Tres bien merci, et vous?
"Tres bien, merci"
2 more kisses
This makes, on meeting your 40 colleagues every morning, a total of 160 (or 240 where we are in Provence) kisses and that's before you've sat down at your desk.
No point in wearing perfume in England as no-one ever goes near anyone else except your partner who, after so many years, prefers you un-perfumed, or the boss after a good grope.

A bijoux lawn on the Ile St Louis is being carefully trimmed, almost knitted, by it's bent capped owner and all the first days of all the springs of my life in T shirts and on bicycles, by the Thames, the Po, the Rhine, the Seine and the Long Island Sound, with Nathan, Alessandro, Rheinhardt, Franck, and Jonathan - all captured in a piece of grass in winter.

And yet, having descended to the dogshit-free Seine, there IS a new smell. No thoughts or associations here. It is somewhat naughty, oaky, smutty.....mmmmmmm

It is a tramp toasting his buttend on a burning camel packet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

miserable cow

Julian says I sound like a miserable cow, and a spoilt one at that in my last blog. Ouch. Isn't it marvellous to have such a honest mirror? (Even if he misses the implied irony sometimes). My father in law wrote on the family blog to say how much he loved singing in choirs and I just want to apologise to all you choristes out there for my apparent snobbery and say, YES, it IS about singing in public! Of course it is! Otherwise what's the point? Its about giving in' it? Meanwhile I got what I deserved by getting cello utterly 'coinceed' in the fierce gnashers of the Paris RER doors and had to cry for help which was forthcoming from a beautiful black man dressed all in white fur. Cello dented but all the wiser. Sometimes the world is a fair place, or a fur palace. Ouch again, my neck and back are very painful from excess instrumental baggage.

les choristes

France is in full choir frenzy. With the film' Les Choristes' inspiring kids and grandmothers all over the country to join up, and another new documentary just out, everyone here is singing. On the other side of the channel, I hear that schools are told they cannot have christian hymns in assembly because they would be prejudiced against Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and thus a child grows into an adult having never had the chance to express himself in one of the oldest, most natural, and safe, ways. Don't those nasty rule-makers know - it's not about the words, it's about opening your lungs, your arms, your heart and your mouth and letting all the unspeakables and the unspokens pour out of you in sound......?
Working with the Glyndebourne Education team I've seen kids sing for the first time in their lives, the 'difficult' ones pouring out sound - histories of abuse and drugs, of paralyzing fear, or of that little moment of beauty when a gentle hand held theirs. The session ends, we leave them, perhaps with a small tender opening in their hearts, perhaps not. Perhaps they never sing again. Heart-rending stuff.
Given my passion for singing then, especially the imperfect kind, you would think I would have been bowled over to be doing a choral concert in Cannes on one of my only two days off?
Having to travel for ten hours on the train that day, I was not in a good mood. On arrival I lugged my cello and suitcase down to the beach to eat my take-away sushi, only to find any view of the sea obliterated by a series of white tents, all swarming with English speaking conference bods feeling very important in designer suits and snatching away my right to the sea view. Then, to top it all, a choir that sang Mozart's Ave Verum SO out of tune that it was an excruciating assault on my soul. It's wonderful to sing. Everyone should do it for all sorts of reasons, but in public?
Now, here's the thing:
The audience was ECSTATIC! Four calls back to the stage, whooping and slapping of all parts of the body in unison, and yet another unbearable rendition of Mozart's beautiful classic.
So what's it all for, I ask myself? Why Bother with searching for universal harmony in perfect intonation? Why Bother with seeking an arc of phrase that has the same architectural truth as the Golden Section? Why Bother tapping into a character which is archetypal? Why Bother meditating beforehand in an attempt to connect to the great unity of spirit which binds us?
Julian suggests that an audience's response is all about time and place, not about the performance. I agree with him. To an extent.
I believe the intention behind a movement or a sound, or even an act of listening to be of paramount importance; I believe in the social power of gathering together, like we do in prayer. I believe in imperfection. (Listen to Casals, or Joni Mitchell - it is their imperfections that touch us; it is the courage they have to stand on the edge of emotion and sing that is SO unbearably human). And yet, surely there has to be some kind of recognizable form from which these jewels shine out - as Joni would say, 'like a ruby in a black man's ear' - and not just chaos?
Apparently not, and perhaps, as my wise, music loving, humming hubbie says, I am just doing it for me.
Food for thought indeed.

Monday, February 14, 2005

second cellist

Because of the change of personnel in Friday's perf, there have been heated discussions on icy coach seats about the 'Number Two' in a string section. On Friday, into the space where you would normally have found our impeccably solid first violist Nadine, there crept Michel. Having seen him raquette boldly to a small summit in the Alps only days before, I was not surprised to feel him melt from mute statue into fluid poet in his temporary role as Number One, and by the end of the show the viola section had a new voice. Last night, with Nadine's luscious curves returned to us he had slunk back into silent stillness. The trouble is, now we all know he is there and we want him back; we want them both.
Mirella was fascinated by this apparition and wanted to know why the Number Two had to be submissive; why we had to lose a voice to gain one, and it is a good question. There are various reasons but perhaps no excuses:
Reason number One: Two people playing the same part but following their own separate impulses create a diverging rather than homogenous line and result in a flat sound.
Reason number Two: The person in the position of leader needs his/her ego massaged by a coquettish and submissive woman/man.
Reason number three: More subtle version of reason number two, in that the first player must not feel undermined - or indeed irritated - by the mad and uncontrollable swayings and noddings of an over-sexed second player. (This is where I tend to trip up when I am second cello.
In an ideal world we would all accept each-other's imperfections and if one is weak in one area, or on one day, we would happily compensate for them without losing respect. Our egos would be overcome in service to the music being conducted through rather than by our egoless conductor, and flat Dutch phrasing would be a thing of the past as we all surfed the wave together. We would all be fulfilled, each of our voices giving full expression whilst being part of the spiritual whole....
And so in answer to Mirella's question I pose another. Why can't we have a society run by egoless politicians and with equal opportunities for all?
Answers on a comments below please.

In a timely article in the Observer today entitled 'Please don't interrupt while I'm ogling the second cellist' Euan Ferguson warns us of the new gadget 'CoCo'- the 'Concert Companion. He says:
"They want you to hold it in your lap at those concerts, and switch it on, and watch the notes bounce along, and read words programmed in by someone possessed of marvelous computer skills but a thoroughly reeking vest and tiresome illiteracy ("This is Dvorshaks second concerto which is french for concert its nice isnt it now here comes the petty bit with the obos"). "
Horrorstruck at the idea of encouraging people to experience music through their small computer brain rather than their infinite heart, I was reminded of the removed yet frenzied state I got myself in to during last night's perf - not something I would recommend for any listener: There in the audience was the first cellist of the Musiciens du Louvre. No, not H, not the first cellist (by kind submission of the second) of the Atelier des Musiciens du Louvre's production of P and B, but the real thing. Billed as a colleague who was merely there out of love for music, I was paranoid that she was there to secretly audition me for the work in the summer (now possible as The Concert d'Astree have mysteriously cancelled the 10 days in Edinburgh which clashed with it). Every atom of the musician in me, rather than flow round my body and soul, happily guided by my ears, rushed to my head and got all squished up with my chaotic and insecure brain. My natural noddings and swayings became a cariacature of themselves and my ears closed to any prospect of intonation.
I'll let you know if I get the gig.
Anyway (sorry for slight diversion there, that was a one-off) Euan goes on to say:
"If only those behind these concerts would charge more for attendance, not less. If only they would trust new audiences. trust them to come along, and perhaps grow bored once or twice with one or two composers but then just silently vow not to do Wagner again. They would still come back; and sit, quietly, dreaming it all in, finding their own favourite seconds rather than someone else's, and fantasizing about second cellists. And then going home happy, having learnt and exulted. And not saying a word."
Glad to know you are there Euan, and that you understand. Keep ogling, for the music's sake.

...and mine to him

was a bottle of this chateauneuf du pape. After a visit to Avignon to see the wonderful 'Sideways' (in which the french translation of Ben and jerry's Chunky Monkey was 'Junky Monkey') we were thirsty so we went straight from the sunlit vines of Hollywood to our very own, to discover a new and much lauded wine. The gappy toothed proprietress was delightful, came from a musical family and was keen on my idea of a baroque festival where all the alki musos I know come and play in vineyards and get paid in grapejuice, so let's drink to that, and of course, to drunken love.


My valentine, along with silken snuggles with Manon on a snowy morning, came in the form of a comment on my last blog. It was not where I expected to find it, nor was it floral or made from card and thus it managed - as Julian himself did - to get to me through the back door. He's a clever boy. The message was a reference to the days before our wedding when we were planning our ceremony and trying out poems on each other. This one by Sir Walter Raleigh was Julian's favourite and he planned to read it but he couldn't get past the first line without crying so we left it out of our ceremony kept it in our hearts until now, when out it just popped for all to see....

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Oscar has taken to eating whole-food in preference to dry Science Plan nuggets. This morning, while I was in my pre - perf prima donna slumber, Julian stood in the pink dawn in his robe and witnessed our boy killing and eating an entire, warm mouse - giblets, fur, organs an' all. Julian found this very erotic. Yo. Oscar the Sex God of Bedoin.
Here he is flirting with Nadine.


Good news on the mobile tonight as I crouched in a smelly corridor with a complimentary glass of cheap champagne after the perf. Julian has had three offers for small paintings from london art, so Duane, prepare yourself for Julian-three-paintings-a-day-Merrow-Smith. This is a vast improvement in stature from Julian-three-doughnuts-M.S. or Julian-twenty-five-macaroons-M.S: names by which my husband has lovingly been known in the past. It is a positive message from the e-universe that he's on the right track and that is critical right now.
Up in Paris, Cachan tonight witnessed the corpsing of our Venus - just turned twenty one - behind her busty marionette as hunky Mercury pronounced her name with an eroticism that made her giggle uncontrollably. Thus her aria, and her marionette - normally sublimely controlled, shook with excitement. In the pit we had a few extra players in, which added rich new timbres, and a couple of misplaced honkers, the regulars being unable to be released from a recording with Cecilia Bartoli. Mirella was having a sensuous moment and had asked us to play our chords like feathers on the bassoonist's head. It worked like magic. We have been invited to play with all sorts of role models - the hens her grandmother made drunk on cider for the childrens' entertainment, and men walking on the moon included and each night, if we listen carefully and watch the magic she weaves with her hands, she takes us through what seems like a new bedtime story. Though I will be very glad to be home, I will miss her and Papa Haydn.

Friday, February 11, 2005

angels and sheep's bottoms

Three days at home and all (or at least most) obligatory correspondence, washing, dusting and bill paying were put on hold for my delicious god child Clara, who came to stay with her mama, my old friend and fellow Joni Mitchell fanatic, Asdis.
Clara was adopted (after several IVF attempts by her parents) at about the same time as Julian and I were embarking on our third and unsuccessful In Vitro treatment. In a park in south east London we sang silly songs, swung on swings and 'connected', and on the strength of that I became her God Mother. I was surprised at the time and, in our own state of constant mourning, unable to give much in my new role. However, after some in depth email exchanges with her ma, I realized that there are certain unspeakable things - the sense of fatal inadequacy in not being able to give your beloved a child, the yearning to nurture together and the wisdom that comes with letting go of control of your destiny - that you can know only if you have been through this particular journey. I have been entrusted, it appears, with being a witness to this process from the inside, and being, if need be, the 'outside' person she can turn to if she needs to know about it. I cannot imagine I will ever be called upon as the story of this adoption is a love story from first sighting, and Clara is an open and scrumptiously happy child. She is an angel who loves to smell thyme and rosemary, show and proudly waggle her perfect bottom to all, who speaks Icelandic, Dutch, French and English and who makes friends in the language of the soul with a confidence I have no knowledge of.
Walking to Bedoin together, a sixteen degree pre-spring prickle of heat creeping up our fleeced sleeves, took three times as long because of the fascination of morning ice on red sand sticking miraculously to fingers and the different clanger sounds in ochre caves, but was perfectly timed to spot the school carnival from the bar where we were having lunch. Clara put on her pink angel wings and landed delicately amongst the sailors, boulangers, clowns, butterflies and whores of the local school pageant as we all hummed along with traditional french songs sung in small voices. Clara, aged 3, hooked up with Elodie and Marie who, though older, seemed to bow to her wordless command and gave her kisses and flowers on parting.
The next day saw us setting up the rusty (or rather 'distressed') table and chairs in amongst the vines for a lunch of celeriac and pear soup and salad before hitting the Ventoux - slightly delayed by the bells and woolly bottoms of the shepherd's herd crossing the road - for a bout of sledging.

Desperate not to have to leave again today, feeling like I have been on tour for years, I must hang on to the fact that I am, in returning to providing a bass line for marionette angels' bottoms and sheep, supporting our miraculous - if precarious - existence while Julian does everything in his power to match duane keiser's prowess. I am nursing a perverse but ancient longing to be a kept woman and we are almost on our knees praying that someone crawls out of their winter overspend blues and buys a painting or two.

C'mon Everybody!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

when is a lilac not a lilac?

A week in Paris is simply unaffordable for most people and, being of this caste, on day 5 we realized that, though inspired by Braque and his copains, we were utterly broke.
There were to be four performances in the banlieus of Paris to fund a thousand tempting brasseries. The evening of our performance in Les Lilas, however, saw Julian and I drinking a bottle of sauvignon in the Beaubourg roof restaurant as I had been laid off the gig.

My colleague had been outraged (rightly, I think) that I had been booked on the night of single strings, not he, and had gone to the authorities to complain. It was a shame as I have to admit that I was looking forward to my bijoux solo moment, especially as the comps were lined up for friends and family. The moment would, of course, have been marvellous, leading to an infinite number of glamorous bookings in the future, but it was not to be. So, as we sat in the rude red orificial stamens of the cafe watching Parisians come home from work and lights twinkling on one by one around us, I was glad for an evening off with my beloved in this city of chansons, where we too dream on.
On day 7, after a last straw two cafe au laits near St Germain costing a mammonth 13 euros we were over budget, tense and argumentative and ready to leave Paris for Madrid. There, a delicious breakfast of caffe con leche, fresh orange juice and pastries for two in one of the oldest bars on the Plaza Santa Ana cost a blessed 6 euros. As we indulged in the obligatory tapas crawl that night we realized that it was not only a cheap city to have fun, but that the people are so much less up their own arses than in France. And England. We breathed deeper, laughed more and, as so many before us have done, we planned our imminent to move to Spain.
Our continuing whistlestop tour of European art was crowned for me by a ravishing Cezanne at the Thyssen Museum; a painting of his gardener which, if we were talking Gabrielle Roth's five archetypal dance rhythms, would encompass them all: The cross flow of branch to toe, the stillness of the resting pose, the staccato of the brush-stroke.... I stood in it's presence and felt replenished.
Gastronomic highlights included the above breakfast, twice, a big tapas of jamon and quails eggs which came free with artisanal beer in a dive, followed by foie gras with quince jelly tapas accompanying a superb crianza in the posh wine bar next door. Also, a wonderful dance of chickens and bulls between the waitress and Julian as we tried to decipher the menu in a pretty rough restaurant recommended (not quite sure why- Julian suggests it was a practical joke) by many musician friends of mine. To finish, as if to tempt us back to France, we had the worst sandwich of our lives: Colorless, rigormortissed and wrapped firmly in plastic, it looked like the bar owners had taken lessons from a seventies British Rail catering company. I was looking forward to a baguette.

Madrid is weird too; somehow third worldly. As the sales were on, the shop's lead windows sported models wearing only big blonde hair and plastic bags. There were slipper shops and museums of ham, shops selling only musty bullfighting jackets or glittering knives, and many old boutiques selling very nasty material in various shades of brown and pink.
At the Casa Pata, the Flamenco bar where we spent our last evening, the reason for the latter became apparent in the selection of badly fitted and artisanally sewn frilly gowns the female dancer rouched up her leg. The male dancers, meanwhile, with their shoulder length greased ringlets seemed to be having identity crises, tapping somewhere between Temple and Travolta. However, the guitar playing was inventive (despite more yukky greased ringlets) and the singers appropriately gutsy in their lamenting. It was a touchingly imperfect end to a perfect weekend.
On the plane to Madrid I had realized I had cocked up and that on our return journey we simply did not have enough time to get from our arrival in Paris Orly, to our departure from Gare de Lyon - via Rue St Martin (in which we had to pick up luggage, keys and a cello). We were determined to make it however and, like two of the famous five, we hatched a meticulous plan to succeed in the impossible hundred minutes available. Though the plan was foolproof technically, involving Julian leaving the plane unencumbered by my slow moving bottom and doing the baggage pick up solo, time would be ticking by right from the minute the plane landed and it had to run smoothly if it was to work. I was to be a good Buddhist about the whole thing, and Julian was sure that Oscar was at home pulling strings for us in heaven.
Indeed he was, and I managed to spend one welcome night at home before the morning train took me to the Alps for the next leg of the tour.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

raquette and raclette

Here i am in Annecy, resuming the marionette tour. I shall not put any photos up as they are stuck in my camera as the madrid blog is stuck in my mac. Besides, this corner from which i am blogging, on the canal looking over to the lake, is apparently the most photographed spot in France.

On our day off the three girls in the orchestra, all of 1964 vintage (a good, if bottom-heavy year) went up into the Alps to wear strange shoes called raquettes and flap around in the snow. Though it does not quite have the power of the sea for me, I began to understand the infinity contained in this garden of of crystalline white, with it's 365 degree view of the Mont Blanc mountain range. The last time I saw anything like it was in Nepal, waking up in a tent to dawn in the Himalayas, and the alarmsong of our guide: "Tea Didi" "Tea Thuldai" (Tea for little sisters - my two girlfriends, and for big brother - me).
The diet isn't going very well as you cannot escape cheese here. The fondue aux cepes was delicious, in a restaurant whose walls were decorated to look like a raclette - like feasting in a vat of yellow lumpy custard.
I took a walk around the lake in the morning and sat on a piece of wood contemplating the clarity of the water, untarnished and straight from the mountain like pure consciousness. Hoping to rediscover that sense of stillness tonight in the perf!
Meanwhile Julian is at home trying to digest all the masterpieces, with the help of half the cubi it seems.(Leave some for me, darling!) He is dreaming of interweaving brushstrokes and on day one did 'A Huge Bonnard' to get it all out of his system. I can still feel his hand leading me accross matisses and picassos to a little Corot or Bonnard that touched him.