Saturday, April 30, 2005

posthorn serenade

The first rehearsals for the 'Posthorn Serenade' by Mozart are over and I am home for a day. Just in time for cats in long evening shadows, two new paintings and the last of the fraises de Carpentras fête.....mmmmmmmmmmm.

Mozart composed the piece with the sound in his ear of the horn which alerted Austrian bumpkins to the arrival of their mail. Hearing this coarse but touching folk sound today, 'out of tune' (but one has to ask: "with what?") but full of purpose and goodly intention, I was overwhelmed. It is the celebration of the imperfection and humanity of our voices (so much more available in the baroque and classical world) which has turned my experience of music around in the last six years.

"N'ayex pas peur de tes gestes"

-said Yves to us while we were smoothing a hemp wall. The tennis player knows this balance intimately in the moment when his gesture ends and the ball plays out the rest, landing in that exquisite unimaginable spot. It's all a yoga of sorts and playing an instrument is no different. In my past as a young 'modern' cellist, my gestures were stillborn for fear of them being imperfect. Since, by their very human nature, they were bound to be nothing but, I was frozen; cramped within the tiny world of trying to make something beautiful and perfect from control rather than flow. In the baroque and classical movement over the last twenty years and in my own personal movement towards it, gesture, controlled abandon (since we must have some control in the 'gobetis'; some discipline in the organic mix) and intention have become the priority as opposed to control alone. Thus any beauty (and there is so much) that appears as a result comes from grace.

Mark Epstein (again in his book 'Open To Desire' ) talks of the crucial journey in relationship (and this opens up a whole other subject the workings out of which we shall perhaps keep to our boudoir!) from 'object' to 'subject'; a colleague talks of there being natural 'followers' and 'leaders':

Though having been accused of it in recent weeks, I am not simply a 'leader'. In the world of modern players I can see that my gestures (now as crucial to me as my breath) can be perceived as extra curricular. Sitting in a section of people playing with their minds and their hands (and of course their hearts) I can stick out like a mad sufi trance dancer at a Surrey golf club. However, the biggest irony is that in that trance-like state we are more humble, not less. When this is misunderstood I am not in the right place.

Sitting in an orchestra playing Haydn and Mozart where everyone is allowing their natural dance to flow, where we are all leading and we are all following; where we are both the subject and the channel, I do not stand out and it feels fabulous.

The masculine and feminine principals united in sound......what bliss! If only life, and relationships, were that easy! Sometimes, laying down my instrument, I feel like the meditator back from his retreat trying to make sense of the world.

Friday, April 29, 2005


Tomorrow I will miss the Journée de la Fraise de Carpentras. Carpentras - our nearest town - is known for its strawbs and its truffles, and tomorrow the programme is as follows:

-grand concours de tartes aux fraises
-grande vente de fraises de carpentras
-degustation de fraises dans toute la ville
- animations clowns et magie
-distribution de bons bons haribo (could haribo be a sponsor?)
-ateliers culinaires
-repas à la fraise (ugh?)
-grand lacher de ballons

mmmm....? (or is it give me a bucket?)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

liminal space

This little fellow -Mr Bluecat - was stuck in the car all night. He must have slipped in when Julian took out the last of the logs, making his pillow from the leftover bark and lichen. On waking this morning we pottered out with our coffee bowls, blinking in the hot sun, only to see him inside the Megane desperately consuming the insurance certificate and its surrounding plastic envelope for his makeshift breakfast.

His sister, meanwhile, has decided to live in the space between us. On sleeping and waking, and at several intervals during the night, she prizes us apart so she can lie long and purry in-between our faces. On reading Mark Epstein's new book 'Open to Desire' I am beginning to get a bit worried about this as in it he states that it is in that space (he calls it a very posh and rather lovely word - the 'liminal' space) that desire is to be found. It is a very furry space is all I can say.

Tomorrow I leave for Grenoble and I will be all over the place on and off playing wonderful music for the next few months: Rameau's 'Les Boreades', Handel's 'Acis and Galitea' and Mozart's 'Mitridate'. However, I will be missing liminal purrs, pea-podding, my al fresco office in the vines and other Provencal delights. Above all I will of course be missing HOME. For the next few months Julian and I will have to cope with a vast liminal space.

It is very difficult to explain what touring, and in particular, what coming back from touring feels like to someone who stays at home and for whom travel is an exotic and stimulating exception. I had a pretty unsuccessful go with Julian the other night and feel I still need to work it out so I'm going to have another go now.

Julian actually gave me a key when he said that he is capable of 'falling apart' structurally when I am not home, and that this sometimes frightens him: An artist and a loner, he can spend weeks in his magenta bathrobe in front of the computer letting the washing up of dishes (which have seen merely the forty-fourth butter-smeared baked potato) pile up. When I come home I bring structure in to the house. However, when I come home, I want to fall into non-structure; to re-find my own rhythm and consequently my own form. As we two beings bump into each-other across the liminal threshold, each rushing to feed from the other's trough, we often row. (Don't worry - it's a very common thing amongst touring musicians and their spouses!) I, used on tour to being propped up by people and structure, am desperate for formless space and solitude, but also for intimacy. However I am out of the habit and often not able to relax into either solitude, chaos or intimacy. Thus I am yukkily clingy and when I'm not being that I spend a lot of time paying bills and making loud officious phone-calls which I think are creating space. Julian, having been alone, is desperate for connection and structure but also is not quite able to give up his autonomy and freedom to roam in time and place (and diet). Thus he often puts the computer (or indeed any other invisible) screen in between us to protect himself from the stomp of the ogress, making his presence and yet also his absence felt in the very room I am trying to re-inhabit.....

I'm not quite sure what our beloved felines are mirroring here, but it seems to have a spooky connection to the frustration of spending an inordinate amount of time traveling ("Let me outta here!" screams Oscar from the megane) and the space between us. ("Give me some liminal space, man!" cries Manon from the bed)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

synchronicity and abundance

On Tuesday, an ocean apart but within an hour of one-another, Duane Keiser posted this in Virginia:

whilst, in Avignon, Julian posted this:

Two visions of a strawberry meeting in a moment of synchronicity.

Julian almost sent an email to Duane (as they have exchanged artistic fluids in the form of trading paintings) today saying:

"What shall we paint today, darling?"

There is so much abundance all of a sudden that, short of making a list, I'm not quite sure how to relay the information in time.

Sipping our morning juice we heard the first cuckoo cookin' in the emerald wheat field; saw the new shoots on the vines suddenly sprout like fairy fingernails;

an evening trot on four feet and eight paws was accompanied by the first cicada and the soft screech of the swifts newly arrived from Africa; blood-drop poppies are banked up and back-lit against acid spurge, and the irises have pushed up mightily from the marron earth......

.....Irises, their velvety lower jaw dropping down to earth whilst their upper lip curls translucent towards the heavens.

It's one thing to keep abreast with verbal or photographic descriptions of this fleeting season, and quite another to have to paint each thing as it occurs. Julian has been on a race against time, and as many new paintings are springing up in our house as new varieties of plant are springing up outside it. Commissions are being finished (one of which is six years old) and, in the third season of purple flowers since the barter was made, the debt to our solicitor is (not without a little mourning tear, I expect on both sides)finally paid up in the form of irises.

(It was my idea to make the marron earth purple. J very impressed!)

For those of you who have been following the saga, here is the last installment:

J: "Here you go enfin, does that please?"

B: "very nice too.....does this mean I now get irises and not the last suggestion - or wot...I can't keep up...AND you have also failed to clear up my confusion on web sites mentioned in our last exchange.....who do I report you to.....?"

J: "Sorry about not responding to questions appropriately but yup, I have done the Irises especially for you. I seem to remember Irises being something you liked. Or you can have any of these"... "but you can have only one!
Re websites: I have three in total... the small painting a day of which I have now completed nearly seventy paintings in seventy days and sold about 40.. saved my bacon.. and the main site where I put new
things, big things, etc. and a sort of diary which is rather infrequently updated... words, not my thing.

Am I discharged from my debt?
ps. Ruth has been publishing our correspondance, see:"
..."so i guess you report me to her?@**?"

J: "I am sending out the irises to my mailing list - I will include you - the painting despite appearances is reserved for you."

B: "I should think so too - bloody all those people who read your note on the website will think I didn't like it........I also hope that none
of your visitors work for the Inland Revenue as now I will be taxed on receiving a payment in kind !!

Yes they (Irises) are very nice and I like the painting and yes we are all square. I shall expect a delivery in the post.

I may in fact, with your indulgence, seek to commission a futher variety of iris - you may not be up to it with your "painting a day" m'larky

(I was delighted to see so many red spots - didn't you do well !)
hugs and kisses to you both"

The End. ....or perhaps not? What other varieties are there?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

hemp disciples

Arriving at the factory in Entraigues, rain dimming the view of the Ventoux behind a rape curtain, I was informed that there were no loos, but that i could go 'tranquil dans les bamboos'. I did and, crouching there in amongst the flexible reeds, feet well entrenched in rain sodden earth, I suddenly felt the bio-dynamic building course was going to be good. Very good.

Right from the start there was magic in the air. Yves Kuhn's introduction, though we had heard much of it before, brought tears to our eyes. With hands spiralling and words emphasised with firm tango steps forward, he presented us with his philosophy. He could have been talking about Beethoven, bowing, meditation or mountain climbing. I was back in Cornwall with the late Sandor Vegh, or in New York with Tim Eddy holding forth... I was truly inspired.

Having renounced what was clearly a brilliant dancing career Yves chose to return to what he felt to be one of the two noblest professions - builder and gardener. What nobler thing could there be than to build an 'envelope' for the human body and spirit, he asked? And there we were, his 'disciples' for the weekend - ten maçons, a hurdy gurdy player living in a chateau, a nurse from the Pays Basque, a world famous soprano, two artists, a cellist and a young man who had walked straight out of Tess of the d'Urbevilles wanting to build a straw house. There we were, mixing lime, ochre, hemp and pumice as our souls turned in a vat of alchemical change. There we were, as the big mixer chugged and clacked its bio-dynamic ingredients (its music one up on the Michel Jarre score) building hemp walls, making stuccoed floors, turning a hay bale into a tadelakt bar and laying a sonic floor. There we were, in the barn- building scene from the film 'Witness'.

We mixed ochre rouge and ochre jaune in huge bins and folded it in to creamy chaux like a chocolate to egg whites in a giant cake. Then we spread it over a surface like icing. We touched and pounded and splat, smoothed and combed....

"N'ayez pas peur de vos grande gestes"

"C'est une question de marriage; marriage d'amour"

"Toute est musique"

"La structure a un skelet, la chair, derm et epiderm"

It was awe-inspiring.

Julian has never done a course before. To this 'maitre' who simply arrived 'bouche a l'oreille' on our doorstep to rescue our house from concrete floors, he has opened his heart. We returned home with our great friend Julia spun and spinning, blinking with emotion and yet calm from a forty-eight hour prayer for the earth. Julian, hitherto (though always a Birkenstock wearer - even at our wedding) having poo-pooed anything group, bio, vegetarian or new age, didn't even gulp when energy was mentioned, or 'alchemy', 'sacral', 'sacred' or 'organic'. This wonderful man who is my husband, has softened. We have both softened in that we are both closer to our nature, and closer to each other; we have abandoned the concrete not just in our house but in our hearts.

As a result, hopefully, and with a fair amount of prosperity, our beautiful ochre house at the foot of the Mont Ventoux will be well taken care of too - for us and for whoever next passes through her.

...and before I can say "tadelakt" Julian will be going on a yoga retreat!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

caroline bean cello

smeone put 'Caroline Bean cello' in Google.Caroline Bean is a cellist from Eastman who was involved in the Women in Music festival there. What did they get? My post on broad beans and cellos which was commented on by caroline.

humph. google moves in mysterious ways.

meanwhile here is a soupcon of a hemp wall i was perfecting.....more tomorrow

Saturday, April 23, 2005

time out

...taking the weekend off to do the singing dancing bio-dynamic hemp (cannabis) floor and flax wall laying course. watch this space.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


After the last dvd choice by my husband ('Alien'..."You'll love it! It's a masterpiece!") which sent me into a green slimy snore-fest, I took charge of our entertainment choice for last night. Something light and romantic, I thought.

... And there she was, Melanie 'Working Girl' Griffith herself in what looked like a new romantic comedy opposite Patrick Swazey playing a writer..... Perfect I thought, and read no further. 'Forever Lulu' it was called.

Of course the film was not a romantic comedy at all, but a story about a couple whose child had died and another woman who had given her child up for adoption.

During the last week the sky has been singing a song of protest against the fragility of new life. Not wanting to soften into spring it has been de-gorging its angriest weather: Wind, snow and vats of rain have been whipping blossom, freezing buds and drenching fields. Last night, watching 'Forever Lulu' in front of the fire, we too were drawn unexpectedly in to wet rage, overwhelmed by the undiluted force of our grief. This month our child would have been three. If he had been a boy he would have been called Lucien.

Our unspeakable tears tear open our hearts and it is good to feel it together; to know he is still there.

The wintry skies, in their vast opening, have dropped little yellow wildflowers everywhere, studding the emerald grass with birthday stars. Though sometimes, especially in April, my palm encloses a pocket of air where there would be a tiny hand, or my ears hear dull silence where there would be big questions, new life simply keeps on coming, and I have to laugh too.

For Ever, Lulu.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Our first peas: Little sweeties popping out into my palm and bouncing with spring effervescence, only half of them making it to the boiling pot.

Podding them meditatively with a glass of white wine in the early evening, I remember how they are sold for the fast lane in Sainsburys - ten of them separated from their natural brothers and sisters, sprayed for colour maintenance and stuck in a stifling plastic bag where they will probably die from over-pricing.

Then I glance at our new little white box whose space-age green flashing pea-eyes and antennae mean Julian and I can finally be on line at the same time in different rooms. Now, when I get up in the morning, I can open the kitchen door and let in the morning light instead of maintaining web-darkness; I can sing whilst doing the washing up instead of maintaining web-silence; I will not feel the awful web-absence of being in the presence of someone 'online' .....Marvellous!

Julian can msn me from the studio:

"yes darling"
"what's for lunch?"
"dunno but you're making it! I just bought some asparagus so i thought asparagus omelette?"
"actually I just had twelve pancakes while you were out"
"Yoou didn't! Twelve pancake Merrow-Smith!"

It certainly beats shouting.

My head is splitting with what strange lives we lead. We are so connected to nature here and life goes at a walking pace. However, the ethernet is whirring at a squillion gigawotsits a nanosecond, bringing more information than we could possibly need into our pea-podding quiet.

Who are we, really? Are we merely living the illusion of being in harmony with nature when in fact all we are doing is blogging and downloading it? I get scared sometimes that it's all a great whopper.

Luckily we both have our art. That is real. It takes place in slow intangible time. It cannot be rushed or imitated. Perhaps I simply have to hold the tension between broad band and broad bean; perhaps this particular challenge is a modern version of the age-old search for the middle way.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


this little pélardon escaped to Julian's studio for a sess while I was out having a fancy lunch in vaison la romaine.
is this the cheese that sang for its supper? the free lunch? the cheap date?
now we can eat it for our supper. yummmmmmm.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Market day comes around again, and my mission this week is partly to find beautiful small things to paint. I find a cluster of new garlic, violet and plump like blushing bridesmaids, an iris, a string of amber shallots and a trio of goats cheeses.

Standing in line at the cheese stall in Bedoin market, I overhear a mother explaining to her daughter the small mouldy goats cheeses snuggled together which are called 'bouches-trous':

"Si tu as une p'tite faim tu as un trou dans ton estomac, alors tu prends un p'tit bouche-trou pour le remplir."

In other words, as far as I understand it, the little fromage blocks up the hole of hunger, presumably as well as blocking the mouth and serves as both mars bar and gobstopper all at the same time, not to mention a hefty does of natural antibiotics.

The couple continued with their purchase (comte fruité, pelardon crémeux, picodon pas trop sec, banon pret a couler..) and paid. The little girl clearly did have a 'little hunger' and so a 'bouche-trou' was selected from its group and given as a treat.

Can you imagine an English child devouring a little white cheese covered with blue mould? I am sure that, in addition to being slimmer and prettier and less fussy than her English counterpart, this one's resistance will be higher to seasonal maladies.

Standing there watching her lick the blue fungus off her treat I remembered Goat Woman - the old witch of chevre. She, goateed, greenish and hunched just like her herd, sold beautiful chevre cheeses, each one subtly perfumed and sprigged with thym, sarriette, lavande, or whatever grew around her pasture. When I first arrived, Mondays - market day - was goats cheese, salad and organic rye bread day, and the day of my weekly meaningful exchange with Goat Woman. As Monday followed Monday, she tentatively allowed her lips to part and to show a little row of white goat teeth above her beard in appreciation of my regular custom. I knew that each cheese I bought went through no middle man and straight in to her creative bony hands. And then she simply disappeared. Months later I was told that because of EEC regulations she was no longer allowed to sell at market because she did not have an EEC regulation fridge. We miss her.

Julian didn't paint any of the gifties but we ate two of them and the flowers look happy on the farmhouse table.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


From 28 degrees to 2 in one day! The snow has come out to play with the cherry blossom in a rare April duet and the rain has drenched the earth. The cats and we have been in hiding and whilst the art and blog worlds seem to have been spinning around our wet orbit....

I'm afraid the cork is being popped and Cara Dillon is singing an hour early to celebrate the following:

Julian finally gave in to his urge to buy a Duane Keiser original 'painting a day' and Duane (yes the real thing!) wrote back offering to trade this for this so we will always have something to remember the inspirational seeds of A Postcard from Provence by.

....and, This man whom the BBC were looking for has been adopted by our dear friends George and Christine and is on his way to their guest house in Montecito. We shall have to make regular visits to see him, I fear. I am sure he will be very happy, especially as he will have his own pool.

The 'gallery/studio' at Crillon is feeling more and more distant and I can feel Julian simply does not want to go there. He is quite fine pottering around my room-to-be (his temporary studio) doing his little gems. And I more than fine having him here. We find even the thought of paying the rent to Michelle with her officious black book, as opposed to the afternoons spent drinking her mother's vin de noix (in which cash got somehow handed between trusting hands) terrifying. I'm not sure how or when Julian is going to make the transition from there - where he has two commissioned set ups still waiting to be finished with all the mouldy cheese and pomegranates that entails - to here - on whose cannabis floor his happy and, I think, successful future as an artist lies - fully. Each day he is not at Crillon I am painfully aware of what the sandy headed absence is costing us and sometimes it ties knots in my stomach. However, on days like today the transition - messy and somewhat wasteful like transitions always are - seems possible and even smooth. It is certainly very exciting!

Thanks to all of you who have been so supportive, especially Louise, Fay, Steve, Christine, Duane, Oiseau, Margaret, Gary, Sally, Dale, Bob, Harriet, and all the strangers who have welcomed postcards from provence into their homes.

You have, each one of you, bought us closer to our dream.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

beans in a pod

Shelling the first broad beans, stroking the downy sleeping bag from which they plop from an ordered line into the chaos of a blue bowl, seeing the sunlight reflected in their pale green faces, I got to thinking about sections; cello sections.

Playing in a section is never easy, and it gets harder.

We study for years at a conservatoire trying to find our voice. If this fails, as it did in my case, and we are still a nervous wreck even contemplating playing in front of an audience we go to university as mature students to do a doctorate in voice-finding and, having found it, we then celebrate it by doing a course in Voice-Movement -Therapy. Here we learn to follow our impulses, improvise, be free and in the moment. Our voice has become full, honest, flexible and connected to all our chakras. We love being on stage, in a pit, wherever, so long as we can sing our hearts out. We are running courses called 'The Dance of Sound', helping people to find optimum self-expression through their musical and physical gesture. It is all going terribly well.

Then, if we are lucky, we get to play in a section; we get to be a bean in a pod.

When she was young, insecure and searching for her voice, this bean was a 'good bean' and happy hiding in a warm pod. Now she is more confident she is still under the impression that she feels happy - shining now - in the verdant velvet of a good section.... but apparently she is struggling to get out.

- Or so it seemed to a conductor with whom she recently worked:

Bean, in this case, was indeed not inspired but, since it is her job to do so, she did not take her eyes off the young conductor. However, her gestures, in attempt to maintain a sense of commitment, despite lack of inspiration from the podium, were getting far too big for the pod and her disappointment probably showed in her face. Other bean colleagues cope in different ways: One by turning its chair away from the conductor and keeping its eyes on the music; another by trying to correct the conductor; another by emphasizing rather than trying to lighten the breathless heavy dirge of the baton.....All these coping mechanisms contribute to the sound of the section but which one is more visible?

Muggins Bean of course. And in this case she was told that on the next tour she could not play the continuo part because she had been a bad bean.

On a long tour we are none of us angels and, after twenty five years in the profession, having worked with many of the great conductors and instrumentalists, we are often disappointed; disappointed that after all this we should, if we are to be good section players, really curb our hard won gestures, lower our voices, hide our hearts under our sleeves and bow down to someone who is young and inexperienced, or someone who is there because they are someone else's brother, because they are Russian or good at fund-raising......

There are times, and I am lucky to have had many of them, when a conductor breathes life into the lung of the orchestra and we become one organism - all voices fused, egos overridden, and differences harmonized. Then he or she is truly conducting the energy from the composer, with all spirits, bodies, batons, cellos and drums as equal instruments in that conduction. This experience, for me, is akin to prayer.

It is my belief that everyone has to be present and in good voice for this to happen, and that humility (not false modesty which is just another ego trip) is the key. The first person to show this humility should, I believe, be the conductor. If he is inexperienced, arrogant or insecure this cannot happen and beans with a tendency to broaden might (though they shouldn't) get out of control. That, in turn, is a conductor's nightmare.

As I write, it is pelting down in Provence and a toad is croaking in full voice. Go for it, I say!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

BBC presents: wild hair

We had a visit from the Beeb! We're going to be on telly!

Nick from the BBC had contacted Julian saying they had found his website and would like to talk to him about life as a Provencal artist. Out of the mistral swept blue, they phoned yesterday saying they were in Bedoin meeting a lavender honey farmer and could we meet up "for a chat".

Like the good mock-frogs we are, we invited them for l'apéro and then proceeded to panic about haircuts.

Julian has been saying recently that his head is full to bursting and that he must either get his hair (the principal cause of his stress, he believes) cut, or seek out some form of mental relaxation. I, of course, leapt at the possibility that he might do something to reduce the manic racehorse aspect of his and therefore our life. (On my return from England this time, for example, I suddenly noticed how I was having to eat, drink and talk up about seven gears.) We eagerly discussed yoga, T'ai Chi and Zen Buddhism, but in the end the hair won out and my fantasy of getting up at dawn to meditate together in an olive grove will have to go on hold for a while longer, I fear. Meanwhile, I won't let him blame and thus cut his hair too short because it is beautiful and wild and makes him look like Beethoven. Just up the Beeb's street, methinks....

"Good hair" they said.

Nick and Sandrine rolled up in a dusty hired Megane an hour late (we were half way through bottle number one and there were about three crisps left) with a black and white photocopy of Julian's portrait on the dash board. They had been driving around Crillon-le-Brave, asking for a red rock, holding up the mugshot and asking:

"Has anyone seen this man? "

They opened the car doors and got out carrying a black case which they did not introduce but which looked frighteningly like a film camera......

....And before we knew it we were both doing a 'screen test'!

Julian, arms resting on the distressed (rusty) provencal table, blue shutters bringing out the calm lavender of his eyes spoke slowly and eloquently about the nature of the provencal light whilst he looked straight at the interviewer.


I clutched maniacally at my fourth glass of wine, a crisp stubble growing on my chin, eyes darting to and from the camera and Julian desperately looking for approval and babbled on about the M25.

Oh dear.

The programme is going to be called 'A Wild Place in the Sun' (very original) and is supposed to be about Provencal wildlife. If they consider oblique references to nesty hair, mutilated mice, hemp floors and trekking cats adequate, we'll be taking that little pill and climbing inside a box in your living room. See ya there!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Just back from a trip on my bicyclette to Bedoin to see the nice ferronerie man. We are ordering trendy metal windows for Julian's studio-to-be (currently the hayloft) so that the master has maximum light to do his minimalist paintings . I had to go there physically because I couldn't understand a word Monsieur Trazic said on the phone. Pinging and Panging allover the place. He probably put extra pings and pangs in for laughs because I was foreign and probably only lived here for ten minutes a year and it was quite likely I would spend a lot of money. Now we have met face to face and he understands that we do not need 'anti-vol' glass and fancy finishes, we have established a decent price. It will be our first move towards the dream of the 'Galerie des Demoiselles Coiffees'.

Whilst he was preparing the quote ( a very serious matter which, it seems, cannot be done in front of you) I cycled into the village for a coffee and watched the work they are doing on the square. Although it will be a concrete one, at least they are attempting to bring back the heart of the village by replacing the car-park with a 'place'. On entering the shops, however, I am asked brusquely if I am a Bedoin resident and, on answering in the affirmative, almost forced to sign the petition against the change. The reasons are that thebutcher and the baker will suffer because people will not be able to park right outside their shop. When I say that I do not agree; that for me four large parking lots at each corner of the village (a maximum of 5 minutes walk) should be enough; that I do not agree that the car should rule our lives, I am accused of being young, informed that when I am old with a zimmer frame I will not want to shuffle through the village for my baguette....

I am reminded of two things:

The first is , whilst trekking in Nepal, watching octogenarians walk from their home in the mountains (often a day's walk) with their wares on their heads and backs. Their apparent contentment, health and fitness were a result of those journeys. At one point we passed workers asking for money towards building a road along that very track. Knowing that that one road would halt, possibly for ever, a lifestyle in harmony with nature I asked our guide if we should give.

"You cannot stop progress." he said.

When we were kids, my father threw twenty darts at a map of Camberwell in South East London where we lived. Since then, every year on his birthday he has photographed those twenty sites from exactly the same painted dot on the ground. It is called'twenty sites n years'Through it one can see the tragi-comedy of Progress: Bollards come and they go, and then they come again; A concrete park appears, is destroyed, turned back to earth; is planted with tress and then made into a car-park; The operatic newspaper seller never changes and neither, in essence, do his headlines and even the painted dot, when destroyed by a paving slab, is lovingly repainted by some kind art fan.

Perhaps the Place de Bedoin will stay. Perhaps it will go. Perhaps even, one day, they will restore it in beautiful stone with a boules piste and a fountain as it would once have been. We cannot stop it's progress but I can refuse to sign a petition which goes against my heart and, as far as I see it, the heart of the village.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


This macabre sight gave us an indication of what Oscar was feasting on last night.

Monday, April 11, 2005

glyndebourne education

My trip to England was framed by The Great British Rail Flop. It was also drenched in dew, laced with wood anenomes, tinted newborn green, accompanied by the bleating of lambs and the ever transforming aria of a blackbird, and washed down with a couple of really good pints.

Oh, England! How lush thou art, and how crap thy transport system.

The Glyndebourne Education weekend was (ironically perhaps, as you may find out later) based on the story of Cinderella, which opera, in Rossini's version, Glyndebourne will be presenting this autumn. It was our chance to be participants in the kind of workshops we lead - to take our shoes off and pad around THE SPACE as ugly sisters or fairy Godmothers; to become the pumpkin and explore the inner slipper. It was held in the flint mansion of West Dean College set in Capability Brown gardens, and it was tremendous fun.

In the morning, to warm up our left brain, we played word association games and created a circle of improvised voices with sexy riffs supporting swathes of wild solos. In the afternoon we split into groups and were given a piece of text from various sources of the tale:

"And the second sister cut off her heal also so that the shoe might fit"; "The ravens pecked out their eyes"; "Cinderella washed the blood from the floor"...etc.

Exploring the words first in tableau, then in an improvised musical theatre piece, my group became fascinated with the thin line between self mutilation and beautification, and came up with a modern day Cinders set in a plastic surgery clinic. Building up a rhythmic ostinato, the line of doctors scraped instruments (percussion symbolising surgical) and repeated their task in a short musical phrase whilst their patient answered with their sung body part. ("Blow it up" "Boob job" "Blow it up" "Boob job" or " Stitch it up""Liposuction" etc). Above this Nurse Cinders and the Handsome Consultant improvised a love duet. It was a masterpiece!

It has been a long time since many of us put ourselves on the line like this. I, like everyone else, was scared - of performing, of chaos, of failing, of making a fool of myself. However, what never ceases to amaze me is that, with a scrap of text from a fairy tale, and the space and the opportunity to do it, the creative spirit in all of us opens its wings and flies.

The joy of having created something from nothing had dissolved the worry (or in my case BR stress) lines from all our faces. For that moment we were as open as lambs.

I had seen this effect before, on the stimulated creases of kids' smiles and in the wonder in their eyes as they left a school hall having not only opened their mouths and sung, but having composed an opera for the first time.

If anyone seeks a way to empower children in education, this is surely a it. Fast track.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

rail madras

08457 48 49 50...dring dring...

-"yes, I'm trying to get to chichester tomorrow morning. there is a train which leaves victoria at 8.37 and arrives at chichester at 10.07. However, I will be leaving from deptford. does the victoia train stop at london bridge or clapham junction?"

- "um. yes. train leaving from bomb...chichester.."

- "no, i am going to chichester"

- "leaving from clapham junction to victoria direct to chichester via deptford. yes there is a direct service but changing at london bridge."

etc etc

The poor bloke. Both of us utterly exasperated after 15 minutes I actually said, like a real racist:

"Have you ever been to England?"

Ouch. (Sorry.)

But what has happened to the British Rail information service? They have hired a whole lot of people in India because they are cheap but not because they have any knowledge of the British rail network, or interest for that matter. Why should they?

Gone are the days when the response would be:

"Better off leaving Deptford on the 8.14 and changing at London Bridge where there are fewer escalators for the cello, and getting the 8.45 to Chichester which will bring you in on the same train at 10.07. And by the way, what DO you use your mac for?"

Friday, April 08, 2005

mac blog

a quick blog just to say hi from the from the squillion inch g4 powerbook in regent street. mmmmmmmm
-is that really Meg Ryan at the counter?
- and aren't mac.people wonderful souls...? they even want to know what we use our ibooks for and gasp sincerely at the beauty of both meanwhilehereinfrance and Postcard from Provence ....

I'm in London on a Glyndebourne education weekend so no minimal or no news till I get home on Monday.

More anon on my inferior but beloved ibook.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Today I was up at dawn (that's a first in about a hundred years!) and out into the cherry orchard with Oscar The Blue Cat as the light crept tentatively over the mountain. Listening to the baroque trills and swoops of the dawn chorus accompanied by a woodpecker - his drumming like the throw of the tabla player's fingers - and digesting our meeting yesterday with Yves, I got to thinking about prosperity.

The visit to the canosmose atelier was like being invited into a dance of Yin. Not quite sure where we were going or how we were going to get there, we found ourselves nevertheless caught up in waves of movement as he choreographed us through tadelakt bowls, breathing pipes and luminous finishes. However, I felt slightly seasick at times, and was glad of something to hold on to with his very yang partner who was able to answer simple questions such as "What is the next step?" and "When shall we meet?" with simple answers. Christophe seems an essential part of the mix and it is a great comfort to know that he is there.

"Let us approach this in a spirit of prosperity rather than fear" Yves said as we were leaving. Once more I felt the expansion and the trust I have been feeling in everything ever since we committed to this project.

Julian and I have had many challenges concerning prosperity:

Coming from a catholic background Julian recently understood something profound about his attitude to money; that it was married to guilt and thus he felt compelled to give it away. And give it away he did, mostly to the stock-market. The realization changed him profoundly and has liberated him not only to be more responsible for what prosperity he has, but to generate more.

I tend towards the opposite. When I lived on my own I felt quite balanced about my attitude to money, and friends often commented on how free I was about it's comings and goings. However, standing side by side with someone who was the other extreme, I discovered a tension within not unlike a steel reinforced concrete floor, and a realization (not very comfortable) that money had become a symbol of my need to control and my lack of trust.

When Julian made a shift I was able to make one too, and now, though we still have a way to go, the natural in and out breath of prosperity begins to flow between us rather than grasping and losing.

"Does Yves know we only have twenty euros to spend?" Julian joked as we drove away....

In what seems like another life-time, along with 'Women Who Love Too Much' 'Women Who Drink Too Much' 'Women From Outer Space', 'My Mother, My Wallet' etc, I read a good deal about creating prosperity, but it often seemed to be just another ego based way of trying to get rich; all about me, me, me. The bio-dynamic house renovation will cost a lot of money. However, I feel that, as Kahlil Gibran speaks about children in 'The Prophet', it is not ours to grasp, it passes through our hands, and on; on to another pair of hands that love the mountain. Somehow I trust that the income and outgoings needed will be connected not just to our bank accounts (egos) but to the great tides of nature, and that we will find a way to take care of it.

And to prove it, since we committed to working with Yves and canosmose Julian has sold sixteen small paintingsand received three commissions, andZinnia made me a blog goddess!


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

rapture in a beeswing

Dropping Julian off at the studio where he has taken the plunge into the large ocean of canvas which is to be his still life commission 'rich in autumnal fruits', I trotted off down the path of my old promenade from Crillon, through olive and cherry groves, past the church bells and scalloped roofs of Modene and St Pierre de Vassols, and back. In one of the groves I chatted to a very handsome peasant who was trimming his peace-branches on his artisanal stairway to the top of his olive tree, his barely lined face framed by a blue cap and the soft silvery branches, and illumined by the spring sun. He told me that his ancestry had made exactly the same journey; that he had never been further that the trace of my daily walk, and had no need to for he was, surely, in heaven.

On my return I felt moved to re-visit Mark Epstein's beautiful 'Going on Being'. I opened the book at a passage about rapture. In it he discusses the possibility that in Western psychoanalysis the importance of joy is overlooked as merely romantic, but how it is the foundation of Buddhist psychology and faith.

Residing in Nirvana-en-Provence, rather than Peckham (no offense Peckham, my Pa still lives there and is very enraptured by it), I often find myself face to face with the stark difference between my rusty inner rigidity and the outer beauty in which I live. Unlike those in war-ravaged countries or abusive families for whom finding some innocence within is their sole means of survival, here the challenge is not to presume I can feed off my full-of-wonder surroundings. I know that, for me at least, it is in the timelessness of an empty mind that a space for wonder can be found, yet when do I really allow myself to rest there in what our Nepalese guide called 'Empty Box'? When do I, rather than bump into everything with an armoured suit of expectation, stop and meet a bee, a painting, a sunset, or even my husband in the wondrous space between rapture and wisdom?

Today: Today I stopped by a blossom to look, and to smell; I saw the bee; I became the bee; I became full of wonder; I became enraptured.

Today is a wonder-ful day.

Monday, April 04, 2005

organic waymarkings

Inspired by canosmose, furry hemp floors and dancing sonic phonic walls, and motivated to make more choices which support peaceful and bio-dynamic solutions, I finally got around to sending three important letters: I wrote to the Labour, Conservative and Green candidates for Southwark and informed them of my 'adoption' of the Simultaneous Policy.

My mum has been beavering away at me from her trulli in Puglia (with it's sundried tomato roof and durum wheat terrace) to do this, and with the UK elections looming (maybe) I went to their website in desperation. I have been feeling disconnected to policies in the UK, gutted by the recent US elections and utterly ignorant about anything FrenchPolitique except that Le Pen stays nearby in Le Barroux where he is invited by the local National Front monks.

What I read was fascinating and courageous. Even better, it can be 'adopted' by anyone, anywhere in the world, whatever party they are voting for.

This is what Noam Chomsky has to say about it:

"The Simultaneous Policy is a peaceful political strategy to democratically drive all the world's nations to apply global solutions to global problems, including combatting global warming and environmental destruction, regulating economic globalization for the good of all, and delivering social justice, peace and security, and sustainable prosperity.
Can it work? Certainly worth a serious try."

I also bought a recyclable bag in the (ahem, don't go there, honest, except for loo paper, milk and red label free range chickens we can afford) Intermarche. And I walked to market. And we are only flushing number twos. And we buy wine in large boxes (but that's mainly because it's cheap and bloody marvellous)...... However I am far from being an eco-warrior. There are squillions of other things I don't do: I do not always recycle plastic milk bottles; we have six digital displays telling us the time because we don't know how to turn them off; I use clinique lipstick for performances although I know Clinique is ghastly to animals because it's all glossy and gorgeous, and I eat all sorts of tasty beasties.....

However, the good news is that asperges, all purple bruised, green-sweet and bitter cream stems of it, are in season so it is pungent wee time, folks. Perhaps we will have to do a bit of extra flushing after all.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

hemp or botox?

An illuminating visit by Yves Kuhn of canosmose has changed our house renovation plans from invasive surgery to a holistic treatment. To one person who has done her thesis on the relationship between breathing and bowing, making her living playing ancient and spiritual music on strings made out of catgut, and to another who depicts spring sunsets on linen using a hog bristle brush, paints based on linseed and poppy oils, tinted with ochre earth or cow's urine, this decision comes as a huge relief.

An ex-dancer, Yves is now an entrepreneur in bio-dynamique architecture. As he wandered around our house, touching a stone here and a plaster wall there, it was clear that he was full of respect, and on a mission to bring back what he calls 'peaceful' methods of construction using living breathing materials such as flax and hemp and halt the invasion of anything dead such as concrete.

Approaching the building as he would a physical and spiritual body (for he believes it was constructed with a knowledge of this relationship), with feet, a skeletal structure, flesh, an epidermis and a head, he explained about the aging process:

"Everyone is having a face lift! Is a house not allowed to be old; to have wrinkles; to move? These cracks are it's wrinkles!"

Slowly we began to understand the why of that about which we have always had a hunch: To put non-organic materials in a living body causes the body to lose its natural rhythm of expansion and contraction, ingestion and elimination, and so it is with replacing a wall, roof or floor made originally with chaux, sand and stone, with concrete. Therefore, to do what has been suggested up until now - ie to construct a steel-reinforced concrete floor to 'hold it together' would be like botoxing the house, freezing all the natural movement within it and rendering it as good as dead.

Leaning tenderly against one of our wise old walls, Yves painted a picture of one stone mason humbly handing his stone to the other to be laid, the stone's 'feet' towards the ground and it's 'head' towards the heavens, and in that moment it was as if my lungs started to expand and contract in rhythm with those of the house and the mountain, all of us breathing a huge sigh of relief that the new floors would be made from hemp, and that there would be neither invasive procedures nor plastic surgery executed at our hands.

Friday, April 01, 2005

spring prayer for Rudai

Returning from a starlit walk on Tuesday, we saw our neighbours Nadine and Manuel draw up outside our house, faces tortured and tear-stricken.
"On nous a empoisonné les chiens"

In a month where a guest at their gite died of a heart attack walking in the Ventoux, a friend committed suicide, and they were forced, on the first day of spring bloom, to put down the dog which was as old as their love, this was simply too much for them.

Out for the evening walk with their two schnauzers, Lily and Rudai, on the same circuit of oak and olive trees, red sand and thyme we take Manon and Oscar, the dogs started to vomit and suffer severe diarrohea. Four minutes later they collapsed. The vet, when he injected them to make them vomit, found two pieces of ham with a black powder he presumed to be strychnine. He sent the dogs straight to Carpentras where they were kept over night and given a blood transfusion.

In the morning, we went over to find out the news: Rudai did not make it and was dead, and Lily was hanging between life and death. Julian helped Manuel to dig Rudai's grave, wondering if they should dig two, and I sat in the kitchen with Nadine as she called the police, the mairie, the chasseurs and the vet, unable to comprehend the violence and the injustice of it.

In our peaceful idyll, protected as we feel we are by the mountain, and amongst such gentle humble folk, this poisoning is profoundly shocking. The same morning we watched a new lamb suckle outside our house against a backdrop of almond blossom, and the first cherry buds close to bursting. Our guest's son Toby 'saved' a lizard from Manon's clutches and gave it 'rescue remedy'.....

Life and kindness go on and for a moment we forget, until suddenly the four open doors of our friends' red car remind us of their mourning.

I remember a day when Julian and I were first at the scene of a fatal car accident. It was slightly later on on in the spring and Provence had it's best frock on, spattered with blood-red poppy fields. It was a day which was simply too beautiful for death, for a family to lose a loved one, for bones to be crushed by metal and a last breath to be squeezed out of a human life. It could not be, but it was.

Manuel came to the door last night to thank us for the flowers we left for them.
"Il ne faut pas nous acheter les fleurs; C'est vous, les fleurs."

Life, and human kindness do go on. Even amongst those who mourn.