Thursday, June 30, 2005



Whilst the ruffled gold of wheat fields wave those of you lucky to be down south in to drowsy desire; whilst the spears of barley mesh into a pattern of lolling summer light, whilst the chorus of sunflowers turn their cheeky smiles towards you and give you a tutti wink......


It is hot in Strasbourg. An infernal pit sans aircon has us all burning up. In 35 degrees oboists loosen their collars to squeeze out humid air from the bulging red toad necks, pretty single violinists don strappy tops to show off their bronzed bowing technique, horn players throw away their ties and the floor is covered in damp footprints as one by one we abandon concert dress entirely. A Swedish member of the cello section cannot cope at all. He slouches pallid and drained underneath the weight of the chaleur, reaching tragically for his mini fan in all the recits. He has given up the vital job of turning the continuo player's pages all together so our section leader, with not a crotchet off in the entire piece to gulp Vittel, let alone turn a page, is whipping them over furiously whenever he has an open string and his left hand is mometarily free.

Whilst the slow amber moving picture of nature plays down in Provence, I sought comfort elsewhere. And I found it: A very dangerous drug which promised to cure my home-sickness called

The sales at Cotélac.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

lavender and other clichés


The BBC team were a delight; the sort of folk with whom we would love to have extended the Viognier apéro into a barbie had we not been desperate to spend an evening together hardly speaking (preferably in front of an episode of the West Wing).

Rebecca, sporting a shirt which said 'CREW' (which she apparently got on an 'angel channeling convention'), bobbed up and down in the vines, her large furry mike crouched amongst the baby grapes waiting to pick up the sound of passing wild boar or nesting hoopooe. Whilst, at the Demoiselles Coiffées, she recorded endless repetitions of the only thing I felt up to playing - a Bach sarabande - Toby the cameraman lay blissed out on the red sand picking up the vibrations through the grains and creating his signature stone-balancing- sculpture. My kind of folk, I thought.

My interpretation was novel: Out of its more normal context (preceded by a prelude to introduce the vibe and tune us in, flanked and balanced by its its four sister baroque dances) and on a hot ponderous morning in a sand pit, the dance expanded as if immersed in water, absorbing the natural songs of the insects and birds like a sponge - allowing them to influence and stretch the rhythmic structure rather than be mere background noise. I'm normally very strict about keeping the pulse in a dance movement but, in this place and at this moment in time, this one movement became a world in itself.

I'm certainly not going to get a record deal out of it but it was real.

Then came the interview:

Nick (the director I think) was the one who discovered our little haven of artistic beavering, and he gave the interview whilst Mark (the producer I think)sweetly snapped headless stills for blogdom, keeping the energy up with boyish enthusiasm when it flagged. Nick asked the simple questions in a good clear voice, winking when I mentioned wildlife (it is supposed to be a wildlife programme, and for some reason we count) and saying encouraging things such as:
"mmm. beautiful answers...."

So here are some of the questions, and the answers that I almost gave:

Q: "What, to you, is the sound of Provence?"

(Well, I think, here we are surrounded by CICADAS going clack clack a squillion to the nanosecond. I think about Bedoin market, about garlic crushers and vegetable shredders that play the 'song' of the cicada, about cicada shaped sausages and soaps and I recoil in aversion to this endless Provençal cliché.....)

A: "Motos"

Q: "When you think about Provence, what smells does it conjure up?"

(I think of the dream ocean of lavender haze just about to flood our olefactory senses on the other side of the mountain. I think about lavender flavoured cicadas, cicada shaped lavender soap, lavender sausage, lavender ice cream.....)

A: "Our septic tank"

....And so it continued; a gigantesque effort not to fall for every cliché in the Provençal book. I think Nick's questions, rather than being simplistic, were actually doubly clever as they made me rummage everywhere for anything but the obvious answer.

They left us with an envelope with a touching hand drawn memoir of our morning, saying: "Take yourselves out for a nice dinner on the BBC"

So Come back soon Mark, Nick, Toby and Rebecca and in return we'll give you barbequed lavender sausage to go with your Viognier, and we'll continue our conversation about African drumming and tadelakt well into the silence of the thyme-scented provençal night.


Monday, June 27, 2005



Overheard near the bottom of the Mont Ventoux:

"I hope we're near the top. I've run out of gears already"

Sunday, June 26, 2005

two exhibitions, one wedding and the bbc

This weekend the great and good of the publishing and photographic worlds plus a substantial portion of the Brat Pack descended upon our corner of Provence for the wedding of Rachel and Morgan. We were encouraged to put something on to entertain the masses, promised a stream of wealthy visitors keen to take back a souvenir, and so a hundred invitations were sent out for Julian's little show. It was hot. It clashed with an infinitely preferable wine tour. Five people came. With very kind sponsorship from our favourite wine maker, Paul Vendran, we sat amongst friends under the tamarisk fronds etched against the setting sun getting gently pissed for two days.

Julian squeezed in his two paintings for the day whilst I took an hour stretched out in the local pool trying to release my tired Rameau-ified muscles, and both paintings sold immediately. We rose our glasses to Postcards From Provence, to the end of Crillon le Brave, and to the future of art on the internet.

I had organised the music for the wedding. My choice quartet and I coaxed and heralded Rachel, Morgan, flower girls, mothers and maids of honour in and out of the church with Haydn and Handel. It was a dream wedding and in a Hollywood comes to the Vaucluse moment, and to the sound of Handel's march from Judas Maccabeus, the doors of the tiny church opened to reveal the bride bathed in early evening Provençal light. We proceeded to the reception at Chateau Talaud. There we ate folded aubergines with clothes-pegs, and drank champagne (and, because we had had no time to shop, Julian nicked a couple of rosy bottom-shaped apricots for today's still life). P.J. O'Rourke, Jay McInery and others made speeches, read from the Corinthians, and we all boogied and guzzled Chateau La Nerthe.......

The groom informed Julian that his painting, commissioned by the brides's sister, was their loveliest present.


Returning home I drunkenly picked up the phone to check for messages and to my utter horror, Nick from the BBC had called saying he would like to come at nine am (which was in six hours) and could they please have a bit of cello. I gulped and went straight to bed.

So here I am, on three hours sleep, Chateau Neuf du Pape of all hues still sloshing around in my belly, in the extraordinary natural church of the Demoiselles Coiffées playing Bach to the drone of the cicadas. The lanky morning shadows of the pines move across the ochre cliffs to the sound of the sarabande. My feet are planted in the red sand amongst the cones, and between phrases exhaled my bow comes to rest and I breathe in the songs of black birds, a hoopoe, warblers, goldcrests and nightingales. Now there's inspiration.


Friday, June 24, 2005

mr. hopper

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

the queen's ipod

i hear the queen has bought an ipod. does that make me groovey or what?

fête de la musique


Happily, I have seen the last of Mulhouse and happily too, the second performance of Les Boreades was electrifying.

I had entered the pit straight off 6 sweaty tgv hours - a one day visit home to give a bit of support to my husband which, though exhausting, was restorative to both our hearts. However, it had left me little time to warm up. Whilst absent-mindedly walking my hand up and down the cello in thirds to avoid injury during the lightening scales of the Overture, I gathered from our section leader that he was yearning for home. With the memory of Julian's hand warming mine as much as scales ever could, I felt that, after almost three weeks away from his wife and one year old son, he had had a right to withdraw into himself a little on the Saturday. His spirit was returned to us however last night and the whole orchestra welcomed it. His continuo playing was a delight: He cradled the singers' recitatives in a silk woven cloth; he wound them in weeping gut; he gave a ripping kick to support their anger, and when Borée tenderly declares his love for Alfiz, he was accompanied with an improvised pizzicato chord which spread like the de-petalling of a lotus. All this colouration will have gone unnoticed , consciously at least, by the singers and the audience. Like the pure blue of the ocean or the green of the grass, it is not a thing to be praised and that is its beauty.

After the performance I trailed, cello shell on my back, dreamily through the park now known (after a local warning to one of our female colleagues) as the 'parc des mauvais hommes'. Suddenly I heard our flutes wafting across the treetops and stumbled upon the huge video projection Thursday's 'Les Boreades'. It was the National Fête de la Musique.

Beer and dogs were being sold from a tent and the riff-raff of Mulhouse sauntered across the tenor's huge projected larynx, accompanying his imploring aria with their munching and gulping. A group of break-dancers floated their mechanical moon-dance right in front of the on screen ballet, their super-imposed movements strangely enhancing the choreography. The orchestra, the only people riveted it seemed, grouped together under the plane trees one by one to see the performance for the first time, and to have a proper bop at last to the gavottes.

It seems I have been accepted momentarily in to this clan as, whilst painting Julian's gallery walls in preparation for his vernissage tomorrow, I received a call from the orchestra asking me for more work: The two short periods would fill up the two remaining holes I have to be home this summer and would render me an absent wife. Also, a round trip to New York which lasts twenty four hours and has a concert at Lincoln Center stuffed in its middle no longer sounds glamorous to me. Julian encouraged me to accept the opportunity. However, on hearing his voice in the train today I feel a belt of sadness tighten around me. Julian is currently stressed beyond belief trying to cobble together tomorrow's show; his printer was not delivered as promised so he has had to buy an inferior one which cannot produce the prints he had hoped to offer for sale, he has a mountain of labels to make, canvasses to price, small paintings to post, a business to continue, a bar tender to find and a lost landscape to track down .....all this on top of being a taxi driver for his wayward wife. I want to be there to do runs to the post office, to make the calls he hates making, to prepare healthy salads and to smooth his brow. I am not there and I am aware that I am failing him; failing us. Rameau is all very meaningful and sexy to me, but ultimately Julian is more so.

London buses and work may come in droves after a long lonely wait, but a Julian comes once in a life time.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

waiting in the wings

The dress rehearsal flew as only the Boreades - which are, after all, winds - should, on charmed wings. Notes were where they should be, and the fragility of the orchestra met in a moment of thrilling grace. We were praised for our accuracy and encouraged to let rip even more on the first night.

Walking to the first night I pass the real live horse grabbing a bite by the stage door for his fifth act entrance, dancers smoking and stretching, feather hats and glitter shoes waiting to be donned and fake banquets waiting to be rolled on. I feel the block of excitement ready to spring. Hold on, hold on.....

I warm up for an hour, placing key notes 'deaf' from a relaxed hand by my side (One can't hear to place them aurally so we rely on muscle memory only) and connecting to the gutsy grit of my sound.....I'm feeling good.

However, it seems we let rip just a little too much, creating something more akin to the breaking rather than the celebration of wind from the pit. Every section is having its problems, slithering around slightly flat of the note's centre in the sudden sweat of a summer evening. Our section leader - Nigel Kennedy meets the Buddha - appears to have gone to his version of where I went during the pre-dress and is absent for much of the time, peeping out occasionally to tantalize us, leading us in an irresistible gavotte groove before retreating back to his hole. I spend my time between bopping my way through it anyway and wondering if it was something I'd done, some tasteless ornament or bulge.

My friend in the audience says it was marvellous anyway and better than the dress. Just goes to show that it doesn't make any difference whether we fly or flop. People are only interested in the cozzies.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


I have been asked twice to do this, once by Jean, and by Gail so here goes:

It is difficult from an Ibis cube in Mulhouse, but it wouldn't be much easier from Bedoin. When Julian and I made our first home together we agreed to get rid of doubles (I reluctantly swapping my thumbed sun-cream and coffee stained paperbacks with strained spines for his immaculate hard back first editions) before boxing the rest. Three moves later (from a tiny Sussex tudor cottage with wall space enough for a Farrow and Ball tester pot, to his studio which was covered in unfinished canvasses to our current home) we still do not have a shelf on which to put our books. It's coming soon though, for finally we have wall space enough for both paintings and books. How grown up is that?

....and so this comes from roaming the very short bookshelf of my memory.

How many books do I own?
No idea. Several dozen boxes in the garage.

What was the last book I bought?
'Saturday' by Ian McEwan.
I ploughed through till about aperitif time but he was only just uncorking the bottles and, because he is not Proust, I got bored, impatient, thirsty. I had a free day on tour and desperately needed a good book friend so dumped Perowne mid-saga. However, I have been a McEwan fan for many years and thought 'A Child In Time' was a masterpiece.

What was the last book I read?
Rohinton Mistry's 'A Fine Balance'. I have travelled a fair amount in India and Mistry's writing seems to me to soar with the pathos, the humour, the tragedy and the love of that continent's people whilst illuminating the history and maintaining the mystery. Brilliant.

What five books mean a lot to me?
They were turning points in themselves or they appeared at turning points in my life. Either way I would like to re read all of them, except, of course, the first.

Enid Blyton's 'First Term at St Trinian's'
I know, I know, she is awful and kids these days are, thankfully, much better off with 'His Dark Materials' but this is supposed to be a confessional, right? - and all those midnight feasts were so brill!!...and so when my Mum said would I like to go to boarding school I shrieked "Yes!!!"....and so off I was packed, trunk 'n all, for my first term at the Yehudi Menuhin School which was very dodgy but we did indeed have midnight feasts though there was sadly no lacrosse, and three of my closest friends now were the same girls with whom I feasted and giggled then. The only difference is that now the wine is better, and legal.

(But that one doesn't matter bcause it was rubbish.)

OK here goes for real:

George Eliot's 'Mill On The Floss'
This book had me weeping all over the train to, as I called it then, 'Drizzledorf' where I went to study at th age of seventeen. I was terribly lonely and Eliot was my main and beloved companion (with sporadic help from a certain Helmut) for four years. The book had big sibling thing running through it and it touched me deeply as I tried to figure out my relationship with my own brother.

Stendhal's 'Le Rouge et le Noir'
Could this have something to do with my dream (come true) of marrying a Juli(a)en and living in France? Oh, Julien Sorel.......Then again I quite fancied Bernard Rieux from Camus' 'La Peste' too - all that sexy existentialism. Anything in a beret really.

Louis de Bernieres 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin'
Despite the fact that this book became a three for the price of one job, not to mention a very crappy film, I saw it first. HONEST. The book fairy was perched upon my shoulder in Waterstones when I saw a pretty blue and white cover with painted boats on it by an author of whom I had never heard. "Go on" said the book fairy, and for the next two weeks I was blissed out in its company on a beach near La Rochelle. I mention it here because, for me, De Bernieres writes better about music in fiction than anyone else I know. Most other writers, however accomplished, make me squirm on the topic. He actually makes me want to get out my cello and PLAY.

Mark Epstein's 'Going On Being'
In my twenties if you didn't have therapy you were pants. After my share of kicking and screaming (or, in my case, failing miserably to kick and scream) - much of which I now look on as an extended addiction to drama but without some of which I would probably not be married to a man as lovely as Julian - I was (and am) drawn to Buddhism. Epstein takes the wisdom within Western psychotherapy whilst discarding the drama, and gently marries it with the discipline of the Eastern philosophy. East meets West with knobs on.

And the only book I'd really need on a desert island; the best book ever writ:
The Six Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach.

...and I pass the bouquiniste's baton to:


Thursday, June 16, 2005


The pre-dress for Les Boreades arrives and the cello section has a bonding session ('partielle') in preparation which leaves me feeling very fragile.

We play slowly through the scales passages trying to agree on the placement of E, F sharp and A flat and, even after thirty-five years on the job, the buggers are still escaping my fingers like guilty convicts. Obviously baroque F sharps are different (being essentially harmonic notes which maintain the structure rather than melodic ones which pull on it) and I'm relatively new to them but nevertheless, slapping my digits down any old where simply won't do. We are fine-tuning and the trouble is - everyone seems to be tuned to a different inner lute.

Next comes the discussion about vibrato. There are six people, six cellos and six schools in the room: Two conflicting French schools of baroque practice, the English and Swedish schools of the same, the 'This-is-a-laugh-should-have-done-this-years-ago-I-can-wing-it-I-think' school, and the School of Wobble. All but one school respects the old adage:

'When six or more are gathered together in My name, thou shalt not wobble'

In other words, with everyone inspired to wobble at different moments (corrr, this is a tasty bit; I fancy a wobble; wobble wobble etc)it is best not to wobble at all. The prime wobbler disagrees and, grinning charmigly it has to be said, carries on wobbling.

We take our seats and our conductress greets us, sporting a pretty orange linen frock with a white towel around her neck like a prize fighter. Her assistant crouches just outside the ring with the post-it notes.

We're off, and she might aswell have been wearing a pretty orange bathing suit as, within bars of pumping the intro, she is drenched. Our Japanese section leader has been conserving his energy for he is spinning like a whirling dervish. Across the harpsichord he catches the eye of another of his countrymen who is rockin' even harder and I chuckle remembering something he had said in the bar the night before. Sitting over a pint of 'pression' in his studded jeans, torn AC/DC t-shirt and tell tale white worms coming out of his ears - the ultimate in ipod ad - he told me that he only listens to baroque music and hard rock. However, to send himself to sleep he always listens to hard rock because baroque music gets him too wired. I understand when I see the whites of his eyes glint as he rips at his runs.

I'm just about getting out of my post-sectional funk and entering into the music. One of the bowings we decided on in the sectional flies by and none of us do it. I turn to my desk partner and laugh. I too begin to fly.

My desk partner and I clicked right from the start, establishing our passionate commitment to reaching beyond our selves in performance. Tonight, however, she is tired and probably scared. Her tendonitis is creeping up on her with all its usual threats. She has shut off and after the first act she snaps at me:

"I'd rather you didn't look at me when I do a wrong bowing"

From a laughing dancing woman serving her muse I start falling....falling...and suddenly I am the eighteen month old baby who, shortly after the birth of her brother, chose to leave this world and go into a coma for two weeks, believing there was no space for her. I am stuck there for the duration and I can't get out, no matter how many whirling dervishes and hard rockers tug at me. I am as good as dead for acts two, three, four and five. I can see the look of concern on the faces around the iron crib I have erected around me but I simply do not have the strength to reach out and touch life.

Walking back to the hotel afterwards I know there is no way for me to get out of this hell other than talk to my desk partner and explain what is happening. Luckily we are both honest enough to swiftly establish that she too, due to her own fear, had slipped into a destructive childhood pattern, lashing out at the closest person to her. Her 'Destroyer' and my 'Annihilated' are, of course, a perfect match for one-another. We share a beer, a hug, and relocate ourselves in the world of musicians, of women, but there is nothing that can take away the sadness of having missed the performance.

I fall asleep thinking that the strong beast that is the orchestra is, in fact, composed of individual souls sitting naked in front of the great score, desperately trying to locate the universal F sharp whilst exposing the full range of their passions and sensitivities for all to see. Each is centimetres away from the well-worked armpit of another soul with another set of vulnerabilities and strengths. It is wonder we do not collide more often. I weep in my deep sleep. I'm not sure why, but in the morning I haver forgiven myself. And I have forgiven my desk partner. Today is a new day and we have the dress rehearsal to look forwrd to.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005


At breakfast this morning a colleague said to me:

"Equality will have arrived when incompetent women are placed in positions of power and influence"

Luckily I am amongst extraordinary musicians during these weeks for all of whom - men and women, whether first, seconds or nineteenths - the music is the motor, not the ego. I sat down in the pit yesterday feeling warm, welcomed and ready, along with my fellow music makers, to be a worker ant for the sake of Rameau.

This atmosphere is rare and more often than not it is more like this:

He is charming as you take your place next to him as second cello. He pours on to you three lavish bisoux and a deep blue smile in which, if you were a little more fragile, you would drown instantly.

Your leader has warmed up on the concerti he will never play and is concentrating hard, on the f-holes of his cello and the series of quavers qnd crotchets in first position that constitute the score; on his job. After all he has a family to support and he can't afford to lose his job. Especially not to a woman. He grips his bow even tighter and holds his breath. Phrases are angular and accents are falling wherever they choose. Without the grease of arrogance the cogs would not move at all.

Having given up on their number one, people are inviting you, the number two, in to the music as their life-line to the bass. For the sake of the music you have no choice but to respond. The conductor notices you are breathing in with him, your bow arm moving on his exhalation; a violist enjoys your shared sensuous glance as you rise together in thirds; the principal violin is clearly relieved to have her knotty line buoyed up by your bounce.....

Then, following a subtle gesture from the conductor, the violins take an unexpected turn, paint a daring new path through the melody. Your body simply follows, teasing the line into new harmonic colour. The middle voices take up the thread with rhythmic humour and the music comes alive, riding on the saddle of the moment.

Suddenly you panic. You have, of course, gone too far. You forgot that your job is to stick by the concrete mixer at your side, slather vibrato inappropriately all over the harmonies and bump the resolutions from which everyone else is delicately tapering away....Above all your job is to be less alive than he so he feels in control. Your job, in fact, is to die inside. You are not allowed out to play with the other children and, though he is following no-one but his own demons, your job is to follow him.

One day, after performance number four, he simply says to you:

"Tu cherches trop"

This accusation of searching too hard constitute the last words he speaks to you. The bisoux and the deep blue smile disappear (not that they were in the slightest bit necessary) and he shuts you out completely.

You are never hired again.

I have never seen 'The Office'. I would like to. I can't imagine, apart from in Mulhouse today, that politics in the music world are much different.

Sunday, June 12, 2005



In the rehearsals at the Opera de Rhin for Rameau's Les Boreades the string sections are asked to play separately:

"Les dessus!" comes the cry from the harpsichord, and the violins chirp their way ornamentally through the melody which is shadowing the heavenly voice of Paul Agnew who, up above, is practically crooning 'Au milieu des fleurs'. Feet shuffle on the pit floor and whistles rise up from awed colleagues.

"... Et les dessous".

We, the basses and violas, proudly inhale into our bowing lungs and carve our way through the sumptuous harmonies of our 'air gracieux' like hungry spatulas through rich chocolate. Someone continues playing at the end and metamorphoses the dance seamlessly first into 'Love Story', then 'Gone With The Wind'. The violins join in. We all laugh in the knowledge that the sound track of many a twentieth century teenage dream of romance started here.

Suddenly I have the wild idea that 'dessous' means undies in French. If it does it certainly encompasses the range of feelings one can have growing up as a bass line player:

It starts with the feeling of being 'pants'; being slow and rubbish and unable to hold a tune. (This can be exacerbated growing up with a sibling who is a brilliant 'dessus' player). Then, one day the lingerie moment comes - all that sexy caressing of flattened sixths; the second skin next to the broken heart beat. The endpin comes off, one lowers oneself even further and, feeling the damp earth rise through one's feet, the ur-rhythm course through one's blood, one becomes, simply,

The Loin-Cloth.

It's the place to be. For me, at least.

My 'dessus' sibling, now a fine conductor in Bangkok, took the time to write a lovely letter for my blog a few days ago. Pants picked it up and, as is her insecure and competitive wont, she tried to cut it (him) down to size thinly disguised as editing his piece. He rightly protested and requested that she removed the ravaged item. Now Loin Cloth is apologizing and giving you:

Dessus in Bangkok - Uncut.


Letter From Bangkok

It was the summer of 1977, the year of Virginia Wade, Annie Hall and, perhaps more for the boys, a whole new movie experience making its way over from the other side of the Atlantic entitled, simply, ‘Star Wars’.

My sister, writing as a guest columnist during my one and only attempt at keeping a diary, makes a few comments about her friends and teachers, speculates wildly upon my as yet wholly innocent love-life, and signs off: ‘with luv ‘n’ lipstick, Rufus xxx’

That particular diary was a somewhat short-lived project petering out after two weeks and approximately nine pages. ‘Rufus’, however, proved to be a prolific penstress and, nearly thirty years on, she has blossomed into the effusive, the effervescent, the profound - and the seemingly world-renowned – blog-maiden known as ‘meanwhile here in France…’ Having at last, after so long, invited me to return a guest column of my own (albeit now electronically and from six and a half thousand miles away), I find myself searching for a suitable nom de plume. In the hope of fitting in with the established template I make a hasty decision to become ‘surely only in Bangkok…’ for reasons that will, I hope, become obvious as, having had a good day within a good week, I try to give you a flavour of my experience here…

The apartment in which I spent the last year had become untenable. Not only was my own personal menagerie of ants and cockroaches spiralling out of all control, but I had acquired a new neighbour from one of the less bonny regions of Scotland who, along with his young Thai girlfriend, combined a penchant for vigorous physical activity at anti-social hours with a quite dreadful taste in music. Another major problem was the water pump on the roof of the next apartment block. From being an intermittent whiner it had become a 24/7 screamer, and the management had refused to do anything to alleviate its (and my) agony. There was no doubt about it; I had to find a new place.

Enlisting the help of one of my students, Ruaychai, and his indomitable father, ‘Ruaychai’s dad’, I luckily found myself falling in love with the very first apartment we looked at. A penthouse overlooking four or five miles of the Chao Phraya river with views stretching sixty miles away to Chonburi in the South-East and goodness knows where to the West. Three minutes walk to a riverboat stop from which the orange-flag boat would transport me to the BTS skytrain a mile away, and fifteen minutes walk from Chinatown on one side and Bangkok’s main railway terminus, Hua Lumphong, on the other. Not a cockroach to be seen, it was a done deal.

The owner undertook to give the apartment a new coat of paint, to fix up that which might be in need of fixing up, and he also helped me to sort out the local maid and laundry services.

After an excellent bowl of wide, white noodle soup with fried fishballs in the market at the foot of the tower block (45p each), Ruaychai and dad took me to a dingy warehouse in a backstreet of Chinatown where, to celebrate, I purchased a really quite sensationally beautiful Patek Phillipe watch for about £24. There are many levels of fake goods here, and Ruaychai’s dad assures me that this is the absolute top of the scale. It certainly looks and feels like the business with its dapper silver-grey face and its exuberant automatic winding mechanism; nothing like the tatty rip-off watches found in Pat Pong which undiscerning tourists will eventually end up discarding with a sense of quiet relief when, inevitably after a few days, they totally cease to function.

And now, ensconced in my new palace, with sheets on the beds, books in the bookcase, pictures on the walls, and fresh lychees and mangosteens battling it out in the fruit bowl, I turn my attention towards the imminent concerts I am to be conducting for The Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.

Back in the olden days when I was based in the UK and working as a violinist with various orchestral and chamber music outfits, I usually had a general overview of what my working life was going to consist of a year or so in advance. Here it doesn’t really work like that and, with rehearsals starting tomorrow for the first of two concerts, I am overjoyed to receive some timely official clarification of where we are at as regards said performances.

It is in fact next month’s concert that has been moved back by a day to accommodate HRH Princess Galyani’s wish to attend, not next week’s; and it is next week’s concert that has seen the Mozart C minor piano concerto K491 morph resplendently into Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ concerto.

I did enjoy studying the Mozart. It is a dark, sombre and subtle work and, even though I have had quite a lot of experience with Mozart concerti as a player, I had found it more musically elusive than I had expected. I had nonetheless thought that I was starting to come to grips with it, but, hey, none of that matters now!

A little man will be over with the Beethoven score shortly…

Today, I also get to teach my delightful Japanese student, Shunsuke. His progress on the violin is truly heart-warming and, almost single-handedly amongst my small collection of students, he vindicates my strongly held belief that instrumental technique will (given a basic grasp) pretty much develop of its own accord if one’s musical goals are held with enough conviction. We spend the lesson working on some violin duets that he has to perform next week with a school-friend; I play the second violin part, and have as much fun playing as I can remember.

At the lesson’s end, Shunsuke changes the subject and very seriously asks if I am able to give him some real, actual and important advice from outside of the violinistic arena. He has been given a part in his International School’s summer-term production of the musical ‘Oliver!’, and he needs some help on the costume front. I ask him which of the dramatic roles he has been persuaded to tackle.

‘Boy.’, comes the concise, sweet and disarmingly unambiguous response.

Both Colours (green, red, white), and Items (trousers, socks, shirt, beret) for the boys’ costumes have already been specified by the school; what Shunsuke wants to know is where, in my opinion, would be the best place to buy the material and have the costume made up.

I can thankfully assure you that the irony and incongruity of one of Fagin’s lads having his urchin’s rags made to measure at a Sukhumvit tailor’s sweat-shop is not lost upon my student, but I anyway end up recommending him to the shop where I had my last batch of shirts made.

We then suddenly find ourselves embarking on the afternoon’s second lesson. Images of camels in strange yet close proximity to the eyes of needles flit ominously through my brain as, in what will amount to a far greater challenge than the mere impartation of musical knowledge, we set out to locate Shunsuke’s inner Cockney in a quest to add some real South London authenticity to his already enthusiastic rendition of ‘Consider yourself, at home….’

A knock on the door signifies that my writing time is up. His Imperial Majesty has arrived and is in sore need of attention prior to tomorrow’s rehearsal.

If there is sufficient interest and my sister is amenable, I will be happy to contribute the odd letter from Bangkok on a sporadic basis. Until such time I leave you with the traditional ancient Thai salutation for signing off on a blog entry. (Please note Thai is a ‘tonal’ language, and that my use of italics denotes ‘high’ tone)

‘Lubhaan lip tiik!’

Leo. (xxx)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

French trilling


Rehearsals for Rameau's Les Boreades are managing to fairly distract me from the uninspiring city of Mulhouse where the only good thing I have found so far is a little Italian cafe in which I take my morning shot au lait.

Meanwhile....I always knew French kissing was good but you should try French trilling!

Immersed in our little world of gavottes, loures and contredanses, we are indulging in a variety of trills and ornaments including, as far as I can understand, the 'plaintive accent' - the hiccup at the end of a poignant note when the lump in the throat almost gets out - and the 'thrown tremble' - an orgasmic quiver in both hands. I am finally learning the musical language that goes with the verbal one I have spoken and loved for so long.

French baroque style is a revelation. Bowing forearms are thrown from loose elbows and return like boomerangs. There is no fear, only controlled abandon:

active - passive
long - short
inspire - expire

Most of the notes, though written straight, are swung (this is called 'inégale') and neither jazz nor celtic music are very far off, which is why it is not surprising to see our Japanese section leader hanging out with the bass player swinging his hips as he learns a new slap 'n groove riff in the break.

The violin section is Rolls Royce meets Camper Van at the Brittany folk festival - the heads and bellies of the instruments stirring the air whilst those of the players nod round and round like the Indian 'Yes/No' gesture of non-judgement- all the while immaculately placed yet totally free gestures are being released in miraculous unison.

The sound that emerges from the orchestra is homogenous, by turn rustic and refined, but it is never "me, me, me; my sound that I made and therefore I own; you can't have a piece of it and besides it's better than yours". It is egoless, given, created and blown into the atmosphere like a mandala.

At the beginning of the session I meet a woman who ran Glyndebourne for sixteen years and who now lives in France. She is head of the Opera here, spending half her time in her apartment in Strasbourg and half with her husband doing up an old farmhouse near Montpellier. She has lost about two stone, is dressed in fine casual à la Française, and she is radiant. We nod too in French baroque acknowledgment of the good life.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


My cello slept better than I on the couchette to Mulhouse.

I know the TGV is marvellous but: Bring back the BR 'sleeper'; the BR embossed Egyptian cotton sheets, mattresses, basin, toothbush and paste, blue blankets and, above all, the be-capped gentleman sensitively serving tea and digestives hours after arriving in a Penzance pre-dawn...

"I think you'll find you have reached your destination ma'am. I trust you slept well...?"

On 'Corail' all I got for my money was an hour's delay in Avignon station with mooning and dog-licking into the midnight bargain, a damp acid green cover and a box of 'corail' tissues to comfort me as I failed to sleep on an armless seat they call a bed. On arrival in a ten degree Mulhousian morning and, having lugged my cello and two heavy rucksacs twenty five minutes around the 'gare' trying to find the hotel, I was not pre-disposed to love my Ibis two star room in which I have to spend the next three weeks and in which there is hardly room to manouvre by bum around the bed and into the shower, let alone practice my Rameau part. Nor was I fresh for the six hours of delicate french trilling I faced....

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Roland Garros

Reasons I hate the French TV coverage of Roland Garros:

1. Stupid cartoons flashing up in between shots saying "pppsssschiiiiiiittt" .

2. Sepia super-impositions of the eiffel Tower where the net should be.

3. Commentators who have no respect for silence, who wallpaper talk about anything but tennis through rallies and who, above all, are not our beloved Johnny Mac.

4. That bloody Nelson interviewing boring people in suits who run boring companies who fund the tournament whenever play stops for more than 10 seconds.

5. Something called - unfortunately for it - 'pube' whenever we should be resting up with the players admiring their calf muscles and watching them take off their shirts.

6. That bloody Nelson (again) milking the loser seconds after his defeat.

7. Fly on the wall shots of players in the dressing room weeping.

8. That BLOODY Nelson.

The cats were riveted.


Saturday, June 04, 2005

passion fruit

Summer has arrived in Carpentras market. Stalls are heaving with the juice of fruits d'été, signs gaily announcing red berries of every kind - from the miniscule potency of fraises de bois to the massive health statement of the cut watermelon - as if offering us an invigorating blood transfusion after the long winter. This passionate abandon of tender young colour in favour of deep throat red seems sudden as we emerge shyly from our delicate green-time. It could, if anyone had invented it, seem almost vulgar.

I experienced something similar watching Clint Eastwood's latest film, 'Million Dollar Baby' a couple of days ago.


The pace and the subtlety of the performances drew me into a muted world - of big words unspoken, of huge emotions contained; a world in which it was enough to listen out for the beating of a heart to know you were loved. I was settled into this lilt of understatement - in which I felt I did know what 'Mo Cushle' meant even though it was never stated, and what happened that grows like a fungus between father and daughter - when suddenly the line comes out of Eastwood's mouth which spills scarlet all over the sepia screen. Never before have I been so caught out in a movie. My throat did not constrict nor did it produce a lump, but it opened and let out the beginnings of a primal wail.

The interesting thing to me is that I did know. It was not a surprise in terms of plot, but in terms of tone, of rhythm, like a great flattened sixth chord in Beethoven. Nothing harmonic we don't know or haven't heard before - simply timing and colour. In such moments where it is too late to prepare ourselves not to feel, we know we are alive.

Talking to Manuel at a dinner party the other day, I was informed that the French do not say 'I love you', or at least if they do they may say it once in a relationship. (Manuel has only ever written it.) It seemed a shame to me at the time, but watching this film I was reminded that it is the moments, which slip in-between our expectations and the cliches, which are our life blood. Cramming our emotional life full of casual "I love you"s Hollywood-style leaves little space for truth and possibly even shuts us down, causing the fungus to thrive.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

another day at the office


The wedding anniversary celebrations found their way to a small turquoise inlet down the rugged coast from Marseilles.

A colleague, when I had expressed an interest in walking in the 'Calanques' but clueless as to where to park because of forest fire restrictions, suggested the little fish restaurant in the Sormiou calanque which had secret parking. A little apprehensive of my master (many recommendations have gone terribly wrong - the guide's 'ultimate simple fish restaurant', for example, perched high on the coast with 'imprenable' sea views to which we drove miles from one of my concerts, turned out to be no more than an average pizzeria under a dirty plastic awning), I was pleased when it turned out to be the untouched haven of leaning twister pines, party dress yellow cactus flowers, a myriad of blue and green aquas and twittering goldcrests I had hoped for.

We lunched, being on an adventure, on flan d'oursins and a grilled local fish whose name I cannot remember but which had very fierce teeth, and then we went to work:


Julian perched under the shade of a wavy pine tree and, though he lacked the necessary veridian and hoggar blue for the true colour of the mediterranean in this jewel-place, did his painting for the day whilst I perched slightly lower in the sun and studied my score of Rameau's 'Les Boreades' with the help of my ipod, figuring out 'french baroque style'; which quavers are swung and which note the trills start from...


On the way home we stopped on the A7 to photograph the painting for the day before the light faded. It sold within an hour of posting to a guy in Massachusets. It Almost payed for lunch!

That - my brilliant, talented and innovative husband - is my kind of guy.

(Another day at the office.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

wedding anniversary special

place settings
The preparations were complete - Sablet red and white and cheerful fizz transported to Sussex from France along with a mega- carton of lavender from Bedoin market; bouquets tied with raffia and name tags hand written to the sound of morris dancers and quacking Sunday geese on Sedlescombe village green; garlands collected from Beech Hill banks and strung by the groom - and I was waiting in the herb garden in my Dosa organza frock. My oldest friend (with whom I had founded the club 'Love For Boys' in Surrey woodland twenty eight years before) played a Bach suite under The Silver Birch which we had made into our church and the Merrow-Smith and Phillips clans converged for Ruth and Julian's wedding. It was 27 degrees. We were already blessed.

I walked down the aisle as the last chorale from the St Matthew Passion drifted across the lawn from the string quartet. Desperate to get to my oatmeal linen and Birkenstock clad man before he disappeared on a whiff of lavender I was going at it a bit too speedily; hurtling towards the big trip (Julian insists I will die by tripping as I am always looking up at the sky. This would have been choice timing). My father, on whose arm I clung giddily, whispered "Take it slowly. This is your big moment!" I drank in the faces and the rare breed sheep, the church we had created from a tree, a field and goodwill and the sound of my very own God; I drank in the man who was holding me and all the unspoken love his squeeze conveyed...and then I was there.

We had been developing our ceremony for many months, with the help of a Montessori teacher who has now gone on to become a professional celebrant. With her guidance, we had asked ourselves some fundamental questions about what marriage meant to us any what it was we wanted to say to those present. We, an ex new-agey therapied-out musician who had so far only found trust in Buddha and Bach, and an ex-catholic aetheist who wept at the perfection of the sight of the first swifts in the sky, a cloth painted by Bonnard, or the sound of a Beethoven piano sonata, also had had to ask ourselves what if any spiritual meaning there was to our humanist act.

The poem 'Come with me and be my love' had got no further than our kitchen where Julian, resting in a declamatory fashion up against the aga, had been unable to get beyond the first line without blubbering, however many times he tried. However, it was deep in our hearts and cropped up three years later in the bonsai form of a valentine blog-comment. My mother refused to read something because it meant nothing to her, the best man thought another something was crap...In the final cut, Rumi, Haydn and plain song were amongst those who made it through the audition process to the tree. The spiritual aspect found glorious expression through my pink and silver clothed Mum playing a portable organ and leading us in hymns, we 'aspired' rather than promised (coming from a broken home such a promise felt empty wheras there seemed to be so much energy and presence in the word 'aspire') and we skipped out, ringed and encircled, held and beloved, towards the champagne as these Native American words sang out:

Go now to your dwelling
to enter into your life together
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

Moving on to the second lawn and an even bigger tree, we were regaled with spontaneous gifts from our friends: poetry readings (the naughty one that didn't make it to the real thing), a fertility dance, folk songs in large silly hats, and speeches whose words flew away on the breeze but whose meaning was felt. People wandered in and around the offerings getting fairly sozzled.

As the white linen became soiled with early summer salads, lavender bunches dropped to the floor in favour of wine glasses, and the white choccy woccy doo dah cake was cut, the drone of speeches begun.

The Irish country dancing swung, the Dufay Collective sang and on one side of the fairy lit apple tree the hundred strong Merrow-Smith family partied to the background music whilst on the other my equally numerous baroquey muso friends craned to hear the magic. Two people marry; two worlds meet and collide in joy, the bride's studded sandal is lost....A perfect day.

And here we are in our dwelling, three failed ivf's and two divine cats later. Thismorning, on our third wedding anniversary, I thanked my husband for marrying me and he replied:

"Someone had to rescue you"

He has sure done that. And much, much more.

As I write, Julian-three-hamburger-twenty-macaroon -two-paintings-a-day-mammoth-heart- Merrow-Smith is upstairs painting poppy fields and listening to the Archers on wireless broadband in the middle of the vines, and someone just got married to the words:

Go now to your dwelling....

Plus ça change.
ruth and julian