Wednesday, September 21, 2005



Yesterday we put in a window. We took out stones, found the original structure, mixed chaux and sand and dipped and relaid the stones with pieces of wet roof tile, and now what will one day be my room has a wonderful clear view of the vineyard.

Afterwards, I showered, plastered myself with beurre de karité, and went to a disused factory for Himalayan balsam which has been bought and is being bio-dynamically renovated by a baroque violinist. Apart from being her home, it is where she holds a yearly series of candlelit concerts.

Enclosed by long walls where ruined plastering and bare girders look, by fairy candlelight, like the most intricate of frescoes, we are given Beethoven string trios played by heart and, last night, a cellist-come-wordsmith debuting her offbeat poetry around a series of improvised, unresolved cadences on the clavichord.

Although I was aware that the performer was juxtaposing words in unfamiliar ways in order to give them a new flavour, despite understanding the meaning of most of the individual words, I lacked the cultural and linguistic experience in French to appreciate the whole. To me, with the fire crackling near and lounging on a tattered red velvet sofa, and with my romantic teenage associations, it was all blissfully autumn leaves and café-concert. Talking to her afterwards, however, I became aware that poetry can be a great challenge in the French language.

E grew up with a Russian father and an American mother in France. The language spoken at home was English and yet, from school on, her life was lived and her experience built in French. To find complete freedom within the form of a language; to experience a word as if for the first time which one has been hearing since childhood; to touch a new root or shed a different shard of light is one thing, but E clearly craves the breadth, not only in vocabulary but I'm sure in cultural references, of the English language which is her 'mother tongue' and yet is a language she feels is not hers. For her, writing poetry in French could perhaps be likened to trying to develop world cuisine with local produce and a few items from the Caribbean. Her writing seems to be her way to push the limits of a language which feels a size too small. She adds a clavichord, a phrase or two in English, silence, anything to roam the larger linguistic landscapes which are her birth-right. And thus she sheds light on the French language.

More and more we 'borrow' from other cultures to illuminate our own - we do it in music all the time: Musical modes which hung out in Gregorian chant but have been discarded and have been residing secretly in the East are brought back to illuminate the major scale; Western classical musicians go to Africa and sit in drum circles to learn about the rhythmic complexities dormant in their own musical culture; we learn the blues to live chord structures, jazz to appreciate ornamentation.....

I am borrowing by living here.

A colleague of mine, with whom I have been speaking French, and who I think may rather have rather fancied the French me, recently heard me speaking English with some friends. He recoiled immediately. He simply did not like the person I was in English. He found her (after all she was brought up in South London so she swears rather a lot and can talk sixteen to the dozen) "pas très douce".

Do I reside in France in order to shed light on my otherwise dormant douceur, I wonder; to see myself or be seen through another window?

I keep thinking about the British kids programme, Playschool, and the magic of it's opening sequence:

"Which window shall we look through today? Shall it be the square window, the arched window, or the round window?"



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice pics.... and very fond memories.

Wasn't it 'PlaySchool' that had the 'which windows shall we look out of today?' feature?

jackanory was just a story.

Mind you,

Both Blue Peter, John Craven and Noel's Swap shop

Are nothing compared to when we were on top

of the pop


Yep, those foreign language poems are tricky!


5:32 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

yep it was playschool and i've edited accordignly. meanwhile which of our anonymous visitors have i ever been to top o the pops with?

6:45 PM  
Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Lovely post. I think this could be another one for the book.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous For the time being in Oslo said...

Ooh, have been induced to de-lurk by those Playschool windows. If you go to and click on "The Windows 1979" you can see a clip (I couldn't get the 1968 one to work, but maybe that's a Mac thing). But most exciting was "The Clock - 1968", which had forgotten about until now, but looking at it today can see that it was a formative artistic influence.

Your comment on language is spot on too - I have no idea how I'm perceived in Norwegian, but probably as someone with little sense of humour. Poetry in another language is one thing, but jokes...

3:53 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

so glad you de-lurked mr oslo to give me the playschool window treat! i recommend everyone does it! it made me scream with laughter (and of course there was that childhood tear which contained a river of memories from between 4-10!).
humour- now there's another subject. i have started to make jokes in french and people seem to find them funny....we'll see!
thank you!

5:08 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

ps mr oslo delurker it is not a mac thing. what do you think I have? (duh)

5:09 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

What I miss in French poetry is bones. The variation in stress is so light, and the rhymes are so easy to find, that I always think writing poetry in it must be like trying to sculpt in butter.

Such a lovely language but uglier ones may serve better for verse --

8:53 PM  
Anonymous roger said...

Are you allowed to make new windows? In Mons, you have to get planning permission. We have some old meurtrières (murder holes) which we sort of want to enlarge, but non, non, ca ne va pas. Ironically, you can expand by 30% without permission - or slip in a garage.

10:31 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

lovely description, dale.
roger, we are not allowed tomake new windows. this is an old one which had been reduced so we have opened it up. we also have the murder holes but we don't want to risk it with all that ca ne va pas shit. i opened one up yesterday so now it's a slit through which one can see our storage box containing: 'forks, cocotte'.

9:06 AM  

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