Sunday, October 23, 2005



It’s a bright tour morning in Bordeaux: I wake up early in time to meditate but instead I flee the film themed hotel ( where I, apparently, am Greta Garbo, or so the black and white prints on red plastic wallpaper try to make believe) in which, "pour les raisons de securite", it is impossible to open a single window. I am gasping for air before the long bus ride and I head for the old town, picking up the Bordeaux delicacy of a Baillardran ‘canelé’ on the way. In a café I sip a watery coffee opposite the ‘Balloon’ pregnancy clothing store and sink my tongue into the treacly squidge of the ridged marvel…..

I think: I am NOT going to be shopping in Balloon but I AM an Independent Successful Woman sitting in a Wicker Chair in front of a Café Crème as the Cathedral Spires of a French City pierce the morning foam…….

petit dej canele

Home. The forecast for the Vaucluse is ‘doux’ but it’s a rain-black morning, and our first breakfast alone in a while. It is prickly: Two Independent Successful people fighting for space but desperate to be together. Her showered and dressed, descending, starting up the clack and bump of the washing machine, whopping the chicken carcass into the stock pan with some old age celery and lighting the gas, wanting to fling the doors open and let the world in, and Him in his robe wanting to hide away quietly together with two creamy bowls of lavazza; both somehow protecting themselves...

….same old story but we never seem to learn.

It is morning number two and pelting down. The Gaggia pump sizzles, the milk boils sweet, the door is closed, there are no extraneous noises or smells and we try again, gentler this time.

We talk about the portrait, which has been temporarily abandoned because the Sitter’s 90 year old father, who had been feeding the foxes late at night at the bottom of his garden, had fallen there and had been found in the morning with a mild dose of hypothermia. The Sitter took the next plane home to be with him and the portrait sits waiting for her return. This morning Julian is looking through the various stages and his eyes are alight with something, like a young man in love.


Apparently, I say, there was an interview in Le Monde last week with Ben Kingsley in which he talks about the similarity between acting and painting. I try to download the interview but cannot do so without paying for a lifetime’s subscription to the paper. However, I find this quote from Sir Ben on Guardian Unlimited:

“Actors are hunters, we hunt for our characters…when a film director has a good take he says, “Got it!” – as if he’s caught something.”

I ask Julian if he feels like a hunter during the process of a portrait painting. He says not exactly, but he can feel close to writers in terms of character development and an increasing tenderness towards this 'thing' he is creating; a being which is somehow independent of his feelings for the sitter and yet inspired by her presence; a form of transference. He adds that the author Hanif Kureshi was asked if he ever thought about his characters after publication, to which he replied that yes, they were out there somewhere, and he cared about what happened to them, as if he had drawn them a life; the painter Lucien Freud's sitters always said the portrait was about Freud's psyche and not about theirs....

“I’m looking for something a little but more vulpine, less square and comfortable...”he says,

-And I know what he means. The Sitter is not ‘pretty’ in a conventional way, she has something much more compelling and energetic than that; a raw, stretched animal beauty. Julian holds forth – in his minimal way - about the portrait being a love affair with the 'thing'. And it’s true. When Julian and the Sitter come downstairs from a sitting I sense the love for ‘the thing’, like a quartet coming out of a rehearsal bound in love by Mozart. There’s a magical space between them which we cannot share. Gradually, as they slip back in to the routines of tea-making and relating to the people in the room, that space lessens, but for a moment they are plugged into something infinite and timeless. Radiance.


And so breakfast number two passes, peaceful yet stimulating, and suddenly I look forward to many many more of them until one of us falls, hopefully whilst radiant, feeding the foxes at the bottom of the garden. Or painting. Or playing a Mozart quartet. Or sipping creamy lavazza.


Blogger Michael Manning said...

So beautifully expressed, that I felt as if I were there with you!

3:15 AM  
Blogger ezappy said...

I spoke to the artist about how different a live subject is to paint. After all the usual fruit has no sense of itself as a subject in the room as far as we know, so the sense of energy is completely different. So a very strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when I read this blog.. I hope the sitter returns soon.. we all want to see the "thing" finished don't we!

9:25 AM  
Blogger MB said...

What is lavazza?

The sitter is beautiful already.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I feel like a hunter when I'm writing, hunting for the word, phrase, or sentence that expresses exactly, in my terms, what it is I'm trying to say at that moment. And I know that 'Got it!' feeling, too.

6:44 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:05 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

zinnia for some reason your comment didn'to go up so i put it up! i love that quote too (and he who said id who is one of the sexiest presences I've ever experienced!)

moose get a life. what is lavazza? my husband says to you it is an ancient form of tibetan meditation, (ha ha) but actually it is the finest italian coffee....

check out todays sitter and 'the thing' on

7:07 PM  
Blogger MB said...

Clearly, I've been missing out. Is Lavazza the company or the bean, or???

Tell your husband he makes me question whether a mala is a good thing...

7:45 PM  

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