Monday, November 28, 2005


J's pumpkin

Last night Julian and I made pumpkin and walnut ravioli just like those magical mystery pockets I used to eat in Ferrara. There was the pumpkin left over from the still life, there was the leftover pasta dough and there we were, suddenly, roasting and filling and plopping them in boiling water for a second until they floated to the top of the pan perfectly al dente…we followed it (after a quarter of a scrabble game and the last episode of the O.C.) with sheep’s yoghurt and fresh chestnut purée from the market. I was on a high, It all felt so ‘in tune’…..

Driving to the village this morning I heard an Indian classical music group on the radio. I had been listening a few minutes when I realized that there had been no division between their ‘tuning’ and their ‘performance’. Their tuning had been part of the piece both for them and for their audience.

I thought about the rough scraping of strings, which often precedes an orchestral performance on stage and I felt ashamed. I have always felt that such a racket should never pollute the ear before a thing of such beauty. It is like eating a double cheeseburger before a fine truffle risotto.

So what is tuning, I ask myself, and what, indeed, is in tune?

In my dictionary the word attune means ‘to make receptive and aware’. This is not what we in the West are doing in general as we whack our A and D strings. When I listen to musicians such as those I heard this-morning I remember these musicians are tuning not just their strings to each other, but they are tuning their listening, their body their spirit and their heart too. They are becoming one with their instrument, the acoustic and the public. They are opening themselves to what might move through them. They are focusing their attention and their priming their intention.

Intonation too is interesting. I have often had the experience of knowing someone is playing ‘in tune’ and yet not feeling with what – like someone speaking a foreign language where the prosidy is learned but not yet understood. Though they are speaking correctly I don’t get their meaning. Intonation, just as in speech, is both the melody of the text and it’s context (harmony). How we hear a note, therefore, is inseparable from the intention and understanding of the musician, which is why a great pianist can have expressive intonation. Even though his instrument is ‘tempered’ – tuned the same throughout so it can fit any tonality - his intention can be so strong that we hear the notes tuned exactly how he wants us to hear them. He can make us hear the same note ‘flat’ in a melody whilst a bar later tempered within a harmony.

All of which, naturally, has nothing to do with pumpkin ravioli.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

from autumn to winter in three easy steps

winter sunset

Having given thanks in the glow of a last pomegranate sunset we have plunged down twenty-two degrees into winter.

last coffee

My coffee bowl has probably served me my last al fresco crème of the year (although here you never know), the white bloom rivers in between the vines have turned to snow, I am warming up my fingers for the next tour, the Sitter has gone home, we are drinking bubbly by the fire...

snowy vines

(Opposite I have put up a couple of popular images for sale as cards through café press if anyone is interested...)

ventoux snow

Thursday, November 24, 2005



Before She shuts down shop for the winter, the Earth bestows upon us one of Her hugest prizes - the pumpkin. This thing grows so large and at such a sparse time of year I always look twice when I see its heavy orange bottom rocking on the baked ground; like a ruddy newborn, having emerged from a small opening, kicking it’s legs in the air and saying “Told you so!” .

Today I, like many others, am making pumpkin pie. I catch the blue mist over terra cotta skin in between the blades, slide the peeler over its curvature and the flesh begins to sweat. In the morning sunlight a wedge of this could light up a life.

I always liked this no frills festival. There is no canned music in shops whispering ‘My product will absorb all your loneliness’ to the tune of Jingle Bells, no guilt-laced tinsel at the edge of your vision starting two months beforehand, no fairy-lit high streets draining the earth’s resources and beckoning you to spend, spend, spend…..

No, rather than steal from the Earth, there is a meal shared, a holiday taken, and a grand giving of thanks for Her bountiful gifts. Religious it may not be but spiritual it certainly is.

So today I give thanks also, to the Earth. I give thanks for an oak leaf etched against a sky of birdsong, for a lemon chiffon poplar, for the morning frosting on a ploughed field and for the trees slowly and flirtatiously letting slip their autumn velvets to proudly stand nude in the wind. I give thanks for Her bounty and Her courage, and I give thanks to Her for waking me up every day to love.

pumpkin slices

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Fay is back and the portrait saga continues on
Julian's painting blog. Now that it is one degree not twenty two (as it was last time she sat) the location has changed. As has the sun which is hanging very low and wintry in the sky. A very interesting new start ...

...and should you need another distraction, there is a fun game you can play over on
Clare's blog which is all about bloggers' interiors. Of course if you read my blog ever you will guess mine immediately but the others are mind bogglingly mysterious. I mean: Who DOES read Anita Shreve? Who has not changed over to DVD's? Who has two diplomas but can't tidy their room? Who drinks Carlsberg lager?....

Sunday, November 20, 2005



When did this sense of separation begin?

I hear a fire being stoked, which was actually a scream.

I feel the top ribs of a cello pushed into my sternum.

I remember an easel at the dinner table.

I remember the applause to a rendition of Ravel’s Tzigane.

I remember a lunchbox with coronation chicken and no crisps.

I remember wondering how I would keep blue hair a secret.

I remember a wine cellar ripening and never being in the mood to celebrate.

I remember sliding down the banister at six o’clock.

…and when will it end?

When will I stop marking out my territory like a cat on heat?

When will I be able to share a breakfast table without clenching my teeth?

When will I be able to feel as expansive in a peopled room as I do in the desert?

When, oh when, will I stop being so afraid and when will there be peace in this warring heart of mine?

I sit in the candlelight at the end of the family line. There is only me left to change this holding pattern - no child to whom I can offer a different experience nor anyone to change. I feel it. I keep breathing. I let the tears flow. I observe them....

I am not my tears, I am a breathing body and they are a river running through me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005



I stood in the checkout of Intermarché with my filled trolley, trying not to tut tut.

‘Why do I always pick the wrong queue?’ I seethed to myself.

The check out girl’s hugely expectant belly popped up, up and away from her tiny frame, spilling cutely over the conveyor belt. The brass buttons on her blue nylon Intermarché coat strained excitedly as she coo cooed, ENDLESSLY, to the boy nestling in the lustrous curls of the Maghrebian mother before me.

“Oh je te connais depuis que tu étais dans le ventre de ta mere mon trésor”; “Je me souviens de tes premiers pas, mon ange”; “Et comment tu étais heureux à la fête de ton premier anniversaire mon p’tit chou chou”……etc.

Luckily he was only about one, so hopefully the story of his life according to our checkout gal was coming to a close over the frozen peas, which somehow hadn’t yet been rung up.

I twitched, wondering if my irritation was because I was jealous. Then I started to quite enjoy that the girl’s eminent life-change was completely eclipsing her duties and causing her to be oblivious of her waiting customers. So it should, I began to think.

Maybe I even coo-cooed a bit myself inwardly.

Finally the grocery bisector came down and it was my turn to unload:

Crème fraiche
A pork’s belly
Two bags of blue potato chips
Posh Da Cecco egg pasta
Gargantuan tampons
A Very Unethical Lavazza double pack of coffee
Bacon bits
Sheep’s yoghurt
12 bottles bio UHT
12 bottles badois (for hangovers)
Bottle of bubbly (for celebrations)

Mmmm. A warm glow spread through my abdomen at the thought of roast pork and ex- postcard from provence quinces for dinner. I tapped my code personnel into the carte bleu machine dreamily and we all waited for the inevitable receipt to slip out…

“Je regrette que votre carte était refusée, Madame” came the brusque answer.

“Oh fuck” I said, fumbling for the American Express gold card I only got to gain air-miles.

“Cette carte n’est plus valide, Madame”


The colour rose to my temples, I started unpacking the shamefully rich contents of my trolley. The local drunk behind me giggled behind his duo of whiskey bottles and the bleached blonde smokerina behind him giggled too … I forgot to get my euro back from the slot……..

Putin de merde.

I just hope they know I do buy veg, and that I do it elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

laughing buddha


Framed by blue shutters on our neighbours’ sill the quinces were ripening ready for the evening meal as I drew my twisted baroque cello knees to my chest, releasing the tension of too loud Mozart symphonies and gazing up at fig leaves in a pale November sky…..

It was Wedensday in les Couguieux. It was the day of Nadine’s ‘Tagine aux Coings du jardin’ and it was the outdoor ‘cours privé de yoga’.

A black cat drew its fur under the bridge I was making with each gentle arching of my vertebrae, its carbon tail brushing my bottom; redstarts whistled as I inhaled for the count of two in the right nostril, and exhaled on the alternate nostril for the count of four; I released all the tension of living in heaven into the welcoming earth. It was very very tough.

Julian, meanwhile, was studying the fireplace in the next-door ruin and making our winter grillade with its chaux hood à l’ancien - putting firebricks on top of terra cotta and binding it all with his bio-dynamic cake-mix.

I walked the thirty second walk home, checking the colour-me-beautiful Ventoux for today's fashion show, only to find that it must have been he who had been at the yoga class.....

Sometimes I watch him work. He can be washing up after a dinner party and he can be so beautiful, like a little Buddha moving amongst the sauce-smeared plates and treacle-gunked pans, organising the filthy chaos - which to me merely reeks of over indulgence, too many calories and inebriation, smearing grime on the start of the new day - into a shrine of wondrous piles awaiting their soapy dip.

Performing the same task, I am not mindful like my husband. The last time I washed up, not without the odd huff and puff just to show how much effort I was putting into it, he held out the milk pan from which he was about to pour the crème of his café, still with large chunks of OAP tomato clinging to the inside and laughed.

So, I go to my private yoga class, and he potters about just being…..

Some of us are simply natural laughing Buddhas. Others of us keep trying.


Monday, November 14, 2005




Sunday, November 13, 2005

on becoming one's instrument


I am often asked the question:

“Do people become like their instruments?”

The cello - like the farmer ploughing his field in touch with the rhythm of the sun, the moon, the wind and the rain – is responsible for the soil. The richer the soil and the deeper the roots, the more colourful and nutritious the fruits.

The viola is the stem. He drinks from the soil and feeds the flower, his energy flowing both upwards and downwards.

The violin soars above them into the vibrant colour and delicate forms of higher frequencies. Our spirits float upon his petals and the flutter of our hearts are echoed by his trills and vibrations.

Feet. Heart. Head.

The perfect musical practice to me, whether alone or in a group, is like Yoga: Starting with the feet we make sure the base is stable but flexible, grounded yet buoyant. Then we move to the heart area, establishing the motive and attending to the breath and the pulsations of the emotional body. From this wellspring the head and neck flow effortlessly upwards. Duality is dissolved and we become one musical body.

However, just like the Ferrari driver who never gets out of his car to see what it is like to walk along a farmtrack, or the mediator who never sings out his own heart-song, or the peasant who never sets foot outside his own village, each area can, if identified with too strongly without paying attention to the whole, limit the person.

-which is why I hang out primarily with cellists and violists. Or why I did until now.

Ever since I was little all my friends have carried the bass or the middle voice. Most of them have also become yoga or Alexander Technique teachers too. All my life, on tour or on a one-off gig cellists and violists simply hung out together, but it seems different in France.

There are two possible reasons I can think of:

I have heard that, unlike in the UK or the States, the French musical education, whatever the instrument, is very much geared to a soloist's diploma, and that the emphasis on chamber music or teaching is not nearly so high. (You only have to look at the extraordinary number of superb choirs in the UK to realize how we are trained to give our individual voice up for the benefit of the whole). This is why, perhaps, in France the voices are more 'equal' - the cellists and violists have a highly developed soloistic voice. It is also perhaps why I 'fit in' here more - exactly because the emphasis isn't on 'fitting in'. The result is different. It's neither better nor worse (though I feel more comfortable here), but here in France an orchestra can be less homogenous whilst often being more exciting.

The other reason is, I believe, to do with the modern versus baroque/classical worlds, since I was largely in the former in the UK and am in the latter here. In the original instrument movement, the bass line has come back to life. When I was studying in the States a colleague said to me:

"You wanna learn how to play a bass line? listen to Stevie Wonder."

Now I believe Stevie Wonder could go to any baroque concert and approve of the groove. In addition, violinists playing on gut strings are far less precious (because Perfection is just not attainable in the same way) and, because the tempi have been upped and we can actually hear the harmonic rhythm, they (and even sopranos!) now seem to have far more awareness that they are merely embellishing the rhythm and harmony.

- Which is why here I hang out with everyone.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

clean sheets


Golden pixels are falling from the branches as I walk between a parted butternut sea; fresh flowers have been poured between the rows of vines like children in white linen tiptoeing back to July; redberry pastels cling on to their last days on the cherry trees .….

Our vines have been cut. Autumn is drawing an apricot curtain across the year and Oscar has clean sheets.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Over lunch with friends in Chateauneuf du Pape the conversation turned from the pitiful absence of a simple meal in local restaurants to how best to insult inefficient French bureaucratic stiffs.

(On the latter subject I normally opt for 'inacceptable' but inevitably - as I do on our answermachine where I cannot seem to say 'aussitot que possible' without adding a tit and a piss - get tongue-twisted, so was on the lookout for a new word. We all liked 'lamentable' but agreed on 'abhérrant'.)

So what was this? Had we been here too long? Where had the conversations about how wonderful the produce and how excellent the system gone?

It was obviously time for a break and a weekend Italy called.

Our first stop was just over the border in Bordighera where we plonked ourselves down in the nearest family run trattoria and ate slippery and excellent spaghetti alle vongole for six euros.

After a creamy gelato we drank cappucino in the piazza in San Remo. It was twenty-two degrees, incense was streaming out of the pink church like smoke from Aladdin's pipe and as the smells - one of chocolate dusted Decadence and the other of Our Lord - mingled, we felt deeply content.

We reached the medieval hilltop village of Apricale in time for a nap in our room, the Mansarda dei Preti (the priests' - plural?...! - attic), where Christ in his crown of thorns watched over our digestion from the bedhead. Later, we descended to the bar for our 'welcome' glass of prosecco.

"Can we eat here later?" we asked, to which our hostess answered:

"Yes but you must reserve".

We informed her that we wanted to take a turn round the village first....

"Go up to the church but don't go down but you must reserve for dinner" she said creepily. We were clearly the only guests in the hotel.

Like Hansel and Gretel we sniffed our way downwards, dipping under ancient flying buttresses and stumbling on uneven cobbles, wanting to know what delicious confection our hostess was hiding. First we clocked restaurant number one advertising hand-crafted strozzapreti (Priest-chokers) and decided it would be appropriate to eat dinner there. However, our eye was caught by an article in broken glass on the wall further down. It was from the Sunday Times and Michael Winner was telling us that the meal he had had in our chosen trattoria was the most terrible he'd had in Italy. Far better to eat down the road.....

'Surely not that ugly building?' we wondered, and booked.

We ate ravioli a l'aroma di tartufo, potatoes and ceps, deer, boar, a gooey chocolate thing and gunpowder tea ice-cream. Not a vegetable in sight.

I had had what I wanted - a dishy flirty waiter with whom I could discuss the subtle differences between frizzy water, fizzy hair, acqua frizzante, and a fizzy drink, and a fabulously aromatic dinner. Julian, however, was uncomfortable with the power a framed write up from a silly fat Englishman could have over us and, more importantly, the feudal atmosphere it could create in a claustrophobic Ligurian village.

He was right to feel ill at ease as the next day we could hardly walk down the street for having pissed everyone in the village off for not eating in their restaurant, and we fled to the palm fringed anonymity of San Remo. There we dove into the leafy sea of the Tuesday market, brushing sensuously up against radicchio of all colours, armfuls of basil, rocket, borage, giant parmesan wedges, curls of miniature flowering courgettes, sundried tomatoes....

We packed up the car, sat on the beach for ten minutes and drove home through apple gold vineyards and past the Montagne Saint Victoire. Suddenly we were thrilled to be in signage-less well- organized France. At home we ground up fresh pesto in the pestle, slung together a selection of leaves and had a good bottle of Cotes du Rhone.


France is great, we thought, and there is at least one very good place to eat.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

dancing chillies


It is seven o'clock and Mr Badger gets up happy, ready to wield the paintbrush.

"I'm going to do three today! Really get ahead!" he sings. Mrs Badger, meanwhile, is feeling calm, looking forward to a day of quiet pottering.

They stain their lips on beetroot, apple, carrot and ginger juice and Mrs B sneaks in her dose of royal jelly on a lilliputian spoon. A New Day.

And then .... Disaster Strikes! Mr B has lost all the photographs of his work.

Treacle drops of espresso are pumped from the chrome machine into their bloodstream and the search is on.

It consists of the upturning every box from shoes to files to cd's, a lot of loud frustrated humming of Beethoven, the inspection the intestines of every computer cadaver, looking in the fridge (yes, Mrs B once left her wallet in the fridge), the frying pans and the cat flap.

A door is slammed, and harsh words are spoken to screens, wives, dvd burners, husbands and cats.

Mrs B goes for a run, stamping emphatically on the first fallen leaves. She punches the wood-fire filled air with the frustration at the loss of the images, but also (to be honest) the loss of her quiet day. She re-enters the home hoping it will all be over.

The light is dimming but the chaos is by no means at an end. Half a day wasted and still the kitchen is awhirr with flap and flounder.....

Mrs B makes pumpkin and butternut squash soup, lightly spicing it with cinnamon and ginger...good for the nerves. She drinks hers on the step directly from the bowl - an elongated tasting seasoned with gulps of air - and he later spoons his deliberately into his mouth at the table whilst scrabbling through iphoto.

He disappears. (Has a painting begun? The humming is quieter now....) She begins importing discs onto her ipod for their journey to Italy and reading a book on Tibetan meditation at the kitchen table....

But No, Mr Badger has been rummaging in the nether recesses of the hayloft, scratching at old garbage bags and now he descends, his frustration threefold. He is leaning over her, thrusting unmarked cd's into the mac and trying to download images of figs all over Alison Krauss who is struggling to morph from itunes to ipod.

And then, just as swiftly as it began, it stops. He decides to let it go. He walks up to the studio with total poise and prepares his still life. There is quiet, calm, a sense of reverence almost.

When he comes down for a cup of tea, the stems of twelve brushes knocking together like jazzer's sticks, Mr B's humour has been restored. His eyes are a different colour, the lines on his face smoothed by the balm of attention, his gait very sexy....

"I'm painting three dancing chiles" he proclaims.

and if he didn't have to finish the painting before dark Mrs B would have her Mister there and then.


Friday, November 04, 2005

magic mushrooms


Last night we went down to the Demoiselles Coiffées to pick up cones for fire-lighters. In the dim of the low cloud the red sand castles stood erect like day-glo towers. The rain seemed to have washed the pine-green carpet and the wildlife to have hoovered it. It was cone-less and bright emerald. Suddenly J spotted the cream calfskin domes of a hamlet of horse mushrooms, their pure lilac undersides neatly fanning out like the pleats of a christening dress.

We were the first to see them (and the last, of course, as we picked them for our supper), and the miracle of how an apparently secretless patch of earth can be the scene of such a sudden birthing has stayed with me.

I keep hearing all the folk who have warned me:

'People don't change you know'

How many times have we heard:

"Once a smoker always a smoker" (I've said that)
"I've voted conservative all my life I'm not going to change now" (My grandmother said that)
"I'm just like this, you'll just have to put up with it if you want to live with me" (anonymous)
"I'm not the monogomous type" (a friend now happily married)
"The reason we are together is that neither of us ever want to have a child" (another friend now overjoyed to be pregnant)

Did the earth say: "I'm just a piece of earth. I'm not a mushroom and I never will be"?

Last night we decided to have an alcohol-free night of tea and toast. We held our bread to the fire (which we managed to start despite the lack of cones), made tea and fried up the mushrooms. Last night we were not a couple of lushes. I was still me, maybe more me, and we were still us.

It's amazing what can happen when we drop a habit, let go of what we think we are and allow ourselves a taste of mushroom magic.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

noise pollution - inner or outer?

oak arch

"Broadly speaking, any form of unwelcome sound is noise pollution, whether it is the roar of a jet plane overhead or the sound of a barking dog a block away." -

I'm not very good with other people's noise. A boyfriend left me because I have asked the punk in the bus leaking 'shd shd shdong shd' from his huge headphones to please turn his music down; my intolerance has caused a neighbour to place his pink plastic radio on the windowsill at 6 am blaring 'cherie fm' (and if you don't know it, it consists of endless Celine Dion diarrhohea) across the five inches between our houses; I utterly unreasonably abhor colleagues practising in the room next to me on tour and am wont to punish them by pulling hairs both from their bows and heads; the lime green scooters that rear their testosterone-fuelled ends up the delicate sand formations by our house get the eye and would get a lot more if I hadn't learned that they have the power make our lives a misery; I have walked out of the only restaurant in town and missed dinner because of piped music; I am close to filing for divorce when my dear husband leans over my shoulder to help me with a computer problem and chews his toast in my ear.....

....and now I discover - "didn't the estate agent tell you?" snigger snigger - that we are in a concentrated military aircraft zone.

I am horrible and violence, even if it is only in my mind, is often close. I'm a criminal in the making.

At the end of my jog today I decided to take advantage of the fire-light of the sun setting over the vines and the calm of the birds' evensong and sit on a wall to meditate. As if having lain in wait for me, they all came gleefully - the barking dog, the rampant teenagers on mopeds, the speeding car and the fighter jets. I managed not to react physically by turning, glaring, or sticking two fingers up into the sky, which was a triumph. My mind, however, was plotting serial killings until, as one of the scooters revved up just as he passed (and probably performed a loop the loop to get me to open my eyes), I suddenly felt a delicious detachment from it all, as if my mind has sprouted wings and could fly away and watch from above. I wanted to burst out laughing. The sense of freedom from my affliction lasted about 30 seconds.

I realise more and more that it is all in the mind, that the world is a noisy place and that, rather than be addicted to silence and be angry every time my 'right' to it is taken away, I should learn to rise above my irritation with the sounds around me and rather develop inner calm. This is why, though I am tempted to join these guys, I shall aspire to learn from these guys instead.