Tuesday, May 30, 2006

party poopers

I realised things had got serious when, today, we refused an invitation to dine in style and great company at the restaurant of the Hostellerie de Crillon le Brave.

My mornings are largely spent dealing with French bureauocracy - the Assedic claim never to have receieved my feuillets (the ones they told me to send after they told me to send the wrong ones) twice; Julian hasn't received his 'carte vitale' because CPAM claim never to have receieved the marriage certificate; the guy never phoned back abaout the 'mutuelle' health insurance and now Julian needs glasses desperately...etc.

Julian spends his mornings largely packing prints to replace the ones that have arrived massacred by the French and the US postal services, and repacking paintings which have gone to New Jersey practically via the North Pole and been returned with 'BAD ADDRESS' printed on them in scornful letters.

At noon today I took a trip to Carpentras post office - where I flashed my pretty lilac 'carte professionel' and jumped shamefully ahead of a pregnant and a disabled woman. I decided, whilst in the big town, that it was about time we had a proper lunch (we so often miss it, grasping at a crust or a kilo of cherries). I have discovered that I can find gooey cheesey mozzarella in the local cheese shop, so today it accompanied an old variety of deeply lined geriatric looking tomato, green salad with olive oil from the Luberon and a practically alcaholic melon.

By three o'clock, we were both able to get to work. I (who am trying to write a book) have installed my office under a plane tree in the ruin behind the house, and Julian inhabits...well, quite simply, the entire house. Well, almost. You can just see a ball of Oscar on the pile of linen we haven't put away in a week.


my office

Before we start there is always a moment, when we are both procrastinating, sniffing out our creative territory perhaps.

"You always leave a cake of coffee for me to throw out."
"Then will you please throw the bin out when you know you've put a half chewed mouse in it three days before?"

And then it flows, and before we know it it's way too late to cook the lamb shanks and it's pasta again. Luckily we have some broad beans, some parsley, and some pretty yellow courgettes. That should make a good tagliatelle primavera. And lamb shanks will have to wait till tomorrow when we are not dining at the hostellerie with our friend, because we have become boring old once a week party people and on Thursday, which is our wedding anniversary we're booked in to a swanky fish restaurant overlooking a cove in Marseille.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mothers' Day


We never know what gifts Angels come with.

Recently an Angel dropped from the sky into our lives bearing the gift of a Thing I had always wanted; a Thing without which I had always believed life would be empty and sad. The Angel’s presence allowed the gift, as it was received, to take whichever form it needed, and the gift of one thing transformed into the gift of another. The new gift, it seems, may be to have and to make the choice to be happy and fulfilled without the Thing.

The gift was love.

(No, the Thing was not a Spider)

Today is Mother’s Day. So I raise a bouquet of ‘immortelles’ in a pastis glass to all mothers everywhere, to my little furry kits whose mother I am, and to Angels.


Friday, May 26, 2006



We had a mini-break!

We wound happily down the coastal route from Perpignan to Cadaques and then to Pals, through terraced emerald vineyards softening rocky outcrops, watching cacti gleaming yellow in the sunlight and always hugging the deep blue of the Mediterranean.

Food was a treat. Arriving over the border in the Spanish fishing village of Portbou, we sat in a beach café and had grilled sardines and white wine, and marvelled that this simple lunch was only three hours away. No sauces, no posh napkins, no silly insistence on three courses – just plain grilled fish. I was almost hysterical with joy! Other delicacies included baby squid fried in a light batter (also on the beach) and our friend’s ‘Pimientos de Padron’ – tiny green peppers fried in oil and salt (by their swimming pool). The paella I can take or leave. Rather leave.

We stayed in a beachgolfresort thing for €50 a night – the sort of place which would be teeming with peeling Brits in summer but where, off season, we were alone in the complex, luxuriating in a spacious apartment overlooking the pool. We spent the morning alone on the beach, with me letting the waves leap up my calves and then Julian doing a windsock dance in an attempt to dry my soaking trousers.

(Of course, it would have been the ideal trip for the Spider but we made do very well in our Renault with no radio planning a more sensible purchase like a mini cooper or a smart car or…another Renault?)

But what is it like to return from paradise to paradise? Picking cherries with Yves’ girls this morning, choosing blushing orange apricots in the market, waking to birdsong and an emerald sea instead of a sapphire one, smelling the broome wafting on the air….

It feels like the sea air washed my retina clean, its song my ears, and everything is clear and bright. I guess that’s what a mini break is supposed to do.


Saturday, May 20, 2006



The two fellows whose willow like backs have been lifting buckets of hemp up ladders, and the soles of whose feet have been softly tamping the mixture down between beams are wounded. On the day the mezzanine was constructed, both their girlfriends dumped them.

“You do something you love which gives you confidence, makes you ‘plus rayonnant’ and you have even MORE love to give…” said Thierry, his big brown eyes brimming with pride and heartbreak “and the girls just can’t take it. It is too much.”

The price of change is, naturally, letting go but oh, I feel for them. Later that day we find a cork and a bottle empty of crémant but full of their sorrow wedged in between sacks of chaux.

Meanwhile word is spreading along with the ‘rayonnance’. The couple from the forestry commission, who pass every day, are entranced by the process. They have decided to do their own house up in the same way and intend to stop by on their day off to give a hand. Walking tours of ladies who pass every year are amazed to find the price of the materials is comparable to cement, plaster and insulation. Touching the walls, still sweating through their breathable membrane, they vow to look into it when they return to Paris or West Virginia. A local farmer, who passes every day in her blue Citroen 2CV, has given us bags in which to dump rubble and invited me to stop by for coffee on my jogging route one day.

The new mezzanine is a very sexy place. We take a glass of bubbly up there when the work-force have left. Vibrant under our feet and sweet smelling it looks across the atelier and out into the vines and it makes us float. Empty of computers, canvasses and packaging it is still possible to dream of a zen sleeping platform…..

j floating

Friday, May 19, 2006

coiffées al fresco


People travel from Paris to have their hair cut by Fred and Ina. Like Julian, they have brought their talent to the place they love and have made it work for them.

‘If you build it, he will come!’ Julian used to say, quoting the line from Field of Dreams as, glued to computer hour after hour, he built his Shifting Light website. He was right, and Fred and Ina have done the same.

This afternoon a friend and I went over to the Dutch couple’s ‘salon’ for a treat. Driving along the iris lined Chemin des Gargories, we found the rocky path that led to a small ‘cabanon’ with the help of a sky blue sign:

‘Petits Ciseaux’

Greeted with three kisses and seated al fresco with bright green vines and their mini bud clusters weaving over our waiting heads, we were offered a cup of tea and chocolates. Snip snip (I’ve succumbed to the layered thing finally) went the sure scissors of Ina while a blackbird sang to us.

I explained why I have to have no dangly bits when my hair is up;

“Layers are fine but they can’t be too short. It's no good if I can’t see the music behind a strand of hair. They haven’t invented hands-free cello playing yet….”

The cuts are complete (a few dangly bits but they’ll have grown out by the next concert) and the glo-poppies nod their approval from the bank. We succumb to buying special rubber combs to replace hair ripping brushes and fancy ph balance soft shampoo made especially for them, which we are to dilute in the wee bottle, squirting 5 streaks onto our hair and using no conditioner. We go on our way with a dinner invite and manes that dance just like the new leaves of the plane tree in the early summer breeze. It’s such good therapy I am thinking of sending the cats.

Then I think about all the people who are ‘stuck’ where their job is:

“I hate Bristol, but that’s where my job is.”
“If it weren’t for my job I would live in the country”

….and these guys don’t even use the internet!

As Ina says, one does not ‘have’ luck. One takes it.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

walking together


Yesterday Julian went out in search of poppies and I had something I never get (and, of course, which he gets far too much of) – time on my own at home. I felt a freedom I feel too rarely. Even though I did the usual things – run, meditate, have coffee in the vines, write, wash up – I was aware that there was not a chunk of my mind that was running after someone else’s needs; trying to guess at their feelings; following them.

This-morning I went out for a walk just after the rain. Poppies nodded their luminous heads in greeting, a raindrop fell down my cleavage and cooled it, sunlight filtered through young oak leaves and embraced me with its gentle fingers, an amethyst butterfly landed on my shin, my feet crunched on wild-meadow and wet sand and the broome filled the air with a sweet holiday scent. What was I following and where was I leading? Footsteps, breath, the path….

Alone and connected. More and more space. Perfect.

Like most people I imagine, I am a complex mixture of leader and follower. As a cellist I started out as a follower but have become increasingly comfortable ‘leading’. However, I realise by leading I do not even mean following my own voice but rather aspiring to be a channel not clogged by fear or desire, and so thus leading and following become the same.

John Bayley, in his moving book about his wife, Iris Murdoch, says that marriage to them was ‘growing closer and closer apart’.

Walking together but neither leading nor following, perhaps?.

Julian and I have days like this sometimes. I write downstairs and he paints upstairs, and at the end of the day we come together fulfilled. Sometimes we talk about the landscape in which we have been wandering, sometimes not. We do not need anything from each-other. These are perfect days,

(Oh, and by the way, does anyone know a bloke who doesn’t walk ahead at least seven paces whilst trying to hold a conversation?!)


Monday, May 15, 2006

dawn chorus

broad beans 1

We are studying birdsong with the help of tear jerking bbc samples on the internet. The big news is tha contralto triple bottle blow we hear every morning is, as we suspected, a hoopoe. Other than that we have black redstarts, woodpeckers, tits, nightingales, chiff chaffs and a wealth of warblers chatting about their weekend. Apparently the birds can actually convey where they've been recently so Monday's dawn chorus is particularly tuneful:

"Hey" (accompanied by a funky groove tapped out on bark)"I went to the disco at Bedoin with this great woodpecker"

"Well" (in exotic modal song) "I took a slinky redstart to the Marrakesh for the weekend."

broad beans 2

Thursday, May 11, 2006

first blush


People everywhere: Bio dynamic secretaries setting up office in our living room and chaps on breathing apparatus connecting their caravans up to our house; people eating at my breakfast table in the vines…..

The wind having finally dropped, along with my temperature, it was time to celebrate the new spring arrivals. I took two walks - one en famille with Julian and Oscar intensely discussing the plans for the mezzanine, and a second with my camera for meditational - medicinal almost – purposes. In the wild cherry orchard, I sat against the dark bark, in the blush of the new fruit and nestled in the folds of a purple skirt of wildflowers. I closed my eyes and drank in the succulent aromas. As butterflies fluttered, flies flew, bees whirred and a toad squawked I observed fear catching at my breath. As these insects landed on my elbow, face and shins, and departed, having communed briefly with me, I wondered at how much hardness we put up against our gentle fellow creatures because of our fear of being stung. How much of the time, screwed in to our hard protective balls, do we go around just bumping in to each-other?

first blush

As ever, I returned from my brush with nature to the building site, softened towards my fellow beings and happy to receive a slice of the ‘gateau à chanvre’ prepared by one of the workforce.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Butterscotch and string


The vegetable seller gave a great yawn as she placed my exquisite strawberries in the box. Her shoulders were hunched over the till in a way to which I could relate.

“Me too. I have a sort of flu without the flu”
“Oh yes I feel terrible. Hot cold, feverish….No energy. I’ve been like this for a week.”

We agreed that it was the bloody mistral placing blankets of snow on the mountain and promptly melting them; making us get out the bed-covers we’d put away for summer; forcing us to don jumpers one day and spaghetti straps the next, to light a fire and fling all the windows open…..

Anyway the long and short of it is that I feel like crap. And when I feel like crap I need LOTS of gooey support, which I was not getting from my husband this morning. He had three hundred prints to pack and send off, paintings to do, and a gallery in which to get the electrics right before it gets covered with a breathable hemp skin. I had promised to be his assistant all day but instead I lay whimpering and curled round a cat in the bedroom.

So I rose, walked out into the bright sunlight, around the ‘malaxeur’ humming away as it mixed the magic potion and the extra handsome help the boys had bought in, and sought my gooey support elsewhere.

“My husband isn’t being nice to me.” I moaned.

Yves then proceeded in giving Julian the best speech I have ever heard:

“You have to give loads of tenderness to your feverish beloved. Even when you are skin to to skin in the night and you remember some wire which you haven’t pulled through, remember this, that your partner is the MOST important thing and when she is not feeling well giving her caresses is top priority”

Yo. Forget that he went on to tell of when he and Picasso found themselves ‘scotchés’ in a Nice street. A man who reminds my stressed out husband to treat me with care is my kind of builder!

Towards evening, after the shopping, the print packing and the daily painting ,
Julian and I joined in a bit of peaceful trowelling of the hemp mixture (which, I have realised, I love so much because it is like packing the wall full of perfect ice-cream – ‘Butterscotch and String’ or perhaps ‘Vanilla Bean and Fibre’) and that turned out to be good enough therapy for stress and the flu that is not the flu.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Vaucluse, apparently this is happening.


Saturday, May 06, 2006



During the first rehearsal with Pretty Ugly, the quartet for Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue’ was seated to the side of the stage on designer chairs in the shape of a cross: Cello opposite first violin and viola opposite second violin. Despite the curves of our bodies and instruments this was a hard shape that was closed to the dance. Four fixed minds developed from the angular form, and over the course of the four hours we became isolated from and impermeable to the flow.

The next day we were in the dance studio on swivel chairs. Though still in the designer cross, each time one or two of us was not playing, we swivelled round to check out the dance, creating an opening in the unit.

Amanda Miller is well known as a choreographer, having been at Frankfurt ballet for many years. She started this company ten years ago and, as we watched her teach, we discovered that behind the girlish voice and the doggy bags under the eyes, we were in the presence of a master. Her movements create a unique language; a sort of Buddhist telling of ‘The Red Shoes’ set in Harlem, and, as she flows in through the gaps in our cross, we are mesmerised.

“Think of your backs! Never turn your back on anything or anybody. Even when I turn, like this…..” – she turns her back on the quartet – “ my energy is still moving through my back towards the musicians. It’s called humility.”

She shows us a page of diagrams. These are the shapes that the sound frequencies make in sand and this is her design for the shapes she is making in the Fugue. Our violist adds that it has been proven that the frequencies of words like ‘om’ create the shapes of their Sanskrit characters in sand. Our feet are beginning to twitch and we want to dance too.

“Imagine you are moving in sand. Create the shapes with your feet”

Leaving the studio rehearsal I cannot resist doing a little pirouette of my own as I cross the space. We beg to have the dancing chairs in place of the designer ones. The designer is consulted and says no so in the afternoon we return, downhearted, to our cross on stage .

Amanda is talking about the rehearsal process. From our prison we hear her voice: “It’s not about repetition, it’s about growing.”. I want to be part of this so I talk to the designer myself.

“Of course you should sit in a horseshoe. That is exactly what I want. I don’t know why we thought that quartets sat in crosses.”

By the day of the performance we have entered into a mandala together.

This was apparently Bach’s last work and it is, like our new shape, open, unfinished, always growing. We cry out Bach’s signature – translated from the German B.A.C.H into B flat, A, C, B natural, and the at the abrupt unfinished cadence movement keeps spiralling in the silence.

green cherries