Monday, July 24, 2006

chassagnette an' shit


I am still moving shit from one room to another. I managed to throw out quite a lot including such titles as:

Yogic pregnancy
Biodynamic Birth
Your Child and You
Endometriosis and You
Infertility and You
Everyone Else’s Children and You
Tough Shit and You

Meanwhile the chappies came to clean out the septic tank. Blimey, was the poo careering over the edge….? Mr Merde-mover was a beautiful soul with tanned stubby legs, nut brown eyes, and a whole philosophy of shit and how and why to move it to become better human beings, which he shared with me as we watched ours move through the piping.

Storage is a problem. Storage is always a problem. We have none left. Then again - apart from home made plum conserves, preserved cherries and walnut wine - we shouldn’t indulge in it at all. It just clogs the system.

So, because of the shit, we had a lunch treat:

Three years ago in my fave rag, Côté Sud, I saw an article about a restaurant in the middle of the Camargue which was based around an organic garden. “That’s my kin o’ restaurant” I thought, and I have wanted to go there ever since. Low and behold, on the way to a family reunion, we just happened to be passing through and lunch was a bargain….

We sat under a bamboo awning on long teak tables edged with the marigolden hem of the garden. A fairy spray of water emerged from the hot heavens as we placed well starched while linen napkins on our laps and ordred champagne followed by a ‘demi pichet’ of a very classy Chateau des Tours White. We went the whole hog and had tasters of all entrées and pudding starting with a tangy beetroot and coriander gaspacho (which beat any borscht I have ever had). We moved through orange flower enhanced salads picked by the chef in front of our eyes, and a clean rabbit terrine. We went on to fish, and then to granitas and sorbets (peach and basil), and to an exquisite spiced Camargue rice pudding. While Julian took his coffee and melty choccy biscuits, I took a turn round the organic garden with the chef. He picked me a ‘nectarine tomato’ and showed me his hammock. As you do.

We left after eight courses feeling light and healthy! No waiting for the huge release following the next morning’s coffee, no sleepless night from digestion problems.

That’s my kind o’ restaurant, I thought again. That’s my kind o’ life.

Saturday, July 22, 2006



At the first visit to the dump I was throwing away an old easel of Julian's. The dump warden (is that what he would be called?) said:

"Aaaah, Picasso!"
"Ah Oui" I agreed.
"Pas Pique-assiette, alors?"

I did not explain that Julian was indeed prone to picking food from the plates of those (everyone) of us who eat slower than he and have saved their treats till last. It was too hot to go into that.

It is now officially a canicule, he informed me as I hit the dashboard impatiently in the hope of jump-starting the air con. Forty degrees in the sun.

A friend emails and says the heat is 'hollering'. Right on, baby, I think as I wipe the drip of sweat from my keyboard. (Could be dangerous. A drop of badois ruined my computer once.)

Later, I am moving around the studio, a film of pondlife clinging to my skin, lifting this and that in slow motion. I feel like a baked beached whale. I fill the car with the original imac on which Julian designed his site, a broken video recorder, ditto radio and scanner, too many empty bottles of sablet and fifty 'Bonne Maman' jam jars filled with end o' day brush gunk. I prepare for the second visit to the dump. When I arrive the melted warden has nothing to say. It is too hot.

When I get back the room I am trying to clear looks exactly the same. Just hotter.

All day I am remembering last dreamy evening which we spent with dear friends: A saffron lasagne of courgette flowers and a midnight skinny dip in their salt lap pool. Life was good then.

Thursday, July 20, 2006



It's the sort of thing that, if it were toothpaste, would really get on one's tits, but with hookers green, titanium white, cerulean blue and naples yellow, screwed up tubes with strangled necks and gunky tops are OK. Kind of sexy.

Julian is moving out slowly and into his staircaseless space with no electricity but a good dose of God-given light. He has bought an easel next to which he is a dwarf and from which he could hang several bugles along with his brushes; a real one man show! I am scraping squirls of solidified colour off tables, moving canvasses of melancholy portraits of me when I was thinner, arranging endless rows of ravaged kitchen roll, and packing the collection of beautiful things.

"If you're going downstairs, could you just take this box?"

Suddenly I hear the mighty split and splatter of broken pottery, and the bijoux collection of white Astier de Villatte, the Cornish jug and a Sicilian plate, all of which have been presents to my love are smashed on the floor. Thank God the irreplaceable David Garland cup, Julian's favourite piece, has survived.

Slowly slowly and not without some letting go, I am starting to clear a space for me. This room will be a room of my own - something which I have dreamed of, within the comfort and chaos of married life, for many years. In it I am going to put a large cushion on which to meditate, and a desk at which to write and from which I can stare at the mountain. Maybe one day I might even play some chamber music in it. MMMM...a nice Haydn trio....

Meanwhile, since we are so busy, Oscar has been checking out new cars....


Tuesday, July 18, 2006



Goodness gracious, it must have been seventeen years ago….

I had cute short sea green hair and I was playing in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. At the helm were Haydn and Nicolaus Harnoncourt and at the heart was a mammoth love. From the person listening in the back row of the stalls to the principal violin, to the 5th cello to the folk up in the Gods to the second trumpet, and through the coaxing of our conductor, it was clear from the outset of the project that EVERYONE, at every moment, was equal in creating this happening. We were all in service.

Rehearsals were like magic shows: In the third variation the first fiddles had a series of showy but impossible runs in prickly E flat, and they were falling off the fingerboard in embarrassment at their dire intonation. Harnoncourt ignored them and went straight to the violas and second violins, who carried a babyish theme which could have been featured in ‘Tune a Day’. He spent the next hour making them pump it out, not like fourteen frustrated inner parts but like two proud classical trumpets. The first violinists meanwhile twiddled the heads of their instruments wondering when it would be their turn (after all they surely had a much more important part…?). When he had finished with the theme, the conductor added the firsts. Like a delicate trellis around a bouncy castle, they threw their perfectly tuned scales up into the ether, watched them linger and caught them on the way down, weaving in and out of the theme with sudden technical perfection and a lyricism the likes of which is near impossible from twenty prime donne in unison.

Did he secretly steal away their egos? Was it just a matter of getting priorities right - of making them drink from the source rather than snatch from the air?

When egos come knocking, mine of course included; when a flourish feels like a square, when violins are struggling with intonation and a conductor is getting cross, I try to remember these moments, so vivid, so precious, and to remind myself that, if we are lucky, they come once in a life time, but that they are with us for ever and they can always quench our thirst. Would that everyone could have such a moment to treasure.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


A group of creatures, their heads peeping out from under strangely shaped shells, make their way onto the RER train towards Paris chanting “Allez les Bleus!” to the tune of the interminable chaconne they have just finished rehearsing. They break off occasionally to dispute whether, in terms of baroque style, the accent should come on the weak ‘lez’ and their voices mix with the tooting of horns and children with blue faces squealing “Bisou Zizou!”.

We are on our way to Nantes, but the train isn’t till nine so we can catch the first half of the match in ‘Quick’ burger.

This year, for the first time, I have resigned myself to being a world cup widow. Clearly there’s no reason in fighting it. Now, who is this person, I wonder, diving into the first bar she can see with a screen in Paris Montparnasse, grasping the head of her cello and screaming “Zizou. We love you!” (God, that felt good!) at the top of her voice when the chiselled God of football not only appears but plays a stellar penalty in the first few minutes….?

Oooops, it’s me!

It’s one all and we board our train. Violins, theorbos and recorders are piled high in the bar as people crowd round a fuzzy radio….

And then, apparently, in the shoot out, our beloved Zizou, whose farewell match this is, furiously head-butts an opponent and is sent off in disgrace with a red card.

“Je regrette de vous informer….” The train conductor announces, and it’s all over for Zizou.

I have been re-reading a book, which has some fascinating things to say about rage. ‘Destructive Emotions’ is written by Daniel Goleman and it chronicles the meetings in Dharamsala between the Dalai Lama and various world authorities on religion, education, culture, psychotherapy and brain science, all searching to find a way to better understand and thus handle ‘destructive’ emotions. (As ever, the Dalai Lama is completely open throughout the debate. The last thing he is interested in is spreading Buddhism.)

In the Buddhist approach, the first stage of an emotion is always a thought. If you can catch the thought, they say, and see it just as a thought you can pre-empt the emotion and choose if and how to act on it. Those of us who are not so enlightened have a second chance when, in response to the thought, the emotion first appears. Ideally we observe its physical, chemical and mental components and by observing them we stay out of their grip. Sadly, most of us skip any awareness of these first two stages and launch straight into the refactory period during which we are in the grip of the emotion. Because, during this period, our clarity of mind is disturbed, resolution is impossible until the emotion has released its grip. As I presume we all know, this can be a long time. In extreme cases it can be forever.

What about these thoughts that fuel our anger, I wondered. Mostly, in my case, they are judgements, but judgements are, of course, just thoughts - from “We deserve to win the match and not they.” to “These people are impure and we must get rid of them to make the world a better place.” - so the other day I did a little practice:

I was washing up. Julian was watching football, taking a well earned rest after a long and hot day’s painting, posting and packing. As I watched up our breakfast bowls, his lunch and our supper I could feel the habitual washing up anger rising. I was about to make some snide comment when, suddenly, I saw the thoughts that were fuelling it:

“It’s not fair.”
“ I ALWAYS do the washing up”
“He doesn’t love me because he is watching the football”

All statements were so clearly untrue that I just laughed and even started to enjoy the feel of the soapy water on my hands.

I remember as a child chanting “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” As an adult I think this is tragically far from the truth; that words hurt just as much as bones broken, and that our home was much better off without the words I could have spoken had I not arrested my anger.

The more I read of the book, the more I began to see the huge repercussions should we each take responsibility for trying to discipline our minds so that we can experience these first and second stages.

The day after Le Match, I sit down with my colleagues in a church outside Nantes to record the interminable chaconne. Behind me the choir sing gorgeous squidgey French words like charm- e and princess-e and amourrrrrr. In a break, I turn to my colleague and ask her what she thinks of Zizou’s behaviour:

“I think he butted that guy because he wanted to show us that he was not a God but that he was just a Man. It was his final heroic act!”

Lucky his name rhymes with kiss and not head-butt, I think, before I wonder what they would have thought in Dharamsala.

Sunday, July 09, 2006



We are playing Lully in Versailles. The parts are illegible and at the end of the day my eyes are pumping excruciating pain out through their sockets.

“This is typical seventeenth century writing. What’s the problem?” a colleague says when I squint at him.

Well, the problem is that the lines of the staves don’t join so the notes on lines sometimes find themselves in spaces; the semiquavers are not cleanly joined in happy posses of four, but blotched and pogoeing around on the page separately like spotty teenagers, and some of the quavers are missing their tails. It’s mostly a question, not of baroque script, but of a lazy copyist.

“We don’t really play this music in England” I say, trying to cover for my absence in half the chaconne.

“No, and there’s a reason. You play Bach and Purcell!”

True. But they play Rameau! Lully just ain’t up there with Rameau. He just ain’t groovey.

The day finishes in the tiny rehearsal room, my neck sticky from a chorist’s breath and my thighs bruised from the pokings of colleagues’ bows. Julian would HATE this, I think, as I walk, alone at last, to the RER station. People everywhere, smelly feet, sitting for six hours in a cloud of post lunch farting….

However, I am feeling pretty Zen. I am sitting amongst many tensions and not feeling I need to say my piece or BE SOMEONE. The meditation is working, perhaps? It’s simple: I just have to ‘be’….

However, this is new repertoire for me and I’m still on a learning curve. Can I maintain this sense of wonder next week when I will be handed a specific challenge in repertoire I know and have been playing for thirty years with the coolest and most cutting edge of chefs and bands….? Will I manage to maintain non-attachment for more than three seconds to the classical style which comes as naturally to me know as breathing in and out?

I used to call it passion and knowledge. I thought it was caring about the music, and in a sense it is. However, when I look at people squabbling about details in music about which I know as little as the average listener, I ask myself – does it really matter that much?

The answer is yes, it does matter. It matters alot, but perhaps, in the bigger picture, it doesn’t matter as much as peace of mind; as peace. There is nothing like agitation and judgement to create an unhappy desk/ section/ orchestra/ universe.

I get off at St Michel and walk along the river. The sky is blotchy with rain-clouds like our score, and posses of lovers are still cleanly joined in couplets on the banks of the Seine. I have pudding first – Berthillon ice cream on the Ile St Louis – then go for that ultimate felafel experience on the Rue des Rosiers, except that it is the Sabbath and every joint is closed. Except one. I should have known not to trust the only felafel joint open on the Sabbath…this one lived up to its name of ’Feelawful’. Mostly I feel awful about how fixed I was on the idea of felafel that I didn’t trust my instinct when I got there and stood in a queue of tourists making exactly the same mistake as me.

Aaaargh. When will I learn?

Probably not next week, but I will try.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Sussex summer wedding


A path cut through a field of long grass lit by white balloons and leading to an Indian wedding tent. Seated on hay-bales a few friends and family await the arrival on horseback of the bride and groom. Somewhere below, under a big oak tree, a cello plays a Bach Allemande as they dismount and walk under an arch of white carnations to the place from where the music calls them and where ceremony will begin.

“I endeavour to cut out the clutter both inner and outer that might stop me from loving you at any moment….” The groom is making his vows.

“And now the bride will make her vows to the groom”

A Sarabande starts up. The bride does not speak but takes her silk train dappled in sunlight and covers herself. She is a dancer, she is not English and this is her language. She begins to move in front of him, slowly opening her heart towards, and revealing her self to him through dance. On the repeat, a wind whips up from nowhere, and she and I go with it. The Warbleton brass band and the miked announcements about the raffle for the village fête being held in the next field seem to disappear. The wind dies down and we close in stillness, her hands outstretched towards her beloved. Tears of recognition stream down the groom’s face.

“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride”

They have been kissing since she finished making her vows.

“Why?” asks a child.

Handmade chocolates perfumed with orange and rosewater, elderflower champagne, a chance to step out of our daily routine and, by witnessing theirs, to remember our love.