Monday, August 28, 2006

family matters


A friend and I were talking on a long car journey about space within the couple. He mentioned the phenomenon of The Thunderstorm and The Turtle and ever since then I have been observing my tendency, at home, to fold my neck back under my shell and disappear psychically whenever there is a whiff of atmospheric change. That is what my father did and that’s what I did when I was a kid.

When I was growing up, everyone else’s emotions were so vivid, and they took up so much space that, even in a large Victorian eight-bedroomed house, I felt there was no space for me. There were, however, a couple of spots where I felt calm and protected: One was my room and one was the end of the long farmhouse table where my father sketched and etched endlessly. In that spot, we would sometimes talk about the French novel I was studying for my exams, or he might teach me to see the form in a painting, or explain the Golden Section to me. Largely he would be concentrating on his work and, though I was not by any means always the centre of his attention, just in his peripheral vision, somehow I felt safe. we both did. We were being turtles together.

Julian and I sit at the French oak farmhouse table gifted to us for our wedding by my father. It is the end of a working day in Provence. There is a painting hanging upside down on the wall. We are sipping white wine, Julian is making dinner and, freed from our desire for it to resemble the thing it represents, we are looking at the painting’s shapes. It is fascinating seeing the lines; the light and shade created simply by the paint and not by our projection. We discuss it passionately and I am filled with joy that my husband created this thing drawn from objects in our own kitchen – pottery I had picked up in Cornwall or a fruit we had picked together on our morning walk. I love being invited to let my imagination run wild, and that what I see on the square of canvas contributes to the life of this newborn artwork. After an hour or so, Julian decides he will lighten up the right hand corner and thus draw the eye more to the focal point of the shadow. It is time to eat and, a bottle down the line, the pages I have written during the day and wanted to read out loud are still lying on the chair next to me. It is late, we are tired and we both opt for collapsing in front of the telly.


I have just finished a wonderful book by Rohinton Mistry called ‘Family Matters’. In short, Nariman is prevented by his father from marrying the non Parsi woman he loves. His son, Yezad, sees his family’s error and brings up his own with humour, love and sound secular values. Five hundred pages of stunning writing and the tragic consequences of prejudice later, Yezad’s peaceful meditations at the fire temple which help him with the stress of work and family have become full blown religious fanaticism and he is refusing the presence at his son’s birthday party of his non-Parsi girlfriend.

Even if we hang ours upside down, the shapes of our parents’ or grandparents’ relationships are always lurking in the background. Are we merely interpreting the dots on the page? What does it take to paint an entirely fresh canvas, or compose a unique score, I wonder? Or do we have to accept that Mozart and Cezanne, however unique, also emerged from history?


Sunday, August 27, 2006

the shape of things


Velveteen façades in russet, lime and yellow ochre line the Adige river as we cross the bridge. We float on paving brushed smooth by Capulets, underneath balconies from which foliage and translucent petals trickle and sway in the breeze. We gaze up at vellum folded towers and brush against shapely legs in beautiful shoes….We are in Verona!

How my senses sing to be in Italy! How my lips un-purse to see mammoth bowls of plump mozzarella and my blood warms in front of bunches of love- red chillies; how my ears gobble up the rolling r’s and the playful tripping on double consonants. How good, above all, it is to be skin to skin with my beloved.

We find a trendy ‘vinoteca’ on the main street for our first glass of ‘prosecco’, which we accompany with a selection of cheeses and three little bowls of ‘mostarda’ - clementine, fig and mixed fruit -, the condiment fizzing hot and zesty on our tongues. Then we move on to the ‘Bottega del Vino’ – an ancient bar lined with musty bottles of Valpolicella and Amarone. The wine waiter privately swills, sucks and jiggles the purple liquid in bell shaped glasses before placing it before us on the table. Something happened between me and valpolicella when I was sixteen which I’d rather not go in to, but I think that finally my prejudice against the bevvy has come to an end.

The next day we arrive in Bologna for breakfast. In the main square, two perfect hearts edged in brown on our cappuccino foam, we drink in the spacious and ancient platform criss-crossed with people on their way to work - scuttling, sauntering and striding – before crossing it ourselves towards the Morandi museum.

This is the third time in my life I have been moved to tears by a painting: The simplicity of shapes of things told honestly, without embroidery or interpretation, is as close to being touched by a tree or a river as I have ever come.

I return to Salzburg for our third performance of Mitridate. I have lost both my camera and my ipod, but I have gained a renewed commitment to being true to the shape of the music, whatever the circumstances.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006



“Un, deux, trios, Quat’-a-strophe” says the chef and we are off again, playing the rerun for ‘Mozart Year’ of his first opera, written when he was still a soprano.

“No! I want it really loud!” - he says after we bash out the first forty-eight quavers like gunfire – “ Rambo meets Marlene Dietrich”. He scrunches his hands into balls of testosterone and punches the air. I try and play louder but the sound gets pressed into the instrument and disappears along with the phrasing. Perhaps I am not cut out for Power Mozart. I’m definitely more Hatha in spirit.

The lyrical passages and the recitatives convince me more:
“You have to sing this like – who’s that Rolling Stone….?”
“Mick Jagger” we chorus.
“Yeah, Mick Jagger without a microphone. Pathetic, crumpled….”
“Rather Marianne Faithful” mutters someone else.
The continuo cellist draws his bow across the string like a gasp and the recitative comes to life - spoken not sung; drama not musical. Other recitatives are spat in anger or whispered in fear, out and under-lined by the cello and harpsichord. All the singers are up a notch on last year both vocally and dramatically, and it sounds great.

We pump out the dress rehearsal. I am imprisoned in my head, an inner voice shrieking “Louder! Louder!” as soon as I see the letter ‘f’ approaching. I am not listening to the singers but rather the voice in my head, and I do not hear most of the arias.

Then Mitridate starts singing and I wake up. Richard Croft has one of those breaks, even in his speaking voice, that just kills me. As he reaches with heart rending pathos for his top note, his voice cracks just very slightly along the way I am reminded of the gutty crack in Casals’ sound.

‘Ah’ I think, relieved, as I feel my heart expand into my ribcage and my eyes moisten. ‘There it is. There’s the music.’

Tomorrow I am meeting my Romeo in Verona for a couple of days. I wish I could take poor old Mozart, who is currently to be seen as a giant Kugel Balloon in Vienna’s museum district, with me. He probably needs a break from Salzburg too. (Friends whom I was visiting there have promised to snap The Kugel for me.) Julian, meanwhile, is escaping the fallout from this article in USAToday.


Friday, August 18, 2006



When I get home it will be autumn. I have left the shiny aubergines behind and here I am again in Salzburg - the city Mozart hated and which treated him like shit, which now ‘celebrates’ him by selling sickly balls called Mozart Kugeln in even the cheapest supermarket. Telephone rings overheard range from Eine Kleine Nachmusik to the Queen of the Night. Poor sod.

It is also the city of the late Sandor Vegh. Andras Schiff lives here. Steven Isserlis I missed by twelve hours, and Simon Rattle is walking around as I speak……

As we go to our first rehearsal we wade through a glinting convoy of BMW’s dropping off the silk dirndled audience for the premiere of Cosi. In our break the chauffeurs hold cigarettes between their gloved fingers while they wait the three and a half hours plus cocktail of their clients’ entertainment.

The bike rental guy moans as I get out my festival pass for a discount:
“Sheiss Festspeil takes all the money and I earn nothing”

I tried to tell him in my ancient German that I understood but he would probably not believe that we are being put up for two weeks in a hotel worse than the student digs of last year; that we are not paid on the 6 of 12 of the days because we don’t have a performance; that we are not invited to the first night party…all of which whilst our conductor resides in a palace.

We – the orchestra - are with the bike rental guy and the chauffeurs, not the musicians. We are second class citizens.

The ‘AllYouNeed’ hotel is in noweheresgasse; The word ‘All’ is to be understood as ‘only that which’ rather than ‘everything’. Even then they are pushing it. The motto underneath the title is ‘Everything Else is Luxury’. My room stinks of smoke and looks out not on the Salzach or the verdant hills alive with music but on a Boss men’s underwear advert. However, there is a wonderful little organic café serving simple Indian vegetarian meals to which I escape every day. There Austrians, French, English and Americans, businessmen, musicians and workshop leaders greet each other saying “namaste” and I know that we have all travelled further than these hills and that there I am both welcome and nourished.


Monday, August 14, 2006



We finally managed, after a brief flirtation with Axabanque and and even briefer one with La Banque Postale, to not only open an account in the local village branch of Crédit Agricole, but also, within a week, to secure a loan for a car with the very nice chap who works there. No more language corrections, and a good deal of ‘respec’ after the snobby ‘Societé Generale’.

The question ‘What Car?’ is a big one. Despite my being ethically against being a two-car-two-person-two-cat family, it has become apparent that Julian’s taxi service to and from Avignon TGV station comes at an increasingly high price, so we agreed that we needed a second. Our Mégane estate hums as much, and not as musically, as its owner and is primarily used as a cello ferrying dumping mobile. Were we to exchange it for a better model and treat it the same way or were we to buy a fun car in which neither the cello nor bags of ‘chaux’ would fit?

Julian had carved a slice out of a social schedule fit only for August in Provence. He, sensibly, had begged an evening à deux in which to cook for me - and me alone - amidst the welcome commotion of dear friends. Last night, we devoured the Queen of beans – the ‘coco’ – with pan friend pigeon breasts and ratte pots, followed by spicy rice pudding with flat white peaches, and we got to talking about what it was we really wanted….

We are three hours from the Costa Brava, three from the Ligurian coast, three from the Pyrennées…..we have no children and we want loud music, sun and fun. However we want to be comfy and to feel safe. Impossible, we thought last week, it would have to be the new clio….

B – O – R – I – N - G

…which led to me trying to ram an empty cello case in a Mini Cooper this afternoon. It slid smoothly into the back of the normal model but when it came to the cabriolet, it was quite a manoeuvre. After twenty minutes, however, and with a great deal of will, we got there, with the back seats down, the boot shelf off, and even the roof half reclined.

“Quelle couleur?” asked the jolly salesman.
“Crème?” I replied, not knowing the right way to say that creamy sexy white with the black hood.
“Pepperrr white?”
“Oui Paper White” I agreed thinking how sweet his accent was, and that vellum was just the colour.
i managed to get the 'carte grise' and the €600 Harman Kardon speakers thrown in.

When we fed the order in to the computer for the ‘pepper white’ cabriolet and the letters MAD came up I beamed.

“Mise à disposition” he explained, but I knew that we were indeed deliriously mad and that, with no kids and a cello, one has certain advantages and with them we were going to have lots and lots of fun!

Here I come, Mum!

Mini Convertible-704985

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I don't know


In a fascinating on-line lecture entitled "Toward the First Revolution in the Mind Sciences" held at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California, Alan Wallace talks about the Scepticism of scientific enquiry - and indeed the Buddhist enquiry into the nature of the mind - versus the Dogma of religion. He emphasizes something in which I believe passionately but which, due to being told I was 'stupid' rather alot, am often curiously ashamed of - the ability to say:

“I don’t know”.

I don’t know, can be a statement of ignorance which includes a laziness to find out more, or it can be an empty flexible space from which to start a process of observation and enquiry into phenomena.

This morning I was reading Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Second Helpings of Roast Chicken’ in which he speaks with his usual humility and humour about the difference in treatment between arborio and basmati rice.

“I am forever enthralled by how these two grains of rice perform so differently as they cook.”

After an apology for the recipe for 'risotto milanese' in 'Roast Chicken and Other stories' (which was recently voted 'the most useful cookery book of all time'), he continues by emphasising the importance, whilst making ths dish as opposed, say, to pilaf, of stirring the rice vigorously whilst adding the stock. He has learned, since his last book that:

…”it is during this time that the outer coating of each grain has a chance to release its all-important starch. This cannot occur all on it’s own; well, it can, but only partially. Which is why, if you do not stir the risotto with the tempo of a semi-whirling dervish, most of that essential creaminess remains in the rice, when it should, most deliciously, have helped the thing become a whole; creamy and starchy, yet loose and fondant all at once”

Julian and I used to argue about the ‘right’ way to make risotto – one of our favourite dishes. Julian, who has his recipe ‘on good authority’, makes it by delicately and lovingly moving the rice around, treating each grain with the greatest respect and producing immaculately intact grains in a delicious saffron-infused stock. After all, if the universe is, as is so often suggested, to be found in a grain of rice, who would want treat the poor buggers with any less care?

Over the last four years, sure that it was far better karma, but mostly for the sake of avoiding conflict, I had slowly abandoned my approach of bashing the rice around with a wooden spoon in a constant state of agitation in favour of Julian’s more Zen approach. However, the memory of a hot-blooded Milanese pianist teaching me, twenty-five years ago, that there is absolutely nothing Zen about the preparation of risotto, and that stirring continuously and furiously was the ‘right’ way to make it creamy, would not go away, just like the memory of the naughty melty cheesey goo itself, and so I was thrilled to find Hopkinson’s words on it today.

Now ‘my’ way has become the ‘right’ way as opposed to the ‘wrong’ way.

So what if neither of us had had to be right? - if we had donned our symbolic saffron robes, admitted to not knowing, and had entered into a debate based on observation of phenomena; observation of what happened to the grains of rice when you treated them one way and what happened when you treated them another? Would my way still taste ‘right’ and his ‘wrong’ and vice versa, or would they just be different?

How much energy we waste fighting and clinging on to dogma!

However, let’s not forget, as Mr Hopkinson points out, that “good risotto should still be moving when it's put on the table, like a lava flow”


Thursday, August 10, 2006


marché agricole

It’s six o’clock already and it’s that time. I sit with my glass watching the vines jigging like lunatics on speed in the increasing mistral and Julian still has to do today’s painting so he climbs the ladder, with viognier in one hand and a little fish from Les Halles in Avignon on ice in the other, up to the studio. We have nothing for dinner in our cavernous new fridge except some lamb chops so I pop over to the ‘marché agricole’ held in a nearby field every evening. The four or five little stalls are buzzing with locals whose weather beaten faces I know from banks, boulangeries and cafés. We are all jolly with aperitif and the drop by ten degrees in temperature that has allowed us to brace the outside world again. I settle for the organic guy today, buying a thick pert cucumber, several ancient varieties of tomato, shiny courgettes and a dozen firm blushing apricot flavoured angel’s bottoms. Then to the new boulangerie. The pretty owner has captured the hearts of many of the locals and the bread has expanded all of our tummies.

Julian creates a delectable starter with some still life fried lightly in olive oil from the next village. The rest speaks for itself.




Monday, August 07, 2006

A Room With A View


Ten years ago, when I had a frozen shoulder, I didn’t play the cello for 18 months.

“What did you do?” people often ask.

Well, I did go to India and have Ayurvedic massage every day for two hours, and learn Indian singing and cookery, but hey, that was only for six weeks. I read a lot of books about how my body was telling me something and I tried to figure out what it was. But what did I do for the remaining sixteen months? As far as I remember, I looked out of the window at the sea: For days of hours I watched its moods blacken and thicken and I watched raindrops dance on its surface like thin drumsticks. Then I watched it turn into a gleaming slippery slick of blue, and I dreamed of boats wafting me off to possible futures on the wind in their blood red sails.

Apparently, one of them managed to get me across the channel!

Since life in that English seaside flat – away from which my paint-bespattered skipper whisked me shortly thereafter - I have been missing something. I thought (occasionally and somewhat guiltily) that it was the freedom of the single life, but today I know that, though indeed it had something to do with having A Room Of My Own (and I realise that that is a luxury few couples have), even more than that, I missed having A Room With A View.

Today, sitting in my room (the only one with a view apart from Julian’s new studio) for the first time since it was filled with stress and painting paraphernalia, and on whose door I would knock respectfully before entering, I realise I am doing that thing again that makes me so idiotically happy - I am gazing out of the window. This time the sea is one of vines waving their gangly green arms in the mistral like teenagers at a rave. I can see our blue grey cat rubbing his nose on their roots and our tabby rolling in the red sand. A path leads away up a mountain and into the sky like a stairway to heaven. Around it all is an unfinished window frame.

Julian doesn't knock yet, but he does bring me glass of cool Viognier at six o’ clock on the dot.

“Actually it’s quite nice to have a place to come and visit you!”


if you want to look through the round window, check out my neighbour's beautiful daily images - all taken on his, and therefore our daily walk.

Friday, August 04, 2006



We have had children in the house for a week. Fairy children; groovey children; zen children; to-the-max children; sleepers; bright stars….

One child eats only meat and bread but would die for a carobar or white chocolate finger that you ‘can’t get in England’; another thinks anything she has never eaten before is a ‘good plan’ and heartily engages in wrapping offal in something weird and skinnish for the barbie; another thinks anything ‘marseillais’ (our equivalent to Silvekrin if you remember that) is so cool; another teaches us an African washing song and we dance madly in the field at midnight improvising and stomping our feet to it; one craves her baby grand and teaches me the true meaning of the word ‘whence’; one reads a book a day; the other reads…well, maybe a half a book during the week?….

We do yoga, talk about meditation, music, life…they are very, very good company.

What are we? The childless couple who (apparently) are cool because we listen to Elliot Smith and watch CSI and the O.C. and with whom they stay up till three touching toes on the table with our mad artistic invitées?

I hope we are The Eccentric and Slightly Rebellious Ones, and that Here is where they are always welcome.

There are plans afoot for yearly reunions.

They leave on their Easyjet flight. We hug, but not enough because people are waiting. I forget to tell them I love them.

I am glad to have the space again. I have cleaned and organised. I have swum under stormclouds and bought an expensive organic steak for two. I have printed Julian’s invoices. Julian has learned to use ‘excel’ through a bland downloaded tutorial even though A would have given him a mistressclass had she still been here.

‘My room’, which was Julian’s studio and which I spent the previous week clearing out, is not empty. It has two beds in it - still warm, and I haven’t been in there to reclaim it, only to visit the emptiness.

I top and tail the beans. Sometimes I wonder where the romance has gone. Suddenly I miss them horribly. The world has certainly become a more colourful place because of them.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006



“How can you sing Bach’s St Matthew Passion if you are not a Christian?”

No question enrages me more, especially when asked by one who has just rejoiced in killing several wasps and flies under the midnight sky.

I try to explain that when I play a Bach bass line - whether it be to accompany a mother’s tears at the sacrifice her son makes or the renting of the veil in twain – I, just like the singer, am touched by the universal spirituality of the text. I am even more touched by the music Bach writes, which I believe to be more universal still.

I do not think the story actually happened, but I would say I strive for what is contained within its values every day. I fail mostly, like many good Christians, but I believe in our capacity to attain them, in the possibility of a state of loving kindness, mental stillness and non-violence.

So, what? I’m not a Sufi so I cannot have Rumi read at my wedding because I can’t really understand it? I am not a Buddhist so I have no right to meditate? I am not a mother so I cannot truly know love?

How dare anyone imply that my playing Bach’s St Matthew Passion or indeed Julian painting a field of sunflowers whilst listening to Handel’s ‘Theodora’, tears streaming down his face, for three hours is inferior to their prayer?

Today I went to church. I waded through milky green river in a natural corridor of glinting limestone. Wavelets were reflected on the curved walls and as I watched the shapes dance and felt my feet bathed clean, my ‘self’ was washed away briefly with the current, and I was at one with this magical architecture. We found a pool of smooth green clay and smothered our faces with it. I turned to my half sisters who were walking with me, their face-masks cracked now with smiling, and my heart almost burst with love. I glanced at my husband, his mind slowing for the first time in weeks as he walked in the water, and I felt at peace.

I could not have knowingly killed a wasp or a fly in that moment

church 2