Thursday, September 28, 2006



Sometimes Julian and I are the thundercloud and the turtle: One obliterates the other or the other hides from the one. Whichever way you look at it it’s not very creative. However, at other times, probably when we are not both trying to be right, our differences morph into a perfect yin-yang thing.

Julian is a dreamer: He mulls. He tinkers. Sometimes for years. Sometimes things never get started and often they don’t get finished. An apple in the corner of a three thousand dollar painting is, apparently, five years later, still imperfect. The layers of dust accumulate. It really pisses me off. Then, one day, something like postcards; something that could never have been achieved without a great deal of mulling, or humming for that matter, is born.

I, on the other hand, am a doer: Julian can be talking vaguely about one of the things on which he is mulling, and I pick up the phone and speak to the guy and he’s round the next morning and we have a quote. Trouble is sometimes it’s the wrong guy or, because the mulling hasn’t quite matured, the thing is in the wrong place. Sometimes it all has to be knocked down. Sometimes someone gets hurt. It really pisses him off. Sometimes, however, something happens within seconds that we didn’t think would happen for years; something actually materialises.

“I hate it when you’re not here” The Muller has been saying during a summer of absences. “There is so much to do and I can’t do it without you.”
"Bah" thinks The Doer.

I had been home for a month. Nothing much was getting ‘done’. I was available but life seemed to be trickling on in just the manner it had been trickling before except that the mulling was a bit more verbal, the humming louder, and the desire for action was bursting in me. It was beginning to piss me off. Then, on, my last day, the endless fantasies about the kitchen – moving tables to be flush with windows, posing with knives in front of imaginary countertops, discussing whether it would be a sin to cover the ‘original’ cement tiles (yes it would but hey, in the end, we just don’t really like them and you cannot get them clean) – blossomed. Julian had the idea, I made the calls, we made the trip, I wrote the letter. Two more hemp floors were booked and material ordered, terra cotta tiles checked out (and a dinner invitation received from the delightful
cabinet maker), a decision was made about lighting and doors and windows. Maybe before Christmas we might even have a kitchen!

What would happen if we learned to act like such an amazing team all the time….?! Scary.


Monday, September 25, 2006

cabanons and uteri.


The grapes opposite our house clearly do not merit the manual care of real pickers paid 3 euros an hour for back-breaking work. Not for us the little red buckets punctuating the rows and the chatter of folk far from home, the human touch. No, our grapes are not destined for anything grand and we get a huge blue metallic vulva driving into the crop, raping the plants of their shiny fruit and taking them down to the co-op.

“Would you consider it a possibility for us to put our sacks of hemp in the little cabanon opposite?” asked Julian of the proprieter as he surveyed the work.

“No, it would collapse.” He replied curtly.

The ‘cabanon’ is, unfortunately, a rather ugly structure belonging to the hamlet, which obliterates the vine-view from the recently acquired glass gallery doors framed in cool grey metal. Originally made of stone, the cabanon would have been like all the other small farm buildings – a place to store materials. Now such pieces sell to Paris weekenders in search of a room with a view, and the attendant 2CV. The farmers are pissing themselves. In order to ‘conserve’ ours, someone has put slabs of concrete on the top and along the sides and painted ‘Non au parc régional’ all over it. Inside there is a decrepit seventies ‘rando car’ sporting fading orange and brown stripes which belongs to a friend of a friend and which he will not move unless we can find the old Renault something, ‘années soixante-dix’, whose tow-thingy fits. It’s an eyesore indeed. Recently we asked the proprietor if we could rent or buy it and a small apron of land around in which to grown herbs. He said no.

I offered the blokes a coffee as I walked out at eight in the morning with my beautiful blue-grey artisanal bowl of pick-me-up just pulled from the chrome Pavoni.

“You should be drinking ‘ving’” one of them said, with the Provençal twang on wine, as a ton of grapes plopped into the vat.

“Later,” I responded desperately trying to cope with the hangover from the night before.

We chewed the fat. He told me about his organised trips every summer to Bath with a busload of Provençal o.a.p.’s, and I said how much I appreciated being here and to be reminded every day about nature etcetera. We agreed on how, if you live in a city and all you see is a concrete building (humph) out your window every day, you could not have things in quite the same perspective.

“You know” he continued “everybody lives with their brains not their hearts these days and eats with their eyes and not their taste. Grapes have to be so big to look good in the supermarket, but you know the small wrinkly ones….”

We nodded sagely together. And that was when it happened: The great big metallic blue vulva crashed into the cabanon and the stones fell into the field. Unfortunately the concrete stayed put.

We shrugged and I drove off to my appointment at the bank, which was scheduled for “Whenever you come for the ping” (the Provençal pronunciation of bread), and to buy chanterelles and ceps, lemons and chillies.

From the market I went to the gyne for a routine smear test which they call a 'frotti' (EEouw) and watched the technicolour image of my uterus on the TV screen.

"Your uterus is very pretty" said the gyne as he picked up another cigarette ready to light as soon as I had dressed, paid and closed the door behind me.


Friday, September 22, 2006



September, September…..

The hunting season has begun - a season where slim aerodynamic cats darting through vineyards can be easily mistaken for rabbits.

And it is the ‘vendage’ - the season of little red lorries splashed in amongst the vines, and casquettes peeping up as the pickers stretch their backs. The Dutch and Belgian caravans have been replaced with the clonking of vehicles transporting crates of ripe fruit from the field to the co-opérative. It is easier to honk impatiently at a caravan going slow than a million Muscat grapes.

This morning there was breeze soft as coconut milk. A film of fur is resting on the burgeoning quinces and wild pears are multiplying by the roadside. The plane trees have hung out their pom-poms to dry in the heat and leaves crackle their gentle death rattle in the caress of the air.

There is no clinging to the flush of each dawning because we are essentially dying into winter. Thus, in death, we can be fully present with the beauty.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

en panne


Arriving at our usual winery just a little past the precious French lunch hour, I was hoping Monsieur Cartier would still be there to hear my knock. He trotted in from the garden, wiping a doubtlessly excellent ‘p’tite sauce’ off his chin with a linen napkin, excusing himself and explaining that they were eating early. They were all starving as they had started picking the grapes that day and the mistral made it hard work.

“No ,quite the contrary, monsieur! Excuse ME for arriving at your meal time.”

“Etes-vous en panne?” he asked, a smile teasing its way out of the side of his mouth unencumbered by remains of his midday repast.

Literally translated in the average French phrasebook under the motoring section as “Have you broken down?” here it obviously meant ‘have your supplies of wine run out and are you therefore unable to function normally? I can fix that for you. Don’t you worry’.

I was on my way back from another Domaine, the ‘Domiane du Mourchon’ , where I had just had a very exciting meeting. It has always been my dream to start a festival of music in the vines, and indeed to twin it one day with one in California. Suddenly last week, having sat on the idea for the last four years, keeping it nice and warm, I knew it was time.

My colleagues in the orchestra leapt at the suggestion like convicts suddenly allowed to run naked in a garden because, to tell the truth, we were all feeling a little spiritually and musically ‘en panne’. Months without the opportunity to have one’s own unadulterated response to the music, months without the right to one’s own gesture and being contracted, essentially, to follow the gesture and the interpretation of the section leader who, in turn, is following that of the conductor was starting to depress us. But that’s playing in an orchestra, and we know it. Rather than gripe and grunge, it was, we decided over a weizenbier, time to take responsibility and to de-panne ourselves.

The McKinlays were very enthusiastic. My suggested dates in April correspond exactly to the launch of their rosé and it will be just the kind of publicity they need. We will play Haydn quartets amongst shining stainless steel vats of maturing Séguret, and have the apéro looking over the new year’s crop. Maybe there will be an aioli too.

Saturday, September 16, 2006



Someone recently commented in my blog and, very kindly, pleaded with me not to go on a writing course.

I am the girl who, now living in France with a pretty good handle on the native tongue, failed French O’level. My teacher was so surprised that I should do such a thing she insisted on having the exam remarked. It came back with a sad note that I had failed the French exam because my English was so bad.

("There was this guy - Bernard Rieux. Well he's an existentialist and I really fancy him. When the plague comes along, man....Woooah!....")

When I was eleven I went to boarding school. From there I wrote sheaves and sheaves of words to people at home describing the gruelling 6 am musical dictation class and the handsome boy from Rome. Alone in Germany aged seventeen, I found nothing more comforting than sitting down, before my cello practice, in front of a blank piece of paper to describe my flatmate Rheinhardt who, when he smiled, broke a faceful of pustules. Mostly I never did any cello practice. I just kept writing. Then I waited for the post.

On tour I carried a notebook everywhere. Whilst my collagues shopped for Italian leather shoes I sat in cafés for hours trying to make my experiences real by packing them in to sentences.

At twenty-seven I was holding fast to the idea that form was the enemy of artistic freedom. Practicing scales, thirds, sixths or studies were a sure way to lose my creative voice and I certainly wouldn't consider analyzing any of the music I was playing. Of course, with my raging war against form, I was blocking the very thing I was trying to preserve.

Just outside Bologna one day, at two in the morning, the van carrying the instruments crashed and my old English cello was smashed into a hundred pieces. As if it had been my own body torn limb from limb, I found myself suddenly unable to play. Seeing that I was having some kind of musical breakdown, a friend suggested I went to study in New York. I just went. I couldn’t think of anything else to do for a year. I stayed four years and it was there that, through form, I found my freedom.

I went to a silly school for gifted musicians. I never learned the value of scales or harmonic analysis, and I never learned about grammar. I never learned about the roots of language through Greek or Latin and I have no idea how to make a narrative arc so, though I may be nuts, in order to find some more freedom in my writing, and in order to discover my voice, I have applied to go on a writing course . This time I am hungry for form and freedom, both.

ps. anyone in Paris who wants to hear us play we are at the cité de la musique on September 30 at 20.00 and October 1st at 16.30.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


We have been in Bremen for a week. It was yet another hellish ‘emergency-budget-cut’ journey of which there seem to be more and more: After a night in a hotel on the peripherique of Paris, and a morning’s rehearsal on the other side of the city we were treated to two airline changes and a four hour ride in a worn bus on which my colleagues got understandably blind drunk on vodka.
At one am we rolled into the ‘Innside’ hotel located ‘inside’ an abandoned space park but many kilometres outside Bremen itself. My room looked out onto a parking lot and I was very grumpy about it. And I was tired. We all were.

The programme of Haydn symphonies just wasn’t doing it for me and I was getting worried. In the concert I felt nothing. Nothing. I hardly recognised myself:

“Have I finally become just another muso going through the motions?” I asked myself.

“But I LOVE Haydn!” I countered.

“And what ‘s with my posture? I can’t seem to know where to put my hair. The peg is sticking in my ear. My knees are gripping, my feet slipping…..”

“It’s all in my head”

“Oh my God, I’m having a breakdown”.

I certainly did not want to go there again, feeling like I was ruining every concert.

At the reception I had a lot of Gewurtztramminer.

The hotel was growing on me. I had called ahead of time and, seeing that it was by the river, had requested a riverside room. This, I suppose, is why I got a car-park-side room. However, I asked to change, discovered the sauna, the fruity birchermusli breakfast on the sunny deck and started to recover from the withdrawal symptoms of constant internet access. I was starting to relax.

We have now segued into a programme of Handel and Gluck with Vesselina Kassarova.

Gluck hardly pens an interesting bass line, but Handel is the Original Groove, man, and as soon as we start playing the chaconne I am swinging, riding high on an inner Jacuzzi of joy - and relief that I can feel something after all.

After the chaconne comes an aria from Ariodante in which bassoons croon over violin teardrops and we plop a sparse pizzicato bass…..

All of a sudden my breast is heaving. What IS it about Handel? He is writing an ode to a bloody field, for God’s sake, probably with little lambikins running around in it, and the shoulders of my instrument have become a surface on which gallons of snot and tears are forming a gelatinous pool. I sniff, but the stuff keeps coming, its splash painfully audible in the piannississimo da capo. Luckily the bassoons are asked to mute, so they whip out hankies to stuff in to their instruments and, in between an open G and an open D pizz which I can manage with my left hand, my right hand lurches for their kleenex packet. I manage to blow and wipe up the mess in the remaining free beat before the arco begins. Then I start sobbing all over again.

In the sauna the next day I feel so calm and all of a sudden I remember. Five years ago today we lost our baby. The body remembers and, for once, I am glad it does. I’d much rather have snot all over my cello than lead a numb life.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006



It is a hazy morning, and an orangey light is infusing the bedroom. The blush of autumn is just under the skin of the sky, and the greens are lightening towards lime….

I have four days at home before the next leg of the tour in Bremen. We decide we cannot miss out on one like this and, with print packing done early for the day, we prepare to cycle off into the vineyards heavy with their dusty blue-black fruit. I have pumped up the tyres of our bikes, purchased 5 minutes after we got engaged, and my bum is on the saddle ready to roll. Julian appears, but something has changed. His face, rather than the sensual one I woke next to and which drank fresh pear and nectarine juice with gusto, is black as thunder. He jerks his leg over the bar and I ask what’s up.

“I’m angry. I don’t want you to go away again.”

The rest of the Indian summer’s day is spent under a thunder-cloud. To a turtle it feels like a wasted day, but to the thunder cloud there is no choice; we are just waiting for the rain. However, the rain doesn’t come. It’s cold. Trying to pierce the cloud with a needle only prolongs the intensity of the freeze. Somewhere underneath there are probably tears but this one looks to be like a dry storm. No running out into the road and splashing around in joyous thanks for the monsoon.

It is true that it is harder and harder to go away. I know that, for example, in the week I will be in Germany, that fuzzy little tree in the distance will turn from mere green to bright zesty lime and the field of cherry trees in front to amber, forming the perfect St Clements’ landsape. The vine and flat peaches will peter out and the ceps and greengages will move into their spot. Most frustrating, however, is that I only have time to write the necessary letters for crappy hoover refunds and lost cheques, and I'm gone. We only just brush against our rhythm à deux.

For Julian it is apparently even harder to be left over and over again, and to be expected to open up for 72 hours just because I happen to breeze through. There are tiles to be uprooted in preparation for hemp floor number three, there are stone floors for the gallery to be checked out, there are canvasses to be moved to make way for some thoughts about the eventual shape of the ‘arrière-cuisine’, there are electricity cables to be pulled through, but above all there are orange lit days, moonlit nights, ceps, greengages, and flat and vine peaches to be shared.

Our friends arrive for dinner. Luckily, we are allowed to be ourselves with them. We start with a fresh chevre cheese each from the market drizzled in truffle honey (a trick I learned in an Italian bar in Salzburg). Then there are tiny tomatoes bursting into peppery local olive oil, followed by pork pot roasted with our neighbours’ bay leaves. Then there is a midnight blue platter of Muscat grapes and figs. We all argue a bit – enough to feel normal - but we laugh too.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

nature versus nurture


There are not many concert halls out of which you can walk straight from the general rehearsal onto a glistening beach. Perhaps San Sebastian is the only one.

At one o’clock I rip the last chord of the Haydn symphony from my instrument, curl into my bathing suit in the ladies’ toilet and run to the beach. As soon as I feel the prickle of sand on the soles of my feet I feel soothed.

For a while I sit and warm myself, watching the parade of tummies and cheeks peep and loll over boxer, support, slip and string and bikini bottoms. People are everywhere: Two-pieces and laptops walking to work, shop assistants’ slacks rolled up on their lunch break, sleek executive surf gear and one-pieces pumping out their aerobic class. When my skin has recovered from the air-conditioning I leap towards the crystalline hoops where I let myself be taken by the ocean. My arms are in the air, my face in a grimace of exhilaration as the surf batters my tired lumbar region and suddenly I see our chef bobbing up and down too, his trunks ballooning around him. It is strangely intimate to be sharing these waters with him, though it should be no more so than sharing sound-waves or the curve of a phrase. Perhaps it is because we are both being tossed by the same force of nature greater than ourselves, and in that we are almost obscenely equal.

After my aquatic massage I walk back through the fleece and fizz of the tide to the beach, drunk on receding concentric circles. There I eat my jamon and tortilla lunch and listen to the water in preparation for the evening’s concert.

Unlike Mozart, Haydn is not a God. To me, he is a real ‘Mensch’. His music is so human and so vulnerable, so witty and often downright silly without having to be that of a pathologically scatological genius. It is soulful without having to be spiritual, and its very simplicity touches on something profound. That night, for the first time in a while, our chef lets the music play us. Our limbs, like his, are caught up in arcs of abandon as our spirits ride on the surf of the shifting harmonies. The sound is free and the gaiety infectious. In the ‘Clock’ symphony, the tick from the bassoons and basses is charmingly mechanical whilst the violins – miraculously rid of their desire to play a tune ‘beautifully’ - float like an ocean breeze over the top.

Then, in the second half, comes THE SERIOUS COMPOSER. Suddenly the waves have abandoned us and we are back in our hardwood concert hall with three thousand people listening to our already renowned interpretation of Mozart’s 41st symphony. The regular tempo changes make me feel as if the backbone has slipped out of the body of the score, and the harmonies, rather than being established and let go of until they are ready to move on, are insistent and constantly driven. There are dramatic pauses that make me feel seasick. We are no longer playing together, we are following our chef who is carving out his vision.

The audience love it. The applause is deafening. People are whooping and whistling. We bow together, our chef modestly mingling amongst us and raising up the score to show his appreciation of the composer. We walk off stage and I am one of only three, it seems, who feel that the concert has been a schizophrenic exercise in nature versus nurture.

Back to the waves, say I as, bemused, I make my way to bed where I send myself to sleep with the ultimate nature versus nurture story: We need to talk about Kevin....