I wake up late from my nap. I have no idea which city I am in, let alone which side of the bed to get out on. Julian is most definitely not by my side and Manon is not peeping over at us to see if it is time for our morning chat. I switch on the light which illumines too starkly the turquoise fireproof curtain, and realise it’s time to go to work. I scrabble together my concert gear and, seeing it crumpled from the journey from wherever I was last, I hurriedly pass the iron over the floaty fabric on the plastic lung-shaped surface. Bits of the Ibis desk/ shelf/ dressing table start to adhere themselves to the back of my tunic, however, and so I abandon my efforts. Humping my cello onto my back, I stuff the black clothes into a carrier bag and make my way on the tram to the concert hall. As usual, a gaggle of school kids point at my instrument crying “Contrebasse!” and “Violon!”. I'm sure one of them calls me a turtle (how insightful!) but luckily, today at least, there are no jokes about “Don’t you wish you played the flute?” or “What have you got in there? Your mother in law?”. If there had been I would have struck the teller.
Backstage I take 5 minutes to meditate. The percussionist has found a little spot to do the same so I don’t feel like such a weirdo. As I sit I let the sounds of people flexing their concert muscles drift through my awareness: Desk partners playing Mozart concerti in unison, friends discussing beaches in South America where they will soon be on tour, loners concentrating on calm long bows, show offs playing scales faster than light, the silent ones…. As I blink back into the world, the fact that in a few minutes all these various energies will come together and start (and hopefully finish) a Haydn symphony together amazes me.
We do the gig: The clarinets stand up for their boppy solo and the violins let their instruments slip down to ‘chin-off’ position for the folky bit, the violas spread their pizzicato chords luxuriously underneath the melody and the trumpet just manages not to fluff his triplets. The bass, as ever, rocks back and forth between tonic and dominant, and, for the first time in a while, I am enjoying myself. The bewilderment at the unjust accusations that have built up over the summer and the sense of isolation I feel as a result of them disappear for the next 100 minutes and I am lost in the music.
It is the chef’s 45th birthday, the orchestra’s tenth, and we are playing ‘at home’ in Grenoble. In celebration, after the first encore, the manager brings champagne and glasses on to the stage and pours for the seven founder members. That done, the chef launches into the second encore, waving us with one hand and trying not to spill his drink with the other. Then he smashes his glass on the back wall of the stage as we play him a surprise ‘Bonne Anniversaire’. When the Chef sits in the front row of the audience to applaud us bending and sticking our bottoms out for the umpteenth time it occurs to me that we have been on stage quite long enough and that this is getting embarrassing; that all that is missing are the candles for him to blow out, but the public are going ballistic. Now the Chef is back on stage moving around the orchestra shaking hands, bringing individuals up and down like umbrellas in April.
Later, over nine Bouzigue oysters and a carafe of Alsatian wine I discover that the in laws of the clarinettist are goat farmers in the Drôme Provençal, so I book him for a Mozart quintet in a vineyard one day. Then I return to the nasty plastic hotel to sleep the sleep of a gal going back home to her beloved, and one with no more orchestral tours for two months.