I have rattled down on the Paris metro to St Germain, given my euro to the homeless accordéon player to keep the chansonnier spirit alive, and now I am sitting in my favourite café – Café de Flore. To its left the café des Deux Magots stands brass shiny but half empty even of tourists and opposite, Brasserie Lip shuns anyone in a paclite Berghaus jacket. I move from a table next, I think, to the only English speakers and squeeze onto the plastic red bench at another. To my right two businesswomen in boxy wool coats discuss politics and to my left there lies a notebook and a nice looking pen waiting for its owner to return.
Last time we were here, Julian and I spotted Vincent Lindon, which knocked spots off being opposite Hugh – or Huge as they call him here – Grant in Brasserie du Nord last week. But I am not here to spy on film stars, I am here in the age old Paris café tradition, to write
‘Could I borrow your pen?’ I ask when my atmospheric neighbour returns.
“I will give you a stylo” he says, rummaging in the pocket of his black velvet jacket. “But not my fountain pen, because you know” he says, scratching at long grey sideburns. “Une plume c’est comme une femme…..” – A fountain pen is like a woman.
I am in Paris playing Mozart arias with an orchestra run by friends from the US who now live here. As the rehearsals progress it dawns on me that we all come from the same musical womb: Through Danny Phillips, Timothy Eddy, Isaac Stern, Julius Levine, Gil Kalish, Andras Schiff, Sandor Vegh, Johannes Goritzki and Steven Isserlis, via Cornwall, Salzburg, Budapest, Scotland, Long Island, Dusseldorf, Taos, Santa Fe, New York and London, we all go back to the great Grandfather of this musical tradition and the one who never gave up on gut strings to begin with, Pablo Casals.
I am home.
I am sitting next to a gentle giant and one of the best musicians I know, Joe. Joe and I studied together at Stony Brook and, on my first day wandering around the concrete and bagels of an American university campus, he succeeded in splitting open my English reserve: “HEY!!!! WHAT’S UP??” he said, slapping my back with his hulking great bass players arm. “I’m not sure we’ve been introduced” I replied. Later, playing the Trout quintet, he challenged every semiquaver of my tiny controlled approach to playing the cello: “HEY MAN YOU’VE REALLY GOTTA POP THAT RIFF MAN, IT’S LIKE BOBBY MCFERRIN!!!!!”. Joe played everything - jazz, folk, rock and baroque, and his ‘Take me to the River’ was one of the sexiest things I have ever heard. Now, here we are, a continent away and a decade and a half later, playing Mozart together.
The last time I played Figaro it saved my life. I had just come out of hospital after an ectopic pregnancy and had to be helped on to the continuo riser every night, and every night, for three hours, I forgot my rude emptiness. Now, wrapped up in Figaro again and in Joe’s sound, I feel like I am drinking mother’s milk with a fierce thirst.
Across the way I spy a violinist and I recognise her body language. I say hello. It turns out she was at the same Bach Aria Festival as me in Stony Brook – the one that changed both our lives - and that she studied with Danny Phillips who studied with Sandor Vegh and plays in my teacher Tim Eddy’s quartet (and that all of them, of course, go back to Casals)……
I am an alien who has finally landed on the right planet where people speak her language after all. I am bursting with so much love. Why, I wonder, can I not feel this love anywhere but in music? Why is one man and one woman not large enough to contain it?
In the break Joe and I have sushi and talk about home. Joe has taken over the job of his teacher Julius who died two years ago and who was his musical father. His students are his children, the spiritual children of a long musical tradition which Joe wants, passionately, to keep alive. To do it, he has to travel from Rouen to New York at least once a month, leaving his own wife and child behind.
“You know, I drove home to Rouen last night. It was a long drive, but it was worth it. I would sell all this” he waves an extra large freckled hand in the direction of his bass “to hear the patter of my daughter’s feet coming down the stairs in the morning, for hanging up her little coat in the school hall.”
And in that moment I know for certain that music is not the only place for the love that goes beyond husband and wife, and that Julian and my recent decision to try and adopt a child is possibly the most exciting one we have ever made.
I look up from the table at which I have been scribbling these thoughts and Ah, there, at the table across from me, is Vincent Lindon. Perhaps we can have it all...?