Saturday, February 17, 2007



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...?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You absolutely cannot have it all. I am an artist and I have two children now 18 and 20 years old. I love them dearly and the particular kind of love they give me is not to be found anywhere else in life. BUT it is very, very hard ( impossible?,) once there is a child in your life, to focus on your work as you probably can right now. Your child (and worry about your child) will take up a huge space in your mind!
If you don't adopt you will always wonder what that love feels like. If you do adopt you will always wonder what your music could have been without the distraction of the child!

1:15 AM  
Anonymous darci said...

people have always questioned how i could deify charles bukowski, but, how does one explain the pull of another?

somehow, you do.

2:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"you will always wonder what your music could have been without the distraction of the child!"...
I don't know about that... For me, my two girls are the greatest joy - wow they're beautiful. Yes, I suppose I could've been the free spirit without them, but I'm telling you, my spirit is far richer with them.
It's a good decision Ruth and I'm happy for you...

8:42 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

anonymous, the last line is meant to be a bit more throw away than that, but thank you anyway for your concern!

i have been playing cello professionally now for twenty five years. I think I know what my music is like without the distraction of a child. It will always be a part of my life. Don't worry, I'm not going to give up! I think we know also that it is going to be hard, but sometimes I guess one just has to leap into the unknown. And that is it isn't it - it is an unknown. No-one can tell us what it will be like, or if indeed it will ever be which is why the decision has taken so long in coming. I guess it just feels right!

Thank you James and darci.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A child may just bring something wonderful, and also unexpected, to your music. Surely your music will bring something wonderful to the child. Yes, this feels right.


2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Ruth. I didn't mean to sound discouraging. I agree with James. My kids have been my greatest joy. I wouldn't trade them for the peace to work. I guess my comment was a knee-jerk reaction by a mother who has been dealing with the turmoil of adolescence a little TOO long!! Your blog is one of my escapes from that!

3:01 PM  
Anonymous beth said...

What a wonderful, happy, forward-looking post, Ruth. I can't imagine that you would ever forget your love for music or for life; having children would perhaps simply enlarge your ability to share that love. I wish the very best for you and Julian.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Caricature Girl said...

Congratulations on your decision.
As an artist and mother of 3, "going with what feels right" is the only way...
Good Luck to you both with your adoption.

BTW I love your writing...

3:39 AM  
Anonymous Mouse said...

there's no blueprint for family life. you do what feels right and good and you do your best. I think any child who joins your lives would be blessed and bring blessings...
imagine running through those hills with the cats, watching Julian paint and listening to your music dancing on the breeze...
such a life of joy and laughter!

10:04 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

So much life and love and pain, such vivid pictures, in your writing. Reading it gives me something enormous. Sending you love and wishing you well in all your life's enterprises, Ruth.

1:44 PM  
Blogger MB said...

Ruth, there are many compromises, difficulties, and risks involved, but there's nothing like it if it's what you want and are ready for. It sounds like you are, so I hope it all works out for you.

(And here I thought I was going to comment on Une plume c'est comme une femme or maybe IT'S LIKE BOBBY MCFERRIN. What a full post!)

12:45 AM  
Blogger Augustine said...

Wonderful post, Ruth, I can feel Paris and the Flore and the music and your fellow musicians and your joy. Wish I could be sitting there with you now, enjoying a café crême and your company.

1:30 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

augustine, mb, jean, beth, mouse cariacture girl, james and more anonymouses....thank you for your warmth, and i think yes, whatever happens, to grow up with music cats art and vines would surely help right some of the wrongs we are sure to commit in faulty parenting.

plus, you have reminded me, i have longed to sing for a child for years and if that isn't music, what is?

8:40 AM  
Blogger muddy red shoes said...

You can have it all, I have 5 kids and I am a full time artist, have been all through their growing up, had to be as I am the main "breadwinner". My kids are fantastic, lovely people, one is an artist, one a musician, one a social worker, one a traveller and one a nurse. I am so glad that you have decided to try for adoption. I wish you all the joy and all the agony that being parents will bring. Be excited, you will be great.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Lesley said...

Yes, it sounds like the "right" decision to me too, and incredibly exciting.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Adopt??? Fantastic!!!

12:29 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Best of luck with the adoption.

And Joe sounds great. Of course a bass player would get sucked in by the Trout Quintet's riffs; from the first pull of the bow on the first note, to the energetic scrubbing of the last movement, he's the rock around which you all orbit (whatever the pianist might think).

1:14 AM  

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