Monday, February 25, 2008



Our chef stepped lightly over the front row's feet and made her way towards the podium. She had on a pin striped jacket with a baroque pink-ribboned bustle, and her frizzy hair had been straightened until its bouncy ends. The outfit lasted till the end of the prologue. Her hairdo flattened entirely now by sweat and her shapely arms visible in a black strappy dress, the designer bustle had been cast off and so had we.

For three weeks now I have been sitting right under the stage, under the spitty diction of some of our greatest singers, in particular the Swedish Godess - clad in a red Adidas T’shirt and long green silk skirt - Ann Sofie von Otter. Her vocal expression as she degorges Medée’s vengence or sucks in her loneliness, has been a thrilling thing to witness so close, her professionalism sharp as a Sabatier. How dare Le Monde say she is hiding her aging voice with over dramatic pianos.

The first night rolls, and rocks. There is a lot of silk swishing around on stage. Our continuo player uses a vicious palette to colour Medées jealousy, muscled gestures for the King and sexy shimmies of the left hand for Aiglée’s adoration of Thésée. We, in the basse de violon section, know the tunes by now, and we ride our rope thick strings with confidence. When they kiss I am sure someone farts. Ah, the joys of being up close and personal.

The audience’ reception is mad: Rhythmic clapping, hysterical shrieks, an ovation….

Afterwards there is what the French call a ‘Pot’. The foie gras, jamon, home made tarama, burgundy, cheeses and tarts plentiful enough to feed the entire court of Versailles but rather over the top at midnight in Paris must have cost the theatre about 10,000 euros; the same theatre who refused to pay eight out of town musicians’ hotel or subsistence because it was ‘hors de budget’.

On the way home I give my change to a man in the metro in a dirty pin stripe suit without a baroque bustle but with an accordian, singing La Vie en Rose.


Monday, February 18, 2008


I enter the Malian consulate like a Bflat in the key of E major. All around me full lips close and part again speaking urgently in a language I do not know. Skin glows aubergine, bottoms bustle with cloth-wound babes bobbing on their ridges, and what I understand as order is replaced by chaos.

A thought: Our child is going to look like this.

The experience of sitting in that room with a hundred Malians is far from the conversation about Dogon art I had with friends in their Saint Germain apartment the night before over a Puglian pasta dish and a white Burgundy.

Another thought: Our child will not have Julian’s soft blonde curls. Nor my silky brown hair easily tied into a ponytail.

My name is called. I slide my documents under the window.

‘Come back in ten days.’
‘You live in Paris?’
‘Wait here.’

I look at the girls’names in the marriage announcements that are posted on the wall: Alissala, Typhaine, Opheline, Djenebou, Aminata, Nina…

The man on my right asks me to address an envelope for him. The man on my left holds his grandchild close as he breathes lungfuls of air in through spacious nostrils.

I can hear my documents being stamped. I will be out of here in no time and on my way to the Agence Française de l’Adoption with all it’s pretty pictures of Asian and African children in villages.

A question: ‘To which culture will our child belong?’

I think about Sarkozi’s instruction that every ten-year-old pupil should know the identity of one of the 11,000 Jewish children who were deported from France to their deaths at Nazi hands.What about the Iraqi children who were killed? I wonder. And the American soldiers too poor to have any choice other than to go to war? Sudan? Ireland? Brixton? The bird shot down for sport? And would such weight be helpful on a child's shoulders?

Another thought: Every life is sacred. Not just the victim’s.

I can see my papers waiting to be picked up behind the glass window, but my name has not been called. I continue to wait.

Now a memory from a film: A Janinst monk walks Dartmoor. ‘Forgiveness is love’ he says.

Another memory: Sitting in a café in Mexico trying to have a conversation about forgiveness with a Jewish friend whose family were exterminated.

How much longer can we keep separating ourselves out into cultures, countries, colours and religions?

People are elbowing their way to the window where our now fully legalised adoption papers sit. No numbers are being called. I look around. Things look different. I see parents loving their children, people laughing as they exchange gossip, smiling as they greet one-another and concentrating as they fill in forms. I see people. I see people being people. How could I have seen anything else?

I elbow my way to the window, and take my papers from the man with the trim moustache and large lapels.

I walk towards the metro, bound for Bastille. We are going to be a family, I think.

That night I dream: I am lying on the hospital bed. Cold blue gel is being spread on the huge dome of my jet black pregnant belly. I look at the image on the screen. Inside me there is a baby that looks like Joni Mitchell sketched by Matisse.

Joni Djenebou, I think. That’s a nice name.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

lully notes

I keep on looking up from the score for a beat and wondering where the mammoth ego is that should be towering over us. At first it feels like a lack. Then I remember this is a different orchestra from the one with whom I have been playing for three years. We are making music together. Ah, that’s what it feels like. I am a cog in a healthy wheel again. I breathe out deeply.

Though we rarely leave first position, there are challenges to playing the basse de violon in Lully’s Thesée: First of all, the strings on this huge baroque version of a cello are elephantine and until our fingers develop protective helmets it can be tough on the pads. Second, we have to spread our legs real wide to cradle the ribs. (Good, if you can stay relaxed, for releasing the hips and mastering various yoga poses. Also good, if you can’t, for dead legs and mangled knees.) Third, we are tuned a tone lower which means that we have to transpose as we go. One slip of concentration (and after four hours of Lully there are bound to be some) and we’ve done a bum note. Fourth, the manuscript is illegible: Each stem has a head and a curly tail. If we accidentally start following the tails we’re buggered. In addition, stray stave lines appear all over the place just to confuse us. Is this a ghost, we think, or the real thing….? By which time, of course, we are doubly buggered.

We are playing in the Theatre des Champs Elysées which has a certain charm having seen the delightful ‘Fauteils d’Orchestre’. The quartier, however, is dreadfully posh and I am glad I chose to pack my ancient suede jacket instead of my crimson berghaus paclite mac, and wear real shoes. Yesterday, on the way to the ‘continuo dress’, I saw something black and curled on the pavement and found myself rejoicing – for the first time in my life – that a dog turd might be fouling the walkway of the ‘Richissimes de Paris’. On closer inspection, however, I saw that it was a black silk glove. Tant pis.

Despite this, I am having tremendous fun because The band is superb. Also, Anne Sofie von Otter remains a heroine. 'Vous êtes magnifique!' everyone - the cleaning lady, the make up artist, the violist, the director, the costumier - mutters as she passes, with half bows that reduce them to the level of her knees, and indeed she is. I pass her back stage before the continuo dress. 'Vous êtes magnifique!' I say.

Our chef has, since we worked on Handel's 'Theodora' at Glyndebourne together, changed. I think back to our little continuo team of three women in their forties – our chef, my colleague and I: All three of us desperately wanting to have a family and for various reasons apparently unable to; all three of us finding healing in Handel’s music; all three of us giving support to one another and bravely moving on. Now, four years later and the reason I am sure that her shoulders have dropped, her manner softened, and her eyes brightened, our chef has given birth to a little girl. Meanwhile, my colleague and I both, En Shallah, have little souls waiting for us in different continents.

Monday, February 04, 2008



In Mali, the crocodile is featured on many Dogon granary doors. It is there to protect the family, and so, on finding this one, we invited it to protect us on our own journey towards finding a child.

We have spent nine months getting the agreement. We have spent another three amassing papers, mayor’s signatures, personal statements, recommendations, attestations of our morality, emotional stability, and financial security, lack of contagious diseases and presence of infertility…… Infact, just to give you a taste of how much charge some of these documents have, I have to tell you a wee tale about the latter:

Dr Galand of Avignon had, in what he called a pre IVF clean up (‘It looks very nice in there Madame’ he said when I came to ‘and by the way…’) tied my fallopian tubes without either my or Julian’s permission. At the time we were so involved in the process of trying to conceive even half naturally that we simply gave a nod to the illegality of it and went on with the treatment. Later, although we may have had a case, we decided we didn’t believe in the suing society because we didn’t want to be victims of the past but preferred to stay present and even celebrate our childless, art and music filled life. When the ‘certificate of infertility’ arrived I was almost sick. ‘Due to her age’ it stated - I was then thirty-eight - ‘and despite our best efforts, Madame is considered terminally infertile’. Needless to say, I have many contemporaries who are still having babies at our ripe old age of forty-four….Anyway that was just one document.

Where were we? Ah yes, we have all the documents. People have said the loveliest of things. We have three sections of photographs: Us, Our Family, Us at Work and Where we Live. (Lovely pics although everyone in them, apart from the Tuareg guide with me in the Sahara, is conspicuously white. Unlike many of the other candidates we do not live in Marseille or Montpellier or Paris. We live in a small Provencal village.) The next step was the presentation and, having researched Dogon mudcloth motifs and symbols on doors for the cover, I handed the pile of papers over to Julian.

Our dossier, which will be delivered to the ‘Agence Française de l’Adoption’ next week, speaks from our hearts. Let’s hope they hear us.


Friday, February 01, 2008


The night before the audition, my mother booked us in to a nearby country house, even though the school was only forty five minute drive from our home in London. A very handsome Australian boy showed us the grounds. My mum said Menuhin cried during my rendition of Kol ni Drei. I'm still not convinced by this. Anyway, he asked me to come to his school.

I was off to the land of midnight feasts! It would be my special place, my own Malory Towers!

'Do you have any brothers or sisters who play?' Menuhin asked.

I eagerly told him about my much more talented younger brother.

'Well he must come to my school too' said the maestro.

Though my brother seemed happy in his current school, which parent could refuse the great man? So, a year after me, my brother also came to the Yehudi Menuhin School.

Several years afterwards, aged seventeen, I started to play with a young orchestra that was thrilling audiences across Europe under the batons of Claudio Abbado, Sascha Schneider and Rudolf Serkin. My first professional gig was a month in Venice. My second, playing Mozart concertos in London with Serkin. It was such a rich experience it was hard to accept the generous fee. I was not a member, but I seemed to be getting a lot of work with the group. Though I didn't technically belong, it felt like home.

'You should hear my brother!' I said.

A year later my brother became a member of The Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

When I moved back to London from my studies in America, I practiced Haydn's D major concerto endlessly for up-coming auditions. Meanwhile, my brother was playingnot only in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, but also in a quartet with my best friend - from whom I was then briefly estranged - and the girl who was my landlady, and they were rehearsing in our living room. Later he also joined a group with a man with whom I had been in love for ten years but whom I never saw.

Somehow, through no fault of his own, and often through me putting myself down and putting him up on a pedestal, my dear brother seemed to be moving in to every space that I carved out for myself just as I thought I'd found one in which my soul could sing.

Since last spring, here in Provence, I have had a beautiful room of my own overlooking the Mont Ventoux. It is a room which nourishes me, in which my beloved brings me tea or a glass of wine when he comes to check in at the end of his working day, a room from which I descend to our mutual life calmer and more centred, a room where I have my Buddha, my Dogon Horse and Rider and where I can listen to Ragas, or the silence of the starling clouds and can burn incense. In an attempt to lay a floor in his studio, Julian has temporarily (and whilst I am mostly away working) moved his office in to a corner of this room, and is keeping it very neat.

Yesterday, with Radio 4 playing and my husband working briefly in the space, I felt like that little girl, that late teenager, and that woman in her early twenties, all three of whom were desperately in search of a home. Yesterday I forgot not only that that I already have one, but that I also have someone with whom to share it. This post is a love-letter to that person, thanking him for letting my soul sing and excusing myself for the odd wrong note.