My First Book Reading

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I know it’s last minute but, if you’re free this Thursday evening 30th June ,we would love you to join us for a very special evening of readings from
CHERRIES FROM CHAUVET’S ORCHARD.
Written by Ruth Phillips, this memoir of life in Provence with her painter husband, Julian Merrow-Smith, is lyrical, entrancing and the most beautifully written book you could possibly wish to read. So, if you are going to Provence this summer, this is the book for you. If not, this is definitely the book for you - enjoy the tastes, smells, colours of the sunshine life.
Ruth is a professional cellist currently playing with the Garsington/Wormsley Opera. By a happy chance she finds she is free on Thursday evening this week hence this invitation to you. Ruth will be at Barn Galleries to read extracts from CHERRIES.
What a lovely way to spend an hour or two: a glass of wine and Ruth reading to us.
Do join us if you possibly can. Meet Ruth and Julian Merrow-Smith (now known for his own book: POSTCARD FROM PROVENCE). Julian and Ruth will be happy to chat about the phenomenal success of Julian’s paint-a-postcard-a-day project, too.
So - reader, writer, painter or if you just enjoy an evening with a difference do make the most of this unique invitation.
BARN GALLERIES ASTON, HENLEY ON THAMES RG9 3DX
THURSDAY 30 JUNE from 6 p.m. with readings at 6.30 and at 7.30.
Relaxed and casual - and free - but do please RSVP by text (07836209165) or email so that we may arrange seats for everyone. Come when you like, stay as long as you like from 6 - 9 p.m.
We do hope you will join us - it’s a rare chance to meet a new writer. Don’t just take my word for it, read some of these reviews:

When an English painter moves to Provence in search of the muse, he is looking not only for artistic fulfillment but also for love, family and community. This funny and touching memoir chronicles his unconventional route towards almost everything he desires, whilst painting a vivid picture of how hard it can be for one man to face a blank canvas - even in paradise.


`Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard' is full of the author's passion for things Provencal, and will be read by lovers of Provence (and Provencal food) with the greatest pleasure, but it is also an extremely honest account of what it takes for an artist to find his or her way in the world. There is a gritty kitchen sink element to Cherries which is absent in the work of, say, Peter Mayle, and which lifts this book above the usual croissants-and-cafe crème panegyric. This is a book about real people struggling to turn a ruin into a home and a relationship into a marriage. The ruin just happens to be set in some of the most beautiful countryside in the south of France
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- Joseph Geary, author of Spiral and Mirror

"In Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard, cellist Ruth Phillips makes music with words, capturing on the page what her painter husband, Julian Merrow-Smith, does on canvas--a way of life that is achingly romantic yet not romanticized, that is earthbound yet exquisite, and one where sweat is rewarded with transcendence. As the couple struggles to build their home out of a farm ruin beneath the shadow of Mt. Ventoux and to make a living and life together, Julian must harness his muse. In a modern-day twist in this ancient place of luscious colors and cuisine, it is the worldwide web that changes their life. This is a true story of talent, ingenuity, and success against the odds, of pathos, passion, and humor. You won't put it down."

--Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara and Unbound

'Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard is a memoir by Ruth Phillips. Ruth is a professional 'cellist, and the wife of the painter Julian Merrow-Smith and she can write. I mean, she can really write; there's a quality about her words you can recognize instantly. It may be the combination of her musicality and visual sense further developed by living with a painter and acting as his de facto studio assistant, that has distilled this lovely prose. Either way, the effect is quite magical, and I will return to it with a full review at a later date.'

-Deborah Lawrenson, author of The Lantern, Songs of Blue and Gold and The Art of Falling

WE HOPE YOU WILL JOIN US -PLEASE RSVP BY TEXT 07836 209 165 OR BY EMAIL so that we may arrange seating.
THIS THURSDAY 30 JUNE FROM 6 - 9 P.M.

Mass Market Cherries

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Since arriving in England (between performances of The Magic Flute, not very much sleep, poos, feeds, nappy changes, the odd mass market cherry from this strange beast called Waitrose and missing our beloved cherry seller on the Route du Mont Ventoux) we have been knee deep in special editions of my book, 'Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard'. The books arrived from the printers with creased spines and had to be re-ordered, then the slip cases were too tight so feet of ribbon had to be bought from John Lewis, inserted and glued in to each case with UHU.....but they are now packed and sent! Can we breathe, finally? I know most parents amongst you will chuckle and say no.

Though there are still some of the special edition available, now begins the mammoth task of trying to spread the word about the mass market edition, published through Lightning Source and available from us and from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. If you have read it and if you like it, please consider telling a friend or writing a review on Amazon. It really does make all the difference.

Meanwhile, we have a wonderful blurb from the writer Dean King which will appear on the back cover of this edition.

“In Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard, cellist Ruth Phillips makes music with words, capturing on the page what her painter husband, Julian Merrow-Smith, does on canvas—a way of life that is achingly romantic yet not romanticized, that is earthbound yet exquisite, and one where sweat is rewarded with transcendence. As the couple struggles to build their home out of a farm ruin beneath the shadow of Mt. Ventoux and to make a living and life together, Julian must harness his muse. In a modern-day twist in this ancient place of luscious colors and cuisine, it is the worldwide web that changes their life. This is a true story of talent, ingenuity, and success against the odds, of pathos, passion, and humor. You won’t put it down.”


--Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara and Unbound

The first cherry

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Today I went for a very nice walk with my parents and ate my first cherry. It was a bit sour and made me pull a funny face.

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Ochre

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I would love to be writing reams every day. There is so much to say about what we have been through, in Bamako, coming home...but as all you parents out there know, there are very few moments when you have one hand free let alone two and there's that infinite mound of washing to do. However, I couldn't resist putting these up. Here is Jeremy gathering the sand from the cave to make the façade for our house, and here is our beloved son Louis in his façade- coloured jumpsuit. I'm thinking modelling for Petit Bateau...?

I am very grateful we finished the book the morning we flew to Mali, even if it meant improvising a baby room when we returned with a tired new baby. Now all that remains is to enjoy him.

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Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard

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Whilst I would love to be picnicking under the cherry blossom -as wedding fresh and pompommish as I can ever remember in this extraordinary spring - I am actually calculating spine width for Lighning Source and trying to figure out whether to pack 6 or 12 month bodies or both for a little chap who, three months ago, weighed 4.8 kilos and measured 54 centimetres because...

After a somewhat overly long gestation period on both counts, I am thrilled to announce the fruition of two projects that are dear to our hearts and inextricably linked.

THE FIRST is the publication of my book, ‘Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard’. A memoir that tells the story of the birth of Postcard from Provence, our life in France, the life of the paintings after they leave us and our own journey towards making a family.

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…AND THE SECOND is that our wait for a child is over. We leave on Wednesday for Mali to pick up our son, Louis Joseph. He was born on October the 12th 2010 and is being looked after in a private orphanage in Bamako. We do not know much except his age (6 months) but we are told he smiles a lot and that his primary emotion on meeting new people is one of joy. We will stay in Mali for ten days or so and then we will bring him home to our tumbledown house in Provence, just in time for puréed cherries.

‘Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard’ will be available from June 1st from Adeleide to Anchorage, Tijuana to Timbuctoo, as a mass-market paperback and Kindle ebook (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters and all major retailers for $16.95/ €11.95/£10.95 paperback and sub ten dollars for the Kindle version). You can see a preview of the book here:

Meanwhile, however, in the Hameau des Couguieux, we are producing a special edition, which will help raise funds for the orphanage in Bamako.

Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard - Special Edition
The Special Edition is limited to 300 numbered copies in presentation slipcases, signed by both myself and Julian. We will receive the presentation cases the week of May 9th (the books are already printed) and will be posting them out in the last week of May. Price $35 (£22/€25)

You can order a copy here.

The Last Leg...

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The funny thing about the last three weeks of this five year pregnancy is that there is nothing to slow me down. Apart, that is, from the potager.

We have had a glorious week here at the foot of the Mont Ventoux. Eighteen degrees, wild garlic springing up on the banks (very nice with a bit of spring lamb from the local Bedoin organic butcher), the joy of Carpentras' infamous strawberries (the very floral ciflorette and garriguette varieties) every morning with our muesli, and seven days of lunch outside on the terrace!

In the painter's potager I am still digging. The plot that has been covered with horse poo and black plastic for two years STILL has couch grass in it. I don't know what it is about our new arrival but I want to get it ready for him. A sort of offering of the earth? Who knows.

Our flights are booked for April 14th to pick up our son in Bamako. Without spending a penny we have a second hand Mclaren three wheel all terrain buggy, a cool cot, two technicolour dreamcoats knitted by a friend, a suitcase of clothes, the baby sling and a Swedish polar bear in whose bottom our cat Babu is extremely interested. In the medical report it says Louis Joseph smiles a lot and his basic emotion is joy. My biggest fantasy is of my tending to the potager with him and the swedish polar bear dozing in the sun....Dream on!

Meanwhile, we aged future parents are just a tad nervous about our age and energy level and above all our Côtes du Rhone habit.

"Has he still got the Botticelli hair and the muscles?" asked a friend on the phone last night, quoting the chapter in my book (coming soon) about Julian and my first meeting.

"Tell her "said Julian "I've now got the Botticelli body and no hair" .

(Not true, of course, but we had a much needed laugh)

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Asparagus, strawberries and a New Arrival...

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‘There will be more frost’ the shepherd said as we watched his flock graze only a few days ago by the side of the potager du peintre. Huh, I thought. The new season’s rays were beating on my almost bare arms, my spade was deep in the freshly warmed earth of my new plot finally uncovered after two years, my heart was singing…

Well, the shepherd was right. After one glorious week of spring sunshine and daffodils, having planted seeds (at the fruiting time of the bio-dynamic calender of course) of vieilles varietés - noir de crimée, sungold and miel de mexique tomatoes, aubergines, chili peppers and our very last much loved Sicilian courgette, having thought I’d get the whole the whole lot sorted before we leave for our (big life changing) trip, the whole lot has been swept away by a crazy stormy vicious and relentless wind.

Battening down the hatches then and we are forced to spend a few days indoors. Snuggling up with cats next to wood burners, creating the cover for my book, struggling with InDesign trying to make a table of contents from master page items, cooking up a fishy feast for our favourite chef friends, and launching Friends of Postcard from Provence.

Meanwhile, in our seasonal barometer - the Marchés de Provence - spring is, despite appearances, most definitely here with all its gifts. Fraises de Carpentras (I can’t believe I didn’t eat strawberries here until a couple of years ago - some crazy notion about cream and Wimbledon and Union jacks…) are out - Pajaro, Garriguette, and the unbearably floral Ciflorette. And the tender new asparagus. A season of asparagus risotto here we come! I am just remembering to save the tips and sauté them very briefly before placing them, along with a drizzle of grassyMourchon olive oil and a dob of crème fraîche, on top of the risotto when I hear that the news is now official. Spring has brought us another, even-greater-than-asparagus gift. Our son, Louis Joseph Alassane Merrow-Smith was born in Bamako on the 12th October 2010 and we are going to bring him back, finally, to Provence in April, to a season of puréed broad beans and peas!

Bon Appetit!

Passing Traffic

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The sound of bells and bleating is a delicious accompaniment to our first al fresco coffee of the season!

The transhumance passes outside my window almost every day at this time of year, the flock looking for fresh pastures before it makes its way up the mountain for the spring. Mostly the sheep seem interested in the field we are about to buy and they are doing an excellent job of keeping the weeds down while we wait for the process to complete.

We are expecting to sign the compromis de vente next week and had a wine maker friend over for dinner last night to discuss what we might do. We started talking about how we might go about making a small quantity of boutique Côtes du Ventoux on the freshly chewed plot and then wondered if that was not a contradiction in terms. Côtes du Ventoux is, apparently, so hier...

Meanwhile I have uncovered the second batch of soil in the painter's potager. After two years of it sweating under black plastic and Renault loads of horse poo, I was disappointed to see that the couch grass is still present and the no dig method which I had hoped to employ will have to wait. Let's hope the skies stay crisp and bright and the sheep music continues to keep my spade and I company in the coming days.

Birthday

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My day at Bali Botanica Spa starts with sweet ginger tea while Ayu, my therapist, prepares the room. During the short wait I am shown a selection of four ceramic bowls filled with Farrow and Ball colored powders. Chalky green, string, brick and taupe. I am invited to sniff and asked if, when it comes time for the exfoliation, I want the milk, the herb, or the rice, sandalwood and turmeric scrub - each of which are followed by a yoghurt moisturizer - or the coffee exfoliant which is finished off with fresh papaya.

Always a sucker for green anything I decide on the herbal scrub and walk toward the treatment room. Creamy yellow flower arrangements are placed on every surface. The air is scented with frangipani. Candles burn. A soft flute plays as if from the bamboo trees outside and the respectful padding of small bare feet on clean white tile makes sure I knew my ritual has started.

The front wall of the treatment room looks out on to a stream bordered with banana leaves and coconut palms, and it is like entering a hut in the jungle. An arrangement of hibiscus and alamanda flowers reclines against a rolled towel. Petals float in pale green dishes everywhere. I even spy them through the head hole in the massage table. I lie there listening to birdsong and the running of the stream.

The first treatment is the two and a half hour Ayurvedic Chakra Dhara massage. Ayu has magic listening hands. Every movement is sure, concentrated, focused, every stroke a response to what information she receives through her skin about my needs. I am not having a job done to me. I am not meat being battered for the barbie. I am a Goddess, and it is only a matter of seconds before I feel utterly held and celebrated.

During the course of my day in Ayu's hands, I try to figure out why her massage, whether it is facial or foot, whether done with fingertips, forearm or an elbow, is so exquisite, and in the end I decide that it comes down to rhythm. It is as if I am an instrument she is playing. She sets something in motion and stays in a rhythm with it so I can join her through my breathing and in my awareness. She makes it possible, it seems to me, for me to meet her half way. A litre of warm oil is dripped over the chakras to balance my mind body and spirit. As I lie with the copper vessel drizzling its oil on to my third eye for twenty minutes my whole being feels warmed, unified. I am then invited to move on to a stool and rest my feet in a bowl of rose petals while my head is massaged to finish up the morning's treatment. I don't know why I start to cry.

First up in the afternoon is the full body scrub and moisturizer and I am glad, as I lie on my stomach once more, that I resisted pigging out at lunch. In fact, I could have abstained completely. There is a glass of exotic juice waiting for me by the side of the bath tub and the aroma of the yoghurt mixed with the herbal powder is heady enough to compensate for any hunger.

The bath is beneath the wall-width window looking out on to the jungle, and indeed on to some interested 'fishermen' there. Having had my scrub, I lower my yoghurt clad body in to the tub brimming with rose petals and it is while I soak that I remember.

I was pregnant once for a very short time. During those few weeks I was overwhelmed with wonder at and gratitude towards my body. I took time every day to practice some gentle yoga and to meditate on becoming present with our baby. At various intervals in the day I traced the curve of him with listening fingers. Everything slowed down, became sensual. I shopped for clothes made from fabric that would hang sublimely from and flutter in the breeze around his dome-like house. Above all, however, I remember feeling connected in a new way with the women in my life, joined in the age-old non-verbal ritual of pregnancy.

There were complications and I never did give birth. However, ten years afterwards - years of mourning, needles and hormones, and finally acceptance - I have been told that I am at long last going to be a mother. A phone call from Bamako informed me that a little boy of three months is waiting for us to bring him home. Today, through the ritual of cleansing and purifying, through a woman's hands tracing my form and bringing it, with that unique woman-to-woman understanding, to life, through petals and oils and unguents, I feel something opening in me. A remember a verse of a song…

Cette petite âme blanche.
Elle sera née deux fois.
La première entre vos hanches,
La seconde entre nos bras
(This little while soul will be born twice. The first time between your hips and the second in our arms - Francis Cabrel, Mademoiselle l'Aventure)

I shower and prepare for the facial. I am warmed by creams, cooled by toners, and my impurities are removed by a mask. The chilled avocado hair treatment makes my scalp zing and all the while Ayu's fingers keep the blood flowing in my neck, arms and shoulders, breaking down tensions, cellulite, blockages and creating flow. I feel increasingly moved by her constant attention and want to communicate to her that today is not just my birthday but, in a way, the day I also gave birth. That today she has been a sort of mid-wife to me. Her English is not good. We get as far as a baby in Africa and there is a Grandmother somewhere in there (probably me, she thinks, or the Grandmother I have left my child with back home in Africa while I hang out in Bali), but it doesn't matter. I know she knows that I am receiving her gift of touch deep in to not only my skin and bones, but also my heart, and that in some way Louis Joseph Merrow-Smith is receiving it too.

Seascapes

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Something happens when you stop being tourists and start to live in a place. For us it came just after the island hop and before the month mark.

Like most release, it was preceded by a blockage. For Julian this took the form of a need for solitude, a craving for all things Western and a back itchy with sunburn from half an hour of early morning snorkelling. For me, a strangely intense miniature flu thing and a desperate need to be heard. For us a brush with argument.

We rode the storm. Just. Julian painted a brilliant seascape. I skipped yoga and closed the mosquito net around myself. Julian found me a pill in Bintang supermarket that came in a packet with a photograph of a sepia man with a red tie and a black moustache grinning at his miracle med that made us laugh briefly. I washed it down with Storm tropical ale. Julian cooked tuna steamed in banana leaf with lime leaf, coconut, chili and lemon grass, and served it with the delicious salsa he made with bongkot and shallots. We watched a depressing film.....

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And then, the next day, the blockage was gone and we were living in Bali. The colours in Julian's paintings gleamed. My body stopped aching. I had new ideas for my book. We went our separate ways - Julian to his cappucino and bun and newspaper in his urban cafe in downtown Ubud, me to my tangy tamarind cooler and green papaya salad in the Yellow Flower cafe in the rice fields.

Now there is nowhere to go. Nothing to do. We could live here for ever feeling warm and listening to the raindrops. Unfortunately we only have another nine days.

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