March 2006 Archives

good reception



The shepherd has a good reception down here and, before he walks his herd back up the Ventoux, he is making a few calls while they dine on fresh pastures.





There is something in the air today – a no-going-back-to-winter thyme-damp smell of approaching green. The skies seem to have cried their last and we breathe in the scent of relaxation in our morning nest of skin, Egyptian cotton and fur. On descending for coffee, the alluring display of our Californian guest’s dinky red lace G-strings hanging to dry promotes some initial insecurity on my part and Julian assures me (of, I have to admit it, BIG pants comfort) that it is skin and white cotton that he prefers.

It seems, now that the breeze is touching ours at last, skin is in the air. Yesterday we went with our elegantly lingeried friend to our favourite wine-merchant – Goubert - to stock up on our favourite whites – Cuvée ‘V’ 100% viognier, and ‘Favoris’- 50% Viognier and 50% Roussane. We fell, naturally, for the free apéro called ‘dégustation’ and, informing us it was her last day, Madame Cartier’s assistant was very generous in her servings. While she was pouring, starting on the reds with the Sablet, moving through the Beaumes de Venise and to the Gigondas, culminating in the Queen of Reds – Cuvée Florence named after their daughter, she did a fine impression of Julian’s English pronunciation:

“Koovay Vee!!!!!” she tittered.

The proprietors joined us, inviting us into the back for a more intimate ‘continuation’, shyly explaining that it wasn’t as glamorous as the Californian vineyards our friend was used to.

“We have never been to California. We would love to go and see Sonoma and Napa, but we do not have the time – or the ‘les moyens’”. I said how much more I enjoyed the wine here, and particularly the less commercial approach. For a start you don’t, in general, have to pay for tastings. “Yes”, Madame Cartier agreed “We are more ‘terroir’ here. Florence went to California this year. She liked it, but you know, ‘comme ça’…”

Somehow, I think it was more the lack of time than means that prevented their crossing the Atlantic to see how the other side did it.

We moved on, via art and music (They have a friend that plays the harpsichord and wondered if J ever painted pastels of flowers to give their friend on her birthday) to corks. Monsieur Cartier, his peasant face now sharply defined and animated, explained to us the magic of the cork: “ The plastic is fine for young wines, that you do not have to lay down, but the cork allows the wine to breathe just enough and therefore evolve. Nowadays, with everyone in apartments, no-one has space to lay their wines down and therefore most wines are made to drink young.”

The knowledgable middle aged assistant slipped away, leaving her young blonde replacement who knew nothing about wine but whose social charges were surely less.

We left, with our gifted bottle of Cuvée ‘V’ and Madame saying “It goes beautifully with asparagus! My peonies are out now so the asparagus should be here soon!”. And so the thread of the debate between the hermetically sealed and the breathing skin continues through our wine drinking, as it will through our renovation (starting as soon as the dancing hemp builder receives the inspiration) and perhaps even our choice of underwear.




The black stormy spring is highlighting the down-side of French life. Beaurocracy is a word like a thundercloud – once inside one is tossed and turned and pissed upon.

Julian made a human mistake: He bought his longed for 20" iMac on a one-click purchase button from the apple site france. Unfortunately, the last card used was my empty French one which had no funds to cover the purchase. Thinking it would be a simple matter (after the substantial charges which I’m sure they licked up with glee) of transferring funds from a credit card, we have found ourselves in the machine of the Société Génerale and all their toffee nosed bank clerks. Having phoned first to check whether or not such a transfer was possible (after all, you never know) and having been told oui oui oui, I trolled along to Carpentras where I was bluntly told by the same moustachioed pride-ball at guichet number two who had confirmed the possibility that very morning that no, it was not possible at all. After telling me I had not been clear on the phone, he looked over and above his à la mode red spectacles and down his nose of a similar wine-swilling hue and said, infront of the entire queue:

“Besides, Madame, you only have thirty euros in your account” (subtext: “Your French is crap, you are broke and you are really not worth talking to”)

Next, having been transferred from the just post teenage woman whose acne has barely disappeared, whose handshake is limp and sweaty and who is in charge of my finances to her ‘Résponsable’ I found that my French was being corrected after two words.

“Je veux transférrer….”
“Je souhiaterai transférrer” she said.


Well that took me down a notch or two and I flustered unusually with the number 99 (four twenty ten nine) for the next five minutes before reclaiming my power and telling her I wanted an apology from both her colleague and from herself for their disrespectful attitude and that I was going to change banks immediately.

To get the rage out of my system, and to prove to all those Ventoux sprinters (or myself) that I was no fair weather jogger after all, I went for a run in the darkness. There I saw a puff of goldfinches explode from a glowering olive grove and a blade of light illumine a cluster of charcoal almonds and their white buds in front of an angry cloud and I remembered that the world was still a ravishing place.

Ps no bikinis allowed in Saint Rémy church.





Though we have seen the first violets and have had one or two lunches al fresco, there is no almond blossom yet and we are having an atypically cold wet start to spring. This morning, lying in bed drinking tea and listening to the strange ping of Provençal rain, we talked about when we would make the ascent of the Ventoux, agreeing that sunshine would have to be a premise. Looking out of the window at the shiny roof tiles and feeling the sodden fur of Oscar I fell shamefully shy of my run, showering straight away and moving swiftly into juiced still life pear and coffee….

Then these guys passed on their way up the Ventoux and I felt mightily ashamed of being a fair weather fitness freak.


funny marron


pommes de terre

We were invited to share ‘oeufs à la neige’ with the nice couple who are renting the gite opposite us. Agnès is a fine yoga teacher and he, Max, (wait for it…) ‘sculpts vegetables’. When we arrived the aroma of sculpted vegetable curry was still in the air and conversation was in full flow:

“Il a des yeux bleus, ton père”
“Non, il a des yeux marrons”
“Oui, t’as raison, sa peau c’est plutôt bleue; il est ‘marron-bleu’”
“Par contre ma soeur, avec ses yeux bleus, est bleu-marron”
“Comme toi, marron-bleu”…..

…and so it went on, this endless ping pong game of brown eyes and blue skin and blue eyes and brown skin across generations of our hostess’ and guests’ families. Then I made a joke. Someone said:

“Tu sais, c’est marrant…..” meaning not that it was brown but that it was funny, presumably with the intention of going on to say something more about the hint of blue tint of her tante Cecile’s complexion, but it was too good an opportunity to miss and I jumped in with

“Non, c’est bleu!”.

The thing is - no- one laughed. Except me, of course. The person whom I had interrupted was obviously put out that I had stolen her moment and everyone else simply looked quizzically at their ouefs floating in their neige.

I have been wondering if I am losing my humour, and if it is about living in France or getting old. Or if the French simply aren’t very funny and I am out of practice….

I think I used to be quite funny. Well, I used to make people laugh a lot in a dry-mixed-with-a-bit-of-Python sort of way…..(I think….)

I did hear someone French make a joke once. It was the ugly potato seller in the covered market at les Halles in Avignon. He had a notice up in his stall which said:
‘Manger les pommes de terre, ça fait de beaux bébés’ (eating potatoes makes beautiful babies). I said: “Ce n’est pas vrai!”, meaning it wasn’t true because Julian ate potatoes loads and then he married someone who couldn’t have babies at all, let alone beaux babies, so that disproved the ugly potato seller’s theory. The ugly potato seller replied “cela n’a pas marché avec moi non plus”, meaning, presumably, that his mother was also an ugly potato seller and had eaten many potatoes and she just gave birth to another ugly potato seller, which is fine, but then there was the ‘non plus’ bit which had me pretty non-plussed because it implied that I had meant that MY mum had eaten lots of potatoes and look at the ugly cow SHE gave birth to which if course I didn’t.

When Julian and I met (at the original barefoot wedding) we snogged around the campfire quite a bit and then went to Julian’s one-man tent where we literally laughed all night. I thought ‘Yes, I could definitely love this man and I could live with anyone who makes me laugh this much’. I remember it was something to do with Devonshire animal noises, but they have animals here too and they don’t seem very funny.




I seem to have few words at the moment. However, these circles seem to express better than words can the sense of delicious wholeness life is offering us at the moment. Our neighbour made this mandala for his mother’s birthday from pictures taken around our magical hamlet; my oldest friend with whom I shared a room between the ages of eleven and seventeen is taking her sabbatical in a gite down the road; I am working on a book proposal and measurements for the hemp gallery floor were taken today by a team of dancing organic gnomes.

We spent this morning in bed dreaming up an escape from the sudden intensity. Julian imagines us on a beach somewhere with nothing to paint, nothing to wrap or post, no-one to answer - just circles to draw in the sand……

chevres and shadows.JPG

An hour spent looking at cheesy tower-block package holidays on the internet cured us of that (though I still think a weekend in Marrakesh would be great) and we have decided to try and stay present with it all.

2 chevres.JPG



The mighty mistral is blowing at an unbelievable amount of miles per hour. The house didn’t fall down but we did lose three roof tiles in the night, and the old needleless Christmas tree we thought well anchored by bricks flew to our front door to greet me as I opened it to the lunatic wind-glare. Meanwhile, the folk in the market all gasped to each-other:

“Il soufflait cette nuit, hein?”




Julian has his siret number at last from the Maison des Artistes and so he can order packing boxes. We spent yesterday and today saying goodbye to oysters and blue tins, blood oranges, lavender fileds and lemons, shutting their colour up momentarily in four drab card corners until it is released like an aroma in its new home.

To celebrate (again!) we went to the cinema in Avignon to see Terrence Malik’s ‘New World’. Julian had to persuade me, reminding me of ‘Badlands’ and ‘Days of Heaven’, because I didn’t really fancy boats and spears and face paint. What I saw was an extraordinary prayer to the earth and a film, in a way, about boxes.

Settlers arrive in Virginia to make a New World. They make boxes and put a box around their box just to be extra safe. They are so eager to make their boxes they do not realise there is a world which already exists here, a vibrant, nourishing and peaceful world which their boxes are shutting out. Their world turns the colour of drab card. There is famine, cold, jealousy and hatred. Hatred turns, of course, to war.

Meanwhile, in the forest, the Princess, Pocahontes choreographs her dialogue with her God – ‘Mother’, whom we presume to be Mother Earth – and to the hunky Colonel Smith through a dance. In this dance, I noticed that all her movements communicate opening – to the moon, the stars, the sun, her lover. They are the anti-box.

Waiting for a table after the film in the camp brasserie with distressed walls à côté, it felt to me like Julian and I had no walls, not even skin between us. It was delicious. The waiters there are used to the two of us coming in crying so that was fine.

This morning I noticed Julian went out to do his own version of saluting the mountain (thinly disguised as emptying the ‘poubelle’) BEFORE sitting down at the computer. I, meanwhile, tried out some of the movements on my run: I brought my palms flat against my waist and moved them outwards in front of me, the space between them increasing as they moved away and what was ‘I’ momentarily became Mountain. The peasants pruning their olive trees didn’t seem to mind much – nothing new to them, I suppose - and I have to admit it felt wonderful. I did it again and again.

We have all been put into many boxes, and of course we make them for ourselves all the time, or try to fit into ones we made years ago when we were a size 10. I remember being told one year at Glyndebourne that I could not play the Mozart opera because I was a ‘big romantic cellist’. The next year, having been the only person who dared to audition for the continuo in the Mozart and then doing a good job, I found myself being put in the opposite box (and you can’t be in two boxes at once) by the same person. I could not protest.

What interests me now, however, are the subtler boxes, the every day barriers we put up between ourselves and Other or indeed Mother. If meditation practice is about anything for me, it is about not being in a bloody box for 15 minutes a day.

(I remember, as I often do, our sixteen year old guide in Nepal who always talked about the mind as ‘Empty Box’. How, then about No Box?)

Julian’s paintings are packed up and at the post office. His recent success could give him the possibility to crawl out of other people’s boxes and be, quite simply, here.