April 2010 Archives

Bedoin market


bunny and asperges in bedoin

The asparagus seller had some company today in Bedoin market. She introduced me to Elliot, then she bundled up some tips (asparagus tips) for 'l'amitié et la fidelité'.

wild iris

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The smell of wild iris. Occitane tried to bottle it. So did Weleda, but there is nothing like the tall elegant ladies that spring up on the banks here, and their scent.

Wedensdays at St Cosme 3



My student is angry, and rightfully so. With each lesson that passes he has been becoming increasingly furious at the years of his life wasted learning how to play the cello in an uneconomical, unnatural way. A man passionate and knowledgeable about music with little time to spare as he runs one of the finest vineyards in the Rhône valley, he picks up the cello again at mid-life and finds himself with shadows of useless tools which he now has to discard. I suggest that a low elbow is like a kink in the plumbing and therefore means less pressure rather than more arriving at the string. He winces with yet another learned thing he has to forget. I speak about the importance of passive as well as active. He says he wants to kick someone. I mime a pebble skimming on water to explain how an impulse gives way to not one but a series of notes and I see a pained grimace....

The rage is not helping him relax, and is certainly not inspiring him to practice so, for the next week, I suggest taking ten minutes a day just as a meditation with his cello. Minutes in which he puts his resentment aside, along with his judgements on the entire global musical training, and concentrate fully on his breath, or the shift of weight between his two feet when he bows. I leave the chateau.

This week I see the joy once more in his face that has made me love coming every week to Gigondas. It is a joy in which everything we are doing in the room with a cello is connected to everything he is doing with his wine. I leave him with a Djembe on which to practice his new impulsive bouncing bow-arm and he says: 'You know I am becoming a hundred percent bio-dynamic. I have the highest man in bio-dynamic wine making coming this afternoon and I can't wait to see his face when I tell him I have spent the morning doing bio-dynamic cello!'

I leave with my fee, and several bottles of Gigondas.

I then move on to the next vineyard where my dear friend Kate serves her usual al fresco delicacies, I spend some time helping Aggie release her cello shoulder, and Hugo gives me a bottle of Morgon as a special treat.

Sous-chef to the Peintre and
bio-dynamic cello coach in fine vineyards. Suits me very well.

The first seed


cherry blossom

Today is the first of the glorious spring heat. The snow is disappearing fast from the summit of the Ventoux and clusters of cherry blossom bounce like pom-poms on shivering boughs. The variations on green practically quench our thirst.

In a typical Merrow-Smith/Phillips moment, Julian took my months' of slog (horse-poo carting, digging, tugging and raking) to a new level. He made a very fine tilth on three plump beds. Actually not just a very fine tilth but the most beautifully combed and nurtured feathery tilth you are ever likely to see. Then he planted the first seed in the Potager du Peintre.

potager du peintre

I think it was a runner bean.

Next came peas and leeks and broad beans and lettuces and radishes.....I am going to try amaranth which came as a seed swap from Laura.

potager du peintre

However, what the peintre was most excited about was, of course...


Pasta Primavera

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Five industrial size bags of couch grass later, and with well worked back and thigh muscles, I believe I have a fine tilth on the Potager du Peintre. At least on half of it. I have been working out friends and enemies amongst veg. Most seedlings are up, fed up with being shunted between our heated kitchen floor and the sunny terrace, and waiting to hit center stage in the ex-truffle orchard of Monsieur Chauvet. Meanwhile, thanks to those who started earlier than us (and probably in a greenhouse) we have had the ultimate pasta primavera: Broad beans, peas, bacon, asparagus tips, baby carrots, morels, parsley, tarragon, white summer truffle and a reduced chicken stock. Next time the recipe will be made from our own produce!

Spring harvest

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This has to be my favourite day of the year! Not only did I buy my first peas and broad beans 'du pays' (who needs sugar?), but Sebastian passed by with fresh morel mushrooms. And I mean FRESH. All to be enjoyed alongside a red label chicken, some Grenaille potatoes, baby carrots, some asparagus tips, and a summer truffle, maybe with a little tarragon (knowing Julian) .....oh and then there are the floral smelling gariguette strawberries to enjoy with tomorrow morning's muesli!

La bonne saison est arrivée!

Location Location Location



It is five years since our last painting and lunch day out at Sormiou, one of the calenques near Marseille. Then it was to celebrate the beginning of a project. Painting number 102 to be precise. Now it is to celebrate the launch of a book of that project. Painting number 1309.

The restaurant was slightly more upmarket this time, though we have yet to graduate from it's bistro to it's restau. proper. Perched on the highest sea cliffs in Europe, looking through huge French windows towards the sea we ate veal and brill and a chocolate tartlet accompanied by a delectable Clos Ste Magdaleine white from one cliff along.

At Sormiou, we were earlier in the season. April not June. This meant that the wild irises and sea-flowers (with all their pudgey leaves of yellow and grey-green, and their medicinal smells) were abundant, bright and aromatic.


First off Julian had to choose a location. Not so easy. Would he go for a revisit of the old location or choose a new one? Would he be in the wind, the sun, or the shade, hidden behind a rock?...



...or there in the cliff path for passers by to gloat at.


Phrases such as 'I'm such a fraud' or 'I wish I knew less/ more /nothing' or 'I wish I was thirteen again' popped out...


..and then came the exquisite silence of work and reverence and (as Julian's friend Gary puts it in his lovely introduction to the book) reveling. OK, there was the occasional hum from the artist of the Dexter theme tune (much more bearable plein- air than in our kitchen) or squeal from a passing kid, or announcement from a briefly passing tour-boat about how this was paradise on earth, but basically there was nothing but the sound of the sea and a delicately swishing brush.



Yes, it is paradise. Paradise by the sea. And it is only 90 minutes from our earthly paradise here at the foot of the Ventoux. And so we return (I won't bore you with the continually overheating engine of our temperamental mini) to a good bottle of St Cosme's basic, an episode of Dexter and bed...

..and I think we will sleep tight with all that sea air and in the knowledge (have we taken it in yet? I wonder) that we have just accomplished a life's dream.

New Growth

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The seedlings are peeking up after a long winter, Julian has been filmed almost in the rain by the BBC for the Occitane garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, and after seven hard months, his book, Postcard from Provence, has finally gone to press! This afternoon I had a final look through the pdf before sending it to the printers (lucky, as a vineyard was called a lavender field on page 47 and a critical subscriber had lost the l in his name) whilst listening to Steven Isserlis play Rachmaninov. Down a floor Julian was painting strawberries, the champagne was chilling in the fridge, a cat was nuzzling into the crook of my elbow. I found myself in floods of tears.

Meanwhile in Paris, I was not walking down the red carpet as the film arte made of our Don Giovanni premiered at the Gaumont tonight, but you can't have it all. I was having a bad hair day when they filmed anyway.


Team work



Julian is the ideas man and I'm the runner. He's great at starting things and I'm great at finishing them.

'What we really need to do is this...' he will say and, several days, months or even years later, I will hand him the finished project. Sometimes it is no longer relevent or useful. The software is out of date or he's decided on a wooden floor anyway. Sometimes we open a bottle of champagne.

'You should write a blog' he said as I sat, day after day, writing letters to a lost child.

When I have a project, and I always have to have a project, I set myself a minimum requirement of two hours a day in which to honour it. Whatever is happening around me, whether we have visitors or I am playing an opera, or The Peintre needs me, I put in my two hours. In the last four years this has written me a book, sorted out the pictures for Julian's book, cleaned an entire floor's worth of cement encrusted tommettes, made an interminable excel file for all Julians print sales (previously to be found on lists stuck to empty boxes hiding not very well under my desk), learned me a course in Adobe Indesign, pre-designed Julian's book and then designed mine. Now it has dug me a garden.

OK, so I realize I just mentioned the main reason why I have not been posting here. My book. It has really only just grown up to be called a book having been a 'thing' then a 'project' and 'my writing' for so long. At the risk of jinxing myself, I will spill the beans about why. My book is finally finished and is, because of a stroke of crazy good luck, being looked at by a rather swish agent in London. If she says no, we will self publish. Whatever happens, my confidence has been given a boost and is momentarily sky high.

Meanwhile, back down on earth, where people with sky high confidence need to hang out, on the plot today, I saw a dark child in a bright red coat standing in the olive grove. She was very small compared to the trees. Probably more like the size of their fruit. As the snow puffed up clouds in the early evening mistral she walked towards the Potager du Peintre and started to howl. Her parents tried to comfort her. She would not be comforted. I asked if she wanted to see the worms. She gazed at the wriggly thing un-burrowing its way out of the wall I had just made with my spade and stopped crying.

'Oh, what a relief' said the mother. 'We don't know what to do. We've only just got back from India with her and I have no idea how to be a mother!...'

I was reminded of another joint project of ours, not quite finished. I put the worm in the little girl's hand. The little girl looked at it, dropped it, threw her arms wide open and launched herself towards her mother's calves which she encircled.

When I put away my spade, I walked into the house to find Julian delicately, and with warm water, nurturing the seedlings that will grow up one day and become the vegetables in the potager I'd just been digging.

The transhumance passes the potager



Another day of digging and seed planting. At first, on very little sleep, I was grumpy. More concentrated on the enemy couch grass than the friend worms; listening to the voices in my head and not the oriental sound of the sheep bells and the bird song. Gradually I let go, felt the earth again between my fingers, listened to the song of the universe, and was happy.



Potager du Peintre 2


potager du peintre

The marvelous organic gardneress, Debbie, has been with me today. We have been uncovering the soil for our potager. Having been under cover, under fifteen carloads of horse manure, for eight months, it was a big moment. Debbie rolled the soil into a ball. It worked. Then into a sausage. It crumbled. 'Perfect' she said. 'This is the best soil I have seen in Provence!' And there are worms! Hundreds of happy spring worms working away!!!! Unfortunately there is still couch grass which we have spent the afternoon removing.

potager du peintre

potager du peintre