We travel down the Rhein from Basel, turning left after Karlsruhe, crossing the mountains to reach Köln. After all these months on small roads, we now choose the motorway as time is of the essence, stopping off only occasionally at a motorway station to refuel. On one of these stops, someone calls my name behind me – it is my cousin’s husband! They are also on their way to my sister’s house, but what are the chances that we both stop at the same service station and meet each other, 300km from our destination!!!
We arrive mid afternoon and are greeted by a bouncy Bonny, my sister’s dog. We are soon enveloped by the family – the delightful and chatty Jule (my seven year old niece), my two teenage nephews who have turned long, thin and taciturn in the last half year but are equally delightful, and my sister and husband who warmly welcome us with delicious food. My cousins had arrived a few hours before us, being in a car that drives at twice our speed…
We spend the evening catching up with news and enjoying the balmy sundown in the garden where I grew up. It is so lovely to see the house filled with life and laughter and some memories come up, especially as Jule is the spitting image of my little sister at that age. That night, we go down to the river to enjoy a wonderful display of fireworks, which welcome the cruise boats coming down the Rhein.
A very nice ending to my birthday…
The next day, I have some errands in the city. I decide to cycle in. A fine mist, our first proper rain in months, accompanies my half hour cycle ride, so that by the time I arrive I am soaked through. On the way back, I start to enjoy the wetness. Even when cars drive past me, emptying the contents of a puddle against my legs, I don’t mind. It’s summer, it’s warm and I’m cycling along the flat at great speed, it’s exhilarating.
Coming back to Rodenkirchen, I see a young woman sitting on the pavement outside a shop, begging for money. When I was a child, Rodenkirchen used to be a village with a farm in its centre. It’s one of the more affluent suburbs of Köln now – I have never before seen a beggar in Rodenkirchen. This woman doesn’t look like your usual beggar either, she is quite beautiful with long blond hair, she is young and looks a bit bewildered. I stop to ask if she would like me to buy her some food, and unlike many beggars who decline food, her eyes light up and she says yes. She cannot tell me what she would like to eat, she is from Moldova and doesn’t speak German, but she repeats back to me ‘Essen, ja!’ (Food, yes!). So I go into a shop and buy a whole assortment, all of which she gratefully accepts. I leave the lot with her, jump on my bike and cycle on.
As I pedal back home, I ask myself – why was I in such a rush to get away from her? What stopped me from sitting down with her, maybe share a cup of something or some of the food, ask her for her name, reach out a hand?
To me she looked like she might have escaped some terrible story – forced prostitution or something similar. I have no idea how she got to sit on a street corner in Rodenkirchen, but likely it’s not a happy story. There is the irrational feeling that if I stop and talk, my heart will open and I will be trapped – I will have to help her, I will get drawn into her story and there will be years of…..I don’t know but in the end I’ll have to adopt her!
No seriously, what stops me from going a few steps further than just dropping off some food and running away? I have the freedom to draw a line at any point, I don’t need to draw it so tightly around me. The verdict is that in this case I have failed spectacularly to step out of my comfort zone. I have done so to protect my heart, but my heart is protesting.
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After the Radio Babel Marseille concert in Mallemort, we got talking and I asked if they’d heard of the Polyphonic voice festival in Calvi, Corsica. It’s where I met Vocal Sampling, when I was heavily involved in the Salsa world and is run by A Filetta, an extraordinary Corsican a capella sextet. I offered to send RBM’s CD to Calvi with the hope that they could be invited to the festival there and while looking for A Filetta’s address on the internet I chanced on their concert schedule and saw that they were performing the following night near Basel. As we were only 3 hrs drive away, visiting Ruth’s older brother in Crans-Montana, we booked tickets and to A Filetta’s surprise showed up at their sound-check (we hadn’t seen each other since 2005!)
They shared the stage with an extraordinary Lebanese singer Fadia Tomb El-Hage and Ruth and I were blown away by the complexity and sensitivity of their repertoire: an exotic mix of traditional Corsican and Lebanese melodies, as well as a number of ‘Créations’. After the concert I handed over the letter I had written on behalf of RBM and we parted company with plans to meet up again at the Rencontres Polyphoniques de Calvi in 2016…
here is a YouTube clip of them all singing together.
Here are some photos we took of the beautiful venue where the concert was.
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As the plane touches ground in Lyon, I’m so glad to come home! Home? I’ve never been to Lyon! But I feel at home wherever our van is and more importantly, where Frank is. Home is where the heart is…
Frank is happy to see me too, having driven 350km on his own from the South of France in the sweltering heat (temperatures reached 45 degrees at midday). We drive on for another half hour to find a beautiful spot for the night, by the side of the Rhone. A quick and refreshing dip in fast flowing water while watching a kingfisher dart past and the sun going down…
The next day, we drive all the way to Lac Leman (lake Geneva), parking up in a little campsite on the French side of the lake. Amazing how fast we travel northwards – it took us 10 months to get to Marseille and then we zoom back up in a few days. We are on our way to Crans-Montana in Switzerland to visit my brother who is spending a few weeks in a rehabilitation centre there, following an extensive operation on his spine, removing a cancer.
Some time in the mid-afternoon, we arrive. The last 15 km are a steep ascent from the Rhone valley, offering stunning vistas at every serpentine turn of the road.
The Swiss have got something right about healing people. The rehabilitation centre is more like a hotel than a hospital, with spacious rooms facing the valley and the snow-covered peaks beyond. Stepping out on the balcony, you can sit in the sun in a deck chair and breathe the crisp mountain air. For the less mobile, an elevator takes you to the top floor from where a little corridor leads outside to the mountainside above, where a path leads around a fish pond. For the more able-bodied amongst the inhabitants, hiking paths start right from the centre into woodlands and up the mountains. One week into his stay here, my brother Karlo has made great progress in his recovery, so we take the stairs instead of the elevator when we go up the five floors to feed the carp.
A day in the life of the rehabilitation centre includes about 4 hours of programme individually designed and agreed upon with the client, to include physiotherapy and specific training to build up muscle, but also things like Tai Chi, Accupuncture, meditation, therapy, massage etc.
Karlo’s son Anselm is there too and we spend the afternoon all together, sitting on the balcony, chatting, laughing and joking, and walking around viewing the rehab centre and watching the carp snap up the bread which Karlo scrumped from the canteen.
Karlo invites us for dinner. They are equipped to deal with visitors – it’s really like eating in a good quality restaurant, including that we get table service!
Connections between us have never really been untroubled, and in the last 15 years they have been downright awful. I won’t go into why that is, it’s not important. What is important is that something fundamental seems to have shifted to allow us to meet in the ‘Now’, to enjoy each other’s presence without the dark shadows that have been around for so long. There is a lightness, joy and clarity between us as never before. What a precious gift. It really confirms to me that any ill feelings harboured for too long are a great waste of time and energy.
That evening, Frank and I leave Crans-Montana with our hearts brimming.
For photos of this chapter, go to flikr
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One early morning, I go on a 3hour horse ride with Fabien, who together with his wife Cissou runs an equestrian centre just outside Merindol. We pass through the village and up through the woods into the hills. Instantly, we are enveloped in the heady smells of rosemary and thyme, the silence only broken by birdsong and the buzzing of many insects. It is great to experience landscape from the back of a horse – I’m higher up and can see further, while Pepito, my horse, is taking care of the rocky path. I had imagined the hills to be very dry and hot, with very little shelter, but Fabien knows a way that is luscious and green. We descend down a steep path into a gorge, where the tree branches create a green tunnel and the path is soon joined by a chatting, bubbly brook.
We return to the plains some 5km further east of the village and make our way back home via the wide floodplains of the Durance.
(There is a plaque by the old castle above Merindol. Besides pointing out landmarks, it says that the area is plagued by three great forces: The unpredictable floods of the Durance, the Mistral, and the Government in Aix-en-Provence. Imagine the cheek of the local people, writing that on a public plaque! This would not happen in England.)
When we come back to the ranch, Cissou is in the middle of saddling up four little ponies for a pony club and I watch them for a while. The children can’t be more than 4-5 years old, and they each have a pallette of water colours in their hands to paint the horses backsides and bellies, decorating them in all colours. When the ponies are suitably beautified, the children get equipped with helmets and safety jackets. “Have you thought of what song you will sing on your way to the picnic in the woods?” Cissou asks them. After a bit more to-ing and fro-ing, they all leave the farm single file, singing a jolly song. They all have to wave good-bye too – a great little exercise on the horse, freeing one hand from the reins and half turning your upper body around while the horse walks on.
This family is very committed to their farm and they love their 40 horses. All animals look well fed and are calm and contented. This is a great place to go for a horse ride, no matter what level your skills. Here is their web site.
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My time in Vis was extra special this time, as we had a very harmonious and happy group, who worked hard during the lessons and enjoyed their time on the island. It is such a beautiful place with good food, and it is always nice to meet friends from the Island. My way from the hotel to the community centre where we hold the classes is only a 5 minute walk, but it’s better to plan in a good 20 minutes, to give time to stop at the shop and chat with Antonia or her mother Anna, both of whom work hard keeping the shop open from early morning till late at night, or to Zoky the barber who has a tiny room facing the road where he cuts people’s hair always with a smile, or to Branka, who runs an agency for trips around the island on a traditional sailing boat.
The group of German Tango students is always joined by a lovely couple from Vis, Anela and Ivan, who have been dancing for about as long as I have visited the island. I remember the first time I met them – they were sat by the side of the dance floor, watching with big eyes full of longing. I went over to them and asked if they wanted to dance, and they said they’d love to learn. I asked again if they wanted a dance and they looked at me in horror, literally holding on to their chairs in case I’d drag them onto the floor! The following year, however, they took part and every year since then, having meanwhile taken classes in Split on a regular basis. Their love of Tango led them to spend most of their weekends in Split in the last five years… they even bought a flat there! I call that Commitment. Or Tango Madness.
Towards the end of the week, I also manage to find some time to pay a visit to Vasilisa, who runs a B&B where I stayed a couple of years ago when we became friends. It is always a pleasure to talk to her; she is an avid traveller and an interesting person, fluent in a number of languages and with interesting perspectives on life.
The week is far too short, and before I know it, I wave good-bye to this lovely place and its people. As the bus zig-zags up the serpentines, I catch a last glimpse of the beautiful village nestled into the hills and the day dawning over a calm, deep blue sea.
For photos of this wonderful Island, check out Ines’s photo album on facebook
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It was my turn at the wheel of Moving Being’s long wheel base Mercedes, as we travelled south from Vienne’s roman amphitheatre – where we’d caught a Frank Zappa concert. We were heading for the Cote d’Azur to try our luck busking with elements of the ‘M. Apollinaire et le Cirque du Zodiac’ show – that’s Jessica Cohen, Pete Wooldridge, Nick Birkinshaw and myself. They were sleeping when I made a detour to Mérindol, the sleepy Provençal village where my folks had bought and restored a ruined Bastide some 25 years earlier, in the vague hope that we might get a gig there to help pay for the fuel to get us home to Wales. As I pulled up on the Place de la Mairie, the first person I caught sight of – and this was at 7.30 in the morning – was the cousin of our oldest friends in the village, Rémy and Jacqueline Combe. As it turned out, his mother was the Mayor’s secretary and he said he would do his best. By the time everyone was compus mentis, we’d secured the Salle des Fêtes for the Saturday night and having put up a number of posters and photographs we took off for the coast.
All that was 35 years ago! So it was with great trepidation that we drove into village – well actually we left Emma outside and cycled in. Who might we meet from that last visit and who would remember the mad Green family who’d settled in a dilapidated house in the old village up on the hill, with no water or electricity, in the mid-fifties!?
Well, I very much surprised the son of the Combe family when we arrived on his door-step…. Only 2 years younger than me, he had given up his father’s farm, following a devastating winter and developed a very successful gite business on the edge of the village with 9 houses, swimming -pool – the works! Pierre and his lovely wife Jacqueline who, for just over a year now, has been Mayor of the village, welcomed us with open arms and not only allowed us to get Emma off the road and park her up behind one of the ‘cottages’ but said we were free to use their shower and swimming pool whenever we wanted. So far we’ve only met one other person from my childhood days, the indomitable Max – the subject of one my father’s most unusual paintings:- While having a siesta in Paris, my father had a dream/vision of someone leaving the seat of a motor-bike, having taken a level-crossing far too fast, and flying through the air. As luck would have it, he ended up head first in a pile of dung, sustaining no major injury. My father went straight to his studio and put the episode on canvas in sweeping strokes. Later that day he received a call from friends in Merindol who related the very story he’d ‘witnessed’ !
Pierre proudly showed us round his spacious house, where many of the walls were hung with Alf’s pastels, lithographs and framed posters – the only painting was a portrait of Pierre, poignant for me as Alf said I could never sit still for long enough
After I’d dropped Ruth off at Marseille airport for her week’s teaching in Croatia, I picked up a hitch-hiker, something we’re not normally able to do as we have the only two available seats in the ‘cab’. He’d flown in from Alicante and had come to pick up his daughter to take her back to Spain for her Summer holidays. We got talking about organic farming and permacultures and I mentioned that Ruth and I had met someone in Lauris a few days previously, who made oils and essences from locally collected herbs and flowers which grow in profusion in the Luberon. ‘Ah, Laurent!’ he said.’Give him my regards when you next see him.’ Small world eh!?
Here’s a photo of Laurent and Frank outside our Emma:
Lauris, some 8km east of Merindol, also hosts an extraordinary garden on the terraces of its Castle, with seemingly every known plant related to colour dyes, which Ruth and I visited and to which I returned for an open-air Sculpture exhibition (with Jazz accompaniment on the opening night).
One of the beautiful flowers from the garden:
Back in Merindol, I give a return Massage to a therapist who had treated Ruth before she left and, as an added bonus, receive a treatment from her daughter who is a ‘gentle’ chiropracter. She becomes very interested in my case and asked me to bring my back x-rays when I next come to Paris, where she normally practices. I then find out that the local garagiste, who is a cousin of Pierre’s, has a problem with an arm/shoulder. I offer him a treatment and when I come to pay for an oil-change on Emma, he waives the fee !!! whoopee…
The temperature has now reached the top 30’s/early 40’s and so I find myself getting up between 6 and 6.30am and doing stuff before it gets too hot. One morning I take to the hills behind Merindol, le petit Luberon, to gather thyme and rosemary and realise I’m walking in the footsteps of Ruth’s horse-riding trek: fabulous views over the Durance valley and inward to hidden micro-climate valleys. I spend an evening in Salon at a Renaissance festival, complete with street performers/musicians and an outrageously long and varied procession through the town.
Lourmarin has a local growers/organic market, which I go to in the hope of finding a good selection of Ratatouille ingredients – I end up buying from an organic farmer from Merindol! Over the next few days I go into ratatouille production but am amazed how much it reduces in cooking, so end up with far less than I’d hoped…Hey Ho !
The night before Ruth’s return I go to Mallemort, a small town over the Durance, whose old bridge we had camped under in the Easter of 1955 and from where we had first sighted the abandoned village, known as le Vieux Merindol. They were hosting an evening of Polyphonic Music. First on the bill was a group from Marseille, called appropriately ‘Radio Babel – Marseille‘, ( tho you get a better idea of what they are like live, if you listen to their ‘Teaser’ on YouTube) whose vocal style drifted seamlessly from beat-box to slam-poetry, to rap and back, bound together with delicious harmonies reflecting the cultural melting-pot that is Marseille.
The next morning, I attended a christening but sadly could not stay for the huge family lunch, elegantly laid out in Pierre and Jacqueline’s garden, as I had to drive Emma up to Lyon to pick up Ruth and continue our journey.
For more photos of the Renaissance procession in Salon, click here
For photos of the house that Frank’s folks bought in the mid 50’s, as well as miscellaneous photos of Merindol and its inhabitants, click here
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Around this time of year for the past 5 years, I’ve had the pleasure of joining Ines on Vis, a beautiful Island in Croatia, to teach on a week long Tango holiday. So one hot Friday morning, Frank takes me to Marseille to catch a flight.
The journey turns out to be an exciting one….
There is no direct flight to Split from Marseille, so I am taking a detour via Rome where I will stay one night in order to catch a very early morning flight to Split. On the way to Marseille, we first get delayed on the motorway – big signs announce a complete standstill of traffic for 45 minutes because they are blasting rocks to widen the road. It’s just as well that we left plenty of time, because once we are through this traffic jam, we head into another one just outside the airport: there is a big taxi driver’s strike and they are blocking the entrance to the airport. I consider myself lucky to still be in time for the flight!
Arrival in Rome is not without its adventures: there’d been a fire in one of the airport buildings some weeks ago and they still haven’t recovered from it. By the looks of it, it affected the luggage transport system. There is total chaos in the baggage claim area, with thousands of unclaimed suitcases standing around everywhere, and many people waiting for hours for theirs to arrive. Our belt is stopped, with three flights’ worth of people waiting around it for delivery of their luggage, while other belts are going round and round with suitcases on them that no-one seems to want.
Again, I consider myself lucky, because not only does my suitcase arrive after 1.5hrs, but also while waiting for it, I have the pleasure of the Italian national basket-ball team strolling past me J. They are strapping lads, all at least 2mtrs tall, dwarfing everyone else in the hall.
The entrance hall in Rome is no better, complete mayhem, with many people frantically rebooking flights. Apparently 45% of all flights have been cancelled! This is about 4 weeks after the fire. It must be costing them a fortune to deal with all of this.
Anyway, I’m lucky that I can leave all this behind and spend an evening chilling out in a little hotel room in Fiumicino. My flight the next morning is on schedule, and by 9am, I’m in the harbour in Split, enjoying a breakfast of fresh fruit from the local market.
Not so lucky on the way back to France a week later, as my flight is cancelled – or possibly extra lucky, because I am able to rebook a flight to Lyon that is cheaper and direct, so I can avoid the mess in Rome and Frank can drive up to Lyon to pick me up from there on our way to Switzerland.
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