A complicated month was this. Normally, claims on my time and attention have arranged themselves in polite symmetry to take up my availability in a sequential and mutually ordained pattern. This made it difficult to keep my work commitments, meetings, diaries and suchlike in perilous balance, and I have had to engage in a plate-spinning, bronco-bucking, eggshells-preserving, tulip-tiptoeing set of artful manoeuvres. And that was just the personal life.
Through the month our house in the south west of France, La Hune, was emptied of much of its content ready for its new life as a properly heated, insulated, well-floored and wired all-year-round residential house. The process, characterized by text messages to and fro my French namesake, moves inexorably to the signing of a long-term contract next month. The new tenants of La Hune will live there from June, following our signed agreement at the local notary in Valence d’Agen next month to where I will go to arrange the safe storage of our unwanted particulars.
In the past month I have been to four of Basel’s many and various cultural events. First, with Ella to the excellent James Ensor exhibition The Surprised Masks at Basel’s Kunstmuseum, and second, with my friend Melanie to the Basel Stadtcasino to hear the Basel Sinfonieorchester present “More than Minimal”, with pieces by Michael Nyman, Philip Glass and John Adams. This was a very inspiring concert, made all the more so by a short talk from the cello soloist Matt Haimovitz beforehand. Particularly notable was his ability to make his cello sound like a dusty didgeridoo for several minutes in the middle of Philip Glass’s very powerful Naqoyqatsi. Haimovitz said: “it was difficult to find a classical didgeridoo player, so I had to use the cello”. The More than Minimal concert went on to wow audiences in southern England, I later heard.
With Jessie, I entered, for the first time in ten years, Basel’s oldest church (now primarily a venue for music concerts), the Martinskirche, to listen to the SinfonieOrchester TriRhenum play a programme of Mussorgski’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and early works by Cherubini and Gabrieli. The 19 year-old violin soloist from Lorrach, Gregor Hanssler, was particularly impressive. It followed a miserable day in the rain and bone-chilling wind in which Jessie and I set up and sold some spare stuff to the good burgers of Basel and some tourists at the Petersplatz flea market. Finally, the following day I went to the Bayeler Museum in Riehen with my friend Christoph to see an exhibition and concert, dedicated to the work of the great French artist Odilon Redon, whose work I first appreciated and studied at Oxford nearly forty years ago. The exhibition also featured a colourful one hour concert of romantic and modern music entitled Hommage a Schumann, with short pieces by Schumann himself, Stravinsky, Kurtag and Holliger.
Gwen has been in Bulgaria with school friends and other teenagers with the youth group Young Life helping to build a school playground in Bulgaria. It seems to have been a tiring but rewarding week, and she is keen to repeat the experience at the next opportunity. We have also had extended visits from Jessie and Ella before and after Easter. Ella came to stay for a week just before getting submerged in the final hectic weeks of her University career, and Jessie came for a week after Easter to get back into serious studying after a couple of weeks’ leisure and exercise in Brighton and Rimini, where her Ultimate Frisbee team again performed well in Paganello against several other Ultimate teams from around Europe. Both Jessie and Ella will be finishing their University careers this year (Jessie with a job in Brighton as a project coordinator for the Sussex Youth Police Commission and looking forward to another stint in Bangladesh later this year; Ella on the verge of a job and heading towards a good degree). Each daughter will be coming off the parental payroll. Alli and I will thenceforth be wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.
I have been keeping to my diet, and lately added hypnotherapy to the ways in which I am keeping it going. This was also despite many severe Lenten temptations, including luscious dinners with Jessie (sushi), Gwen and Ella (vegan), dinners out, and with Alli’s brilliant home cooking (largely vegetarian) but most notably a St George’s Day “Dinner and Declamation” which Alli I organized for around 50 English-or-thereabouts people at the L’Ange restaurant in Leymen at the end of the month. The event, designed to encourage people not only to eat, drink and be merry, but also to declaim their favourite English speeches and poems over the pudding, was staunchly supported by the Ferrette Morris Men, who serenaded us with various drinking songs and also stopped the busy Leymen traffic outside for several minutes while they performed their manoeuvres outside in the gathering darkness. They also won tumultuous applause from lolling French gourmands at the restaurant on the other side of the road. It was a good evening for crying havoc as well as recalling “this other Eden”. On this showing and its feedback we will repeat it next year – even bigger and better.
An English theme continued a few days later as I got up early to watch the self same happy breed of Morris men dance in the first rather damp first day of May on top of the Landskron Castle in Leymen at 6am. As usual, an excellent and generously offered collective breakfast at the Brown family house ensued back in the nestling village afterwards.
Yours from this demi-Paradise,