Christmas

After an eventful few hours missing each other at rail and tram stations, my sister Deborah and I were reunited a couple of days before Christmas and have had a very pleasant few days together.

As usual, Deborah is helping, everywhere.  She is one of the most generous – and self effacing people I know. Here is her typically refusing the limelight… …

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Yesterday we invited my friends Hans and Margaret to lunch.  We managed to lay on a respectable spread, which I would have found difficult on my own.

In the evening we went to the firework display in Bréau, followed by a glass of vin chaud.  It was a lovely event, a local community at its most convivial and welcoming.

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Change of camera

It’s now nearly three weeks since I have seen the camera I carry with me most of the time – a Canon G16 – and I have decided reluctantly that it is permanently lost or stolen.  My superior SLR camera – a Canon D70 – sits idle most of the time, as it is too heavy and cumbersome for daily use. (I bought it for foreign, exotic travel, which sadly has not happened since.)

So… I decided to trade in the Canon D70 for something in between the two, on the grounds that for daily unexpected snaps, my Appke iPhone will do.  I have abandoned Canon, after 20 years, and opted for a bridge camera (one down in quality from the SLR  but less cumbersome): the Sony RX10 II.

That may mean gibberish to those of you not into gadgets like me, but I’m delighted with the first attempts, though it is going to take me quite some time to master this new beast.  Here is the first picture I took when I got home, sitting on the sofa, aiming the camera at the kitchen area, and then cropping this bowl of fruit.

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Hopefully I will be up to taking photos fo the grandchildren, who start to arrive today. And I have to look after this one better than my poor G16!

The local music scene

I’ve just come back from an excellent concert in Bréau, given by Christine Capieu’s ensemble I Musicanti.

The quality of playing is unrecognisable from the days when I used to play with her and Charles and Pierre.  Now the ensemble is made up of three retired professionals all living in Bréau – Christine (soprano and harpsichord), Steven Rivers-Moore (recorder) and Fanchon Ligny (violin) – and a very good, almost professional, bassoonist from the village of Molières down the road (plus, this evening, her really good bassoon teacher). The accoustics in the Bréau Temple could be criticised for their slight echo, but it is very satisfying playing and listening to music there.  The temple’s circular form adds to a sense of intimacy too.

Tomorrow I will go to le Vigan to listen to a performance by a Montpellier ensemble of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  For many years I could not listen to them, as they have been so overplayed.  But enough time has passed to look forward to this performance.  Then next week there will be a concert by the Orchestre Chambre des Cévennes (which I will not be attending).

All this comes after my continued participation in the Ecole de Musique’s end of term events.  Scarcely had I recovered from the enjoyable joint concert* with the Orchestre des Cévennes, when I had to bring the first movement of the Boismortier sonata I have been playing up to scratch for the Ecole’s end of term ‘auditions’ – concerts primarily for the pupils’ families, which took place in the wonderful salon at the Chateau d’Assas (now used as the municipal library or ‘médiatheque’). My performance was not brilliant – my nerves mean that all nuances go out of the window – but I survived.

Actually, it has to be said, the level of music-making by the school’s pupils is not very high – with the exception of one extraordinay eight-year-old Chinese boy who after three years is tackling pieces of formidable technical virtuosity.  Talking to Fanchon, my violinist friend who played this evening, and has taught him when a supply teacher, the big problem is his pushy mum.  She fears he may not survive if the mother does not ease up.  She knows, as she is the daughter of professional musicians who pushed their family so much that all have essentially dropped out of most classical music performing.

Still, the fact is that for a rural backwater we do have an extraordinary number of inhabitants who play music – or paint, or write…

 

  • Here are a couple of video links from last month’s concert.  I can be seen (briefly) in the first clip, second desk cellos, next to my teacher, Jennifer.  In the second clip I am completely hidden (I’m glad to say) by two little girls in the choir. But playing the Verdi in this clip was much more enjoyable.
    There is also quite a jolly montage from rehearsals, including one of my teacher, Jennifer.

Time whizzes by

I think as I get older time moves faster.  I have no job, I do virtually no housework and as little shopping (other than of the extravagant gadget purchase type) and cooking as I can get away with.  So where have the last ten days gone?

Of course medical related events take up an awful lot of time, not least because they seem always to be mid-morning or afternoon, breaking up the day in such a way that I then think there is not enough time before the next meal to do anything significant – so I read the paper or wander round the internet.

At least the sessions with the sage-femmes have come to a provisional end (to be reviewed in January).  But I’ve just finished a series of dental visits, mainly postponed by this year’s cancer dramas.  So I now have a new crown in front (replaced free of charge by the dentist because he was not happy with the way the old one kept coming out) and a bridge on top of the three implants put in at the start of the year.

Then of course I have my Monday ‘Gym après cancer’ sessions, which are scarily exhausting. But it is a very friendly and supportive group and the woman who runs the sessions (also a cancer survivor) is great.  Just like 60 years ago , I’m somewhere near the bottom of the class. Not surprising since I am one of the oldest participants and probably the one with the most arthritis. It is depressing not to be able to do something as simple as raise my arms above my head (my shoulders are the most seriously crippled bit of me currently) but I’m always, diplomatically, given alternative movements to follow. It does make me feel good to be taking vigorous exercise, even if my weight is slowly creeping back to the pre-op and radiotherapy levels.

Playing the cello also takes up time.  Not enough, I know, but the weekly lessons and preparation for end of term events has helped motivate me to at least put in  a small chunk every day.  Now my other learning exercise is my Arabic classes.  After three or four lessons I am on the way to mastering the alphabet (helped by carrying a crib sheet when I walk Poppy, chanting the letters and visualising their three forms).

In the run-up to Christmas the clock is moving even faster.  I’m on top of my present organising, but desperately sending my Christmas cards and messages (my main way of keeping in touch with friends from one year to the ext).  And I haven’t even started to plan food for the two weeks of visits! With Deborah arriving next Wednesday and Kate and Jude and families just after Christmas, I must do something – soon.

I suppose the final reason why I don’t have enough time is in fact that I don’t have enough energy.  I’m very aware that I simply cannot do as much as a year ago and can feel my energy draining away as the day progresses. OK, four operations plus treatment in two years has been a lot.  Let’s hope that next year I will get some more bounce back.

Chris

Chris would have been 73 today. How I wish he were still here.

He lived – just – to see his two beloved daughters married. But he never had the joy of knowing his four grandchildren. He would have been a brilliant grandpa, or ‘papie’ in French.

He would have loved living in our new house, completed two months after he died. Although of course my extravagant additions – expanded terrace, jacuzzi, landscaped terraces, olive grove and of course the magnificent natural pool – might not have seen the light of day. Chris was the prudent partner!

Even now, seven years after his death, friends (British and French) remember him with affection. His happiness at life in France was so evident.

Depressing election results

Yesterday’s first round regional elections in France were predictable but nonetheless extremely depressing. The Front National has turned the map of France black (or indigo, to use the party colours used by le Monde).

Including our newly enlarged region Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées.  Who would have thought the day would have arrived when the traditionally Socialist south west of France would have swung round like this – even allowing for the fact that rural socialism in France is a very conservative force?

Within our département of le Gard we have become used to the fact that the eastern end, round the Rhone, is the heart of Front National activity.  But now it has seeped through to our area, the extreme western end of the département.  Le Vigan, our local town, can at least hold its head a little higher: the Parti Socialist (PS) were just ahead of the Front National (FN) with 24.26% of votes against 23.91%.  And the third candidate, Saurel (Citoyens du Midi) is a vague leftish small party, headed by Saurel, who is mayor of Montpellier.

In our commune, Bréau et Salagosse, of the 372 people on the electoral roll, 209 voted.  The disgusting statistic is that 51 voted for the FN, including 14 in my local little village of Serres (Even allowing for the fact that some of these are second homers from Nimes or Marseilles, the fact is that some locals – people I know and am friendly with – voted FN).    The PS came second, with 45 votes and les Républicains (the latest name change for Sarkozy’s party) third with 28 votes. Two minority parties, both on the left, Citoyens du Midi and Nouveau Monde en commun, also received significant votes.

There were eleven candidates in all and the votes received by these minority groups, plus the abstention rates are important, because the French system operates on a two round electoral system. The second round is on 13th December – next Sunday – and it is not clear how great will be the damage caused by the FN. In 2002 the French got a real scare when the second round presidential election was between Chirac and Le Pen (father).  Many on the Left had a lot of angst before deciding to vote for Chirac in order to keep le Pen out. The situation is different this time; the FN have established a scarily effective local presence across the country and Marine Le Pen is a more wily politician than her father.

Whatever happens next Sunday, France has taken another lurch to the right, even here in the Cévennes, traditional home of dissident, independent minds.

Footnote

As a British citizen I do not have the vote in regional elections: I may vote in local elections in France but in national elections in the UK.  Two irritants.  Why are regional elections regarded as national rather than local?  They are after all a layer of government that has been devolved from the centre. The second is my status as a British voter.

Next year I will have been resident here for 15 years and under British law will no longer be entitled to vote in the UK – but as a British citizen will continue to have no entitlement to vote in national elections in France.  In other words I will be in democratic terms, stateless.  There is a movement by expatriates to get this anomaly redressed, but it looks like being very low on the political agenda and not before the crucial referendum on membership of the EU.

Learning Arabic

I had my first Arabic lesson last week.

I’ve always vaguely wanted to be able to speak a little Arabic, dating back to my time in Nigeria, where the main local language, Hausa, has some links with Arabic. So, encouraged by my friend Christine, we have joined a small class given by a very pleasant Moroccan woman called Halima.

I think I was curious to see if my ageing brain can handle another foreign language. After one hour I began to appreciate the enormity of the task: it is not just that Arabic belongs to the Afroasiatic rather than  indo-European language group. The real killer is going to be the Arabic script. OK I learnt some Greek at school, but with this exception, learning languages up to now has involved grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation – but not a whole lot of confusing scrawls. Written, to boot, from right to left.

There are 28 letters in Arabic.  Not an insurmountable number, you might think.  But…. as well as the symbol for the letter itself, there are further distinct symbols for the letter depending on whether it is at the start, middle or end of a word. Vowels appear to be an alarming range of dots and dashes scattered above and below the consonants – or in some cases left out so you have to know the context of the word. And I can understand enough to know that a further complication is rules about which letters are joined together in what circumstances.

I’ve never had a particularly good visual memory; I struggled with drawing and remembering diagrams and maps in biology, chemistry and geography. Am I going to get a handle on these scrawls – often alarmingly similar?

The sounds are also strange, with many apparently achieved by simulating strangulation. But I’m more confident that in time I will recognise the variants of, for example various k or kh sounds.

Im going to concentrate on mastering the alphabet because I know that I need to have some grasp of the structure of a language to make any progress; I cant just listen, repeat and retain words. That was my problem in Nigeria where there was no proper dictionary or grammar book.

oh, and a final challenge: I am of course learning Arabic in a French speaking class.

IT support dans le coin

Strange to find myself doing computing support for a number of friends given my lack of training.  But the number is diminishing: Sylvia, sadly, is no longer able to use her computer, Richard (who has a fiendish ancient PC – à bas Windows 7) may soon be moving to Brittany, to be nearer his children, and Christine Capieu (former co-musician) seems to have lost interest in me and her computer since I no longer play in public ensembles… …

That leaves my physio, Joceline.  I created her site for her some years ago, using a Mac program called Freeway.  But it was becoming increasingly irritating having to respond to her requests for changes three or four times a year, particularly when she created new courses when I was in hospital.  So, I have rewritten the site using WordPress, a free open source system, independent of platforms like Windows and Mac OS. Last Friday I did a successful short training session with her and already she has created a new page on her site Dynamique Corporelle.

 

Bombing ISIS in Syria

Parliament votes today on whether the United Kingdom should join in bombing ISIS in Syria. I am totally against this.

It will kill yet more wretched, innocent civilians

I don’t think it will work. How many bombing-only military campaigns have been successful?  And it is unrealistic relying on the disparate Syrian rebel forces. Yes, a few ISIS leaders may get knocked out. But by now they will have probably scattered, or protected themselves with human shields. Even  if ‘ISIS’ as such is weakened, it may pop up under another name or regroup, with the added strength of fighting in the name of freedom against Western imperialist intervention .

How long will it last? How much will it cost? Which unsavoury allies will we end up working with (or inadvertently assisting)?  Assad? Putin? Are we trying other, peaceful steps, like pressurising other Middle East countries to stop assisting ISIS?  (Or are we too afraid of losing our cheap oil?)  Is this a step towards creating the urgently needed Middle East conference – or a step closer to more serious war?

Yes,  we can be outraged and saddened by the Paris carnage, but does this give us the right to police the Middle East?  We, who have in many ways contributed to the problems by our greedy carving up of the region and interventions since the First World War. (Not to mention exacerbating problems with ghettos of disaffected, unemployed sub-citizens). We are not the world’s policemen.  The United Nations are.  And don’t think that the Security Council resolution is a green light for bombing.

Britain wants to show solidarity with France.  But not by bombing please  my view is that France was equally at fault with its quick military riposte.  This means war, said Hollande – somebody with his back against the wall and the Front National sniffing at two huge chunks of la Republique

Finally, does joining in the war games make Britons at home safer – or more exposed to hatred, revenge, and lunatic random acts of violence?

 

 

Performing again

Well, for over two years my poor old cello lay neglected in its case.  When I started playing again two months ago I had decided not to put myself through the stress of playing in public again; I was playing just for myself.

It’s been a difficult two months, as I have still not got back to the basic level I was at before.  But still, there are moments of pleasure when I manage to get a phrase right. And its great having a nice, gentle teacher – even if she is young enough to be my grand-daughter.

Our two concerts with the Orchestre des Cévennes were surprisingly enjoyable this weekend. I had actually been practising for the past ten days, so felt pretty confident with the music It helps knowing the other three cellists can cover up my weaknesses – despite Sophie’s alarming warning that any false note is the one people hear.

Both concerts were packed with the families and friends of the players and the easy to listen to but pleasant music was received with enthusiasm, particularly the more jazzy numbers by trumpet, trombone and drums.  Now of course I can’t get the tune from Verdi’s Chorus of the Slaves out of my head.

Next hurdle: some sort of more domestic end of term event when Jennifer has somehow persuaded me to play the first movement of the Boismortier sonata I have been re-working this term. Oh dear, back to playing solos when I know I should stick with group playing.