01 November, 2019

A small house and an olive tree

I have spent my last two holidays in Mediterranean countries. I opted for short stints to get a quick feel of these places and their cuisine: just enough to want to return in future.

In September I visited my friend Simon Bordenave in Rome and we both went for a few days in Tuscany. We drove through the hilly landscape between the vine and olive groves and sampled delicious local food. I carried on with a few days to visit Florence and its cultural highlights. I was overwhelmed by the crowds in the city, preferring the quiet country lanes at sunrise for a morning jog.

In October I flew further South to Crete. My goal was to wander through the mountains on this long narrow island although I stopped at Knossos to visit the remains and frescoes of this Minoan palace. The food was simple but delicious. The vistas in the Amari valley were stunning. The warm Mediterranean sea being only one hour's drive away from the island's central mountain range, I managed to take a dip every day.

Green fields, golden sands
An other cup, Yusuf, Cat-O-Log Records

23 July, 2019

Gloire au berger !

I am spending my Summer holiday with my parents in their country house. It is quiet and I can rest all day. I need the rest because my evenings are exhausting.

I have planned this holiday together with my participation in the production of La Belle Hélène, an operetta by Jacques Offenbach with Opéra des Landes. We are on stage for five evenings and one matinée over a period of 11 days. All is going fine up to now: we have had good reviews from the critics; the audience is enjoying the show; and so are we in the cast.

The first act of the opera centres around the figure of a mysterious and intelligent shepherd. Everybody becomes quite obsessed with him...

Meanwhile in the real world, French shepherds are having a hot summer with difficulty in finding fodder for their flock. In the Southwest of France, it is feria time with traditional brass bands and dancing groups parading around towns.

Having been to the fêtes de la Madeleine in Mont-de-Marsan one day this week while being on stage in the evenings, I can compare the organised chaos of our opera's staging and the chaotic organisation of our local brass bands. Both lead to much amusement!

La Belle Hélène
Jacques Offenbach, Les musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, Marc Minkowski, Parlophone

Opéra des Landes Belle Hélène photo: Max Loubère

16 June, 2019

Miya sama, miya sama On n'm-ma no mayé ni

Here are notes - in the form of haikus - from my recent short visit to Japan.


Ever-disciplined crowds everywhere,
No rubbish bins, yet, a spotless city.
I caught up with a post-grad classmate established here.

Family reunion, Matsumoto

Steam twirling above the open-air hot pool
Grassy smell of the bedroom straw tatami
We enjoyed exquisite meals at Kai.

JR trains

The stops are always "brief" along the JR network
But crowds move on and off without delaying trains.
Sadly, there is no hot tea on the snacks trolley.


I have enjoyed strolling, shopping, eating, even running in Kyoto's avenues and alleys
The handicraft is rich; the cultural sites breathtaking...
Pity the crowds!

Miya sama
W. Gilbert and A. Sullivan, The Mikado, Orchestra and chorus of the Welsh national opera, Sir C. MacKerras, Telard

29 April, 2019

Skies are blue

I have been on holiday to Yorkshire during holy week. I had gone prepared for spring weather in the North of England: cold showers. My corduroy trousers, wool pullover and duffelcoat came in handy for the first two days in the Southeast with temperatures below 7°C and hail in the morning.

However, to my delighted surprise, as I drove up North, the weather became warmer and warmer and the skies bluer and bluer. On Good Friday the title page of the Yorkshire Evening Post stated that temperatures in Leeds were warmer than in Athens! My heavy corduroy trousers were no longer adapted to temperatures above 20°C so I had to buy a pair of bermuda shorts.

I was also very lucky in crossing the paths of Graham Taylor and Dan Golden, musical friends whom I had first met 15 years ago in Bangkok and who were also holidaying in the UK from Tenerife and Bangkok respectively. We enjoyed good food and choral music together. Indeed, holy week was the right time to visit the UK to listen to religious choral music as all the cathedral choirs were involved in sung services throughout the Easter period. I got to hear the excellent choirs of Saint Paul's cathedral in London and York Minster. David Hope, another old friend from Ho Chi Minh City invited me to a Bach Saint John's Passion in English sung by musical friends of his in Leeds Minster.

My three quintessentially British highlights from this trip:

1) Hours of trekking among the sheep, hand-made stone walls and under the limitless blue sky of the Yorkshire dales.

2) A sunny day out on the roads of Northeast Yorkshire in David Hope's open-roofed car.

3) Afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and cakes at Betty's. I visited their outlets in Harrogate, York and Ilkley over three days to try out several savoury and sweet delicacies together with their delicate tea blends.

Over the rainbow
Judy Garland, Naxos