A Letter from Strasbourg

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I want to congeal in a glass case a piece of paralysed Time. In this Time, I will freeze more time, and continue diving into its heart to unearth more sparkling seconds. I want to keep all the milliseconds of taste, emotion and movement, to preserve textures, smells, the angles of the cobbled streets and to dance the rise and fall of the road ahead.

Looking at this glass, admiring it like my own little taxidermic creature, I’d also like to glitter it with something called Joy and Freedom, which I’d describe as a warm weightlessness that overcomes me when I grasp the rhythmic, tonal complexity of a perfectly pronounced French word, fluid and honest in its execution, watch it grace my mouth and tongue and transport a fragment of ‘me’ into the atmosphere that will, at last, be understood and appreciated. Or when the humour and sweetness of friends combines with the delights of French food, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and a fruity coffee. Or when, on the way to class, you suddenly can’t help but stand up on the pedals of your bike and sing to yourself, and imagine the old bicycle wheels spinning in a stereo like a cassette tape.

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Don’t vanish, I whisper to the present. Expand and cast your net across a never-ending canvas and absorb everything you see. Evolve. Be my symphony or my opera. Let me savour the beauty and joy of the bars that no-one else passing by really hears, because they’re too distracted by the big themes. What I love most is the unpretentious profoundness of these moments. Whether I’m creating the bounce and lilt of a couplet of sheer delight or being note 6 in chord that suspends death. They’re almost imperceptible to ears, awash in the big scary world, but they’re my secret and belong to me.

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Right… Back to planet earth.

I am dizzied and stupefied after my first term in Strasbourg. So much has happened to me in a short space of time, both good – as evident in the abundant gush of prose above – and not so good. Sometimes the pedals on my bike-cassette-tape stiffen, rebel and fight against my knees, and I heave along and sigh, wondering how long it’s going to take, yearning for where I want to be.

Fortunately, for me the social side of things has not been a failure and I have made lovely friends. (For that I am grateful to my perseverance, my violin and the internet.) In fact, I find that the challenge of adapting and integrating in a foreign community continues – and intensifies – even once you feel like you’ve found a beautiful group of people. There were times when I felt really trapped and and disconnected from everybody. Either I couldn’t understand what’s going on, or I had so much to say but could never catch the words in my memory to form the sentences.

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location: 2nd class carriage | destination: Paris | price: 15 euros


Language is so amazing. Words are like multicoloured butterflies in the sky. But sometimes I think they’re on speed or something because they’re impossible to capture. You sadly cannot command them to reside in your unconscious self. They will fall in their own manner and it is a long-term learning process.

I could experience this blockage with anyone and in anyplace, but a perfect example of this is a rehearsal situation. I never thought I’d have to take a sectional rehearsal in French or that I’d find myself playing in 2 (maybe 3) chamber music groups. Yet this is what happened after I joined the university orchestra (a really, really beautiful bunch of people).


How hard it is to explain an idea, in French, of how you want something to sound! How to describe a bow technique, a sensation, a colour. I have this internal battle of having countless images and metaphors spinning round my mind, while suffocating in a cage of un-knowledge and anxiety.

Listen everybody, I have so much to give! I promise!

…I cry out from my internal voice. I’m both stunned and frustrated. Something I had done for several years, which had become a loveable and natural sharing of my being and creativity was forcedly cornered into isolation, only in my head. The closer and more intimate you want to be in your communication, the harder it is. I am really starting to believe and see the pertinence of that musical cliché, that one’s instrument is one’s voice, because at times the only way I could show how much I loved something was the way I played it and encouraged that feeling from somebody else.

I am so grateful to be a violinist.

Okay a mental pause from all this emotional, confessional outpouring. It is actually rather alien to write in here after being in a constant state of that (above) for most of the time.

Have some French breakfast…

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Have some frogs’ legs – cuisses de grenouilles. Three kilos of them.

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Why not have a French Contract Law exam at 07:45am in mid-December?

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Have some nice photos of Freiburg, Germany…

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Theatre Freiburg…

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And some forest mushrooms…

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And we find ourselves in Paris, Gare de l’Est …


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I’m on my way home back to the UK after fourth months of France. In the beginning, I thought I was well equipped, being a learned traveller and all, but in fact living abroad is entirely different. Your perception of yourself changes as you mix with people from different cultures. You question your interests and previous prejudices. You live in a new tempo because of the community you’re in. You feel alone sometimes and learn to cope with that, and accept that loneliness does not mean you’re not okay nor that nobody is out there. You simply cannot stay the same or feel easy all the time.

The whole experience is riveting and wonderful, scary, unsettling but so nutritious for your brain and life experience. In fact, it is incredibly, undeniably humbling. It forces you to drop everything you thought to be sure and confident about (yes I will achieve this and that and oh yeah that please) and realise you are really not in control of yourself or the world around you.

If you have the chance to go abroad?


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Oh man, I already want to start term 2 even though I’ve only just left. The second term will see another exciting challenge for me. From February I will be working at El Sistema Alsace, a newly founded El Sistema in the province to which Strasbourg belongs. Here is a photo of the first ever meeting with the Director & President of El Sistema France, Director of El Sistema Alsace and its teaching team.

photo 4Okay, it’s half past one so bed time but I just had to write something today.

À la prochaine!


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