Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pharm Assist

In France, people talk about their pharmacist like they talk about their doctors. As in, "Who's your pharmacist?" Or, "Do you have a pharmacist? Or "What did your pharmacist say about that?"

This was a curiosity to me at the beginning. My pharmacist in the United States was whomever was on duty at the 24-hour Walgreens, and I only ever talked to him/her after I'd made my purchase and he arrived at the window to ask me the required-by-law-question, "Do you understand how this medicine works?" End of relationship.

Not so here in France. Your pharmacist is your go-to guy. Whenever you have a problem, ache, or pain, you check in with him first before you do anything else (I'm using the masculine version because mine is). Then you get to recite all your problems and ask his advice on what to do. If he thinks you need to see a doctor, he'll tell you, but he's got all sorts of stuff in his arsenal for the first assault.

What is interesting about all this is often he will give you a homeopathic remedy. The pharmacies not only carry manufactured medicines, but they carry herbs and tinctures and essential oils, which they DO recommend if they think it's right for you. I love this.

I do not love the way medications are packaged. I swear, the medication industry here in France must produce more waste than any other (aside from the bottled water industry). Everything is packaged in blister packs, then boxed.  Nope, no giant bottles of 1000 generic ibuprofen here!

These are my feminine youth in a box, as the package says.

The French are also very fond of individual sachets, which is a package of powder that you mix with water. They always taste pretty good and might go well with vodka.

Prescription drugs are the same. They are not measured out and put in a bottle, the exact number for your prescription. You need to buy the whole box whether you need all of it or not.  As a result, French medicine cabinets are not a just a little shelf in the bathroom. They are generally an entire, overflowing kitchen cupboard devoted to all the leftover boxes filled with the individually wrapped surplus pills. The trick is figuring out what they're all for when you need them again.

I've been down the last two weeks with what seems to be a sinus infection. Oh, ouch. It's like waking up every single day with a massive hangover that cannot be cured with Coke and a package of Kraft Mac and Cheese. During a complaint session on my woes, my friend Lynn asked me if I'd talked to my pharmacist. Oh yeah, I forgot about him!

Off to Place Richelm to la pharmacie. After explaining, in my bizarre, roundabout version of French (I first told him I had a corkscrew in my head but then amended that by explaining that it was actually a traffic jam...or a cork...they're both the same word but obviously not the one I needed), I was given a homeopathic something or other to take every hour and a sachet that I should take 3 times a day.

Then my facebook friends emphatically recommended a Neti Pot. It was explained to me that this is a devise for cleaning out the sinuses with salted water. I checked out what they looked like on the Internet and took off again to the pharmacy. When I didn't find what I was looking for on the shelf, I finally, reluctantly, had to ask. This little request involved me iterating the nonsense about the traffic jam and that I need a little pot, that looks like Aladdin's lamp (I couldn't remember the word for tea pot), which I could fill with dirty water (and yes, I mixed up the word for salt and the word for dirty) and pour in my nose.  He's very patient with me, bless his heart. He said he had exactly what I was looking for and that they are very effective. After retrieving it from the back room, he pulled it out of the box, and rubbed it a little asking me what my wish would be. As I stared at this contraption, it all seemed just a little... risqué.

Because my magic lamp is not called a Neti Pot.  It's called a Rhino Horn. I proudly showed my new medical miracle to some friends the next day. Tenley, whose neti pot resembles the one above, looked at it and simply exclaimed, "Oh my!" My other friend wanted to know came with batteries! do you suppose I would ask my pharmacist that question???


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Black Diamond

"I got it!" he almost shouted into the phone.

"You got what?"

"Le truffe. And you have to come and eat it... soon. This can't wait. It's fresh...NOW!"

I think I probably need to explain all the ensuing shouting and jumping up and down. A truffe is a truffle. Not the chocolate kind that we make at Christmas. Those were named after the real truffe....the Black Diamond...because they share a resemblance.

A truffle is, plain and simple, a mushroom. But after that, it's not plain and simple. Black truffles are a smell and taste sensation, 80% of which come from Provence.  They grow completely underground and are not easy pickin's.  There are three ways to get them.

1. Have a nice, fat wallet and buy one.

2. Have a pig or trained dog that can root them out in a public forest where they may or not be and where nobody will shoot you if you find one.

3. Be a grower of truffles. These people buy oak or chestnut trees specifically inoculated with the spores and spend a lot of time, energy and money hoping their crop will come to fruition. And they still need a special dog or a pig and a lot of luck.

My friend has a colleague with a dog trained specifically to find truffles. It's a hobby and he does his foraging on public land where there is no danger of being called a poacher. It's a sideline that from time to time, cashes in.

I say "cashes in" because not only are they a taste and smell sensation, they're expensive. I mean, REALLY expensive. More pricey than my ski pants. More costly than my car, in fact! The December wholesale price of a quality black truffle was running about 1200€ a kilo ($1573)! Any way you look at it, they're a rarity, a very expensive rarity that I was soon to have the opportunity to enjoy.

On the menu: simple food designed to let the truffe shine. No fancy stuff here...I wanted to taste it.  But first, the truffle (ours was probable 200 grams or more...a great big one would wholesale at about 400€ and could double or triple for retail) was placed in a bowl with the whole eggs on top, sealed and put in the refrigerator for two days. Amazingly, the eggs take on the intense flavor of the truffle as they share space. Not only that, they actually took on a different color. The eggs on the left were the ones that spent a two day conjugal visit with their mushroom.

Then I mixed the slightly beaten eggs with a little creme fraiche and salt and pepper. I sliced the truffe in tiny, paper thin slices to mix into the eggs. When I dropped a couple slices on the floor, my friend was on his knees in a heartbeat, scrambling to pick them up and chastising me for my lack of care.. This is not something to be wasted. Then I cooked the eggs in a bain du marie, so they they slowly cooked without danger of burning.

In the meantime, we made a simple potato salad adding only olive oil, salt and pepper and sliced truffles. We used the whole thing up! All of it. I kept thinking this puppy could pay my air fare ticket to the United States but if I were to stuff it in my pocket and run like hell,  I would never have this experience

I tried to eat slowly. I really tried. But it was just so good. I've read up on truffles and "experts" say they're best raw. I'm going to disagree. I found the flavor more intense in the cooked eggs than in the potato salad and if I ever get the opportunity to play gourmet gourmand again, the truffles will go in the potato salad while the spuds are still hot.

Truffle season is over for this year (I wrote this in February but forgot to post it!) and today I ate...big surprise...peanut butter. But I've had my affair with The Black Diamond. And we're in love.


Just a note to ask you to check out this site for a free Provence Rug giveaway. They're not Black Diamonds...but they are a slice of Provence you can afford. Especially if you get one free!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

London Bridge Fell Down

Last week I was in London, taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting the town where I spent 5 months as a student in my 21st year. As we wandered and reminisced, I mentioned to my friends that since those days, I have had a reoccurring dream about the London Bridge. Well, it’s wasn't really the London Bridge. That fell down. Several times.

This is the real, modern London Bridge. 

Not very impressive, is it?
This is the Tower Bridge...the bridge in my dreams.  Much better looking and the one most think IS the London Bridge.

Dreams, I've discovered, are a powerful thing. I rarely remember mine and have never taken much notice; even the ones that cause me to wake up laughing hysterically or crying in the same manner.  But some people take more stock in them. My last love was a premonitional dreamer. He didn’t tell me about this odd phenomenon until I recounted a dream to him (one that I actually remembered which is why I was detailing it to him) and he immediately took notice and asked me all sorts of questions. He took such an interest because the dream was, in fact, predicting an life event for him, something he understood immediately and which bizarrely came true several days later. So I was premonitionally dreaming for him.  Other times, I would describe conversations that I’d had with him in my dreams and he had had the same conversation with me in his sleep.  We were conversing in our sleep which actually worked out pretty well since we both had a tough time with the other’s language during waking hours!  And once I had a dream that alerted me that a dear friend of mine was in grave trouble.  He had almost exactly the same dream on the same night.  Problem is, I interpreted it correctly; he misinterpreted it and broke up with me. Again. But this whole experience made me think that perhaps I should be a little more alert when it comes to my dreams.

I do seem to remember reoccurring dreams. When I was younger, the dream had to do with a giant wolf dressed in green clothing who chased me up and down the steps of a Cathedral. In college and still, I have the dream all students seem to have. The one where it’s exam time and you’ve never even attended the class, or a version thereof.  And I often have dreams about a writhing pit of snakes. I know, I sound like a whack job!

Since my time in London, I’ve had this dream about the bridge. I’m always looking at it from above and to the right. It’s not situated in its proper place but it’s most definitely in London. I can’t seem to figure out what the rest of is about except that it involves some sort of regret. Something I didn’t do, something I missed, something undone.

My mom’s advice to me was always do what you want, take chances, but don’t do something that you think you’ll regret. It’s probably more sage advice than that which I gave my boys : always have a valid passport and use two forms of birth control. I hope my boys are better at following my advice than I was with my mom’s because I’ve done plenty of things I regret. Nothing serious, but hey... how am I supposed to know I’m going to regret it until it’s already been done? (Geez! Now that I think about it, what kind of advice is that?) And I’ve not done many things and regretted that as well.

So when my friend said to me, on my last day in London, “don’t you want to visit the bridge and find your regret?”, I was all for it. After my experiences with “the dreamer” perhaps something magic would happen.

As Amy and I approached the bridge it felt almost surreal, seeing it again 'in the flesh' after visiting it so often in my dreams. We traversed its expanse... slowly...waiting for my regret to jump out at me, on the alert, slowing down at the finish in case we were going too fast for the regret to catch up with us. It didn’t. NOTHING happened. Nothing. We ate lunch on the other side and then took one more swipe at it for good measure. Still nothing.

Not much of a story is it? A big build up with an ending that fizzles out. Good thing nobody is paying me for my stories. So I just can’t figure this out. Perhaps my regret was just never having actually walked over the bridge. Perhaps it was that I feel I didn’t take enough advantage of my first excursion abroad, spending more time learning the inside of the neighborhood pubs than taking in the sights. Maybe the dream comes when I’ve felt I’ve not properly grabbed hold of a moment or an opportunity. Perchance, in another life, I was imprisoned in the Tower of London (which would be exactly the view that I have in the dream) and I'm regretting ever having gotten mixed up with that damned Henry! 

There's a chance the dream will never come again, now that I've revisited the bridge, and I'll never know what it was all about. Or maybe when I have it again, I'll now know exactly what it was telling me. Or maybe it was just a dumb dream with no meaning or message whatsoever. In which case, I'm sorry about the long-winded explanation.. of nothing! 

Still, I'm hoping for clarification. Eventually. It would make a much better story.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

London Fog

This past weekend I was here.

In Carry le Rouet, a little village on the sea just south of Aix en Provence. Enjoying the warmth of the setting sun before sitting down to a dinner of fresh fish and a mediterranean salad.

Monday I was here

Downtown London, bundled up in a sweater and scarf, after eating a real breakfast of eggs and bacon. And bending my head against the seemingly ever-present London rain.

I have landed in 5 countries in 4 months and each time I arrive in a new place, I'm amazed. Yep, still impressed by it all. That one can change places, languages, cultures, quickly and easily.  It always feels a little surreal but it always makes me giggle with pleasure at the miracle of it.  I often wonder if and when I'll get over the awe and become a jaded traveler.

I was feeling a bit world-weary before I headed out on this trip to London. I was just so tired. I hadn't been able to sleep for seemingly weeks and the fatigue, added to the continuous travel left me really out of sorts. It's amazing how fatigue like this can affect a person. It affects me physically so that I want to do nothing and everything hurts. It affects me mentally. There were days during these last few weeks that I really detested all French people. There were moments that this verged on HATE.  Simply because they spoke French! And I was unable to follow or contribute. My brain was all mucked up. And the crankiness went deeper. I was mad at my cat....for being cuddly and loving and always trying to break through my bad-humored barricade. I was mad at myself for whatever my transgression was that day and couldn't pass myself in the mirror without talking nasty to the poor, haggard looking woman reflecting back at me who really only needed a little sleep. And on and on and on....

The debilitating affects of exhaustion make me wonder how I ever got through college. Truly, if had spent more time sleeping and less time partying, there's a strong possibility that you'd be addressing me as Dr. Nelsen right now. And how in the world did I raise 2 little babies without causing them serious mental or bodily harm?

I still haven't fallen back into the rhythm of really sound sleep yet, but I'm feeling better. It might have something to do with the fact that I'm back in London after 32 years away. I'm here with my friend Jeanmarie, who I met here when we were students living in the Maria Assumpta Convent in Kensington. Thirty-two years of friendship that began during those seriously sleep-deprived times (for us AND the nuns) when we lived in London, supposedly to study and when we did everything but!

Yesterday we visited our old stomping grounds. The convent is now a college, but the nuns, still dressed in purple, continue to scurry around the place. As do the hazy but cherished memories of my time in London. The days that sprouted my infatuation with travel that has obviously never died. But I really am looking forward to at least a month of rest (as in one place) before the insanity recommences in May. 

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