Au Revoir Reillanne

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fullsizeoutput_9cdWe will miss you. We already miss the silence, the tranquility of our former abode, the captivating view of Luberon hills from our balcony, the sometimes mysterious, ever-fascinating sky, friends and friendly village folk … Life on the Mediterranean coast, where we now live,  is so different, but it has many pluses. More about those in a future post.

We were attracted to Reillanne because it is a genuine, old  Provencal perched village. It has not been gussied up like those Luberon villages Peter Mayle made famous: —  Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Menerbes. Reillanne can be rough around the edges, ruts in some streets, lanes, — especially the Impasse where we lived. Many places could definitely use a fresh coat of paint,  No classy boutiques. No fancy restaurants. No locals nor visitors in designer attire. Jeans and tattoos and plenty of funky, folksy charm.

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Reillanne is ancient, with origins dating back to the 6thcentury.  In its early years it was a fortified village with a hilltop chateau and ramparts. The chateau is long gone, but vestiges of an 11thcentury chapel remain. And, a new (1859) church, St. Denis , which is the town landmark and a favorite photo subject. I must have hundreds of St. Denis shots. Parts of houses in the vieux village (old village), a maze of skinny, serpentine alleys, date to the 11th century.IMG_0071

During the ’60s Reillanne was a hippy enclave. Joan Baez is said to have had a home in Reillanne – or at least vacationed there. Some residents of that era remain, geezers easily recognized by their hairstyles. Some of today’s younger residents are seeking the same alternative lifestyle that attracted their predecessors. They are joined by artists – painters, photographers, ceramicists – who have settled in Reillanne.

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Reynard Bouchard’s ‘s veggies and fruit are the best: “Products of Provence that are grown with lots of love.”
Reillanne’s Sunday morning market is a star attraction, and not just for locals. We went faithfully every week to buy from our favorite vendors, to meet friends and share a coffee or glass of wine after shopping.

We can’t look back. But, I can share these photos of some of my Reillanne favorite things.

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A Reillanne favorite with great burgers.

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Moroccan Sadki Lahcen offers more than tea.  We love his tangines and couscous, perfect take-home, ready-to-eat meals.

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Our former house and pool — lots of wonderful memories.

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Fisherman Maurice Garcia comes to Reillanne from Marseille every Friday with delectable treats from the Med. This was our favorite, loup sauvage ( wild sea wolf).

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Thanks to proprietor Antoine, Cafe du Cours brings a variety of music to Reillanne.

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Colorful evening clouds seen from our balcony

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My roses. I will not miss all the work and watering but will miss those blossoms.

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My guardian angel, my savior, my confidant — neighbor Nicole. She gave advice, cared for the cats and plants and more when we traveled, was there when I needed her. She is a rare treasure, a true friend who will be dearly missed, as well as her adorable and feisty companion, Iros.

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Friends and extraordinary food — the outstanding cuisine of chef Maarten who recently moved his restaurant, La Pastorale, to Reillanne

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This was the Reillanne moon’s farewell to us — shot from the balcony a few nights before our departure.

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Welcome to the Chahinian family who will soon reside in our former home.
The quick sale of the house, finding a new home, then emptying  a big house loaded with furniture and far too much stuff for a move to a partly furnished apartment, plus packing for the move,  engulfed my life .  No time nor energy for talesandtravel.com   Life is returning to normal.  I am happy to post again and hope to do so more regularly.  Stay tuned. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private and never shared.

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Mimosa and Menton

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Mimosa – not a cocktail with champagne and orange juice,  at least  not in southern France.  Here it is  “a tropical shrub or tree of the leguminous genus Mimosa, having ball-like clusters of yellow or pink  flowers and compound leaves that are often sensitive to light or touch.”

High in the hills above the French Riviera, and along the coast,  those blossoms are bright yellow, bursting forth in February, heralding the beginning of spring. The glorious show of nature calls for celebration.menton.5

La Fête de Mimosa in Tanneron, a tiny  town at the pinnacle of the Route d’ Or (golden route),  honors the colorful spectacle every year.  Garlands of yellow decorate buildings, cars, posters.  Stands sell local products.  Bands play.  Shots are fired. Folks come from afar to enjoy – and photograph — the splendor.

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The narrow, twisty road leading to the town, the Route d’Or, offers magnificent photo opps of the blazing trees against a background of gorgeous scenery.  But, to get that perfect shot, you may need to risk your life.  There are no places to pull off, and traffic when the blossoms are at their peak is heavy.

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Sorry about the garbage bin. Need to master photo shop

We joined friends of the American Club of the Riviera at the festival, then continued on to Menton, our favorite coastal city on the border with Italy. We have decided the time has come to downsize, sell our house, and move closer to civilization.  We love the tranquility and beauty of our surroundings in the Luberon countryside, especially the ever-changing view of the hills from our porch/balcony.  But, it is probably not the best place for old folks (us).

I love the Med … and Menton.  It is almost like being in Italy.  Lots of Italian is spoken.  Answering machine messages are in two languages, French and Italian. I have been studying Italian on and off for years and relish  the opportunity to speak.  Italian restaurants abound.  You can walk across the border to Italy.

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Menton’s Old Town

Perfect.  We’ll move to Menton … that is, we’d be happy to move to  Menton.  Our mini trip was a reconnaissance mission, basically to check with real estate agencies on the availability of large, vacant apartments to rent on a long term basis.  We no longer want to be property owners.

We rented an Airbnb studio in the Vieille Village, the city’s ancient town with narrow alleys and steps, lots of steps.  It is pedestrian only, no shops,  no restaurants.  Those are below in the centre ville, town center,  down many more  steps. The old town is not the best place for my decaying knees, nonetheless fascinating, charming, and, had the weather been better, super photo opps.

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Menton’s Old Town

Our  Menton dream came to a depressing crash with reality:  the type of apartment we seek is almost non-existent.

This is the Mediterranean coast, vacation/tourist territory.  Apartments to rent are furnished, rented for the season, and mainly small.   Nonetheless, we left our contact details with numerous agencies just in case something with our criteria becomes available.  We expanded the search to nearby Roquebrune. There a few realtors did offer a glimmer of hope for the future.menton.6

We did visit one apartment, 100 sq meters, considered large.  It seemed small to us:  no storage space, tiny kitchen, just one bathroom, two very small bedrooms. The living room, however, was spacious with large windows and lovely views.

This will not be easy on many fronts.  We  came home and surveyed our big house and all the contents, many treasures collected over the years..  No way will we be able to move all this stuff to an apartment, even a big apartment.

Bob would prefer to rent a house, which may make more sense for us.  That may be even harder to find.  But, we can and must begin the process:  eliminate, sell, trash lots. We will put the house up for sale this summer when roses are in bloom, pool in operation, and it is at its best.

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No Mediterranean sunshine during our Menton visit.

We will bug those real estate agencies.  We are going back to Menton at the end of the month during the town’s renowned lemon festival for a luncheon sponsored by the British Association of Menton.  Maybe some of those folks could be helpful.

We won’t give up:  Menton or bust!

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Aiming (and failing) to Cook like a Chef

I am passionate about food and cooking. Cookbooks – I must have 100s.   I love trying new recipes, experimenting with exotic ingredients.  Over the years I have been to many a cooking course, often during travels to learn about ethnic cuisines.

We moved to southern France several years ago, yet I had never attended a cooking course in France.  Shame!  The mother of all cooking schools, Le Cordon Bleu, is French with headquarters in Paris.  It is legendary. My idol, Julia Child, got her start at Cordon Bleu Paris.

On a recent trip to Paris to see our American dentist, I set a day aside for Cordon Bleu.  I was overwhelmed.   This is indeed the Harvard of cooking schools, like no other.


This article, a post for my foodie fans, appeared on the web site: travelsquire.com


“The Art of Cooking like a Chef,” was the title of my all-day course, three hours of demonstration in the morning, followed by an afternoon cooking workshop.cb.3

Twenty-five of us from 11 different countries watched and listened as our teacher, Chef Guillaume Siegler, prepared three different and demanding dishes in the professional kitchen classroom.  He spoke French, but a translator stood by to explain all in English.

First course:  Pineapple and green zebra tomatoes, creamy burrata, basil, olive oil, pomegranate red pesto.

First step:  Peel the tomatoes.  “The skin is disagreeable to the mouth,”  said Siegler. He is right, but at home I usually skip this step — never again if I want to cook like a chef.

The tangy red pesto was a mixture of raspberries, tomato pulp, pomegranate juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses and green Tabasco, all mixed in a food processor.

chef.blogAs he moved from tomatoes to pomegranates, Siegler, who has worked in many famous Parisian restaurants as well as his own restaurant in Tokyo,  spewed out more words of culinary wisdom: “To cook well, you must think about what you are serving.”

“Respect all products and work only with excellent products.” He put this into practice when he was about to put the finishing touches on the tomato-pomegranate-burrata concoction.  He rejected the basil on hand —  too wilted. — and sent an assistant to the school roof garden to pluck some fresh basil.

The finished dish was food-photo perfect – almost too beautiful to eat.  It went into the frig and he moved on to the main course:  Roasted rack of lamb with parsley crust, pearled jus with rosemary, and summer vegetable tian.

Lamb is one of my favorites, and I have always been in awe of a rack of lamb with the bones parading perfectly to crown the roast.  Even though I adore cooking, this is not something I would ever attempt.

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As I observed, deboning that hunk of meat is no day at the beach.  With skill, precision and speed, he cut away, explaining the intricacies of the task.”Remove some of the skin, but not too much… Get rid of the nerve which is attached to the bone…. Make careful incisions to free the meat from the bones.”

The summer vegetable tian came next.  Rows of sliced vegetables (eggplants, tomato and zucchini) were attractively layered on top of a bed of sautéed onions. I have sautéed onions zillions of times, and have never given much thought to it.  That will change.  There is professional approach to even this simple task.

“Sweat the onions.  Add a bit of salt.  Don’t color them.  Mix vigorously.  Taste.  Salt and pepper.”

He used a mandolin to get perfect, even slices of the veggies.  He showed how to use this dangerous tool and save your fingers.  Start out holding the chunk of vegetable down with your knuckles, as it get smaller, switch to the palm of your hand.   Having recently sliced off about a ¼ of a finger tip as I tried to slice potatoes with a mandolin,  I will surely heed this.cb7

By now I was starving, and all those heavenly aromas had not helped.  Alas, we were all given small portions of his creations to sample.  “Where’s the wine?” someone asked.  No wine, but each dish was delectable.

The afternoon workshop was held in the state-of-the art, stainless-steel and white teaching kitchen where each student had his own work station. After we donned our Cordon Bleu aprons and chef’s hats, we were each presented with a lamb rib roast.

cb.2Oh No!  The GPS on my phone sent me in the wrong direction when leaving the metro.  I  missed the first 15 minutes of  the morning intro class.  I knew we would be cooking during the workshop, but had not realized we would each get our own chunk of lamb.  So, I had not paid that close attention to the somewhat complicated instructions.  Instead I focused on photography, figuring this was one part of Cooking Like a Chef I could skip.  If I wanted a rack of lamb, I would order the meat prepared from a butcher.

I felt dumb and humiliated, and sought assistance. Alisa, a bubbly young Russian woman whose work station was next to mine, guided me through the initial attack of the lamb.  She in turn sought help from a Russian doctor next to her.  They had met the day before at another Cordon Bleu course.  The doctor was exceptional, applying her knowledge of human anatomy to the lamb, making precise incisions.

I could not expect Alisa to do all my work, nor Chef Siegler who raced from work station to work station, guiding, critiquing, encouraging.  I was too embarrassed to reveal my total ignorance of his instructions.

“Five more minutes to finish the lamb,” he announced.  We had to move on to the jus, crust and veggies. Tension was mounting.cb.4

“I love to cook.  I love to share, with customers and students.  But I prefer students,” Siegler  told me.  “I need to have my eyes on everything here.  Some people have never held a knife.”

My classmates, however,  appeared to have advanced far beyond wielding a knife. The dedicated chef  came around to inspect each student’s lamb.  Star of the class, Anze from Slovenia, managed to perfectly duplicate Siegler’s demonstration lamb.   All were in awe, even Siegler.  The doctor’s efforts were also impressive.  Others, while perhaps less perfect, were acceptable.

Unfortunately not mine.  When he looked at my massacred meat, he pronounced: “You will have a filet instead of a rack of lamb,”   then proceeded with Formula I speed to show me how to remove the bones and fat from the lamb, leaving a filet.

At least I was not alone in failure. Lorraine from Shanghai also ended up with a filet. “We don’t cook like this in China,” she said.

Time was limited, so tasks were divided as we moved on. I opted for chopping and sautéing onions for the tian, figuring I could not screw this up.  And, I remembered his instructions.

We each were given an aluminum container to assemble our own tians with the onions and other veggies which we had sliced. These, and the racks of lamb (and filets) went into the ovens.  The reward:  We each had a tian and our lamb to take home.  My husband and I had rented an airbnb apartment.  I called ahead.  “Get a bottle of good red wine. I am  bringing dinner.”cb.1

I may not have had the perfect rack of lamb, but the filet was superb.  The tian: delicious. Definitely a three-star dinner.  The day had been fun, enjoyable, and educational. I picked up many chef techniques which I have been putting into practice.   Next visit to Paris, I will definitely schedule another Cordon Bleu course… along with our visit to the dentist. And, I will arrive on time and pay close attention to all.

Put on the apron and get out the rolling pin.  Time for Christmas cookies.  See Today’s Taste, above right, and my recipe for Greek Crescents,  a winner of a cookie.

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2017: The long hot summer

Too long. Too hot. It’s almost September (28 August), but the temperature on our balcony in the shade is 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees F). There have been far too many days with this sweltering heat, even reaching 38/100 a few times. We have learned to live like the locals, shutting all windows and shutters early in the morning. It is like living in a cave, but it does keep things a bit cooler.

I long for the coolness of the mountains…. Soon we will be off, not to the mountains, but north to Germany where far more pleasant temperatures await, alas some rain too. That’s Germany! We need that rain in Provence. No precipitation for weeks. The garden plants are sad, drooping, very thirsty. I am so sick of watering, but I must prevent my precious roses from perishing. My geraniums and petunias have given up – no more blossoms.  Grass — what grass? Nothing but a rock hard brown surface covered with the parched remains of what long ago was lush and green.  It’s strange. We are suffering from excessive heat and drought in Provence.  In  Houston they have Harvey and devastating floods.  Climate change is real.

Following are some photos of summer chez nous. We kept cool, sort of, at a mechoui (lamb roasted on a spit) picnic in nearby Cereste. That lamb was tasty. We had visitors, friends Regis and Britta from Germany with their friends Tobie and Allan from Tucson.  Tobie scoured the antiques shops, finding many treasures which Allan had to squeeze into the rental car trunk.  We are not sure how all that loot made it back to Tucson.Our only trip of the summer was to Paris to see our fabulous American dentist, Dr. Jane. We made time for a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, an architectural wonder.  

summer4We had a cute, tiny Airbnb apartment in the Marais which offered this view (below) from the mini balcony.  This time we did not get locked in (see previous post, “Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment,” 2016/11/13)I took a cooking course, The Art of Cooking like Chef, at the renowned Cordon Bleu. I failed to master carre de l’agneau  and ended up massacring a beautiful hunk of meat.  More on this sorry tale to appear soon in an article on http://www.travelsquire.com

My rack of lamb looked nothing like this. I failed Cooking like a Chef, but I loved the course anyway.

We were happy to lighten our load at a flea market in Reillanne, our town. It is therapeutic, and we need to part with much more. 

Friends David and Mollie did very well, with many takers for their bargains.

More visitors, Tom and Lisa from our Stuttgart days came with daughter Remy who is named after that town in Provence.  They now live in Middleburg, Va.

More Paris.  Dinner with Leonard and Claudine at an Israeli restaurant where the Shakshuka is excellent (see Shakshuka recipe under Recipes, Meat and Mains, column at right).

Bob bids farewell to Paris, quenching his thirst with a beer at Le Train Bleu while we wait to board our TGV back to Provence.

We had a celebration a few days ago to mark the end of this scorcher of a summer, but no end in sight.  We had fun nonetheless, and delicious food thanks to chefs Victor and Ishmael.

Today’s Taste is a different and tangy take on summer squash and/or zucchini.  Click on squash photo , upper right, for recipe, and scroll down for more recipes.

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In the Merde

Yes, in deep and desperately needing escape. I/we cannot get out from under the  ominous, all-encompassing black cloud which has bombarded us with one disaster after another.  What did we do to deserve this merde?  Did someone put a hex on us, cast a black magic spell of evil?

The current calamity ranks as the worst, yet those preceding were far more than minor photo.hexmishaps. (see previous posts: “Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment” and “China II: The Fall”).

More merde followed those catastrophes but let’s start with the present which began the afternoon of April 10.

I was typing away at my computer when a frantic husband ran in screaming.  “I need some ice. I need some ice quick.” Too hot?  He needs a cool drink?  No such luck. He related that he had fallen from a ladder while trimming a tall bush.

I was not terribly sympathetic.  At his age, he has no business on ladders.  Last summer he fell out of a tree when trying to trim.  He has fallen off the wall in front of our property when cutting shrubbery.  He relishes climbing a wobbly ladder into our attic. ladder - CopyClimbing must have been one of his favorite boyhood exploits.  But, he is a boy no more.

He had an enormous lump on his calf.  We iced it down.  He was in pain, but he could walk/move with no problem.  Nonetheless that evening we went to the emergency room at the Manosque hospital, about a half hour away.

And, there we spent 3 ½ hours.  Leg was x-rayed.  Nothing broken.  We were told to wait and see the doctor again.  We waited and waited. Many of those who arrived after us had seen doctors and left.  My patience and nerves were shattered. I had a killer migraine.  Bob was getting antsy.  We learned our doctor was on the telephone dealing with a very urgent case. Bob’s leg injury was obviously not urgent.  Who knows how much longer the wait would be?  We  left.

Next day he saw his local doctor.  The lump was a gigantic hematoma, now red, purple, pink and horrific.  His foot had also ballooned – too fat for his shoes. The doctor ordered a Doppler ultrasound to check for blood clots, and he arranged for the test with a nearby doctor that evening.   All clear – no clots.

There had been a half-dollar sized blister on the surface of the hematoma. At some point it burst and a large scab formed. But, the swelling was increasing. The grotesque colors on his leg now engulfed the fat foot, too.

We decided this required another look by a medical professional.  His doctor was off that day, so we trekked back to emergency where this time we only to had to wait a few minutes. A doctor checked it out, said it was infected, gave us a prescription for antibiotics and another one for daily at-home nurse visits to change the bandage (a wonderful plus of French medical care).  He turned us over to a nurse who we assume followed his instructions and cut delicately around the scab which immediately began oozing thick, black blood (the hematoma contents).  She covered it with a large bandage and sent us on our way.

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Nurse Vero cleans the hole.

Back home the next day nurse Aurelie I appeared, removed the bandage and was horrified.  “They did this at Manosque?”  She began pressing the hematoma, again and again and again, draining it of the ancient blood. I watched, incredulous.  Would it ever stop?  It did, but left a gargantuan cavity in his leg.  It is this cavity which the nurses came to clean out and stuff with treated gauze every day.  In the beginning it took a meter-length piece of gauze to fill the cavity.  The mountainous lump was/is still there, but getting smaller.

Several days passed and a  new nurse arrived, Aurelie II. She was shocked.  “This does not look good….How long has it been like this?”  She urged us to go the emergency department at the hospital in Aix en Provence.  We learned from her, and others, that the Manosque hospital does not have a good reputation.

Afternoon plans were canceled and we set off to Aix, about an hour and 15 minutes away.   A two-and a one half hour wait merited an examination by a very patient and thorough doctor.  He carefully cleaned the “hole,” stuffed it, patched it, wrapped it and sent us on our way with a prescription for a different antibiotic and a new at-home nurse prescription.  He also sent a swab of the cavity to the lab. The results later indicated the infection was resistant to the first antibiotic, but the second, the one he had prescribed, was on target.merde.7

Meanwhile, our lives have been in turmoil since the fall.  My Easter dinner party canceled.  A hotel overnight in Aix canceled. A weekend in Italy canceled. My doctor’s appointment canceled.  No time for my activities:  photo club and French writing group.  The real tragedy, the month-long trip to Germany, out the window. We had planned to see some friends, but the trip was primarily a research trip for me.  I write for the magazine German Life and planned to gather material for future articles.  It was a time-consuming, complicated trip to arrange – reservations, appointments, calculating driving distances and times.  All for naught.  Merde!

Nurses continued to come daily for the cleaning-stuffing wound ritual, warning us that full recovery would be long.  Aurelie I suggested we see a “specialist des pansements” (bandage specialist) at the Manosque hospital, a woman (Hungarian) whom she had great regard for.   I made an appointment, but we had to wait 2 weeks to see her.

When the bandage specialist saw the dreadful wound and learned that we had been to the hospital emergency room way back at the beginning of the sorry saga, five weeks prior, she was angry.  “Why didn’t they call me?  They know this is my specialty?”  She said if she had started treatment initially, by now Bob would be recovered.

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Supplies delivered from hospital for at-home care, all covered by national French health insurance.

She advised Bob be hospitalized for a week to start treatment with a machine which would suction all the bad stuff lodged in the cavity.  The process would take about a month, as opposed to three to four months if he continued with the nurses at-home

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Bob and his talking purse.

treatments.  He would need to spend about a week in the hospital, and then go home with machine.

The machine can hang from his shoulder, like a purse, and can operate on batteries, so he can be mobile.  He was given permission to go home for the weekend. We were elated.

On Sunday we were about to depart for lunch at the home of friends in a nearby town.

Telephone rang.  Hospital.   They had taken a blood sample during his stay.  Results indicated “a very dangerous infection.” Get back to the hospital immediately so treatment can be started, they urged. That ended lunch with friends.  More merde!

I did some research on the bacteria he had contracted – both common hospital infections, multi-antibiotic resistant. Of course, the hospital insists he did not get the infections from contamination there, even though he had been infection free when entering the hospital.

So, now in addition to the machine, he was/is on a drip of a very strong antibiotic for 10 days.   This was the last straw, too much. We were both at rock bottom, very nervous about the gravity of these infections, sick of the hospital, depressed, despondent.the-last-straw

Our sanity was saved, again by the fabulous visiting nurses.  After four days back in the hospital, “hospitalisation a domicile” (home hospitalization) was arranged.  A nurse comes  three times per day, at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.,  to hook him up to the drip which lasts about 1/2 hour each time.   The 10 days will end tomorrow, but he will still have the machine, however it only requires a nurse’s attention every three days.

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Nurse Aurelie I and the drip hook up.

Nurses may call it a miracle machine, praising its medical prowess, but we call it Farting Freddy.  It is noisy, emitting sounds identical to farts all too often. We are ready for a return to the world, a meal in a restaurant, but dare we?

On top of this tragedy, and the others previously mentioned, my China fall still haunts me.  The broken collar bone did not heal correctly, the bones did not realign (non-union). It is still painful at times.  I am (was) a devoted lap swimmer, but the crawl, my stroke, is difficult. Double merde!

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My hand splint.

Another complication: somehow nerves in my upper arm, below the damaged collar bone, became compressed.  My left hand movement is limited, namely the two little fingers which are basically frozen. At first I was told recovery could take a year.  Now they say two years.  I have learned to type with one good hand, and one finger of the left hand.  Many kitchen/cooking tasks remain challenging.

And yet another whopper: basal cell skin cancer. I had a tiny bump on my nose, cancer caused by the sun and not usually dangerous. Removing the mini lump would be a piece of cake, so I thought.  Not quite – underneath the skin the lump was not so tiny.  Removal left me with 26 stitches on the side of my nose and face.  Fortunately I had a skilled plastic surgeon.  The scar is easily hidden with makeup.  But, after all that, he did not get all the cancer.  One cell remains. More merde!

Perhaps there is light at the end of this tunnel of merde. Since Freddy attacked the wound, it is slowly shrinking.   While these troubles have been – and still are – annoying, I realize it all could have been far worse.  But, we need a break from bad luck. If anyone can offer a hex of happiness and good health, a magic spell of good fortune to chase away the merde, please send our way.

In between all of the merde, we did have a lovely trip to Sri Lanka. See previous post, “Wonders of Sri Lanka.”    More on that coming soon. Don’t miss it.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared. 

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