27 Mar 2013

Vitamin C is My Drug

The plan was to not get ill in Paris because I'm petrified of the healthcare system.  I've been here now for a grand total of 7 months (I could technically finish my year abroad in two days' time ya know!), and I haven't - hadn't - been ill once. Which is surprising given the number of people who have coughed and breathed on me on the metro.  And for the record, I give the scariest 'evils' to those who do.  I always carry hand sanitizer around (that's the half-American in me) but it's sometimes too late when my grumbling stomach forgets about germs and I nom on a pain au chocolat before squirting the pungent liquid onto my palms.  But I was taught that a few germs never hurt anyone...

I've also had plenty of long nights due to my social habits, which means I've felt pretty run down and experienced plenty of occasions where my bed just doesn't seem to want to release me at the sound of my alarm.  But despite drinking my body weight in caffeine for the past three weeks (new job, longer hours), I've been a happy and healthy little bunny!  Until now, that is.  

You know when you wake up in the morning and your throat feels a little sore?  And then as the day goes on your throat isn't just sore, but it's burning?  You feel phlegm (vile word I know!) starting to build in your mouth and you try to stop yourself from making weird noises in your throat to relieve the pain and spit out the unpleasant gunge which is suffocating you.  Your ears start popping and you become slightly deaf.  In fact, your whole head feels like it's been stuffed with cotton wool and repeatedly wacked with a tennis racket.  You keep swallowing to check you can still breathe.  The all too familiar symptoms of the common cold.  Until it turns into tonsillitis and you're on your deathbed for two weeks.  Been there, done that, cried to the Doctor. 

So it was a couple days ago that I woke up and had more than one alarm bell ringing.  Sore throat.  Sore realisation.  So what did I do?  I did what any desperate-to-be-healthy person would do in my situation and ran to the supermarket to stock up on ridiculous quantities of Vitamin C.  After drinking about a gallon of water and hoping that would 'flush out' my cold.

Breakfast this morning consisted of half a grapefruit and half a cantaloupe melon while dinner right now consisted of the other half of melon, some rather large glugs of Tropicana OJ and a tangerine.  Plus cheese, hummous and crackers of course.  Please don't mistake conscious Vitamin C overdose for 'dieting'.  Although talking of dieting, I managed to have about seven slices of cake last night for a friend's birthday since he kindly treated us to some delicacies from 'Paul'.  That, plus hot cross buns galore, smothered with butter (this was just dessert).  I'm definitely on a seafood diet right now.  I see food, and then I eat it.  Yea, yea, I know that was lame.

So in short of eating an orange tree, I think I'm just going to have to wade this one out.  Although I'm currently harking back to when I had tonsillitis back in December 2011 and I remember being so fed up that I decided to console myself with a vodka orange or two.  I think the effects of Vitamin C plus alcohol are pretty profound because the next morning I was starting to feel back to my normal self again.  I see what they mean when they say alcohol's a drug.

17 Mar 2013

My Romance with Restaurants: Fondue

Since my love affair with men hasn't gone so well in France, I've decided to turn my amorous efforts towards food instead.  And since I couldn't possibly discuss all of my restaurant adventures in one blog post, I've decided to start my own mini series, starting with fondue.   I need not remind my readers of my intimate relationship with cheese.  Cheese, fromage, formaggio, queso...it's one of my greatest pleasures, in every language.

On Valentine's day (oh so long ago now!), the girls and I went for a late night seating at "Le Refuge des Fondues" in Montmartre where they serve a set menu for 21€ per head.  Between six of us this included an aperitif each, a couple charcuterie sharing platters, unlimited quantities of red wine in baby bottles, one cheese fondue, one beef fondue, and fruit salad for dessert.  We were crammed into the tiny restaurant which consisted of two long tables on either wall and narrow benches.  The walls were graffitied with messages and signatures of people who'd consumed fondue within its walls and old bank notes had been tacked up on one side.  The waiter held my hand as I stepped onto a chair and clambered over the table to get into my seat.  For anyone too preoccupied with the term 'personal space', I wouldn't suggest going.  I also managed to splatter sauce all over my silk dress after attempting to pull my bread out of the cheese fondue which appeared to be at the other end of the table.  It was a little on the runny side which meant getting it to melt on the bread was a chore and a half, but I managed.  Would I go back?  Perhaps with a party of four because it's a mini adventure.  But I think six was slightly too many for practicality's sake.  Not the best fondue I've had in my life but the waiters were lovely, particularly the older one who had a sense of humour and was slightly eccentric.

I went to another fondue restaurant recently on Rue Mouffetard with a friend of mine.  The cheese here in my opinion was superior to that in the other restaurant, being a much thicker consistency, but the service was shoddy.  And I mean offensively shoddy.  It took us about ten minutes to get a menu - not because it was insanely crowded but rather because it appeared that they had about five menus in total between God knows how many people.  It was like battle of the menus.  When we were finally in possession of said menus, we quickly decided upon the three cheese fondue and a tomato and mozzarella salad to share.  After a long wait, the waiter returned and snatched the menus off us.  This would have been mildly acceptable if we'd already ordered but quite the contrary: we were still waiting for him to scribble something illegibly into his notepad.  He stared at me expectantly but instead I looked at him incredulously and tugged the menu out of his hand before opening it and pointing at what I wanted.  He then snapped it back out of my hand and asked what we wanted to drink.  I turned to my friend opposite me and sighed, mumbling something like 'Well if he'd just give me the bloody menu then maybe I'd know what to have'.  He insisted on holding the menu just out of reach so that I was squinting at the rather meagre wine list.  After a short kerfuffle I asked for a carafe of red wine to which he responded: "carafe ou demi bouteille?"  I asked what the difference was in price and quantity but he seemed to avoid the question and the conversation continued in a vicious circle for the next few moments before I huffed and exploded with "carafe".

It arrived ten minutes later, half-baked apparently.  Yes, it appeared we'd been given a bottle that had been sitting in close proximity to an oven.  Before long, I noticed Naomi's eyes straying from me and a frown formed on her lips.  "That waiter just ate a hunk of meat from that plate he's about to serve" she insisted.  I turned around in dismay and saw his jaw chomping hurriedly through his stolen bit of meat.  We were practically adjacent to the kitchen which I would never recommendd.  We soon witnessed our waiter bringing his hand to his sweaty forehead and wiping it.  Two seconds later he was pulling a baguette out of the bread basket and slicing it.  He scraped the bread into the basket with beads of sweat trickling down his fingers.  He placed the basket on our table.  We paid about 26€ each.  I wouldn't go back again.

So I'm still searching for the best fondue in town, and I'll let you know when and where I find it!  Alternatively, if you have any great suggestions, please comment below!

7 Mar 2013

Surprise Surprise!

If you're anything like me, you love surprises!  I get all excited and feel all gooey inside like a slightly undercooked cake!  But alas, not all surprises are good ones and these past couple weeks I've had my fair share of excitement and disappointment when it came to the unexpected!

1) I received a letter from the HMRC saying they owed me a tax rebate! Well, that wasn't so much of a surprise because I knew those thieving MPs were up to something, but surprised I actually received it back!  And tadah, I'm now wealthy.  Well, not really.  But no longer scrounging.  Not quite so much anyway.

2) I was invited by a colleague to the H&M Autumn/Winter collection fashion show, and met Cara Delevingne and got to drink free cocktails, champagne and eat foie gras, smoked salmon, quails eggs, baby sandwiches and Chocolat liƩgeois which I'm still having nightmares about - it was that insane.

3) I had to go for a French medical exam and take off my clothes.  Definitely a surprise.

4) I received some beautiful IHT stash (which hasn't been available for many years!) from a dear colleague of mine as a leaving gift.  Best surprise present ever.

5) I learnt how much of a fan I am of gangster movies, which was definitely a surprise.  Although not such a surprise that the film that got me hooked was "Gangster Squad" starring the one and only Ryan Gosling.

6) I went to the hairdresser for the first time in Paris to get a fringe cut!  Tony&Guy were trying to charge me 20 so I went slightly further afield and got a surprise when it turned out to be only 5.  Despite making my fringe a little on the spiky side, it was a pretty decent effort. 

7) I went to pick up my half marathon bib and found out they were all YELLOW.  This was certainly a surprise as I'd picked the "green team" so that I could wear a colour which at least vaguely suited me.  

8) I proceeded to run the half marathon in under 2 hours (1hr58mins to be precise) which was certainly a surprise since in training I did it in 2h08mins!

9) I haven't been able to take any money out at the cash machine since the weekend because apparently I've exceeded my withdrawal limit (despite still having funds in my account!) - that was certainly a surprise!  And not a nice one!

10) I got a free cider from the cute guy in the bar when I spilt half of mine over my friend's lap!  That was certainly a surprise because it was 7,50€ a bottle!

1 Mar 2013

Stripping for the Doctor

So going to the Doctor's in France is something I've wanted to avoid at all costs.  Partly because it's an absolute rip-off and also because the words "social" and "security" said next to each other are two things I don't want to get involved in.  Why? Because that can only mean one thing: lots and lots and lots of paperwork.  Alas, I've done a pretty good job of keeping healthy here in Paris (bar the 5 fruit & veg a day), and I haven't so much as caught the common cold since landing on this side of the Channel all those months ago.  Touch wood and all that.  However, I did have to make a trip to a GP recently because of my imminent half marathon.  I basically require a medical certificate, acknowledging that I'm fit and healthy enough to compete in running competitions.  That's the French for you, making sure they're not liable for anything regarding your possible extinction.  Nonetheless, I thought it would be a regular affair where they’d test my blood pressure and breathing which I was hoping to pass with flying colours.  The irony of it however was that I was running late (as per usual), but as I was running from the metro to the Doctor, I suddenly felt a shortness of breath come over me.  Not exactly the best feeling when you're trying to persuade your Doctor that you're shortly going to be running a half marathon and all she can hear above your murmurings is wheezing.   

So I decided it would be safer to go with an English-speaking Doctor, just so there weren't any misunderstandings or unwanted complications.  Ya know, just in case they told me I had some deadly disease which could be prevented by NOT eating tomatoes, and I misheard and thought I was being told to eat them all day, every day, until I essentially implode.  Death by tomatoes.  How quintessentially Spanish that would be.  (If you're not getting the reference, I'm referring to La Tomatina which is a yearly festival held in Valencia in the last week of August.  In the simplest of terms, it's a "tomato fight").

So being my lazy self I decided to book an appointment with the nearest English-speaking Doctor who happened to be a road along from where I live.  After pressing the buzzer numerous times and receiving nothing but a bit of voice recorder feedback, I was starting to get impatient.  To my relief however, a French lady who worked in the building came bustling to the door and tapped a few numbers on the keypad.  I walked up to the first floor and was alarmed to find a sort of makeshift waiting room which didn't resemble anything like being at the Doctor's.  For a moment I was worried I'd entered the wrong room but a sign on the door confirmed otherwise.  This was it: a couple mismatched plastic seats and a token plant.  There was no reception, no-one to point me in the right direction or tell me to take a seat.  There was a man sporting a lot of facial hair sitting opposite me but I decided to let him enjoy the book he was reading on unusual diseases.  He looked totally engrossed in it.

After ten minutes of tapping my foot on the cobbled floor, I wasn’t sure whether it was custom to knock on the Doctor’s door or wait for her to come out and invite me in.  I didn’t want to interrupt another patient confiding in the state of her oh so private parts.  Eventually, I heard voices and two ladies came out and called out my name.  Calling me “Gerry Montana” of course because they’re idiots.  Ahem, sorry, “misinformed”.  

So I explained that I needed a medical certificate for the half marathon and she looked at her intern (yes, she had an intern sitting in on this!) and said “we need to be quick, we don’t have much time!”  To cut to the chase, she asked me to strip.  OK, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds but I still had to take off my blouse, and then my bra.  Flashing a French Doctor wasn’t exactly number one on my list of things to do before leaving Paris.  So after obeying her rather raucous command, I placed my wrists uncomfortably over my breasts and stood there like a lemon, not knowing what to say or do.  She told me to get onto the bed (I know what you're thinking, so stop it!), and I lay chest down onto the paper towel.  That was until she told me to lie down the other way because of course my back was of no use to her.  Splendid.  So with my wrists still firmly over my breasts, I lay down on my back and stared up at the ceiling.  I was trying to keep my dignity by not exposing too much flesh but she asked for my wrist and I winced.  Biting my lip anxiously, I let her clamp my wrists and ankles and smiled politely.  She then began twisting all these strange nozzles onto my chest and then plugged a bunch of wires into them.  You can tell I’m not a scientist.   

The Doctor was talking to the intern and muttered something like “make sure you put the wire in the right one, you don't want to electrocute the girl and kill her”.  I lay there frozen, and managed to utter a barely audible "really?" before she cackled and admitted that she was "just joking".  Well, I'm glad someone found it funny.  Because I’m struggling to find anything amusing right now when my breasts are in your face.  

So after a few panicky stares at my heart rate which was being drawn onto some long pinky-coloured paper, the Doctor finally confirmed that I had passed this part of the medical test.  She then took my blood pressure reading which I always hate because it feels like your arm is about to explode, but it’s always nice to hear that you are “perfectly normal”.  

After putting my bra back on (the Doctor insisted on helping me because my strap had come undone), and buttoning up my blouse, I let out a massive sigh of relief.  That was until she asked me to hand over 65€ which I reluctantly pulled out of my wallet.  Well, I guess that babysitting money had to go somewhere.  It felt like I was involved in some illicit trade and that I was paying her under the counter.  She pulled out a 5€ note from her wallet (my change) and I saw in the corner of my eye a wad of notes sitting in a drawer below her desk.  If I didn’t know better, I’d have accused her of drug dealing.

So there you have it.  It seems that being ill in France (or not ill in my case) comes with an ugly price tag, a fair bit of nudity and potential drug abuse.