Du poil de la bête

I’ve often heard it said in French, ‘Il reprend du poil de la bête’. This means to feel better after having been ill.

It never occurred to me to equate it with the hair of the dog. The idea of taking ‘a hair of the dog that bit you’ in the form of an alcoholic beverage to cure a hangover is the so very English expression. Quelle surprise!

Yet it seems they have the same etymology. At one time it was thought that applying a hair of the animal that bit you to a wound would literally hasten a cure.

My Frenchie is almost back to his old self following last week’s operation to remove an obstruction from his large intestine. Snorting, burping, farting and giving in to occasional moments of pure bulldog folly. Makes me remember why I fell in love with the breed in the first place….

Higgins took a hair of the dog and actually came very close to a second incident when he managed to crack open the small hard plastic bit of a vet-approved rope toy. Verdict: he is not to be left alone with any toys, period. As the vet pointed out, rightly so, there is no safe toy in the jaws of a determined dog. So we’ll reserve these objects of his affection for play time.

Speaking of hair, we are in shedding season. Between two cats and two dogs, you need a powerful vacuum cleaner to keep the floors from wearing shag rugs.

The above photo is the amount of hair removed from one of our cats following a recent trip to the toilettage. Finding a professional cat groomer wasn’t easy but it turns out there is a crazy lady ‘toiletteuse pour chat’ only half an hour away. My two kitties had never been groomed before but the experience of removing knots not to mention handfuls of hair seems to have given them a new lease on life. And my vacuum cleaner too.

So that just leaves me. After my series of blood tests and checkups and hair-raising encounters with loud machines, it seems it’s all systems go. As my Beau-père likes to joke, ‘on va mourir en bonne santé’. It’s reassuring to know we will die in good health.

A thought for those who are not so fortunate, however. Having been there before, it is easy to forget the suffering – physical and mental – of all those who are not well, be it with serious illness or chronic pain. Keeping one’s sense of humour is vital, but that’s a lot easier when you have the greatest gift of all.

Here’s to your good health. Santé!

Trop de la balle

Our Frenchie loves his balls.

Wait, you say. Don’t all dogs?

Mais non! If we’re talking about those balls, as a breed, most French bulldogs can’t reach theirs. Which makes for a lot less grooming (if that’s what you call it).

And if you’re talking about the other kind, also non.

We have two (Frenchies, that is). One is a ball dog and the other is not. Humphrey’s only interest in balls is the potential to fight over them. He’s a scrapper, loves a game of tug-of-war and any other opportunity for one-upmanship.

Higgins, on the other hand, is 100% French ball dog. He has a collection of balls and other toys that he likes to run after, chew, even bring on walks. When I decide enough is enough, I have to distract him in order to get him to drop the ball. Obedience training has failed. He is, after all, French. And you try unwedging a rubber ball from a determined bulldog’s jaw!

For some reason, he also likes to drop the ball in the pool and then wait for me to come and fish it out. Sometimes I don’t obey right away (hey, I’m also French), and this happens.

But sometimes, I admit to using his toys as an attention-getting device. (“You don’t want to go outside in the cold? Here, go get it!”) Frenchies are hard-headed. You use any available means to get them to follow.

The problem is that Frenchies can destroy even vet-approved toys in minutes. So when we found a brand of heavy rubber ball that he could really sink his teeth into, he was a happy boy.

“C’est trop de la balle!” he told me, using familiar French to say ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’

Last week our Higgins was under the weather. He barfed his breakfast one morning, which was not that unusual. The next day he threw up some more. I still wasn’t worried.

On more than one occasion a vet has explained to me: “Dogs are a vomitory species.” Right, because their ancestors, wolves, notoriously regurgitate their dinners to feed the young.

But when he stopped eating entirely for three days, I knew something was up. The vet confirmed it, first by palpating his gut and finding it hard. Then with an x-ray that seemed to show some strange objects lodged in his large intestine. He had an obstruction, and surgery would be needed.

I was mystified. What on earth could he have eaten?

You guessed it. Trop de la balle. On Tuesday, the vet removed a 1-inch chunk of rubber ball, along with a piece of his intestine.

And it is absolutely awesome good luck that he has so far come through the operation and is recovering well. Operating on bulldogs can be tricky due to their respiratory challenges, so we spent a sleepless night or two. And we’ll be keeping a close eye out over the next ten days for infection. But so far so good.

I went to visit him at the vet’s yesterday. He seemed a little sad at first but perked right up when I got him some new toys. Vet approved and, fingers-crossed, bulldog-proof.

By the way, if you have a dog who likes to chew, do NOT buy him toys like this! They are very dangerous if a piece breaks off and gets stuck in the gut.

 

 

Piqûre de rappel

Dave/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Somehow I manage to get through the year without a trip to the doctor’s office. Then it’s time for a booster shot. And suddenly it seems I have a check-up or an appointment of some kind for several weeks running.

Keeping a body in good health is like a car, especially us older models: you keep it fueled, check the air, go lightly on the brakes, but every now and then you have to do the maintenance. Seems I’m in for a full oil change at the moment.

Maybe because he doesn’t see me so often, my GP tends to pull out the big guns whenever I go in with a minor complaint. This time it was nagging lower back pain that had started in the summer. He was off for a month’s holidays when it started, so by the time I got an appointment, it was almost better. Still, better safe than sorry. I got sent for blood work, urine analysis, x-ray and – okay, why not save time and get it now? – an MRI.

I also got a few prescriptions for minor ailments, and when I go back with my results next week, I’ll probably get a flu shot. Seems this year’s bug is looking like a humdinger, and although the medical community agrees the vaccine is a bit of a crap shoot, as they can only guess at its actual makeup, worst case is you only get 35% sick. I’ll take it.

The anti-vaxxer movement is starting to gain momentum France. I remember questioning the need for my kids to get so many shots when I first arrived. But immunization is obligatory here, and if you want your children to attend school you have to go with it. After a bit of fact-checking, I decided to put my faith with science.

Now France’s new government is boosting the number of ‘obligatory’ children’s vaccines to 11: polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis b, influenza, meningitis and pneumococcal disease. Most of these were recommended anyway but the difference is that now they will be mandatory, and therefore, I assume, reimbursed. I get that people are concerned, and if I had young children would probably question the need for them too.

But the return of diseases like measles that were virtually eradicated in France is a legitimate public health concern for both young and old. Even though we oldsters survived many of them — in my case, measles, mumps and chicken pox. But hey, I also grew up a cloud of cigarette smoke.

This week I had an appointment for the dreaded MRI. You have to go to the hospital for this, and as I arrive I can’t help but notice that they always have a funeral parlour just across the street. Isn’t that a little pessimistic? Not to mention insensitive?

I’ve had MRI’s before, and figured this time would be a picnic as it was only for my lower back. Surely, given the fact that I always tick ‘claustrophobic’ on the questionnaire, they’d let me have my head sticking out of the tunnel? No such luck. The nurse pointed out that my head was almost at the end, and handed me a headset to block out the noise of the machine. The screech of obnoxious commercial radio combined with the strange magnetic noises of the imaging created a cacophony that made the whole experience even more unpleasant. But after a few brief moments of panic, the 15 minutes only felt like 30.

So far so good, although I’ll only get all the results back in a few days.

Hopefully now I’ll be good for another year.

Will you be getting a flu shot? Or avoiding the doctor like the plague?

La manif

Farmers demonstrate in Paris

“Tu vas à la manif?”

The first time someone asked me this, I remember thinking: it sounds like fun. Somehow the formality and seriousness of publicly demonstrating for a cause is lost in the cute short form: La manif’. And the reality is that it’s a bit of a party.

The French have raised the demonstration to something of an art form. This comprises a range of behaviours, from going out on strike to peaceably demonstrating in the streets, or resisting in more subversive ways. When it escalates, you end up with public disobedience, armed protests and violence against various police forces.

It always seemed strange to me that la Fête du Travail, held each year on the 1st of May, inevitably features a massive demonstration of labour unions. In North America, we celebrate our Labo(u)r Day on the first Monday in September with a barbeque and a few beers. The French take to the streets to remind their bosses that they are ready to strike at any time.

Of course, not everyone goes. I remember my Belle-mère telling me years ago that she agreed with her colleagues at Air France for going out on strike, rhyming off an entire list of rights and wrongs worth fighting for. When I asked if she was going to join them at the manif, however, she said no, she didn’t want to be seen at such an event. Besides, she hated crowds and was looking forward to a quiet day off.

When the company I was working for in Lyon was bought out by a German group, then merged with another Swiss company, our site held a bit of a manif. The pharma industry is not notorious for strike action; it’s a fairly conservative field of well-paid scientists and sales reps. But when any group of employees is threatened with potential job loss in France, you can be sure that the unions will get people out on the street. As I recall, there was a gathering of people waving signs, mostly dressed in while lab coats for effect. There were speeches and air horn blasts. I don’t remember if we processed anywhere. Most likely I took a page out of my mother-in-law’s book and went home early.

At such events there is often a festive air. It’s a bit like skipping off school.

There are sing-songs, usually led loudly off-key by some fellow with absolutely no musical ear. There are balloons, the burning of effigies of leaders. Stands with hot chestnuts and sausage vendors on the sidelines. There is a lot of creativity, even ingenuity among French demonstrators. Of course, there are also massive traffic jams and police everywhere. Water trucks and even tanks.

This past week, hundreds of farmers dumped truckloads of straw on the Champs Elysées in protest of the government’s proposed law to illegalize agricultural use of the chemical glyphosate. They camped out on the straw and managed to block access to the capital’s most famous avenue.

It’s a complex issue which tends to inflame public opinion on both sides. The use of the herbicide glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup which is already banned from private use in France, has been shown to be carcinogenic. At least according to some; others maintain there is no definitive scientific evidence of its danger to man. Certainly there are insufficient widespread studies, over sufficiently long periods, but it is surely not good for the environment or anyone who lives in it. I read one set of studies that found the chemical altered the ability of honeybees to fly and forage for nourishment. It has been so widely used since 1975 that traces of glyphosate can be found in virtually everything we eat.

The problem is that without it, commercial agriculture is doomed to lose money. And in France, that means many hard-working farmers who already struggle to make a living will suffer at least in the short term, until new methods and practices can be introduced. That is why Macron has appointed renowned tree-hugger Nicolas Hulot as minister of the ‘transition’ écologique. What is needed is a profound change in the way we grow our food to more sustainable methods. Such methods exist, and they work, but it will take time and money. In the meantime, there will be demonstrations.

The fact is, resistance is part of the French culture. It’s a bit like free speech to Americans or the monarchy to the Brits.

So next time someone asks, I’m going to the manif.

Et toi?

 

On ne peut plus se voir

If the French do one thing very well, it is mutual dislike. In fact, they raise it to an art form. When two people can’t stand each other, they literally can’t ‘see’ each other.

It seems I have become invisible. At least to my neighbour, who has decided she cannot see me. The irony is that I see far more of her than I care to.

My neighbour is a self-proclaimed child of 1968, ‘une soixante-huitarde’ who came of age when the bra-burning, peace-and-love sexual and social revolution hit Paris. She claims she simply cannot wear a top when she sunbathes, and from what I gather, bottoms are also optional.

To set the record straight, and dispel any notion of prudishness, none of this is a problem for me. ‘A chacun le sien’, to each his own, and I’ll even confess as to being a tiny bit envious of her comfort in being à poil. And of course, in the privacy of her own home and even her own backyard, it is truly her business.

Except it’s not. When we were building our house, several of the workmen complained it was distracting to see a nude woman just off the balcony, and at the time the lack of foliage (ours) made it hard to ignore (hers).

At first I thought they were joking, and even made a comment along the lines of: “But she’s no Brigitte Bardot, nor any spring chicken, is she really that much of a distraction?”

After various facial contortions indicating that ‘poulet du printemps’ is not any kind of French, they assured me that age made no difference: the proximity of a stark naked woman transforms any red-blooded male into a voyeur.

Aside from these ongoing visual disturbances, which I now address by closing the blinds and letting the hedge grow tall, I hear quite a bit more of my neighbour than I would choose to. There are frequent family feuds at a volume and intensity that would scare a fishmonger’s wife, and I say that as someone who is known to raise her own voice too high and too often.

Additionally, there is an adult son who likes to come home, open all the doors and windows and blast music to entertain the entire neighbourhood. I believe he is probably the source of the knock-down drag-out disputes. Of course, none of this is any of my business. And if I were a good French neighbour, I would turn my deaf ear and blind eye their way and say nothing.

Aye, but there’s the rub. I’m not entirely French, you see.

So, on a couple of occasions, I have (nicely, in my view, but still perhaps too pointedly to their taste) asked them to lower the volume of said music (the fights I pretend not to hear), when it carried on loudly after 10 p.m. And on one occasion, it seems I unjustly accused them of being the source of said noise when they were quietly watching TV!

Monsieur not-Bardot came around the next morning and spoke to my husband, saying that his wife was beside herself with my false accusations. Monsieur FranceSays suggested that I could perhaps be forgiven my mistake as there had been many previous occasions on which the music from their place had been very loud indeed. He also explained that my single-sided deafness makes it hard to correctly pinpoint sounds.

That’s when things went south with my neighbour. A few weeks later, I received a note from her saying that the following Saturday night she would be hosting a party of friends and neighbours (clearly we were not invited) for her birthday. That she hoped I could tolerate a bit of music and voices in the garden on this occasion, given my bedtime at 9:30 p.m. I replied saying that I appreciated her consideration in letting me know.

Husband, who can be a wag, asked me if I had wished her a happy 70th birthday?

When Saturday came, the temperature plummeted and it poured rain. The party was a wash out.

Since then, she ignores me. And I pretend to ignore her ignoring me, calling out a bright ‘Bonjour B…’ whenever we meet.

Perhaps it is my lack of Latin blood, but I find that harbouring dislike for other people usually turns around and bites you in the butt. So I try to get along with everyone, at least superficially. Or at least laugh rather than hate. Life is better that way.

The featured photo is of a famous celebrity feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I’ll sign off with a video of a famous French love story inspired by 1968, with Serge Gainsbourg and his muse, Jane Birkin. (Warning: you may wish to bleep the sound half-way through if anyone is listening.)

How do you handle difficult neighbours?