Torticolis

Stiff neck. Leave it to the French to give it a fancy name!

How can something so much fun to pronounce be so painful to endure? That is the question I’ve been asking myself since being plagued by a stiff neck for the past week.

‘Torticolis’ is the term for a stiff neck in French. I find the French always prefer a highly technical medical term to describe even minor ills: a sore throat is ‘une angine’, an ear infection ‘une otite’, a chest cold ‘une bronchite’ and stomach flu is ‘une gastroentérite’. Note that all such afflictions are feminine in gender. (But that is worthy of another post.)

I am not sure why my neck would choose to play up now. I’ve never had a healthier lifestyle than in the past few weeks of confinement. My workload is low, so no stress there. I’ve been getting lots of sleep, eating healthy home-cooked food and exercising a reasonable amount each day. The only thing I may be doing a bit more than usual is sitting. And looking at my phone. And, come to think of it, worrying about running out of time to do all of the million things I would like to do in life before possibly dying on a respirator.

So maybe I am a bit stressed.

But, unlike the novel coronavirus, there is nothing all that new in this for me. I am a worrier by nature, constantly fighting down negative thoughts. Overall I do pretty well. Stay upbeat and mostly keep the demons away with a good balance of healthy living and therapeutic alcohol.

But back to the torticolis… (Seriously? doesn’t it sound like a fun type of pasta?) It seems I probably have some sort of cervical osteoarthritis, surely exacerbated by being deaf on one side and turning my head all the time to the right. Also sitting in front of a computer and right-side mousing. I spoke to my doctor about this on a video consult yesterday (the only kind he’s doing during the lockdown), which probably didn’t help my neck as I was staring at a screen again. He suggested the possibility of regenerative medicine, and platelet-rich plasma injections.

It certainly sounds promising and I intend to investigate further. While also trying to improve my posture at work, sit less and spend less time online. In the meantime, thanks a million to my friend Meeka for sharing a wonderful video of stretches to help correct forward head posture, along with much helpful info about COVID-19 on her blog.

Hope you are all staying healthy! Anyone else got a pain in the neck, back or other?

Photo by Aidas Ciziunas on Unsplash

Calme ta joie

It is an odd feeling to walk outdoors at the moment. Strangely calm, with no planes and few cars. Yet while human activity seems to have ground to a resounding halt, life goes on.

All around us, nature is blissfully oblivious to the human drama unfolding on its doorstep. Springing, bursting, burgeoning forth in joyful profusion, it doesn’t care about coronavirus.

“Calme ta joie,” I tell the tree, heavy with blossoms a-buzzing. Don’t you know people are dying?

In the field by the road two crows squabble over carrion. Atop the highest tree branch sits a kite, one of the magnificent birds of prey that populate our region, calmly surveying the proceedings. They are a reminder that death is so much a part of life. Survival, each day, depends on it.

I go outside and walk now more than ever, within the restricted perimeter of my authorized one-kilometre radius. As if to say, here I am, alive and well. Good morning world. Fuck you, coronavirus.

Unable to plan beyond the boundaries of personal space and essential commodities, we are no longer sure what day it is. But I am aware, perhaps more than ever, of the season.

The unstoppable chorus of birdsong is a joyful reminder that spring is here, in full swing, morning and night. It was always there in the background, behind the roar of our day-to- day rush. But now we wake to its twittering soundtrack and go to sleep with its last, mournful notes echoing in our dreams.

‘Calme ta joie’ is an expression I first heard when the kids were small. It is often said to children, and the French in general: calm down, stay cool, chill out. Perhaps we envy our more staid British neighbours their ‘keep calm and carry on’ mentality.

Yet It seems oddly appropriate for this strange period of human captivity. You cannot stop the force of nature, of life itself, for long. You can calm it down for a little while but ultimately nature will out.

And for that, I am profoundly joyful.

I leave you with this track, discovered via the googling of the title of this post. The artist, previously unknown to me, is called Clémentine.

Are you feeling joy in the calm?

E dans l’o

I never learned Latin. The dead languages were considered passé in the public education system when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. Latin was relegated to religious study. I often regret this lack. It would have been helpful to understand the root meanings of many French words.

I’ve only just discovered that in French the combination of ‘o’ and ‘e’ as œ is called ‘e dans l’o’. The funny thing is that when spoken this way it sounds like ‘oeufs dans l’eau’ (eggs in water). It’s an easy mnemonic and a fun way of describing this feisty little coupling of vowels in French.

In these times of confinement, of being stuck together, I am oddly moved by the poetry of this union. ‘Cœur’ offers the perfect example; o is joined to e just as hearts are joined in love. Old friends and lovers, siblings and kindred spirits who know each other intimately even after years of absence. This is the beauty of e dans l’o.

And there are so many other words with œ that represent the coming together of efforts or things: œuvre, a work of art or body of work; chœur, a choir; vœu, a wish; nœud, a knot.

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

I saw an œuvre last week that stirred my cœur as such things rarely do. A beautiful, original, heart-stopping film that filled me with sorrow and joy, while reminding me that what we are going through right now is nothing. Nothing at all.

It was a real discovery, having never seen any of the director/writer/actor’s work. Now I look forward to watching more. Taika Waititi has a unique talent for blending the dramatic with the comic. Just exactly my cup of tea.

Perhaps isolation gives us a different point of view on things we take for granted. Little things. A beautiful day. A cup of tea. A call from a friend.

Πis a small thing. Yet even tiny things can achieve a great deal. Like a virus wreaking havoc on the world as we know it. This tiny combination of cells is behind the pandemic that is bringing our economy to a halt, ripping lives apart, making a mockery of politics.

But it works both ways. By joining together in our efforts, by caring for one another, perhaps we can each make a difference. However small.

Whatever you do today, do it with cœur.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Has anything moved you lately?

Sage comme une image

As pretty as a picture or as quiet as a mouse? It depends from which side of the Atlantic you hail. What I understand this French expression to mean is that sometimes life imitates art (et non pas le contraire). So an especially tranquil child can be said to be ‘sage comme une image’. Here is a link to translations in various languages (just scroll down past the French).

This week I made an unexpected discovery, one that I found to be especially ‘sage’ (wise). The Museums of Paris have digitized and made a massive collection of art works available, free, online. These works whose rights are in the public domain offer an incredibly rich source of inspiration for blog posts, websites and more. And it’s absolutely free, so indulge!

Here’s a link to explore the collection. And a translation from the press release courtesy of Google:

This opening of data guarantees free access and reuse of all of digital files, without technical, legal or financial restrictions, for commercial use or not.

Images representing works belonging to the public domain under CCØ license (Creative Commons Zero) are made available to all internet users via the Paris Musées collections portal. Initially, reproductions of 2D works which are not subject to rights are available in Open Content, the images subjected to rights remain in low definition in order to illustrate the files of the collections website. Art lovers can for example download the works of the big names in photography (Atget, Blancard, Marville, Carjat …) or painting (Courbet, Delacroix, Rembrandt, Van Dyck …).

Paris Musées: http://www.parismusees.paris.fr/en/presse

I chose the above image to illustrate this post for fairly obvious reasons. Confinement is evocative of a bohemian life in which we lounge around, read, relax and indulge in otherwise forbidden sloth. The reality is somewhat different for us. Husband is home and we are both working, in my case sporadically and mostly on administrative and creative projects for which I normally have no time. Catching up on my accounts and looking at revamping my professional website. Husband is, as usual, glued to his calls from morning to night, taking short breaks for exercise and dog walks.

We are healthy, touch wood, and for that I am immensely grateful. Had news from a friend, in her forties and otherwise in good health. She and her husband have just passed the worst of a ‘mild’ case of COVID-19. The symptoms peaked ten days in, and included fever and muscle pain, coughing and shortness of breath. She is hoping to feel better in another few days and be clear of the virus in about a week. But if that’s how healthy, relatively young people are affected, I hate to think of what it does to those who are fragile.

So I will try and be ‘sage comme une image’ for the next days and weeks, keep my spirits up in this space and only make grocery runs when needed. I’d love to help out in some way, if only I knew how. Online or by phone? Surely even in confinement there must be ways we can reach out to those in need of moral support. Any ideas?

Hope you are all staying well. Please share your tips and tricks for staying sage!

Image credit: Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931). Imprimerie H. Herold. “La Vie de Bohême” par Puccini, G.Ricordi & Cie Editeurs, Paris. Affiche. Lithographie couleur, vers 1895. Paris, Musée Carnavalet.

Au bout du rouleau

At the end of our rope? Not yet. But you’d think the French version of the expression, ‘at the end of the roll’, would be apt with the recent run on toilet paper and other necessities.

Thankfully we still have a supply of toilet paper to keep us going. No thanks to the hoarders who seem to be as worried about running out here in France as they are elsewhere. Toilet paper and pasta, it appears, are the lusted-for items. A major pasta company, a news report has told us, is running extra shifts to ensure that we have enough spaghetti, penne and lasagne noodles to nourish us through the coronavirus crisis.

I’ve been avoiding the stores since Macron announced the additional measures this week. Partly because I’m by nature someone who hates to run out of things, so I keep a decent supply of stuff at home. Also because I hate to wait and avoid line-ups like the plague (pun intended). And let’s face it: the less we expose ourselves to others, the less chance we have to spread or catch whatever’s out there

But yesterday I needed a few things and besides, I was curious. So I downloaded the form we are now required to have with us at all times, attesting on our honour that we are doing one of five officially authorized activities:

  1. Going to work, if remote working is not possible
  2. Shopping for food or other essential items
  3. Going to a health-related appointment
  4. Taking care of children, helping a family member or infirm person who requires assistance
  5. Walking the dog or briefly going outside for exercise close to home

I ticked box number 2, dated and signed it, drove to the village and parked. The convenience store (8 à 8) in our village looked empty until I noticed half a dozen people standing outside. Several were wearing masks. As I got closer I realized that two of them were employees. They were letting people in, one at a time, so that there were never more than two customers inside.

We stood there, spaced out by the regulatory distance on the pavement, not looking at each other and in complete silence except for a couple of small children asking their mother endless questions. We don’t talk to each other much in France.

A man passing by popped his head into the group and asked the shopkeeper if there was any bread left, just in case, so he wouldn’t wait for nothing. The fellow nodded vigorously, bringing out a baguette from just inside and taking a coin there on the street. They seemed to know each other, although I could hardly tell as anything he said was muffled behind the mask. “Merci!” the man called as he left.

“Is the bakery closed?” I asked the person standing next to me. She shrugged, but the other employee, overhearing my question, replied: “Yes, they had to close because they had no staff. Their employee had to stay home and look after her kids.” Ah, I nodded. I’m sure that many of the people in our village are grateful that the little store does ‘dépôt de pain’ in emergency cases like this. Daily bread is truly the traditional staff of life in France.

Then it was my turn. In I went, along with an older woman who seemed to be intensely studying a wall of canned goods. I skirted around her as quickly as I could (the aisles being too narrow to pass while respecting social distancing rules) and got my fruit and veg, along with a pack of sparkling water. Then I went to the cash desk and waited while the other shopkeeper finished whatever she was stocking on one of the aisles. In the meantime, the other lone shopper decided to join me at the checkout, immediately stepping up close behind me.

I turned and, as politely as I could, suggested she kindly respect the one-metre rule. She backed off in a flurry of French that I didn’t understand. I paid for my groceries with a card (contactless) and left.

Today the window cleaner is coming and I will have to go and get cash to pay him as it’s mostly a side gig. The very high windows on our house are simply too much for us, so he comes twice a year and does them all, inside and out. Hugely efficient and well worth it. It’s not clear as to whether this is technically allowed or not. I’ve heard conflicting reports about the confinement law. Seem it’s okay to have childcare and cleaners in your home on one hand; on the other the fellow who maintains our water heater told me they’re only supposed to do emergency work.

But the thing is: people need to eat. The economy needs to keep going. So for now I’m taking a common sense approach. Distance and hand-washing, yes. Total isolation and plague-like behaviour, non.

How are you approaching confinement? Are you running scared or remaining calm, even nonchalant?