Friday’s French – coussiège, cushion & siège

Our coussiège

Our coussiège

In Closerie Falaiseau our late 16th century house in the Loire Valley, we have a little stone seat in the alcove formed by the 70 cm wall next to the window. In a 17th century house we used to rent at Christmas in Normandy, there was one each side of the window.

Last weekend we visited château de Fougères in the Loire Valley and I was delighted to learn there is actually a name for this little seat – un coussiège.

Usually made of stone, they were common in mediaeval constructions and formed part of the wall. They were covered with wood and cushions (coussins).

Now this got me thinking about where the word coussin comes from. I wondered whether it came from the word coudre which means “to sew” in French, because the ladies often sat next to the window with their embroidery watching the world go by because there was more light. A coussiège in that case would be a “sewing seat”.

But in fact, it comes from Vulgar Latin coxinus, which comes from coxa (thigh) and -inus, and means a stuffed object originally placed under the thighs. It might also come from the Latin culcita meaning mattress.

Cushion, which appeared in English in about 1300, comes from Old French coissin (12c., Modern French coussin), probably a variant of Vulgar Latin coxinum, from Latin coxa “hip, thigh”. Someone has counted more than 400 spellings of the plural of this word in Middle English wills and inventories. I can’t even begin to imagine that many spellings for the same term.

Also from the French word are Italian cuscino, Spanish cojin.

Coudre on the other hand, comes from Vulgar Latin cosere and Latin consuere, to sew (con means together). So much for the sewing seat theory!

So far, the only term I’ve found in English for coussiège is window seat which is most unimaginative and doesn’t conjure up mediaeval ladies sewing in the castle window. One day, a friend came buy with her little girl and showed her the coussiège. Some time later, my friend and I were having tea and wondered where she’d got to. You guessed it – she was downstairs on the coussiège being a mediaeval lady!

Posted in French language, Loire Valley châteaux | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Aperitivo in Italy – Cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal – Cruising through Iceland

Three very different destinations are on the agenda for this week’s blogger round-up. First Rosemary from Le Chic en Rose, shares an aperitivo with us on Lake Como, a must if you go to Italy. Next Abby from Paris Weekender takes us cycling along the Nantes-Brest Canal in Brittany and finally Sara from Simply Sara Travel invites us to Iceland and shares some of the most stunning photos imaginable. Enjoy!

Aperitivo Hour at Hôtel du Lac

by Rosemary from Le Chic en Rose, initially from Yorkshire, now in Perth in Western Australia who writes of the many things that inspire her including travel, fashion, history, learning languages and spending time with her family

chicenrose_aperitivoOne of the most civilised Italian customs is their love of the late afternoon/early evening aperitif. Both in the Italian speaking part of southern Switzerland and in northern Italy at 5pm on the dot (sometimes 6pm depending on where you are) their version of “Happy Hour” begins. We found when staying there, however, that the emphasis was as much on the food as the drink (though it was admirably washed down with a glass or two of prosecco or pinot grigio). Aperitivos, as they are called in Italian, always constitute an opportunity for food and plates of olives, prosciutto, bruschetta and even small salads and grilled meats would appear along with our drinks. Read more

Cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal

by Abby from Paris Weekender, an American living part-time in New York and part-time in Paris who offers suggestions for Paris weekends, either staying put or getting out of town

parisweekender_nantes_brest_canalFor some time now, I’ve been wanting to cycle the full length of the Nantes-Brest Canal. Technically, the classic cycling route actually runs from L’écluse de Quihex, about 25km north of the city of Nantes, along the canal to Carhaix, then parts from the canal and heads north until it hits the English Channel at Roscoff. All in all it’s approximately 350km or about 220 miles.

I figured that ideally I would need about 4 or 5 days to complete the full route. But then I realized that with a bit of logistical complication, I could actually complete the first half of the trail during the week (while still going home in the late afternoon to work and sleep in my own bed!) and the second half over the weekend, with just one night in a hotel. Read more

Cruisin’ Through Iceland

by Simply Sara Travel, a girl from New Jersey who traded in her bagels for baguettes and moved to Paris. The aim of her blog is to inspire readers to travel, embrace a new culture, and open their minds to new perspectives

simplysaratravel_iceland1 Toyota Land Cruiser
4 Tanks of gas
2 Volcanic craters
8 Waterfalls
5 Days

And 1,800 km of Icelandic roads covered. (Or 1,100 miles and change. Or for those like me who numbers don’t register much, the equivalent of over a third of the way from coast to coast of the United States.)

Any way you choose to look at it, it’s certainly a considerable distance for two people to cover. Especially two people who rarely drive these days being city dwellers and all. Read more

Posted in Cycling, Food, Italy, Sightseeing, Travelling, Wine | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Cycling to the Rendez-vous du Chocolat at Château de Villesavin

We can’t believe that it’s mid-October and the temperature is going to be 25°C in the afternoon! Absolutely unheard-of. We can’t wait to get out on our bikes. It’s also the 9th Rendez-vous du Chocolat at Château de Villesavin so we choose Itinerary n° 5 on the Châteaux à Vélo route called “Shadow and Light” and drive the 20 minutes to Cour Cheverny, about halfway along the 30 kilometre loop.

Colourful roadside cross

Colourful roadside cross


We cycle through typical Sologne countryside, mainly fields and ponds, and come across several several roadside crosses. I’ve never seen one as colourful as this before!

Mini squashes for Halloween

Mini squashes for Halloween

Further along, we see an unusual crop of small squashes which are very popular at Halloween and make great indoor decorations.

A field of parasol mushrooms

A field of parasol mushrooms

Suddenly Jean Michel calls out “champignons!” and we stop next to a field with the stubs of a cereal crop after harvesting. It’s full of umbrella mushrooms which is a nice surprise because we haven’t found any mushrooms for ages due to the lack of rain in September. As there is no fence, we pick all the half-open mushrooms we can see.

Chocolaterie Max Vaucher

Chocolaterie Max Vaucher

In Bracieux, with its beautiful halles, where we once attracted the comment “at your age and in love“, we ride past Max Vaucher’s chocolate factory, but it is not our destination today. We’ll go back on a cold winter’s day!

Château de Villesavin where the Rendez-vous du Chocolat is held every year with Rotary sponsorship

Château de Villesavin where the Rendez-vous du Chocolat is held every year with Rotary sponsorship

A couple of kilometers further on, we arrive at Château de Villesavin and are told that cyclists can ride ride right up to the entrance. Now that’s one of the things I really like about arriving somewhere on a bike! After securing our bikes we continue on foot to the entrance of the Rendez-vous. We pay 4 euros each and are given some documentation.

Main tent at the Rendez-vous du Chocolat

Main tent at the Rendez-vous du Chocolat

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting (maybe those chocolate dresses they have in Paris that Mary Kay told us all about in Out and About in Paris?) but it is really like any other food fair except that everyone is selling chocolate.

Different types of chocoalte

Different types of chocoalte

We taste our way around the large tent and are particularly interested to see what chocolat sans sucre and 96% chocolate are like. The chocolate without sugar tastes like any other chocolate. The young man explains that the sugar is replaced with malitol and it’s designed for diabetics. We don’t buy any.

The 96% chocolate is less bitter than I imagined but not particualrly tasty. We don’t buy that either although I’ve read that it’s an excellent appetite suppressant.

A chocolate torso!

A chocolate torso!

In the château itself, there are several demonstrations going on and we see a malleable sort of chocolate that can be flattened with a rolling pin and several torso sculptures.

Set of chocolate tools - not to mention the violin and sheet music

Set of chocolate tools – not to mention the violin and sheet music

At one stage, I look around and who do I see? The lady who used to live in our “house of happiness” as a child! Running into someone we know at a local event gives us a sense of belonging in our new home in the Loire.

Tea time in the sun!

Tea time in the sun!

We go to the afternoon tea tent and get a glass of rosé each and a slice of cake. Jean Michel chooses chocolate while I prefer the apple, which is a much better choice! We find a seat looking out over the lovely grounds of the château.

Chocolate shoes and bags

Chocolate shoes and bags

We then do the rounds again and find some blocks of chocolate to accompany our coffee. I love the chocolate shoes and bags but we don’t buy any of those either!

World Chocolate Champion, Mikaël Azous

World Chocolate Champion, Mickaël Azouz

There is even a world chocolate-making champion among us but his products are very sophisticated and I only like plain dark chocolate … I’m almost tempted by the chocolate shirts and glasses on another stand though.

Chocolate shirts, bottles and glasses

Chocolate shirts, bottles and glasses

We get back on our bikes and cycle the 15 km back to the car. At Cour Cheverny, we find a butcher and buy a côte de bœuf for the barbecue to accompany our mushrooms. Surely in mid-October, it must be the last of the season!

Posted in Cooking, Food, Loire Valley châteaux, Mushrooms | Tagged | 6 Comments

Friday’s French – piles, batteries & torches

We’ve just bought a set of telephones and are setting them up. “Est-ce qu’ils ont fourni les piles?” I ask. “Non“, says Jean Michel, “il y a des batteries.”

Téléphone avec base à batteries

Téléphone avec base à batteries

He is not correcting my French. Pile is the word I first learnt for the English battery back in the seventies and I was surprised when I started hearing people say batterie which has several totally different meanings. I assumed they were just using the English word.

But no, like many English borrowings, it has acquired a specific meaning. A batterie is not just any battery, but a rechargeable battery. It is also correct to say pile rechargeable but batterie is certainly more common in the technical world.

Une pile ou lampe de poche

Une pile ou lampe de poche

Another meaning of pile that I learnt early on is a square flashlight or torch as we call it in Australia, in any case. I had never seen them before I came to France. I don’t know if they are common in the other English-speaking countries. It’s real name of course is a lampe de poche, though it’s certainly far too big to put in my pocket!



Une lampe torche or just une torche

Une lampe torche or just une torche

A torche or, more correctly, une lampe torche is something else again. It’s a long flashlight, what for me is a normal torch.

Torche also means a torch  in the sense of an Olympic torch and what we call a flare on an oil rig.

Just to make matters more complicated you can have a batterie de piles, which is a serie of batteries, because batterie means a series of apparatus of the same type designed to be used or operated together, such as accumulators, condensers and electric ovens.

Une batterie de cuisine, for example, is a set of saucepans and frying pans.

A drum set is also called a batterie. You’d never say mon frère joue des tambours but mon frère joue de la batterie even though a tambour is an individual drum.

To go back to pile, it also means a pile in the English sense of a pile of dirty washing (une pile de linge sale).

A pile is also a bridge pier and sometimes a bridge pile, but the nuances are too complicated to go into here because some bridges have both piers and piles and others just have piles!

In the electrical sense, it can be a cell as well e.g. une pile solaire = solar cell, une pile bâton = pencil battery, une pile bouton = watch battery (I love that one – bouton literally means button) and une pile atomique = nuclear reactor or atomic pile.

If you want to say that an appliance is battery-operated, you say à piles or fonctionnant sur piles e.g. un jouet à piles (a battery-operated toy).

Et maintenant je vais recharger mes batteries!

Posted in French language | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Fête des vendanges on the French Riviera – October events in France – Alba Iulia in Romania

This week’s Blogger Round-Up starts with a great discovery. Every month, well in advance, The Good Life France gives a list of national events in France. I know we’re already halfway through October, but you can take a look at November while you are over at their website. Next, Chrissie from Riviera Grapevine invites us to participate in the annual grape harvest festival at Saint-Paul-de-Vence. To finish up, Anda from Travel Notes and Beyond shares her trip to the Citadel of Alba Iulia in Romania. Enjoy!

Major Events France October 2014

by The Good Life France, an independent on-line magazine about France and all things French, covering all aspects of daily life including healthcare, finance, utilities, education, property and a whole lot more

goodlifefrance_events-in-france-october-2014National Event in Paris – Nuit Blanche 4th October 2014. Held annually on the first Saturday night in October when museums, public buildings, monuments, swimming pools, cinemas, parks, universities  and historic sites are open to the public all night – an art an culture party!

National Event: Semaine du Gout – Taste Week: 13-19 October.  In Paris and throughout France, a foodie event featuring original and varied cuisines. Taste Week is an opportunity to learn more about the art of gastronomy, taste and learn to appreciate the diversity of flavours, and it also aims to increase public awareness of a healthy lifestyle. As part of the event, workshops for the public include cooking classes, tastings and entertainment. Website for details: Read more

EVENT 06: Fête des Vendanges et des Châtaignes

by Chrissie from Riviera Grapevine, a Sydney girl living in Nice with an insatiable thirst for the wines of the Var, Alpes Maritimes and Liguria. She happily sells, drinks and blogs about wine.

riviera_grapevine_wine_festivalWhat have you got planned for Sunday?

If you happen to be in the area, and fancy a chance to sample some of the unique wines of the Alpes-Maritimes, why not pop into the annual Fête des Vendanges et des Châtaignes in Saint-Paul de Vence?

October 19th marks the 2014 edition of this annual harvest festival for theVins des Baous et des Collines. Translated into normal speak, this term refers to the three vineyards found high in the hills behind the Riviera coastline, near the imposing cliff face above Saint-Jeannet. Read more

Reborn From Its Ashes – The Citadel of Alba Iulia

by Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond, the Opinionated Travelogue of a Photo Maniac, is a Romanian-born citizen of Southern California who has never missed the opportunity to travel.

travelnotes_iulia_albaAlthough a land of natural beauty, Romania wasn’t exactly the ideal tourist destination until after the fall of Communism in 1989. The country was struggling badly with poverty and the tourism industry was almost inexistent. The historic sites were badly neglected, the roads poorly maintained, food was scarce and lodging was primitive. So in spite of its great history and beautiful scenery, Romania remained in the often overlooked chunk of Balkan countries.

Although things have improved considerably lately, Romania is still largely unknown to the western traveler. Such is the case of the beautiful Citadel of Alba Iulia (also known as Alba Carolina), one of the biggest fortresses in Eastern Europe. Read more

Posted in citadel of Alba iulia, Life in France, Romania, Sightseeing, Weekly Blogger Round-Up, Wine | 8 Comments

A Significant Birthday or Taking a Pensioner Out to Dinner

Entrance to Manoir de Contres (photo courtesy of

Entrance to Manoir de Contres (photo courtesy of

I’m always on the look-out for new restaurants to try so when my friend and neighbour Françoise mentions the Manoir de Contres in Sologne, I immediately note the name in my iPhone for Jean Michel’s next most significant birthday – the one corresponding to his retirement and our move to Blois!

Contres is about 45 minutes by car due south of Blois so night is falling when we arrive. As we drive into the grounds, we can just see the beautiful early 19th century brick and stone manor house with its many turrets and gables. It was built in 1818 in the style of Louis XII and modelled on the Louis XII wing of the Blois Royal Castle combining the Gothic tradition with the early Italianate influence.


Day time view of the Manoir (photo courtesy of

Day time view of the Manoir (photo courtesy of

We are welcomed by the owner, Maria Orsenne, originally from Hambourg, and taken through to the beautiful living room with its large fire place, sculpted doors and painted ceiling, which we later see is actually papered. What a clever idea!

The manoir has had a somewhat chequered existence, we learn, changing hands every 30 or 40 years.  Maria and her husband Victor bought the château in 2010 and turned the main house and garden pavilion into a hotel. We are sorry not to be able to visit the lovely grounds.

The living room with its carved doors and painted ceiling

The living room with its carved doors and painted ceiling

We sip our fine bulles (fine sparkling wine) from Saumur and read about the history of the Manoir then we consult the menu. We can choose between the Menu of the Day (3 courses, 32 euro, starter + main or main + dessert 35 euro) or the 4-course Autumn Menu for 43 euro. We are told that everything is prepared in the manoir kitchens from fresh produce by Victor Orsenne and his team.

A close-up of the painted ceiling which is actually papered.

A close-up of the painted ceiling which is actually papered.

We choose the Autumn Menu, starting with foie gras, followed by medallion of venison with chanterelle mushrooms and spaetzle (the hunting season has begun), a selection cheeses and a hot vanilla soufflé.

Maria suggests we have a glass of semi-sweet local wine with our foie gras and a glass of côt de Touraine with our venison. We’re happy with the choice.

Venison with chanterelle mushrooms and spaetzle

Venison with chanterelle mushrooms and spaetzle

Our meal is enjoyable and the service is friendly and discreet. The venison is not too strong and the spaetzle (noodles boiled in water or broth then pan fried in butter) remind us of our recent cycling holiday in Germany. The vanilla soufflé is mouth-watering!

Jean Michel's enticing vanilla soufflé

Jean Michel’s enticing vanilla soufflé

When I take the bill, I explain to the young man serving us that it is Jean Michel’s retirement birthday. Maria then appears with a little Villeroy & Bosch dish with the logo of the manor house on it as a souvenir.

We are able to reassure Françoise that her recommendation was worth taking up. We plan to come back again in the summer and have lunch on the terrace!

Manoir de Contres, 23 Rue des Combattants d’Afrique du Nord, 41700 Contres, FRANCE.
Tel. +33 254 784 539,,
Posted in Accommodation, Architecture, Loire Valley, Restaurants | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Friday’s French – bernache

beaujolais_nouveau_5Today I learnt a new word – bernache – used in Touraine and particularly in Anjou, to designate what is known in other parts of France as vin nouveau, i.e. grape juice at the beginning of its fermentation.

I’ve already recounted our experience with vin nouveau in Alsace and the famous beaujolais nouveau tradition that is sadly dying out in France, but I had never heard of bernache.

Like any vin nouveau, bernache is only available for a short period at the end of the grape harvest (vendange), that is, from about the end of October to mid-November and is usually served with roasted chestnuts (marrons grillés).

It is mainly produced in Montlouis and Vouvray. Cloudy, a little sweet and sometimes very bubbly, it can’t be transported very far. It’s a transitional stage of traditional vinification.

In the Saumur area, further along the Loire, where Jean Michel grew up, it’s called beurnoche.

barnacle_gooseBernache has another meaning – a barnacle goose (from the benus Branta . Not that I have ever seen a barnacle goose! Unfortunately, my Robert etymological dictionary is currently in a carton in Paris waiting to be moved to Blois or I might have been able to find out if the two words are connected.


In any case, I am going to try and find a vineyard where I can try some bernache vin nouveau!

Posted in French language, Wine | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Safe Solo Travel Tips for Women – Supplements for Single Travellers – Family Travel Tips for Iceland

We have an all-Australian line-up for this week’s Blogger Round-Up, starting with some excellent tips from Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel on safe travel for solo women. Carolyn from Holidays to Europe  then discusses another aspect of solo travel – why single travellers have to pay a supplement. And to end up on a completely different note, Phoebe from Lou Messugo tells us how you can take your family to Iceland on a budget. Enjoy!

Brilliant Readers’ Safety Tips for Solo Women Travellers

by Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel, an Australian who loves to travel – especially in Europe – and who has gradually learned how to have a First Class trip on an economy budget, without missing out on anything!

frugal_solo_travellersIf you follow me on Facebook or Pinterest you will know that, like many bloggers, I repost old content periodically. It’s a good opportunity to connect new followers to some of my older content, and to share old content that is still valid and timely. Recently I re-shared a post on tips for safe solo female travellers. While I was very pleased with the content of my post, I was blown away by the comments from other women travellers. What started out as a small post on my perspective as a female solo traveller turned into a fantastic community of great ideas. Re-reading the post and the comments I’ve been inspired to create a new post – this time curated by me, but with brilliant content provided by real frugalfirstclasstravel readers. Read more

Why Do Single Travellers Have to Pay a Supplement

by Carolyn from Holidays to Europe, an Australian based business passionate about sharing their European travel expertise and helping travellers to experience the holiday in Europe they have always dreamed of

Positive smiling woman wearing sunglasses planning her vacationOne question I was asked many times over the years I worked as a travel consultant was ‘why do single travellers have to pay a supplement?’ Firstly, let me assure you that it’s not because tour companies don’t like single travellers! The reason that solo travellers have to pay a supplement on the price of their tour or cruise comes down to the accommodation component of their trip.

Let’s say a hotel room costs the equivalent of $250 per night and a tour lasts for seven nights. That’s a total room cost of $1750. If two people are sharing the room, they would pay $875 each but if the room is only occupied by one person then that person has to cover the entire room cost of $1750. In this case, a tour company would generally charge a single supplement of $875 or thereabouts in addition to the tour or cruise fare so that the full cost of the hotel room is covered. Read more

8 Tips for a Family Holiday in Iceland on a Budget

by Phoebe from Lou Messugo, a traveller, francophile, expat, mum and foodie now living in Roquefort les Pins where she runs a gîte after many years of travelling and living in Asia, Eastern Europe and Australia.

lou_messugo_hiking_in_IcelandIceland is notorious as an expensive destination and probably doesn’t spring to mind as a place to go with children, but it’s totally possible and heaps of fun for families, if you follow my Top Tips for adventure on a budget.  I spent 2 weeks in Iceland in the summer of 2014 with my husband and 2 children (aged 9 and 14) and didn’t spend a fortune, and yet we had the best holiday in a long time. This is how we did it. Read more

Posted in Accommodation, Travelling, Weekly Blogger Round-Up | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

My Wonderful Cataract Operation in Paris

cliniqueWe’re cycling in Germany and I suddenly start seeing little brownish halos over to the right during the day and flashes  of light at night. When we arrive back in Paris at the end of July, I make an appointment with the ophthalmologue (no one says anything as straightforward as eye doctor here). In the meantime, a couple of people have mentioned detachment of the retina which is a bit worrying. I asked for an emergency appointment. My regular doctor is not available so I agree to see her colleague, Doctor R.

Dr R. discovers the cataract

Dr R. reassures me that my retina’s fine but the gel behind the retina of my right eye has got thinner. There’s nothing that can be done about it and it’s not a problem. On the other hand, I have a cataract on my left eye. A cataract? Surely I’m too young for a cataract? “Nothing urgent”, he says, but as we’re moving to Blois where there is a dearth of medical specialists, I prefer to schedule the operation for September.

I don’t mention it to any of my friends nor do I google it. I’m too afraid of hearing horror stories. I figure the doctor will explain everything I need to know. I don’t like the idea of having surgery on my eye.

The silicone lens

At my appointment in early September, Dr R. mentions inserting a silicone lens in my eye. A what? I thought they were removing a cataract not opening up my eye! What if he makes a mess of it and I turn blind? I start asking questions and I can see he’s getting annoyed. “I’m irritating you, aren’t I?” I say.

“No, no, but I don’t think you’re ready. We can wait and do it later.” “But I’m moving in October”, I reply. “I want to have it done now. But I also want to know exactly what’s going to happen to me.” He prints out two sheets of paper for me to take home and read. He tells me to get an appointment with his anesthetist at the G.S.H. private hospital where he operates and sets a date 10 days after our return from Lisbon. Of course, the anesthetist only consults on Thursdays and he only operates on Wednesdays which means I’m going to lose a week.

The cost of the op

I remember to ask how much it’s going to cost: 300 euro more than the regular fee reimbursed by social security plus my mutual fund for him and 75 euro for the anesthetist. A bargain compared with my 3000 euro titanium double gum implant!

I don’t read the blurb until I get back from Lisbon – I don’t want to ruin my holiday, do I? I immediately focus on the post-operative complications and learn that in less than 1 case out of 1000, you can lose your sight and even your eye. Since the surgeon told me this is one of the most frequent operations in the world, a figure of 1 out of 1000 does not sound like a small percentage to me.

The anesthetist’s appointment

The appointment with the anesthetist at the very modern cheerful-looking G.S.H. private hospital in the 5th arrondissement goes well but she seems more interested in the fact that I live in the Palais Royal than anything else . Unfortunately, it’s her colleague Dr T. who’ll be looking after me on the Big Day but she says he’s very nice. I hope he’s efficient.

She’s tells me to have a Bétadine rouge shower the night before the operation and again the next morning. The operation is scheduled for 1.30 pm. “Bétadine“, I say, scandalised. “Yes, you’ll see”, she answers, “it foams just like soap.” I also musn’t eat after 9 am or drink water after 11 am. I’m used to intermittent fasting, so that certainly doesn’t bother me.

A pharmacy strike

It’s Big Day-1. I go to the pharmacy and it’s closed. Strange. I go to another pharmacy. Closed. Something’s going on, I think. I check my iPhone and discover there is a strike because of a project to let supermarkets sell aspirin and other OTC medications. The pharmacists say they’ll lose too much money and that it’s dangerous for the public to have free access to aspirin. The closest pharmacy open today is miles away so I ask my stepson who’s an intern and lives down the road if he has any Bétadine rouge. He does, so the problem is solved.

Well, not really. It’s obvious that what he’s given me may be red but it does not foam. I google and learn that it’s a different product and that I’m even supposed to wash my hair with it. I do not have a good relationship with Bétadine. When Black Cat was (intentionally) born at home, the doctor managed to knock over a whole bottle which ruined the carpet (and his leather doctor’s bag) forever.

I see I can use Hibiscrub instead so next morning at the crack of dawn (for me anyway), I set out to find a pharmacy that is open. The first one only has Bétadine rouge so I buy that for 1 euro just in case. The next pharmacy can have Hibiscrub delivered for 2 pm. Too late. The third pharmacy says “Of course we have it. We have everything.” I bet they don’t really. It costs 8 euros.

I rush home and get in the shower. Hibiscrub is pink which annoys me because I’m getting increasingly stressed. At least it’s better than red. I wash my long hair hoping it will dry in time because I don’t have a hair dryer.

What time’s the op?

Suddenly I am no longer sure of the time of the operation. Is it 1 pm or 1.30 pm? I haven’t written it down and I haven’t been given an appointment card. I phone the hospital but they can’t tell me. They can’t even find me at first (it turns out they are using my married name). I ring the doctor’s secretary but she can’t tell me either. I start panicking.

I do a little rant on Facebook and get lots of nice encouraging friendly replies so I start feeling a bit better. I talk to my brother and family in Sydney on skype which cheers me up as well.

I decide to aim at 1 pm and take my Kindle with me. Jean Michel is driving me there so we set out at 12 pm and arrive at 12.45. It later turns out I should have been there at 12 – I later discover an instruction sheet in my bag that I was given the day I went for the anesthetist’s appointment – but fortunately it doesn’t matter.

The procedure begins

I’m sent up to a waiting room on the 6th floor, where I edge away from the lady who is intent on telling everyone about her previous experience. My particulars are taken, I pay the 18 euros not covered by social security which will be reimbursed by my mutual benefits fund and sign a form putting my future entirely in the hands of a doctor that I’ve seen exactly twice.

A nurse takes me to a changing room but there are no lockers left. She gives me a large sealable plastic bag to put my clothes and belongings in. I’m glad I’m wearing my uncrushable cycling clothes (I’ve become savvy after my recent emergency ward experience) and no jewellery other than my watch. I’m given non-woven blue pyjamas and slippers to put on.  I put my watch, phone and kindle in the bag as well and seal it up. I wash my face with Bétadine as instructed. So much for avoiding it!

The op waiting room

I’m directed to a second waiting room with nine day beds in a semi-circle around the room. Some of the other five patients have eye patches so I assume they’ve already been operated on. After a while, a nurse comes and puts drops in my eye to dilate the pupil. My vision gradually blurs and, judging from the other patients, my eye gets bigger. When the nurse goes out, I say to the room in general, “C’est un peu l’usine ici” (it’s like being on a factory line here). That breaks the ice and people chat for a bit.

All the others are being operated on by Doctor B. Now this could be good or bad. Maybe my Dr R. hardly ever does this operation so he’s incompetent or since he only has me to operate on he’ll be extra alert and careful.

There is no clock anywhere but a lady accompanying an older relative sees me look at my wrist and tells me the time.  It’s 1.15 pm. I make up stories about the other patients in my head to while away the time and not think about my eye being cut open and going blind.

An elderly lady with an eye patch arrives looking very spry and climbs onto her bed. “It was much better than I thought”, she says. “I didn’t see the time go by.” Is this a pun, I wonder. “We can invite her anytime”, I say out loud, feeling a little less anxious.

Up to the 7th floor

Eventually, a man with a wheelchair comes to get me. The other patients wish me bon courage and he takes me up to the next floor. While waiting for the very slow lift, he keeps his eyes riveted on his smart phone. I really think he should be giving me his undivided attention …

I’m wheeled into a room with about 5 beds and directed towards one of them. Everyone is very cheerful and friendly and efficient-looking. No smart phones here. Dr T. the anesthetist comes over and introduces himself. He tells me that I’m first on the list because his colleague has told him I have to be finished by 3.30 pm so Jean Michel can pick me up. JM’s on call for his technical roster this week so has to be back at work by 5 pm. (He’s checked that someone can replace him if he isn’t but I don’t tell anyone else that).

The anesthetic begins

Dr T. washes the eye area with more Bétadine (they love that stuff) then injects some sort of calming substance into the vein on the back of my hand. It hurts. After that come some eye drops that really hurt but not for too long. I explain that I’m worried about the peribulbar injection I’m going to be given in the eye area. Dr T. is very reassuring and a nurse kindly strokes my face.

In fact, it’s not at all painful and I am feeling very destressed. I hear someone say “Bonjour Dr R.” so I take a look. “Good, he’s the right man”, I say. That makes everyone laugh.  He comes over and says hello and checks I’m OK.

Into the operating theatre

I’m wheeled into the operating room and my forehead is strapped to the bed with what feels like adhesive tape (but could be anything) so I can’t move my head. I had wondered how they were going to keep me still. It’s not too uncomfortable. A slightly sticky bandage affair called a champ stérile is then placed over my face with a hole for the eye that has the cataract. They make sure I can breathe. Each time, I’m told what is happening, which is reassuring.

“OK, let’s go”, says Dr R. after the anesthetist has checked I can’t feel anything. I have a blood pressure cuff on my arm that squeezes hard every five minutes.  I tell the surgeon that I’m worried about moving at the wrong time. He says not to worry, that when I have to be super-still, he’ll tell me.

Thinking about my garden

I don’t want to think about what he’s doing to my eye so I try and make a list of all the different flowers in our garden in Blois. When I’ve finished, I imagine myself in front of our Renaissance fireplace with Jean Michel, drinking vouvray and eating foie gras.

Dr R. asks how I’m going and I tell him about the garden. He approves. I hear him ask for the lens and not long after that, he warns me that the ultrasound is going to begin. That, apparently, is what is used to implant the lens. Shortly after, ,he says he’s finished. The whole operation takes about 15 minutes. “Are you happy with the result”, I ask. “Yes”, he says, “you were perfect.” I glow. I now have a compress with a hard plastic shell over it taped to my face. I can’t feel anything.

Back to the ante-chamber

eye_patch_selfieI’m wheeled back into the ante-chamber and a male nurse comes to make sure everything is going well. While I’m recovering I look at the way the doctors and nurses wear their skull caps. Everyone has a different technique for tying it on. I remark upon this to my nurse, “Tout le monde a sa coiffe” (everyone has their own headdress). “Ah”, he says, looking pensive. A few minutes later, he adds, “Well, I guess that some days you could say that everyone has their cross to bear.”

I start guffawing. He thought I said croix meaning cross and not coiffe meaning headgear!  “You must have thought I was strange”, I say. “Well, maybe a believer”, he replies.

Back to the post-op room

I’m given the OK by the doctor and the anesthetist, together with a prescription for an eye bath and three lots of eyedrops to be used three times a day for a month (how will I ever remember?) as well as a painkiller if needed. My porter wheels me back to the lift and down to the sixth floor. There are noticeably fewer people in the room. I remind the nurse that I need to be out by 3.30 pm. “Well, that certainly won’t be possible”, she says. I explain about Jean Michel so she asks for his mobile number and passes me the phone. I should be finished by 4.

I rest for a while then my blood pressure is taken. A nurse’s aid takes me to have a collation. I feel fine except that I am having a little difficulty only seeing out of one eye which does not have 10/10 vision. I am given coffee, fruit juice, stewed apple and a little cake. Breakfast at 3.45 pm.

Going home

Then I’m allowed to go and change back into my clothes. I phone Jean Michel who’s waiting in a parking bay a few streets away and make my way downstairs. I’m feeling relieved and tired with no pain whatsoever.

When I get home, I sleep for a while then continue resting until dinner. I feel a little whoozy but that’s all. I go to bed early. I have very slight discomfort as though I had a bit of grit in my eye but certainly not any pain. I take the pain killer anyway just in case.

The morning after

Next morning, after sleeping reasonably well despite the bandage over my eye, I have an appointment with the surgeon at 11 am. I’m still feeling slightly nauseous so get Jean Michel to go and get the eye drops.

I’m able to walk the 20 minutes to the doctor. He says that all looks good and that I should only need a slight correction when driving at night, particularly in the country (as opposed to Paris where no one ever drives). He also tells me to phone him if I have any negative symptoms or questions.

I come home, lie on the couch, have lunch and then go back to bed for a sleep. I’m feeling much more tired than I expected. My vision is very, very sharp and I’m a little dazzled by the light. I can see a sort of rim off to the left that I forgot to mention to the doctor.

My vision – before & after

I just want to explain about my vision. I have always been shortsighted and have been wearing contacts for years. About ten years ago, my vision started to change. I became less shortsighted and more longsighted. My right eye in particular became much stronger and I had stopped wearing contacts or glasses at home altogether, only putting them on when I went out.

However, reading a menu or even my iPhone with its little letters, was not always easy and I certainly couldn’t thread a needle or see the tiny date on my watch. My Kindle had solved the problem of reading in bed because you can increase the size of the letters at will.

However, no one has explained to me that the little silicone lens called an intraocular lens that replaces the crystalline lens when a cataract is removed is actually a corrective lens. When the doctor said I’d see better after the operation, I assumed that he meant that the cataract had been obstructing my vision.

The multifocal intraocular lens

A chance comment from my intern stepson sends me to google. I discover that monofocal lenses were initially used to provide vision at one distance only : far, intermediate or near. Now there are multifocal lenses that allow patients to see objects at any distance, thus eliminating the need to wear glasses or contact lenses. What a bonus!

I’m supposed to wear the cover plate over my eye for 5 nights. After one night, I decide it’s not necessary.  Jean Michel hasn’t ever put his elbow in my eye when I’m asleep so I don’t suppose he’s going to start now.  The next day, I’m still feeling exhausted and don’t want to go anywhere near the computer so I have a rest day. I keep away from the packing cartons as well because of the risk of getting dust in my eye.

I phone the doctor to ask about the rim of light I can see and he explains that it’s the edge of the lens and that I will get used to it. I guess it like wearing sunglasses with different size frames.

A very positive result

It’s now four days since I had the operation and I’m feeling fine although still a little tired. I can thread a needle and see the little date on my watch. I can read a menu in a restaurant at night without any trouble. I can see the small print on my iPhone and all my photos are sharper. I will definitely need a lens on my right eye at night particularly to drive. I’m annoyed that I had just bought a six months’ supply of lenses for both eyes. Had I only known!

The only downside is that I can now see all my wrinkles!

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Friday’s French – déménager, déménagement, ménager

Nos cartons de déménagement

Nos cartons de déménagement

Lundi on déménage ! For some reason, it sounds more specific in French than the English “We’re moving on Monday !” I guess it’s because “move” can be used to mean so many different things but déménager always means moving house (or office or whatever).

A ménage, which comes old French mesnage, a derivative of the Latin mansio (house), is a married couple or a household, so déménager literally means “breaking up the household”. And that is exactly what is happening at the moment as I sort out and pack up our goods and chattels accumulated over the last 9 years (and more).

We’re having déménageurs do the actual moving with a camion de déménagement. Déménageur refers to both the removalist company and the individual person doing the moving. I had 5 devis (quotes) done. The estimated volume ranged from 52 cubic meters to 67 cubic meters, which is astonishing. And the prices ranged from 2,500 euro to 4,700 euro to move our belongings to Blois, 200 kilometers away.

I was so suspicious of the lowest quote that I rang them to find out why. They had made a mistake and quoted for Paris! They increased the quote to 3,000 euro which was still belong the next price of 3,600 euro so we chose Ultimate Déménagement. We’ll see how competent they are!

Taking the piano down 4 flights of stairs

Les déménageurs descendent le piano quatre étages

Déménageur has given the expression il a une carrure de déménageur – he’s built like a tank. But the champion of all was the single porteur who originally carried our piano up four flights of stairs on his back. It took two déménageurs to take it down again. They had heard of a porteur but never seen one in action.


Another expression that I like is déménager à la cloche de bois: to sneak off in the middle of the night. Though why there is a wooden bell involved, I don’t know!

Also, ça déménage is slang for “it’s brill/awesome”.

The verb ménager, however, means something totally different. The idea is to make sure a person is not offended.

Il faut vraiment la ménager, elle est très sensible – You have to treat her gently – she’s very sensitive.

Il faut qu’on ménage les deux parties – We have to keep both parties happy.

Si vous ne la ménagez pas, elle va beaucoup souffrir – If you don’t treat her tactfully, she will be very hurt.

Another great expression is ménager la chèvre et le chou (the goat and the cabbage) = to sit on the fence.

When applied to an object, ménager means to treat something with care or sparingly. The most widespread use is ménager ses forces or efforts = to save or conserve one’s strength.

So we can put déménager, déménagement and ménager together in the same sentence:

Un bon déménageur sait ménager ses forces pour mener à bien le déménagement. = A good mover knows how to save his strength so the move will go well.

Now I have to get back to my cartons de déménagement

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