Thursday, November 28, 2013

Testing the System...

I am instantly awake to the words "Chris, I think something is wrong."

It's 6am and it's cold and dark out.  Jude is not feeling well.

She'd been fighting a virus, but this is different.  So, I try to clear my mind as I reach for our invaluable copy of "Bloom Where You're Planted - How to Live in France" to find the emergency numbers.

OK.  Here's a number for the cardiac hotline.  Hmmm... time to see if my early morning French is any better than my after beer French.  The kind doctor tells me to dial 15 to reach the SAMU.

A somewhat long conversation ensues where I refresh my earlier education about how to relate what hurts and where.  I speak to two people and they determine it's time to dispatch the Sapeurs Pompiers.

I get dressed, brush my teeth (to kill the Dragon Breath) and head downstairs just in time to meet three large Paramedic/Firefighter type men.

They work on Jude and after awhile say we're headed to the Pompidou hospital.  It's a public hospital. 

Jude had spoken to hear doctor just a couple days before about what to do in the event of an emergency.  She learned that her doctor preferred the semi-private Saint Joseph hospital over in the 14eme.  So she tells the man on the phone where she'd like to be taken.

We wrap up Jude as warmly as we can and head downstairs to the waiting paramedic unit.  As I climb in I see by the lights of an on-coming car that it's lightly snowing.

I sit in a seat behind Jude who's laying on a stretcher.  The unit drives pulls away from the curb and a backboard slams into me.  It's not locked down.  I grab the back of Jude's stretcher and put my foot on the backboard to keep it in place.  The siren wails as we wend our way through narrow Paris streets.  It's dark and cold outside.  We pass a long line of police vans, all with their blue oscillating lights turned on bright. This was quickly becoming Mr Toads Wild Ride!

A short time later we pull into St Joe's and they whisk Jude off to be triaged by a nurse.  Some time later, she moves into an ER room where a doctor will take a closer look at things.

Three and a half hours, two EKGs, and one rather large blood work-up later we learn what we need to learn.  In short, Jude's heart is in great condition.  She needs to see her regular doctor to review her meds and to visit a cardiologist. 

The doctor rather apologetically hands us a piece of paper that lists the services rendered.  It was as if anything having to do with money is difficult for the French.  We are free to head toward the checkout counter.

I draw a deep breath.

In the US, any time we've visited the ER, after our insurance paid whatever they'd negotiated, we were left with out of pocket expenses between 900 and 3500USD.  We experienced two non-ER visits to a hospital for one hour tests (one for Jude and one for me) with shared costs (insurance and out of pocket) exceeded 10,000USD.  The costs were consistently scary high, and we had medical coverage through my employer.

We moved to France to benefit from the number one rated medical system in the world, while, at the same time, avoiding the kinds of costs we experienced while living in the US.

I can't imagine what it would've been like had we not had insurance while living in the US.  The number one reason for people declaring bankruptcy in America is due to unpaid medical bills

As Jude says, they'll take your house and put you on the streets if you can't pay for your medical care.  It's not that way in other first world nations, but this ER experience was putting to test our ideas of how affordable proper medical care is outside the US.

I have butterflies in my stomach as we reach the check-out desk.

After several seemingly eternally long minutes, the man behind the desk hands me the RF-enabled credit card reader where I can see what the total cost of the visit is as I enter the PIN.  I can feel my own blood pressure drop through the floor as I completely relax. 

We're out less than 200Euro _before_ insurance picks up their share.

Promise me something, will you?  Promise me that we never have to return to the US.  It's cheaper to live here.  Literally.  OK?  Got it? 

Gods help us! this is exactly why we moved to France.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Kindness of Creative People...

For those who may follow my PhotoSketchPad blog, you'll know that I'm a nut for photography.

It should come as no surprise that when the Salon de la Photo trade show hit town that I'd be near the front of the crowd clamoring to get in.  I met Daniel Smith, photographer and Director of the Visual Arts program at WICE and Al Alistair, photographer and manager of the film courses that WICE offers.  We promised that if our credit cards were at risk for buying some new tasty piece of equipment that we'd be there to support each other.

We checked out Fuji's camera offerings, and wandered by to see the new Nikon.  We then each our own way, promising to catch up later, if possible.  I wandered over the Canon counter to take a look at the small SL1/100D and to try a 70-200mm f2.8 L on a full frame camera.  As a comparison, I visited the Sigma counter to take a close look at their 70-200 f2.8 EX OS HSM.

There were plenty of fun things to look at and fondle.  Yet, I found that I was wandering around in a distracted daze.  Something wasn't quite right and I wasn't terribly excited by the wonderful gear on offer.  Perhaps it had a lot to do with the fact that traditional artists don't talk so much about their brushes or tools of their trade as much as they do about what they create and why.  Photography, on the other hand, seemed to be about what you could afford and how much of it you could acquire.  It doesn't seem there is as much attention paid to the final image as to the camera and lenses a photographer carries.

Realizing this, I walked off in search of photographs on display.

While there were some potentially interesting images, I was left cold by the photo-reportage that seemed to be in abundance.  I was left unimpressed by the landscapes and scenery.  There wasn't anything that I fell in love with and would want to hang on our apartment wall.

There was one last aisle to walk.  So, walk it I did...

... and found Daniel talking with a student from a class I taught just the day before.  Dr. Elizabeth Rand had volunteered to help the de Groot Foundation.  I knew nothing of the foundation and so ensued a conversation about who they were, what they did and, gee, take a look at this photograph by a wonderful young artist from Peru...

A quick look around confirmed that these were indeed serious photography folks.  I learned there were six jurors, three in France and three in the USA, who reviewed over 5,000 entries.  Selected images across six categories were awarded a prize by the foundation.  The top winners in each category were flown to Paris to participate in the Salon de la Photo showing of their work.

We, Daniel and I, were introduced to Clydette de Groot.  She was working the display area and shared some of our seemingly boundless enthusiasm for the photographic arts.  It was then that I realized how much my previously dour mood had lifted.  Here was infectious joy expressed around the art of image creation.  Each photograph  was a very worthy winner, from what I could see.  Fabulous work was on display.

Clydette (if I may be so bold as to use just her first name here) said that I must be introduced to a young lady who's work had won one of the prizes.  But before she introduced us, she wanted to explain a little about Mafe Gracia's background.  Her's was the image I was first impressed by when I first wandered by.  In brief, all of the men in five generations of women in her family were dead.  Instantly I better understood what I was looking at and my appreciation for her work deepened dramatically.

I met Mafe and we had a long conversation on photography, life in Lima, Peru, what it was like for her to travel to Paris to participate in the Salon, and what her future plans might be.  I am enthusiastic about her work and shared this with her.  She beamed.  I know, as artists, how we like to be recognized and encouraged.

I found Daniel talking with Dr Elizabeth and tore him away to talk about other fine images in the collection.  There was an amazing image of a dead bird.  Clydette explained that a young lady made this, too, and that she was here in Paris with her mother for the celebrations.  If this kind of image-making was any indication, the future of photography is in good hands.

We moved over to take a look at a very nice portrait.  I explained to Daniel how a Petzval lens was likely used in the making of the photograph.  As I was wrapping up my thoughts on the topic, Mafe returned with something in her hand.

She said "Here.  I want you to have this."  It was a copy of her beautiful work "Lazos de Familia."

I was nearly speechless.  All I could say was "You know how to make an old man cry."

As we walked away, Daniel and I looked at each other and asked "what just happened?"  It had been an emotional, touching, beautiful moment shared.

This is what I came to experience in living here.  Sharing, talking, and some times gifting between humans.  All on a personal level.  Regardless of where we come from.  With a deeper, richer understanding of each other and sharing our life experiences.  The community of artists in my small sphere of personal acquaintances and friends is growing.  I could see that Daniel might have felt similar things.

Such a great day, this.

Walking into the cool, damp early afternoon, Daniel and I said our goodbyes to each other and I headed up to my favorite rugby bar, le comptoir, for a Karmeliet Triple and lunch.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sharp End of French Diplomacy...


Passage Jouffroy

Where?  At le bouillion Chartier over in the 9th arrondissement just off les Grands Boulevards.

Why?  To celebrate a friend's birthday. He and his wife are Canadians.  They're visiting as part of his wife's World Tour in celebration of being able to retire.  It was our time to say goodbye to two nice people and to wish them well on their journeys.

Le bouillion Chartier is a grand place to eat.  The food is decent and the prices are light on the wallet.  If I were to dream of a timeless Parisian place to eat, with all the visual queues, proper food smells and filled with interesting people, this would be it.

Passage Jouffroy

Je prends le steak frites, s'il vous plait.  Et de la bière aussi.  Vous avez de la Kronenbourg?  Je n'aime pas la bière d'Allemagne.  Qu'est-ce qu'il faut faire?  Ah bon. La Kronenbourg, s'il vous plait.  Only to learn that Kronenbourg is actually brewed in Alsatian France.  It was tasty, too.

It was early enough in the afternoon that the Fall Sun had not yet set.  So the four of us decided to take a walk through the passage ways that riddle this part of town.  Starting with Passage Jouffroy we headed from the street back toward Hotel Chopin and... er... what's this then?  I'm instantly side-tracked.

Skulls.  Antlers. Des cannes de marche.  Oh, we have to go in, don't we?

Passage Jouffroy

The four of us stuff ourselves into a small shop.  A small well dressed man wearing glasses appeared from behind a tall counter at the back of the shop.  I couldn't help but notice his cataract-ed right eye.  Votre magasin est ouvert maintenent?  Oui, bien sur, he replied.  Alors...

We were surrounded by baskets and pull out drawers filled with walking canes.  The styles on offer were wide ranging and looked, in some cases, to be quite old.  A short conversation confirmed that, indeed, some were three or four hundred years of age.

Reaching into one of the display baskets, I asked if I could inspect a very interesting item.  It looked to be made of animal vertebrae stacked to form the cane and was topped by a beautiful skull.  The vertebrae were from sharks and the skull was vraiment carved ivory.  The price was in line with what I might be expected to pay for a 1939 Traction Avant in driving condition.

Passage Jouffroy

The shopkeeper reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a gorgeous cane and... YIKES!  Faster than a blink of an eye, I found myself on the business end of a period epee.

Even as certain disembowelment and inevitable death hovered lightly at one of my lower shirt buttons, I couldn't help but notice the artful etching down the slender steel blade.  Hope rouse in my heart that the shopkeeper's Good Eye could gauge depth and distance.  I was looking Death straight... well... down the blade.

I figured that if I was going to die, it was a Good Day in any event.  Lunch had been fine.  Besides, not everyone could say they Passed to the Great Beyond at the blade of a 1700's epee that had been hand crafted for the art of dueling.

Death passed me by and the epee was returned to it's canne de marche.

A few more passes by Death were made as we were shown other blades, long and short, that hid well within other fine examples of cannes de marche.  Each time, lethal blades were thrust my direction.  Each time, I hoped his Good Eye remained keen and clear.

So this is how French diplomacy was conducted back in the day, eh?   No wonder it was so effective.

Passage Jouffroy

At the time I failed to wonder why it was I and only I that the shopkeeper directed his demonstrations.  There were, after all, three other people in the room with me.  Such thoughts only came later as Death Passed and moved Along His Way.

I learned that dueling was a common practice in Paris through the time of Napoleon III.  I wondered if we were about to re-engage the art of dueling right here in M.G.W. Segas and soon decided that must not be the case.  Yet, when it was time to leave, I was happy to walk through the front door alive and in one happy and relieved piece.