Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cher Claude...

Claude died recently.  He suffered from cancer, but held on to life for a remarkably long time.  We didn't know him well, but he played a very important role in our lives here in Paris.

Claude's wife comes to our French/English conversation group.  One day Judith mentioned that we had been rejected by the French healthcare.  One thing led to another and some months later we found ourselves in their apartment.  Claude had kindly offered to help us sort through our correspondence to see if he could figure out how we could succeed where earlier we had failed.

After thirty or forty minutes of conversation, reading, thinking, and more conversation, Claude said he felt he'd figured it out.  It was recommended that we do two things.  First, apply for health care after les vacances in juillet et août.  Second, from January 1st of the year until the time we applied, Claude told us to not leave France.

For our first attempt at getting France's single payer health insurance we'd traveled for four days outside the country and our passports had a stamp in them that showed this.  It turns out that even though you can ask for health insurance after living here three months, one of the details is that one really needs to live here continuously for six months from the beginning of the civil calendar which start January 1st of the new year.  Add to this that the French state goes on holiday starting in July and suddenly we realized that it was unlikely anyone would process our application until September.  So we stayed in France from January thru August and submitted our request as soon as everyone was back from vacation.

Thanks to Claude, we now have our Cartes Vitales.

He had wanted us to see where he'd grown up and to show us what's left of the old quartier.  It sounded interesting, but we soon heard that Claude's health was failing and that the doctors did not know why.  Unfortunately we never saw Claude again.

The funeral was held at Pere Lachaise.  Anyone who follows this blog already knows how much I love the old cemetery.  Some of my photographic work of the site was published a couple years ago by Lenswork Magazine.  Jude and I spend time there on nice days just to enjoy the peace and quiet.  We never thought we'd be there to rend honneur to someone we knew.

Just this week Claude's wife came to the conversation groupe and asked Judith and I if we would go with her one last time to the maison de retraite where he spent his last days.  She wanted to light a candle and to walk around a bit.

It was a warm and sunny day and some of the residents were in the courtyard.  Such a strange experience it was.  Coming from America where death and dying are such difficult subjects, what we saw was profoundly different.  We saw how tender and caring family members were with the dying.  We listened to their sweet and engaging conversations.  We could hear traffic on the streets, but it was muffled.  The songs of birds drifted down from the trees.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Patent Medicine - take two swigs and don't call me in the morning

Jude and I spent the month of March in Rome.  Why?  Why not?  Afterall, four weeks in the apartment we rented cost us what two weeks in the same place would've.  There's just something about those steep monthly discounts AirBnB sometimes offers that are simply too darned attractive to avoid.

The night we arrived in Rome we were bushed.  We needed to find somewhere to eat and a restaurant just down the street from us seemed like it might be OK.  Even though we were the only people there the food was edible and we were happy to find sustenance before we collapsed into a Failing Spring-Sprung Old Bed.

After dinner I asked the waiter what kind of digestif they might be able pour me.  The waiter told me that Grappa was very popular around those parts.  To me Grappa is like Evil Lighter Fluid From Hell.  The expression on my face must've clearly transmitted my thoughts.  The waiter suggested he couldn't stand Grappa either and didn't understand the craze for the stuff.  So, I ask, what is your preferred after dinner libation?  *answered* OK, then.  I'll try some.

Do you remember Patent Medicines?  Me neither.  A bit before our time, don't you think?  Still, I remember reading out the Great American Swindle Lick-r.

Turns out, Americans weren't the only crazies on the planet at the time.  European doctors developed and offered for sale various remedies for nearly any and every condition described in medical texts of the day.  These "remedies" were based on alcohol infused with all manner of nasty things.  Typical ingredients included plant roots and tree bark and leaves and flowers and sometimes fruits and a few things to make the drink almost palatable, such as honey or surprisingly bitter tasting orange skins.

In modern times these remedies are still made.  True story.  They've not been outlawed over here.  They simply changed the name from medicine to something less obviously false.

The Italians call theirs les Amari.  That's plural for a single Amaro.  In English we call these Bitters.

We knew none of these things that first night.  All we knew is that one sip cured a stomach problem Jude was experiencing.  As for myself, the first sip was as unto a revelation, a surprise, no, a shock, and like any good drug, um, drink, I was hooked.  Happiness!  The patent medicine had worked it's advertised cure-all magic.

During our month in Rome we did as (some, perhaps few) Romans do and took an Amaro as a digestif after many dinners.  We tried perhaps a dozen different kinds of les Amari.  We developed and refined our tastes and preferences based on direct, personal experience, and surprisingly quickly cured ailments.

Americans might now bitters as something you add to mixed drinks or cocktails.  The Italians drink the stuff neat.  Most Amari we tried were drunk at room-temp.  But one Amaro is recommended to be served well chilled.  Instead, I take it at room temperature and love it's warm, full-bodied flavors, regardless of what the company recommends.

I've since tried several non-Italian bitters and find them thin and with underdeveloped flavors.   Thus far in our limited experiences the Italians brew the very best, most complex, perfectly beautiful tasting 1800's style Patent Medicines.  Fortunately there are three Italian specialty stores near our Paris home.  We're hoping they can be mined for a few good Amari when our current stocks the medicine run dry.

One Amaro in particular appealed to us.  It had been served in a restaurant located next to our apartment in Rome. I searched stores and markets and lick-r shops high and low for some.  We visited two of the highest internet recommended Amari outlets and we visited supermarkets and side-street hovels looking for our preferred remedy.  Les amari were easy to find, but the plonk we were looking for was nowhere to be found.

It came down to our second to the last night in Rome and we were getting desperate.  Nothing had turned up.  So we went to the waiter at our favorite restaurant and asked where we could find an Amaro  ****.  His eyes lit up and we were told to stop looking.  Don't buy it in the stores! *surprise*  He didn't want us to buy from anyone but himself.  I tried to tell him it was impossible to find, but I stopped myself mid-sentence and simply nodded and smiled happily at his suggestion.  His restaurant would sell us a bottle for a Good Price (the first instance when we heard the famous Italian phrase a Good Price).  The catch was that we couldn't buy the bottle just then (between lunch and dinner).  We would have to wait and ask for a bottle as we asked for our facture (bill) after dinner later that night.

We'd read that every Roman business transaction important and unimportant took place on a personal level.  If you know someone, they might be able to help you.  If you needed a new car or were looking for a new apartment, you talked to those around you and listened to your family and friends for their advice, counsel, and guidance.  Such was our experience with this particular Amaro.  It's rare.  It's very good.  And, it seems, it's only available if you know who to talk to.