I’ve had this nasty, hacking cough for much of four weeks, since j’ai attrape un rhume (caught a cold) the weekend immediately after we finished our French language classes. I’ve tried tea, my anti-asthma “puffer,” and two kinds of throat lozenges. So it seemed time to meet le medicin, a doctor recommended by our language school, IS-Aix.
I arrived at 9, a tad concerned about how I would explain the connection between post-nasal drip and cough, ask about my sinuses and explain that I’m allergic to penicillin (just in case antibiotics were in order). Instead, the biggest problem, it turned out, was finding the office. The address, 19 Cours Mirabeau, is a big, old building with a wide staircase, no elevator and no directory.
I called the office phone from downstairs.
“I am here,” I said in French. “But where is the doctor’s office?”
“Third floor,” the receptionist said.
It was more like six flights of stairs. But after the first three, I arrived at a locked glass door. I pushed the button. Nothing. I pushed again. Nothing. And so I called again.
“Push the button and pull,” came back the voice.
In the third floor office were two women, one behind the reception desk, and another, in blue jeans and a blouse. The one in the jeans was fit, 40-something and wore no makeup I could see. This, I discovered, was Dr. Mariele Crespo.
In her office, she offered me a chair, sat behind her desk and, in French, said something akin to: “I’m listening.”
“I caught a cold about four weeks ago and have been coughing ever since,” I said in French, or at least I think I did.
She took my blood pressure, listened to my breathing with a stethoscope and continue our discussion in French (if she spoke any English, which I suspect is the case, she never let on).
She asked if my cough was “sec,” dry, and I said, “yes.” I managed to convey that I’m mildly asthmatic and tend to get sinus infections. She suggested that my cough likely was an allergic reaction and gave me two prescriptions — one for asthma, the other an anti-allergen. I’m supposed to take both for a month.
The cost of the visit, in a country considered by many to have the best medical system in the world, was 23 euros — roughly $32. This although I have no French medical insurance. My co-pay in the States is $25. The prescriptions were somewhat more — about $70 — for the two, but still far less than what I’d have to pay at home for a single prescription without any insurance.
I hope, of course, that my cough will soon go away. I know already, however, that I’m quite fond of the French medical system. And I’m proud of the fact that as ungrammatical as my French becomes from time to time, I can at least make myself understood.
Shopping in the market can be a fickle business. We are on our third vegetable vendor since arriving. But then we are fickle customers; it’s the market way.
All three vendors have been nice. The first group, a relatively big operation of four or five people, always threw in some parsley after we piled our red plastic vegetable basket with roughly $15 of lettuce, carrots, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, celery, broccoli and the like. But by late January, they were getting busy and brusque. When we got a somewhat weary and wilted head of lettuce, we headed across the square at Place Richelme to buy from a couple with nice smiles and friendlier manner.
Now, we’re thinking of buying the bulk of our fruits and vegetables from a man with a kind, understanding smile in Place Precheurs. We already buy our Sicilian oranges and our apples from him. And on Tuesday, we noticed that his clementines cost considerably less than other vendors. He sealed our loyalty when I overpaid him by a euro for our purchase, and he gave it back.
Our new friend, Sarah, a Brit long ago transplanted to Australia, leaves Aix-en-Provence Monday. We’ll miss her. Sarah was my bridge partner at the Aix bridge club and tolerated my truly ragged play through three, four-hour afternoons. I had a lot of fun, but I’m sure she suffered a bit given that our best performance was to come in 19th out of 25 teams. (I look at the bright side. I haven’t played since college and by all rights would have come in dead last without a skilled partner.)
Sarah also had us over to her place for a lovely dinner Monday before the three of us went to our first all-in-French movie: a pre-release showing of “Diplomacy,” a factually-based story of a Swedish diplomat who helped convince the German general in charge of Paris at the end of World War II not to blow up its historic bridges and monuments.
Sarah (shown in the picture left of Kathy) hails from Sydney, Australia, and if she ever makes it home — she’s off to the Provence Alps, the beach near Spain and Paris over the next few months, studying French and playing bridge as she goes — we just may have to make it Down Under after all. Like many of the folks we’ve met here, she’s an adventurer. Among other things, she hiked the famous El Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail through France and Spain by herself less than a decade ago.
As for our movie experience, I thought we did reasonably well, particularly given that the film was an adaptation of a play, that it largely took place in a single room, and that its director answered questions from a long-winded, rather Cambridge-like audience for an hour after the showing. We got the gist of pretty much everything and probably managed to comprehend about half.
“About half” is becoming my mantra in France. It’s a bit like going through life with one good eye or one ear, disconcerting at times but still quite enjoyable. And I figure if we miss some snippets of humor or history, we also miss any insults hurled our way.
So on balance, getting a grip on “about half” of life works well — as long as we get all of the pastries with whip cream that we order.