Tis The Season For Seasonal Affective Disorder And Good Excuse For Pastry

Thick cloud cover over my balconyKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFall follageMy Paris BrestMy Tarte Tatin aux Poires 3Autumn LuxembourgThe parched brown and orange  leaves  caught up in the crisp wind are slowing drifting down to  scattered wrinkly patches  on the sidewalks.   Raining colours of autumn may be beautiful to the eye, but to me and many others around the globe it can signal the onset of dreary clouds of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

We have just set back the clocks , that yearly curse which I hate, making it all the worse for those of us who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.  Since I am powerless over that, I at least fought back with a beautiful outing yesterday in the waning autumn sun, rather than waiting in long lines at the newly opened Picasso museum.

The sun is definitely heading south, leaving us humans well north of the equator, not only with less sun beams, but with a different angle of light. While it is responsible for producing those lovely fall colours, it also disturbs nerve cells, who react from the deprivation of light.

If the approaching winter is powerful enough to send some mammals into frenzied grazing, reducing their metabolism before they settle into a winter’s hibernation,  then perhaps humans have evolved and adapted along similar lines from our prehistoric ancestors.

Seasonal affective disorder is rather insidious, in that you slowly start to feel very sluggish in your energy and thoughts. Motivation seems to disappear and your mood becomes blah to even sad, at times feeling like you want to cry.  You find yourself wanting to sleep more than usual, and not wanting to get up in the morning.  You start to feel indifferent towards activities that use to bring you joy.  There is social withdrawal and a lot of people notice increase carbohydrate cravings and weight gain.

The symptoms are very similar to those of dysthymia, or low grade depression, but in some who have  genetic tendencies to have mood disorders, these depressive symptoms can become worse. To me, it feels like a heavy cloud has settled around me, like the photo above captured this morning.

To understand this phenomena. we have to look at our pineal gland and melatonin. The pineal gland is a very small but powerful gland deep inside our brain, that can regulate our circadian rhythm based on degrees of light.

Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, which varies  due to the amount and duration of light picked up by the retinas of our eyes, that is transmitted to the pineal gland.   More light will decrease melatonin as it does in the spring and summer  and there will be an increase of melatonin secretion in the fall and winter as the days shorten.

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is a precursor of melatonin, which means that melatonin is made of serotonin,  and serotonin, by the way is made from tryptophan.     Therefore increased melatonin production will lower available serotonin levels.      Since serotonin levels can affect our mood, then any lowering of serotonin can also result in depressive symptoms.

In order for the body to get more tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid, it sets up a craving for carbohydrates!  Strangely,  eating more tryptophan rich foods will not help because other larger branched chained amino acids compete against  tryptophan and get through the blood brain barrier easier, leaving poor tryptophan behind, much like a slow runner.

A meal rich in carbohydrates secretes insulin, which disturbs the competition, and allows an increase uptake of tryptophan  entering the blood brain barrier; finally allowing “little” tryptophan to rush in!  That is why a big carbohydrate rich feast generally will make you sleepy, as more tryptophan means more melatonin, which causes drowsiness.

Women seem to be more sensitive to melatonin than men.  Not surprising that the majority of SAD patients are women.  You have to have a repetitive pattern of seasonal symptoms to be diagnosed.

People from Scandinavia and the Baltic countries have higher instances of SAD, with the very strange exception of Iceland!  A study, even found immigrants of Icelandic descent, living in Canada, to be  immune.    Either its genetic, or perhaps they get help from the  Huldufólk or elves that live among them!

There has been a long-standing history of increased psychiatric admissions in the spring and fall for bipolar patients.  You see more bipolar mania in the spring/summer and more depressive phases in the fall/winter.

Although SAD and bipolar disorder are two distinct and different disorders, the seasonal aspect of disturbing neurons is shared.   Bipolar patients are extremely sensitive to all sorts for stimuli and changes.   This includes light, loud music, sleeplessness, over socialization at parties, stress, caffeine and other stimulants.

People who have a genetic tendency towards depression, are more susceptible to fall into symptoms in the fall, that may worsen into full blown major depression, unless treated.

First line treatment is to get outside in the sun!    Walking preferably around noon  or any form of outdoor exercise helps lessen depressive symptoms.

Taking extra vitamin D helps also, and not using your sunglasses as you want those full spectrum rays to hit your retina.   Light boxes that have 10,000 lux full spectrum light are very helpful if used in the morning for 30 to  60 minutes.

Getting away to a sunny vacation, along with outdoor walking, is my preferred treatment and I notice if I go in early fall, my SAD symptoms can be delayed.

If symptoms worsen, then antidepressants are always useful.  The bottom line is to try exercise, sunshine and or light box therapy first , and keep on taking vitamin D and exercising outdoors, even if taking medication.

I generally restrict my carbohydrate intake everyday, except on Sundays, when I always make a beautiful pastry.  Last Sunday is was a sumptuous pear tarte tatin, made with my homemade puff pastry and caramel sauce ,and last night a gorgeous Paris Brest,  filled with salted caramel cream.

It was a perfect finale after spending yesterday outdoors in the sun, at the Parc de la Vallée aux Loups south of Paris.  Plus there is nothing like a beautiful pastry to cheer you up and at the same time get some more tryptophan and serotonin going, wouldn’t you say?


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Living On The Seine

Barges under La Tour EiffelWho hasn’t dreamed at least once in their lives of living on a boat?  Most of you think of yachts and houseboats, but what about a barge?  Top off that dream with seeing yourself floating gently along the banks of the Seine in Paris.

I too, very briefly thought oh, how lovely it would be to live on a barge, since I am obsessed with rooms with a view!  But my fantasies of sipping champagne on a fluvial terrace quickly burst after reading about the tons of  maintenance and money needed just to keep any boat, much less a barge afloat and working.Barges near Tour Eiffel

I have zero capacity to fix practically anything mechanical, and would be  totally exhausted, frustrated  and bored doing all those everyday chores needed in maintaining such a huge floating home.  But, you might be just the talented type to wing it in ease!

Supposedly there are approximately  2000 barge families in France, with around 1500 lining along the Seine basin.  Some very Barges moored Grand PalaisBarges near Musee D'OrsayBateaux Mouche Notre DAmeBarge terrasseBarge private property signBarge near Line 6 metroBarge garden terrasseBarge for saleBarge and sailboatsBarge and wedding couplelucky ones are smack dab in the center of Paris,  offering gorgeous drop dead views from each side.

Others are moored along enchanted forested paths on the city outskirts or nestled in between little cosy islets that are quieter and very picturesque.   Yesterday I went south of Saint Cloud to the parc nautique of Sevres to see a student regatta from the top universities in Paris, called here “les grands ecoles”.

Not surprising, there were loads of barges lining the banks, where I spotted one for sale.  Smaller ones, called dutch barges can start around 200,000 euros, which sounds great, until you throw in all the mooring and obligatory maintenance charges.

The basics are repainting the entire barge every three years and then a dry dock overhaul every five, plus a huge and costly complete inspection at every 10  years to prove that the barge, especially the hull is water worthy.

Even if the owner does not plan on carousing along the river, he still needs a navigating licence and pass a rudimentary exam.  More important than navigating skills, would be in my mind, being a do it yourself in plumbing, electricity and painting, or else have very deep pockets.

It sounds far easier to buy a barge than get a choice mooring for it, especially in central Paris.   You can never own a mooring along the Seine, so rental costs vary depending on the placement.  Prize ones in Paris have a long waiting list and will obviously demand the highest monthly rentals.

Very small barges, yachts and pleasure boats can be harboured at the Porte de Arsenal, an inlet that connects the Seine to Canal Saint Martin which has several locks and dams throughout.

Wherever you are moored, the French postal carrier will deliver to your mailbox, either urban or rural.  Several barges had small cars parked on deck, though not sure how they could be brought on the banks, other by hydraulic lifts.

For me, the terrace with water views would the biggest advantage of living on the Seine;  that is if it is warm enough to sit out and eat outdoors.  Since no one raves about the weather in Paris,  I would prefer to have a barge in the south of France, that has much more yearly sunshine and seasonal warmth.

Although you never have to put up with annoying neighbours on top or under your dwelling, as most Parisians do, you might be double moored to another barge, as noticed a lot.  Most barge owners though complain of the public not respecting their privacy, which in Paris would be quite limited.

If your barge home is tied to central Paris moorings, then expect the unexpected at all times of the day and night, from unruly drunk tourists peering in your windows, to a few climbing on your terrace for a little photography!

Some of the terraces, have green shaded walls to escape curious eyes, but given that the Seine is constantly being plied with tourist boats like the bateaux mouche, privacy is definitely limited out on deck.

More benign and rather cute was seeing couples taking marriage photos along the banks  near Pont Alexandre.  One such bride to be  made sure she would have secure footing under that pretty white gown, as I caught sight of bright red sneakers underneath!

At night the glowing lights along the Seine would make all the other nuisances seem trivial and worth having your little abode being admired and ogled by many.  You would certainly need thick bedroom shades though, to block those blinding search lights every so minutes from the  many bateaux mouche  lighting up passing monuments, bridges and  sights.

For those of you, like me who have resigned to have earth base housing, but still long for romantic boat getaways, there are many opportunities for houseboat rentals here. France is crisscrossed with many canals in all regions, where you can rent a houseboat  without having to pass a boat license.Barges doubles on Seine

For a week or so, or even a weekend, you can slowly silo along bucolic countrysides and stop at tiny villages to bicycle around.   Grabbing a baguette under your arm and stashing a few bottles of wine and cheese in your basket, you will blend in nicely with the locals.

In Paris, if you don’t mind peering tourists, noise and spot lights, you can also rent a barge stay thorough sites like Airbnb.   At the moment, I at not aware of any boat hotel in Paris, like the one I stayed in Stockholm, except a dinner cruise boat that has a few cabins for rent.

As much as I love water scenes anywhere, I am happy that I quickly vetoed buying a barge.  Instead, I am content to walk along and admire them from the banks and contemplate house boating through the canal du midi some day.Barge view of Seine island

My own star lit nights overlooking the adorable rooftops of Paris and waking up to fluffy white clouds sailing pass my colourful flowers are really all I could ask for, except maybe looking down as the Seine rushes by!



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Paris By Night, Nuit Blanche 2014

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERANotre Dame  back view from the gardenNotre DameSeine et Notre DameNuit Blanche dinner Saint JacquesNuit Blanche tree concertnuit blanche MontsourisNuit Blanche Hotel de villeThe sheer beauty of Paris is an everyday supreme feast for the eyes day and night at just about anywhere in the city!   At night though, Paris earns her beloved and well deserved title of being called the city of lights, when she takes on a different vibrant energy, that sparkles and dazzles like diamonds in the skies.

One night out of the year, Paris offers her bosom of artistic delights, along with monuments and museums to all who have the courage and stamina to take it all in, all night long.    Called Nuit Blanche, or white night, it is a French term for an all nighter.

It started in 2002, by the then mayor Delanoë, who got the idea from the White Nights festival of Saint Petersburg.   It has proved to be wildly popular and each year there are different themes.

Up untill last year, monuments and historical sites were lit throughout the night.  Sadly, because of the austerity practices in place, the city is now turning off lights at one am in order to save over 200 million euros a year.

This year’s Nuit Blanche theme predominantly focused on the left bank, with walks guided by painted foot paths to follow leading you from one spot to another, in case you weren’t familiar with the neighborhood.

Before heading off into the night, I prepared a lovely feast of delicious sea scallops arranged on a bed of granny smith apples and served with a beurre blanc of tarragon and fresh coriander.  It perfectly matched a lovely Sauvignon blanc from the Loire, and with that, I felt fortified enough to tackle the twinkling city lights till when ever!

Being non conformist by nature, I did not follow any prescribed path, picking and choosing where to go.  In retrospect, I should have correlated my plans better, as I did miss out of visiting Hospital Necker and the School for the Blind, which I don’t believe have ever before participated.

One of the most original sights proved to be a whole musical troupe from Brazil, suspended from a giant tree in Park Montsouris as seen in the photo.  The samba and bosso novo type music was so lively and infectiously invigorating that I had a hard time leaving.

There were some illuminated trees throughout in sheer greens and blue and other bands playing a the kiosque.  I was surprised to see so many brave families with kiddies tugging along as the night bared on.

As usual, I headed towards Ile de La Cité and Ile Saint Louis, because even without any special lighting, walking around the Seine is always poetic and dreamy.  The golden coloured lights seem to dance along the ripples of the current as they pass under the many lit bridges.

The magnificent old street lanterns, which were each lit by hand in the old days, still have that special soft glow that is uniquely Paris.  Crossing the pont Notre Dame, I stumbled upon a guy who had the most lavishly decorated bicycle that I have ever seen, for which my photo does not do justice.

In the back, he had mounted his own street lanterns that were brightly lit,  but the most surprising thing was a working water fountain.  He had it ingeniously located in between the handlebars with a tube leading to a small reservoir of water that amazingly kept the fountain spraying non stop.Nuit Blanche decorative bicylistNuit Blanche StreetlampNuit Blanche Hotel de ville art decoNuit Blanche Ile Saint LouisNuit Blanche cob web over SeineNuit Blanche Cite metro

Hotel De Ville is the town hall of Paris and I loved the flowing strings of multi coloured balloons that sensuously undulated in the wind.  Just watching was addictively meditative and again hard to leave behind.

Crossing back to Ile de la Cite, the early morning hours had taken their toll on several adolescents who apparently had imbibed way too much alcohol to the extent I was worried for their safety, as one could no longer stand unsupported and had to be dragged along like a rag doll, collapsing in the gutter several times.

They were just a sample of many youths seen staggering here and there as the wee hours of the morning progressed. Apparently for them, it was more of a night to escape parental eyes than enjoying any sights and lights.

I was hoping that the baker’s professional chamber on Ile Saint Louis would still be offering fresh baked croissants as they have in years past, but sadly no.  This time I would have to wait till morning for a free brunch of  cafe and croissants offered at  Hôpital Necker, which is the city’s major children’s hospital.

I also unfortunately missed some circus performers doing aerial stunts over by Porte de Versailles, suspended above the petit centure railroad.  It is an old abandoned rail line that once circled the entire city that is currently being studied for renovation.

Crossing over the last bridge of the night, I caught glimpse of a spectacular spider web that the golden hued arches had framed as in eternity.

By 2:30 am, I had to settle on not seeing everything I wanted with only two metro lines open and tired feet.  The Cité metro station, with its huge globes of light,  looked practically deserted, but when line 4 roared in,  it was packed like sardines with all nighters like myself.

Sleep deprivation by the way can be good for treating depression in some folks, where as in others can trigger cycling into hypomania.   Though tired, I did have trouble falling asleep with all the walking around I did, along with the myriad of  illuminations flooding my retinas.

In the morning, I was completely ok with forgoing the free “brunch”, preferring to head down the street to my favourite baker for croissants which were as buttery and flaky as ever.

There will be another Nuit Blanche to be enjoyed next year, but in the meantime I can perfectly make up my own nuit blanche anytime I want, that is up until the metro closes and before they turn off the lights at one am! Vive la nuit!


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Suffering Seen By A Sensitive Soul and Empath

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Perhaps you could easily think, without reading my other posts, that my life revolves around escapades here and there without a care in the world.  I do seek out joy because I feel it is my responsibility to create joy and goodness for myself and others, but I am never separated in totality  from the harsh world I live in either.

There are times when even the supreme beauty of Paris can’t override the reality of planet earth, and I feel like I am drowning in the world’s sorrow.  It is not because I don’t have any of my own, I do, but maybe because I am too sensitive and porous of a soul, to not be profoundly touched by all the suffering going on as I write.

I could have perhaps more easily written about this past weekend and Nuit Blanche, which offered some wonderful sights to see, but somehow that will have to wait till next week.  I have to be true to my own calling as what and when to write.

Human sorrow and suffering have been predominate throughout the ages, and I wonder if  that is the just the way the world is.  In other words, we come to suffer, some more than others in a world full of injustices to polish our souls in hopes of developing more compassion and love.

Buddhists see that suffering comes from attachment, and through it we can become more aware and compassionate, breaking through the cycle of life and death.  Christians as well might interpret suffering as carrying the weight of the cross of Jesus, and by doing so ,that suffering softens our own hearts to become more compassionate.     Some Catholics consider our time on earth as purgatory and from my own small window of living, I can certainly see why.

If being born onto planet earth is to be admitted to the very elite school of suffering in order to polish our souls, them some get a real rough go at it.  You wonder if our soul knows or at least has any inking of what we are getting ourselves into, as we reluctantly agree to come here.

I often catch babies eyes and I like to send each of them a telepathic message of welcome with love.  Usually I get an immediate response with a gleeful smile along with intense steady eye contact, as if to thank me for recognising that they are intelligent and spiritual beings, just trapped in an infant body that can’t communicate with vocabulary not yet learned, but with an intelligence of the heart brought from the “other” side.

I remember well one saturday night long ago when I would sometimes work part time,  as to keep my medical/nursing skills intact, since being a therapist can be far removed from the on hands medical interventions any clinician should know how to do.

Anyway, I had a feeling that one of the patients was on his way out, not only from his declining vitals signs, but the eminent feelings I had.  Sure enough, he did die that night. It was part of my duties to oversee that his remains were properly prepared along with filling out documents, so he could be taken to the morgue.

Being that we were short-staffed with aides that night, I volunteered to take him myself, as I had never before make the trip down to the morgue.   In the elevator, I remember the peacefulness that surrounded me with this departed soul.

Before coming back up to the medical unit, that was by the way nicknamed “the staircase to heaven” because it was full of patients who were often in the latter stages of their illness, I stopped off to see the newborn babies.

There was a redneck looking dad admiring his new progeny in the window, already talking to him in the way only rednecks can, promising all sorts of things I wouldn’t want any child exposed to. I can’t tell you how sorry I felt for that tiny innocent little one, knowing that he didn’t hit the lucky button in being placed with that kind of father.

Perhaps his soul had chosen that which awaited him, as I suspect we probably know, but nevertheless,  I saw his agitated cries and screams in being admitted to this world, some have called the “valley of tears.”

I felt my own tears  started to fall, not only for him, but for us all.  How ironical, that I had witnessed the peacefulness  of the dying and  the anguish of being born in a matter of an hour!

My daughter said that in Benin, where she was a Peace Corp volunteer, that being born, had little to none fan fare.  On the contrary, dying was celebrated big time with three days of dancing and singing to blaring music that kept the whole village awake in a frenzy of activity.

The Beninoise called it being free of all the earthly sufferings and so I can see their logic about celebrating death.  Right now as I write, there our hundreds of Ebola victims lying on cold floors or under the shade of mango trees wet with their own urine, feces and vomit, awaiting the call of death.

Who cannot be touched with their pain and suffering, in seeing the photos or reading about the plights of whole families being wiped out or leaving children orphans in countries where living can only be done in  harsh conditions at best.

All of this is enough to increase my pain and empathy for them all, knowing that we are all interconnected to our brothers and sisters in need of comfort and healing.  I feel somewhat guilty that I can have a peaceful haven away from their day-to-day threat of a virus nobody can see lurking around for its next victim.

I also feel guilt that I don’t have the courage that it takes to go help them out on my own, from my own selfish fears.  Mea culpa, I will never be a saint, like the hundreds of other health care workers, who are literally treading a thin shield of protection insides their hazmat suits.

The Ebola virus is a very strategic invader that quickly replicates its RNA with great speed, so as to kill so many so quickly.  I suspect that we don’t know all there is to know about it, nor its mutation possibilities, much in the same way the folks in the middle ages were challenged when confronted with the plague.

I ironically see a correlation to the Ebola virus and the IS terrorists. Neither have any mercy, both strike without warning, and both are deadly.  Ebola is one of the most virulent propagating viruses known and so is the evil ideology behind the IS that continues to infect, and brainwash the theological naive of Islam, who in term kill, maim and infect others.

Terrorists consumed with such evil religious ideology will eventually be betrayed by their own evil, simply because evil breeds evil that will boomerang back upon those perpetuating this horror.  They will be cannibalized by their own evil deeds.

The world injustices at the moment will be replaced by others maybe worse, maybe not, but it seems a pattern on planet earth.   Theologians throughout history have delved into the why’s of human suffering, in trying to interpret The Book Of Job.   None of them have gotten beyond the impossibility of really understanding the “why” as human understanding is limited at best.

At least for me, the most theologically provocative with psychological interpretation and correlates on Job, is the marvellous treatise by Dr. Carl Jung,  in his  Answer To Job, written when he was 76 years old.

He was the son of Protestant paster, who in addition to being a foremost psychological /psychiatric theorist, was also a profoundly spiritually man with mystical overtones.    He seemingly had a good grasp of biblical scriptures, protestant and Catholic doctrines, and weaves his thoughts from Genesis to Job and back to the Book of Revelations with astounding intellect.

The continuous evil acts and injustices  perpetuated by some human beings is a microcosmic reflection of the duality that was imparted to human flesh, who do indeed have free will to choose evil over good. It also can be seen as a barometer of the global state of mind.

There is no justification for the injustices and cruelty inflicted upon good and innocent human beings.   If there was even a hint of a reason, it might be another wake up call to for us to reexamine our own priorities and  deeply care about alleviate suffering, when we can, at least on a one to one basis.

It seems too, that somethings don’t change until bad things happen that triggers enough horrific response to the act.  Laws against antisemitic acts in Europe came about because of the Holocaust for example.

Since planet earth is getting “smaller” because of modern travel and instantaneous awareness of what is going on in every patch of earth; then evil, horror, suffering, injustices are immediately known.  Likewise, as you have already seen, evil viruses and terrorists can only be a step away from invading your own country and community.

Though the vast majority of us are not going to be called to fight on the  ground and in the skies against the IS, nor have the skills or courage to transplant ourselves to care for Ebola victims, we can work in our own communities and families to stifle out whatever injustices and sufferings  seen.

Basically, you and I, who choose to prioritize goodness and to exalt the laws of love and compassion, are being called  at least to be spiritual warriors to seed and propagate love, peace,  kindness, tolerance, empathy, compassion and forgiveness within our own reaches of humanity.




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Jardin Des Plantes; Oldest Botanical Garden In Paris

Museum of Natural HistoryJardin des Plantesjardin des Plantes alleysJardin des PlanresHuge tree Jardin des Planteshuge morning gloriesSouth African flowerBuffon's residenceJardin des Plantes flowersJardin des Plantes medicinal plantesJardins des plantes med plantsIn vitro plant reproductionWallabiesBee hotelGreen houses Art DEcoI have much affection for and appreciation of this magnificent garden overflowing at the moment with ravishing flowers that please and tease my eyes with their astonishing beauty.  I have many memories there too, because  I spent my first eight years in Paris, in an apartment overlooking the small garden in front of La Grand Gallerie, seen at the end of the post.

For almost 400 years,  it has remained a breath of fresh air full of all sorts of colourful lowers and trees in central Paris alongside of the Seine in the 5th arrondissement.  I happened to be there again last weekend for the annual Fête des Jardins, hoping to see something new.

The garden was started in 1626 on orders from king Louis XIII.  He wanted his own stash of a variety of medicinal plants that could be harvested to protect and treat himself and family.  Therefore his personal physician Guy de la Brosse was in charge of developing the garden.

De la Brosse also wanted to teach botany and chemistry at the Kings Garden, or Le Jardin du Roi, as it was called.  initially there was  opposition from the medical school of Paris, who felt only they could be in charge of such a facility and that it devalued their authority in the healing arts.

I was glad to see that they have recreated  plots of medicinal plants, with labels and descriptions of their various use in medicine.   A few years ago, I took a course offered by their botanists on the subject, which still fascinates me.

For flowers, they seem to be at their fullest and lushest glory in august and september.   There are massive plants of common interest to the exotic, like that orange spiky flower from south Africa. There are some aquatic plants too in several small pools.

They have some of  the oldest trees in Paris, though not the oldest, which is a locust tree in the small garden of Saint Julien le Pauvre church, across from Notre Dame.

Several of them were brought back by catholic foreign missionaries as seeds and many are from north America, including black cherries, maples, cypress, and horse chestnut, though the sugar maples never had enough cold  in Paris to produce syrup.

In 1739, Georges Louis Leclerc, Le Compte de Buffon took over, and the gardens evolved into a major center of scientific study and research, which remains today.   Buffon, who resided in the house on the corner of the street named after him, was considered the father of natural history and authored encyclopaedic volumes on the subject.

When Thomas Jefferson was America’s minister to France,  beginning in 1784, he often dined with Buffon in that house.  Though, he admired the naturalist’s work, he was infuriated at Buffon’s theory that the Americas did not have species as strong, big, nor resilient as on the European continent.

Determined to change his mind, Jefferson sent him an American cougar, and also the skeletal remains of a giant bull moose to make his point.  By that time, Buffon was old and sick and it is unclear whether  retracted his earlier theories.Rose Trelis garden

In 1794, animals that made up the royal zoo of Versailles were moved  here and the world’s second oldest public zoo was created.  Now it houses 1,800 species of  smaller mammals, reptiles, birds and insects that takes up half of the garden.

Though it is not the largest zoo in Paris, it nevertheless has a wonderful collection in the very heart of the city, easily accessible, right along the Seine!  The wallabies can be seen frolicking around for free, outside of the official zoo gate.

The lovely two huge green houses are constructed in a beautiful Art Deco style and hold collections of tropical plants, not native to France.  The glass panes seem to reflect multitudes shades of pink and rosy lights with the cool tinted greens.

The major Museum of Natural History, contained within the garden, houses the Grand Galleries of Evolution, offering hundreds of species of animals for viewing.   There is also a separate museum of Anatomy and Paleontology, and Galllery of Mineralogy on the grounds.

Across Rue Buffon street are vast laboratories and green houses for botanical research. One fascinating spot is a huge collection of seeds from all over the world, and a laboratory where seeds are separated from the original plants brought in for conservation and later planting.

Having seen both of those previously, this time I  got in a demonstration of how the botanists create new plants from the original ones, so as to preserve genetic purity, and maintain a reservoir of rare species.  Under aseptic conditions, they are grown in test tubes with a sterile medium, then slowly acclimated till sturdy enough for greenhouse growth, taking up to two years.

I was lucky to get some advice from the botanist who specialises in tropical plants, in regards to my own amusing project of germinating date seeds.  I too, like the men from the past, love to bring back seeds, concealed plants and cuttings from my travels, hoping to get them to flourish in my own balcony garden, which I will  write about in another post.

The rose garden is not the biggest in Paris, but is wonderful to walk under the trellises in June, when the roses are thick and fully perfumed amongst the statuary.statuary jardin des plantes

The garden also has the original labyrinth set on a promontory, topped by a cute belvedere, which makes for a nice cardio workout to get to the top.  There is also an Alpine garden with over 3000 thousands mountain plants, that I have never understood, why it was ironically created at a lower level than the actual park.LantanasMuseum Histoire Naturelle

They have their own  botanical school that trains professionals, but also occasionally offers courses for the general public, such as the one I took.

Additionally the Museum of Natural History likewise offers a full agenda of conferences year round on all sorts of pertaining subjects.

In all seasons, you will find lovers snuggling together on the many benches or in the labyrinth, oblivious to the world around them. Perhaps they find that the gardens offers a little more discreet haven than street corners or the banks of the Seine.

Actually, that is exactly how I discovered le Jardin des Plantes, many moons ago when I was a student here!

After all,  Paris is for lovers, whether they have eyes for the wonders of nature or the heart!

small garden that I over looked on rue Buffon

Two Very Unusual Medical Museums In Paris

Saint Louis Dermatological museeSaint Louis Dermatological musee entranceThere are two museums here in Paris that certainly are not run of the mill, and one of them, is certainly not for the faint of heart!  Both are fabulously interesting from a medically historic viewpoint and for those curious souls, who want a look back into the past!

I visited them both again this weekend in order to share with you a peak into the horrible illnesses that were commonplace, and treatment of the mentally ill. Health care was extremely challenged,  filled with dubious forms of treatment, but one museum demonstrated  ingenious ways of teaching doctors in training.

Le Musée des Moulages Dermatologique has to be the most splendid visual catalogization of skin diseases in the world!  It won’t take you long before you will want to get on your knees in gratitude for the miraculous discovery of penicillin that has led to modern day antibiotics.

I didn’t get as many photos as wanted, before I was told that they were not allowed, but what I did capture is painful enough for you to imagine the immense suffering these poor patients endured. The museum is quite large with cases of every skin disease on record in various stages of development and on various body parts.                   Saint Louis wax of tumour

The museum is within the campus of Hospital Saint Louis, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, which was built in 1616 to house and treat the thousands of bubonic plague patients that were overflowing Hôpital Dieu.

The museum was started in 1865 as a way of teaching dermatology to young resident doctors, first with water colours and drawings, but quickly expanded to wax mouldings of various skin diseases, that to this day remain extremely life like, as much as the wax figures in Musée Grevin. .

The collection is vast with over 4,000 mouldings,  the last made in 1958.  It was a first of Saint Louis musee syphilliticits kind, making Hôpital Saint Louis famous world wide for dermatological diagnosis,  research and treatment.

Though photography and video now constitutes the main way of cataloging diseases, you will see superb photographic like figures of patients with lesions, and deformities rarely, if ever seen today, due to strives in modern medicine.

Each wax moulding was moulded from real patients, both adult and pediatric,  who displayed skin lesions, tumors, facial and limb disfigurements, caused by the multitudes of skin afflictions.  There are representations of the various stages of different diseases, from beginning to end stage.

The vast majority of them were made by Julles Baretta, starting in 1867, whose artistry is breathtaking in realism.  After moulding the wax to patients, he would then take notes to the exact colours noted and he faithfully reproduced exactly how they looked by painting.

Without a doubt, the most repulsive and hideous of disfigurements were caused by syphilis, seen above.  Mainly caught and spread by sexual contact, or congenitally, there were recurring outbreaks starting around 1495.Saint Louis musee syphilitic woman

Tertiary syphilis or third stage caused in some patients huge bulbous tumours on the face and elsewhere, in addition to insanity or motor difficulties.  It also disintegrated and destroyed bone tissue, leaving some patients without a nose or jaws.

It wasn’t until 1838, that French physician Phillipe Ricord differentiated it from other diseases and described the three stages. It was treated mostly with mercury elixirs and ointments, then arsenic and mercury, and even inoculation of high fever producing malaria. .

These treatments were often deadly themselves, and never offered a cure. It wasn’t till Saint Louis musee1913 that the Treponema Pallidum was found to the causative bacterium, and till 1943, that penicillin proved to finally cure those infected if given during the first two stages.

The horrific effects of latter stages of syphilis rare immaculately preserved and are of immense historical significance in medical science.  The same visual reproduction of leprosy, and end stage tuberculosis joint deformities, that you will not see today are also there.

Aside from the grotesque disfigurements, the saddest were the infantile patients who had congenital syphilis, born to syphilitic mothers.  I am sure that the majority of todays dermatologists have never seen in their practice , the sickening and tortuous late stages of skin diseases, that were then common day Saint Louis musee skin diseasesSaint Louis musee display casesoccurrences.

The other museum, Musée de Psychiatrie et Neuro Science is located within Hôpital Saint Anne in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.   Saint Anne’s is the largest psychiatric hospital in Paris and is a renown center of psychiatric and neurologic research, that I wrote about in a previous post.

There you will find the first  electroconvulsive machines used here, Musee Saint Anne tile paintings 1along with other medical objects and  instruments from the past.  Though this museum is small and certainly not as vast and complete as the main medical museum of Paris, currently closed for renovation, it nevertheless presents a window into some treatments from the past,

There are documents from the Saint Anne psychiatrist, co-researcher and developer of chlorpromazine, or Thorazine. Also on display are instruments that were used in lobotomies.

Painted tiles by patients from the past give an inside view into their interpretations of either their surroundings and some treatments.  All of these may not be a completely accurate depiction of the actual care,  but are nevertheless very interesting.Saint Anne museum tile paintings gavageMusee Saint Anne paintings 2Saint Anne early camisoleSaint Anne musee camisole portraitSaint Anne first ect machineSaiint Anne lobotomy instrumentsMusee Saint Anne nurse

Some ancient psychiatric treatments can be said to have bordered on torture that were used to calm patients in full psychosis, delirium and or mania.  The one showing patients being hosed down with sprays of cold water or dropping them in water are examples.

It was the French physician, Dr. Philippe Pinel,  considered the father of modern psychiatry, who was the first to propose treating mentally ill patients in a humane manner, and who revolutionised psychiatric care in general.  Though he was one of the physicians at Saint Anne, he primarily oversaw care at Hôpital La Pitié Salpetriere.

The old fashioned camisole or straight jacket, seen in the photo was indeed more humane and effective in restraining an extremely agitated patient, than being chained before the days of antipsychotics and modern day calming agents, though some opiate preparations were used in psychiatric treatment.

An exhibition of paintings, in another setting, done by patients, I found interesting, in that despite cultural differences, many psychosis related by patients are universally the same.  Portrayals of being chased by demon, devils, and underground agents of doom and fear, like fiery dragons and the dead are very common agents of psychotic events.

The Saint Anne medical library is open to all and I found a treasure of old journals and as seen in the photo some books from 1500′s detailing psychosis as manifestations of sorcery and witchcraft and the proposed treatments. The fantastic Pinel book, which I read,  documents his observations and diagnosis that any psychiatric clinician would absolutely marvel in reading.

Tragically, some nurses and doctors, like the nurse seen in the photo were deported during the Nazi occupation of Paris.  Many risked their lives in hiding patients in the under ground quarries below the hospital.

Saint Anne library PinelSaint Anne tile painting surgerySaint Anne patient painting psychosisSaint Anne musee psych treatmentsSaint Anne library on visionsSaint Anne library Pinel

Saint Anne was the first psychiatric hospital to also offer a library for patients.  In the past, books were considered not appropriate for them, out of fear that it could cause further agitation or add to delusional states.

It might be easy for us to laugh or snicker at treatments  used  many years ago, but I find it likewise as arrogant to think that all of our modern day explanations of diseases and treatments have the final say.   Hundred of years from now, some of our theories and treatment approaches may seem as inefficace and barbarous as we may find some from the past. 

Research in psychiatry, in comparison to other specialities is still young, and neurobiology and  neurophysiology even younger.  There are still many unknowns that persist to the complex causal factors of psychiatric illness and the best treatment modalities.

With the thousands of possible mutations of viral agents and bacteria, some playing out today, these museums remind us that we are almost as vulnerable as those pitiful patients whose suffering in wax is preserved for antiquity.

Food for thoughtful conjecture, is that as humanity continues to evolve technically and scientifically to the degree that we think we have it made,  so do agents of disease and prevailing doom, some known and I suspect many others, that we can’t even fathom yet. What do you think?


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Walking The New Riverwalk On The Seine

Seine louisiane BelleSeine pont AlexandreBateau MouchesSeine batobus near LouvreSeine ZZZZ cabinsSeine wall climbingIf I can’t walk along the ocean, which is two hours away, then I absolutely love walking along the banks of the Seine any time day or night.   Of course the great advantage of walking along this mythic river rustling powerfully through Paris is that you have the gorgeous backdrop of the city at every angle.

I spent most of this past weekend walking again around the recently opened left bank riverwalk, called Les Berges, where I caught a glimpse of the Louisiane Belle, seen above.    The city of Paris has a made a monumental effort to bring back the multiple pleasures associated with the river, that were so in fashion during the Belle Epoque.

The Seine has been the main artery of life here since its early existence, founded by the Parisii tribe,  on Ile de La Cité around 350 BC.    The actual source of the Seine begins as a small outpouring of water  in Burgundy and empties into the English Channel at Le Havre.

The first banks of Paris, called quais were built in the early 1500′s.  Though the river had always provided a means of bringing in foods and equipment from the surrounding areas, it wasn’t till later that it became a source of leisure and nautical pleasure.

Small riverside or floating restaurants, called quinguettes started to proliferate along the Seine, west of the city and east along the Marne, in the 1700′s.  The name comes from the local cheap wines that was produced in the surrounding villages.

There you could spend hours eating, drinking and dancing while watching the canoes  rowing in front of you.    These were often the gathering places of the impressionistic painters, who immortalized  the flourishing quinguettes society, with many paintings, such as Auguste Renoir, in his Déjeuner de Canotiers.

As the Seine became progressively more polluted, this popular culture started to die out, except for the guinguettes along the Marne, which is still going strong today.  By 1960, parts of the quais in Paris were turned into roadways;  that although they provided a very scenic drive through the center, they also were heavy contributors of pollution and noise.

With the waters of Seine now cleaned up after years of strenuous efforts, the river culture and guinguettes are back in full force!!  Though the auto club of Paris was angered by the closure of the left bank  thoroughfare, the mayor’s office is wanting to get rid of most of them in favour of bringing back the banks of the Seine to the Parisians to stroll about.

Seine isletsSeine tipisMassages SeineSeine festivalParis mushroomsSeine festival  productsSeine portraits Juliette GrecoEel of the SeineSeine BremeLes Berges is a 2.3 kilometer riverwalk that starts around Pont de de L’Alma and goes all the way to the Musée d’Orsay.  This stretch would correspond to the Champs Elysées area towards the Tulleries gardens and the Louvre on the opposite side.

I was very impressed by the cities’ efforts to create part of the walk into a space of zen and  relaxation amongst floating islets of greenery planted with various fruits tress and berry bushes  with water willows that welcome the nesting of various birds.

There are pleasures and activities for all ages, offering various classes from yoga to boxing for the fun seeking and just pure relaxing in the sun and fresh air.  Weekends though, you are hard pressed to find a free hammock and chaise lounge without a wait, but there are other paying options!

Most creative are the country inspired green cabins, called  ZZZ for hourly rent seen in the photos, where you can picnic or snooze on your own patio watching all the bateau mouches plying up and down the Seine or snuggle inside in colder weather.

Then there are  tipis  for rent, perfect for families  or parties in a unique setting.  Kiddies were loving the wall climbing equipment, wall drawings and pole tennis, but obviously parents have a heavy responsibility in keeping perfect watch over their little ones away from the river, which made me nervous for them.

Sunday, there was a festival celebrating the local food products and produce of Ile de France, so it was especially crowded.  I had to dodge a thicket of  tiny ones weaving in and out on their scooters  and bikes as they often are not paying attention to their path.  Fortunately there were little niches of quiet and serenity on the floating islets to avoid the clamour and restore a sense of countryside tranquillity.

There were also mobile green caverns where you entered to plunge into fern lined walls and sprays of refreshing cooling mists that offered a  momentary zen respite from the crowds. If that isn’t enough there were massage therapists on hand to soothe away your stress.

The entire strip offers wonderful terraces, some on the banks and some floating ones to linger away the time, either people watching or gazing at the ever present river traffic, while sipping on your beverage of choice.

The most comfortable looking lounge chairs were at Le Flow, which was indeed overflowing with patrons soaking up the sun.  The most reasonable wine prices and tapas were at Rosa Bonheur, a new floating restaurant offering direct views over the water.

A upscale restaurant, Faust, just opened tucked under the Pont Alexandre III, which I consider to be the most beautiful bridge in Paris. It has  a starred chef who presided over the Matignon palace, the official residence of the French prime minister.

The glass rooftop of the Grand Palais is just across the river and sitting along the banks offers extraordinary close up views of Pont Alexandre, this magnificent ornate bridge built in 1896, with its golden nymphs, cherubs and winged horsemen, that is even more breathtaking at night.

The last part of the riverwalk extends to the Musée d’Orsay , where it becomes less crowded and there is an exhibit of famous stars that were once photographed on the banks of the Seine, such as Truman Capote and Juliette Greco.Seine Truman Capote

All in all it makes for a wonderful and breezy stroll with captivating scenery on both sides.  A few fisherman were out trying their luck, but I didn’t notice any catches.

There is an open air “museum” with pictorial  information about the major fishes that call the Seine home.  The most exotic in my mind would be the eels that leave the river and head towards the Saragossa sea to reproduce.

The current remains very strong and treacherous , which is a good deterrent for those crazy enough to risk their lives in  swimming across.  With all the many tourist boats, bus boats, river police patrols in addition to various huge barges coming and going, there is a lot of action, wakes and waves.

Though it does not have the intimate romantic appeal of walking around the banks of Ile Saint Louis, behind Notre Dame, which has its own aura of dreaminess from another time, especially at night,  it gives you another wide open dimension of this beautiful river that has sustained and nourished Paris from the beginning of time.

As the clouds came in the early evening,  the cool Seine breezes became a little chilly Coconut cake sunday september 14 2014prompting us to return home.  Fortunately I had already finished up a French fresh coconut cake, in memory of my Southern grandmother who lived on a bayou and  always baked me her southern version on my birthdays.

Mine was made from genoise layers, soaked in pineapple and rum, filled with crushed pineapple, coconut and whipped cream, then covered in a snowy blanket of more cream and grated coconut.  I think she would have loved walking along the Seine today and eating my version too!.

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The Hidden Queen Of King Louis XIV, A True Cinderella Story

madame de maintenon portrait at chaeauchateau Mintenon  gardensChâteau Maintenon 2014chateau Maintenon aquaductMadame Maintenon bedroommadame Maintenon house for doggiesMadame Maintenon pianoThis is an incredible story of a woman who was born in the most unfortunate circumstances, yet whose fabulous destiny was to become the dearly beloved mistress/companion of Louis XIV and his hidden queen of France!

This is a cinderella fairy tale that is rich in romanticism and the triumph of goodness.   How a young woman’s life, in all of its twists and turns, was finally rewarded for her gift of kindness and tolerance.

Françoise d’Aubigné was born in a prison, on 27 November, 1635, in the rather drab town of Niort, near the Atlantic coast in central France.   Her father, who came from a well known Huguenot protestant family in the area,  was imprisoned for murder and her mother was the jailer’s daughter.

Upon her father’s release,  the family went to live in Martinique, a part of the French Antilles islands in the Caribbean, where they lived in near poverty for six years. After she returned to France with her mother, known to be harsh, she learned that her father had died and soon after lost her mother.

Little Françoise was placed in the care of her loving paternal aunt, where she was doted upon and cared for as never before.  Though she was baptised in her mother’s Roman Catholic faith, she was brought up Protestant, till her catholic godmother placed her in a convent against her will.

It was there, in part due to a very kind Sister Celeste, that Françoise, embraced her baptismal Catholic faith.  Transferred to a convent in Paris, her godmother, started introducing her to the Parisian salons, where she was nicknamed the “belle Indienne”, in reference to her time living in Martinique.

There she met the literary and artistic greats of Parisian society, along with some of the  nobility and  courtesans of the royal court.  One of these artists, was Paul Scarron, a renown poet, that took a liking to the young Françoise.

Taking advantage of her young age, her penniless position, and being fragelized by the loss of her parents, he proposed that he would fund her reentrance to a convent or offer her a proposal of marriage.

At the mere age of 16, Françoise married this man who was 25 years older than she and was extremely handicapped, confined to a wheelchair.  For the next eight years, she was his nurse and kind companion to this man, who probably brought her a paternal presence she had been denied.

She developed quite a coterie of friends and admirers, and maintained a good reputation. One of these , was Anne d’Autriche, the mother of king Louis XIV, who admired her faith filled piety.

In 1660, Paul Scarron died, but unfortunately did not leave her anything but his debts..  Once again penniless, her fairy god mother , Anne d’ Autriche, out of compassion of this young  24 year old woman, arranged with her son that Françoise be given a monthly stipend.

Several years later, her destiny took anther fortuitous turn that would eventually lead her into the arms of her beloved king.   She had been befriended in the past  by Madame de Montespan,  the long time mistress of Louis XIV, who would also play a pivotal role in her LouisXIVMadame Maintenon er Louis XIVdestiny.

Françoise was invited by Mme de Montespan  to take over the position of nursemaid and nanny of her seven illegitimate children by the king.   They were housed in a large house in Paris, and it was there, that Françoise met Louis XIV, around 1669, who was said to be fond and attentive to his many children.

The king was extremely takenMadame maintenon marriage to Louis XIVVersailles royal chapelVersailles frescaMADAME MAINTENON AND NIECE by her sincere sweetness, maternalism  and concern over his children, noticing how she loved them freely as if they were her own.   She was said to have initially rebuffed any romantic advances towards her out of respect of his marriage to his queen and her own morals.

Françoise had a completely different personality from the king’s mistress Mme de Montespan, who was given towards sharp, biting, or sarcastic remarks that bordered on cruelty and constant fits of anger.

Louis XIV was noted to linger on in conversation with Françoise on many occasions who he found likewise intelligence and to possess much wisdom.  Knowing her love for her former island residence of Martinique, he enabled her to have a tobacco plantation there.

With the monies she received in selling her tobacco farm, she was able to buy a château near Chartres in the town of Maintenon.  In due time, she was given by the king, the title of Madame de Maintenon.

Françoise continued to be very involved with the care of the kings children and they often stayed with her at Chateau de Maintenon.  Not surprisingly the relationship between Mme de Montespan and Françoise eventually became increasingly strained and filled with jealously.

Eventually Mme de Montespan started to lose favour of the king as  Françoise continued to gain even more time and influence over him. Chronically unfaithful , Louis XIV became involved with yet another woman, who died giving birth to another of his many illegitimate children.

Concerned about the welfare of these children, historians say it was pius Françoise who convinced Louis XIV to legitimise all of children born out-of-wedlock. She was also credited with encouraging him to be more attentive and kind to his queen Maria Theresa, who he had for many year neglected, other than to provide heirs to the throne.

When Maria Therese died, many in the court had proposed that he seek another royal marriage, but Louis, perhaps by this time concerned about his chronic sins of the flesh refused.  Several months later on October 10, 1683, he married Françoise d’Aubigné in a secret ceremony in the royal chapel, seen in the photo.

The ceremony took place at midnight and the exchange of vows was only witnessed by several high ranking clergy.  Their marriage was “morganatic”, meaning that it could not be officially announced as a royal marriage due to his spouse’s very common origins.

Louis XIV though, made no secret of the marriage to the court and often conducted royal affairs within close vicinity of his secret queen, often asking her opinion and advice.  He was said to have lived the rest of his life in a more sedate  manner, though he still had occasional extramarital affairs.

During her unofficial reign, Françoise encouraged the kIng to invest more into the French Caribbean islands, which successfully started to grow sugar cane, and then rum making, which today, is one of their major exports.

Louis XIV was a difficult man to love, who besides remaining unfaithful , was at times critical of his second wife’s origins and first marriage.  Françoise was often disliked by the rest of the royal family and was unfairly criticized and blamed by some members of the court.

Her greatest achievement was setting up a school for impoverished young girls, near Versailles, which occupied much of her time.   Three days before Louis XIV died in 1715, she left Versailles, perhaps wearied by the immense tolerance of his lifestyle, and conflicts she had to put up with in the court.

After his death, she divided her time between her flourishing school and her beautiful Chateau Maintenon, seen in several photos that I took two weeks ago.  She much preferred her home there to the very lavish and extravagant royal quarters that she had shared with the king at Versailles.

The château is surrounded with a moat and in back there is a large manicured garden full of various flowers and perfumed roses in front of a large lake that leads to the aqueduct.  Her bedroom was lovely and feminine that housed a three portal house for her doggies and the beautifully decorated piano in her music room.

The energy I felt at Chateau Maintenon must have been imbibed with her kindness and there was a quiet sweetness and intimacy in the air. This is in contrast to the glamorous and immense splendour of Versailles , that seemed rather impersonal, when I revisited the palace  this weekend.

Françoise died on april 15, 1719 and was buried at the school she founded, that was later turned into a military academy during the revolution, now called Saint Cyr.  Childless, she left all of her inheritance to her niece seen in a photo above, whose descendants still maintain the chateau.  Though, she was never able to be buried next to her beloved king, her coffin, as well as all of the members of the royal family suffered the same fate of desecration by revolutionaries.

Her fairytale destiny took her into the heart of the most majestic royal palace in the world, and to the heart of Louis XIV, who loved her more than any other woman.  I am sure that was more important to her that any bejeweled crown, because for Françoise, it was her heart that reigned supreme with her king.





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Saying Goodbye To August Is Hard To Do

I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall, I love Paris in the winter when it Bateau Mouche 2014drizzlesBatobus 2014, I love Paris  in the summer when it sizzles? , but most of all I love in August!   For me, however strange it may seem, it is always hard to say goodbye to August for some personal and seasonal preferences, especially  giving KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERANotre Dame Assumption 2014Parc Montsouris 2014MirabellesTarte aux Mirabelles 2014Balcony Flowers summer 2014up whatever warm summer weather we might have had, which wasn’t much this year!

I adore August for what it does have, and doesn’t  the rest of the year!   Yet, I had no idea before I moved here that I would love August in Paris for what is missing!

Though August rarely sizzles heat wise, it is usually the most generous of warm days and nights; this year being an exception with one of the coolest and rainiest on record.  It was so lousy this year that the city extended Paris Plage for a week, where my toes can dig into the warm sand while watching the Bateau Mouches plying up and down the Seine.

August in France was for me my days of milk and honey, as it was traditionally the month that I usually traveled to France with much excitement!  Being here , even now, brings back memories of my first days in awe and wonder of her beauty.

At that time I don’t remember ever feeling deprived of any gastronomic experiences, with the many small bistros that traditionally close, because I usually headed to the famous multi starred ones to check out a chef that had been accumulating rave reviews, which are opened year round.

Since living here, I have learned to look forward to Assumption Day, a national holiday here in France.   You will always find me patiently waiting in front of  Notre Dame to take part in the lovely procession around Ile de La Cité and Ile Saint Louis that always fills me with much joy.

Walking with many other faithful devotees of Mother Mary, reciting the rosary, is like a meditative trance that gives me much sweet peace and pleasure.  Another reminder of how blessed I feel to be living here.

Here is a quick clip of the bells at the end of the procession back in front of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame bells august 15 2014

Then of course,  exactly a week later I get to celebrate my birthday in my beloved adoptive city.  The most recent recount of my birthday can be found in the previous post.

By August the flowers in the park and on my own balcony have reached their peak  of enthralling beauty!  And last, but not least the mirabelles, those very small golden perfumed plums, from Lorraine, start to flood the marchés, that easily find their way Parc Montsouris ice cream vendorParis Horses 2014Fete de Ganesh 2014 2fete de Ganesh 2014in one of my delicious fruit tarts.

Precisely, what is missing, that makes August so special, is the hoards of Parisians who have left!  The rest of the year they crowd the sidewalks and stores that I constantly have to dodge or risk bumping into.  Then there is the  constant rattling thunder of cars, the horrible shrill of motorcycles and  tires screeching madly around the avenues everywhere.

I am so grateful that the majority of Parisians leave in scores for their annual month long vacation.  In August I have the feeling that the city belongs mostly to the tourists, and the few diehard August lovers like me!

The parks almost feel very rural with only a few folks scattered on the grounds and the ice cream vendor looking lonely, without the usual long line.

Some of Paris’s major business and residential areas look deserted , including some of the central thoroughfares.  August is the only time I feel half way comfortable to drive in the city, except for an occasional Sunday, though I still avoid like the plague, the crazy and dangerous circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

It felt really strange to venture out one day, that took me back to my old street in the 5th, then driving towards Notre Dame where I turned on the quai and drove along the Seine, before turning back at the Musee d’Orsay.   Heading south, I picked up Blvd Saint Germain des Prés  back towards the fifth,  turned towards the Pantheon then back  to Blvd Saint Michel, along side  Jardin Luxembourg till I reached the 14th, all done without being tied in a bundle of nerves!

Here is a small portion of it, mostly on Saint Germain, narrated in a playful manner by my daughter, while I was driving, still very defensively.

Summer driving in Paris 2014

Sure a lot of the shops and restaurants are closed, but so what?   I much prefer eating my own delicious meals overlooking my abundance of colourful flowers seemingly suspended above the rooftops against the blue sky( which hasn’t been too blue recently).

Today is September the first and I could tell by this weekend, that the deluge of Parisians have returned to roost for la rentree!  Just by the noise level alone, I knew before I even ventured back out into the streets!

I woke up Saturday to a band playing across the street to promote a new organic store that had just opened, and when I stepped out there where two horses in front of an old buggy munching away on hay, oblivious to the traffic and folks stopping by to gaze and take photos to this rather unusual sight.

Saturday the lines in stores had already lengthen by several meters.  The sidewalks were once again flooded with people and the parks had me dodging the little kiddies on their scooters whizzing by at breakneck speed.

Worst was the mob of people, that I got caught in and had me worried about getting tramped on, at the annual Fete de Ganesh.   Held in the 18 arrondissement,  I love going to the parade for the brightly coloured floats,  Indian music, flashy costumes and saris in all the colours of the rainbow, and sights of smashed coconuts everywhere, which I wrote about: http://www.cherrychapman.com/2012/09/03/smashing-cocon…or-lord-ganesh/

The Hindi community here are so very generous with freely handing out the wonderful and unusual beverages with packages of beautifully seasoned rice and this year spicy chickpeas.

I was able to obtain another blessing this year of having my forehead dabbed with red. I was wondering why folks were staring at me on my way  home on the metro, as it wasn’t till I looked in the mirror did I realise I looked like I had suffered a bad injury!

Well, the city is back in full, and as loud and busy as ever!  September has really neat things about it too, that I am sure to write about.  Hopefully there will be another August and birthday to enjoy next year!


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My Special Birthday Celebration Weekend

Théâtre Palais Royal Birthday  2014My birthday celebration has been a whirlwind celebration of three straight days full of merriment, spectacular sights, good food, laughter and even wonderful omens!  Birthdays should always be celebrated in a big way, with as much flare, style and adventure as you can put together.          

Friday my official birth day, started out with a surprise breakfast of croissants, praline croissants and brioche from my favourite baker brought in by my daughter who announced she had taken the day off Château Maintenon lake and aquaducfrom work. After finishing off every delicious crumb of breakfast pastries, we set out for the country, heading south towards Maintenon, which is slightly north of Chartres.

Chateau Maintenon was the estate of Louis XIV’s favourite mistress, Madame Maintenon, who became his hidden queen. I had always been fascinated by her character, who had a cinderella life, from being born in misery to ending up becoming the beloved queen of a king of France.

Her rags to riches story is worthy of a detailed post in the future. The château and grounds were magnificent of course and sweet energy seem exuded everywhere, probably a reflection of her own kind spirit.

I cornered one of the Château Maintenon Birthdau 2014gardeners, busy pruning the many roses, that are planted each year. This year’s rose was Le Notre in honour of the famous landscaper who designed the garden here and Versailles, along with several other châteaux in Château Maintenon 2014France.

Delicately pink and profoundly perfumed, I asked for a cutting, which he only could do on the sly. Fortunately , I had tucked a compressed sac in my purse, ,which he kindly filled with the cuttings that I intend to root.  I had successfully rooted a brugmansia(angel trumpet) from another château in the Loire.

On the way back home, we stopped at a farm ‘cuillette’, which allows you to pick fruits, vegetables and flowers.  First stop was the raspberries bushes, which was a formidable task, as they were well picked over, leaving a few hidden under leaves for picking.

After an hour of hunting raspberries, there wasn’t much times for much else.  After fermecutting  crimson and green lettuces, and pulling up some red beets, we headed home, escaping the worst of returning vacationers.

Getting back to late to shop for  my original menu of coquilles Saint Jacque(scallops), I had to  improvise with what I had.  While enjoying my coup de champagne, I proceeded to produce a caramelised tarte tatin of tomatoes, along with the fresh picked salads and the succulent raspberries made for splendid dinner.

While sipping the last of my wine, I caught a double rainbow gracing the sky looking out over my balcony!  Delighted to have such a wonderful and beautiful omen for my birthday!Birthday 2014 L'Oiseau BlancL'Oiseau Blanc 2014 terrasseL'Oiseau Blanc avion

Saturday morning the sun played hide and seek, but cleared to a blue sky by the time we arrived at the Hotel Peninsula roof top terrace restaurant L’Oiseau Blanc, where I had made reservations a few weeks before.

Paris’s newest glamorous palace had just opened the first of August.  Not surprising, the hotel was sumptuous and lavishly decorated throughout with massive chandeliers.

I, like other gastronomes, was looking forward to trying out the new young chef Sidney Redel.

Hotel Peninsula

The restaurant was named to commemorate the airplane L’Oiseau Blanc,  that unsuccessfully attempted the first transatlantic flight in 1927 between Paris and New York.

The view is stunning with a 360 degree visual tour over tout Paris,  with the near by Tour Eiffel  most prominent.  The warm sun, with a steady breeze made for a perfect day to be in such splendour.

Though my first course of  creamed mussels marinières with spinach and   purple and yellow cauliflower in a superb fumet was initially exciting, the main course fell flat and uninspired.

The perfectly grilled fish, a lieu jaune ,was garnished with smothered baby girolles and cherry tomatoes, while good, was served with white beans in a under seasonedL'Oiseau Blanc Birthday 2014L'Oiseau Blanc dessert with bee fish fumet, that left me disappointed and questioning the rationale of the whole dish.

The desert was a lovely pain perdu , accompanied by apricot puree, and vanilla and orange flower ice cream.  The combination of flavours was wonderful but the best of all was sharing it a little bee, seen in the photo.

I was graced also with a cute ladybug who briefly landed on my forehead as if to wish me a happy birthday.  I love bees and ladybugs and always consider them  good omens!

Perhaps the chef, who was a protégé of Pierre Gagnaire, one of my favourite chefs,  hasn’t been given full reign to showcase his creativity or it just wasn’t a good day.

Though I could have spent the whole afternoon lounging in the comfortable chairs soaking up the sun, sipping the excellent Chablis domaine Christophe, the clouds started to move in and I found myself wishing that my talented chef son Andre could have been at the kitchen’s helm for my birthday lunch!

Getting home around 4pm, allowed for a little rest before getting ready for the evening fun ahead, guaranteed to plunge me into the heart of old gai Paris.  Another one of my birthday surprises was a musical comedy playing at one of Paris’s loveliest old theaters.Théâtre Palais Royal Interior 2Theatre Palais Royal SatuesThéâtre Palai Royal 2014

Le Théâtre du Palais Royal was built in 1784 at the norther tip of Palais Royal next to one of Paris ‘s oldest restaurants Le Grand Vefour.  The multi tiered lavish baroque interior, decorated in lush red velvet amongst ornate light fixtures and voluptuous statues had an intimate feel that allowed you to have a near presence to the stage.

Sitting in our own private lodge, seen above, near the stage, I felt like I was in another era that flourished during Molière’s time.  The play, Les Fiancés du Loches, written in 1888, had  me laughing throughout with the farcical slapstick comedy of songs and dances along with costumes from that époque and real musicians in the background.

The applause and was so thunderously consistent at the end, that the curtain kept going up and down over 8 times, keeping the actors on stage well overtime!  We lingered after the crowd left taking photographs seen of this very special theatre that I had never been to before.

The exterior architecture of the pretty swirled layered fire escapes was a reminder that the previous Palais Royale Theatre was completely destroyed by fire, and this reconstruction certainly must have assured patrons that followed of their safety. Walking around that area at night had its own charm and allure with the cute old fashioned street lanterns here and there glowed in the narrow cobblestone streets.Théâtre_du_Palais-Royal_04

Paris takes on another energy at night, one of frivolity and romantic mystique cast by dancing shadows at every corner, that makes you want to indulge way past midnight.
Birthday Dinner 2014
Birthday Dinner 2014 FAux Filet Henri IVDouble Rainbow Birthday 2014

Sunday was for birthday pastry making, which is a long tradition of mine.   Even though I live in a city where some of the most dazzling Birthday Dacquoise 2014and dreamiest cakes and pastry are created, I still prefer making my own.

After Sunday Mass, I quickly set out to shop for my birthday dinner since all that celebrating had prevented me doing it before.  I had to be quick to get all that I needed before they close around 1:30pm.     As usual, my search of exactly what I needed necessitated marathon walking around,  made more difficult as the majority of butchers and shops were still shuttered for august vacation.

After a quick lunch, I tackled the intricate process of making the dacquoise layers for the cake.   They take forever to dry to a perfect crunchiness in the low oven temperature needed to preserve the creamy whiteness and texture.

The lemon curd needed for the lemon mousse is now a breeze for me to make, since I often make it for various other desserts and pastries.  Waiting for it to cool on the balcony afforded a little time to rest!

Getting the layers of crisp meringue off the sheet, without breaking in two can be a challenge, but using baking parchment makes it easier.  It was close to 7pm by the time I folded in the lemon curd mascarpone mixture into the whipped cream and was finally able to assemble my lemon dacquoise.

It was champagne time again and I quickly proceeded to slice and sear the foie gras garnished with a tapped pear along with figs, orange and apricots, drizzled with a port wine sauce seen in the photos. I had intended on doing tornadoes Henri IV, but with the butcher being out of filets, I had to improvise with a faux filet(loin).

The artichokes bottoms were tiny with leaves attached, looking like abstract flowers.   Filed with my delicious sauce béarnaise made with fresh tarragon from my balcony alongside the sliced grilled beef, the improvisation was a stunning success in all aspects!

La piece de resistance provided a succulent ending to a perfect birthday dinner.  I love the contrast of the crisp crunchy texture of the sweet dacquoise against the soft silky lemon mousse, served with raspberries and or strawberries.

It was certainly worth all the effort as a sumptuous finale to my birthday celebration.  Birthdays are for celebrating more that just one day, as each of us deserves to have that special recognition of our births, where too often they are overlooked in a blink.

Birthdays also remind us that life needs to be celebrated more often for any reason you choose!  It is up to us to bring as much joy, adventure and good times into our lives, throughout the year!

The whole weekend was all that I could have dreamed of, except for one thing. Having my son and grandchildren would have been even more love and cherries on top of the whipped cream cake!

Secrets Are For Sharing

Have you ever thought that if people knew something about you,  that you have kept secret for many years, they would think less of you, or worst even abandon you?

Could you believe that the very people you are hiding something from, have their own secrets that they too would perhaps like to share?

Secrets are for sharing, for keeping them within only serves to harm and isolate you from others.  Untold secrets can fester like purulent pus of some ongoing infection requiring building thick fortress like walls to contain within that you are most fearful of revealing.

Life is tough to live for all of us. I would venture to say that almost every human being on earth has a hurt, fear or even a past, that is hidden within.   More than likely, you would never know.

It is a universal truth that most human beings walk around with doubts, fears, sadness, abuse, hopelessness and I could go on. Masks are made for masking and most people do this very well indeed.  The smile you see may cover up a deep sorrow.

The crystalline confidence exuding from someone in power may be as false as his persona.   I remember a three star general, who suffered from an awful self-esteem and despite his apparent career achievements and multiple stripes, was tormented by severe self doubts.

We have to keep face because we think, however erroneously, that everyone else has it all together.  And that my dears, is just a plain lie.  No one goes around being really totally honest about how they feel.

I realise to a certain extent, that this may be culturally oriented.  The Asians are notorious for being extremely opaque.  Likewise, the French in general, are much less open than Americans to sharing, unless you are within their circle of confidents.

I think it is perfectly ok to let people know you are worried and not up to par.   When we deprive others of letting them know how we feel, we also deprive ourselves of being listened to and comforted.

Did you ever think that just maybe they have had the same feelings too?   Did it ever occur to you that maybe they would like to tell you how they really feel?

I am not against social decorum, but a little authenticity would be refreshing. I am not calling for broadcasting how miserable you are to each and all.

There are people in your circle that care about you and I am sure you know who they are. There are plenty of ways to let people know you don’t feel good.

Nothing wrong with saying “well, I am not great”.   Or what about “It could be better”.  Those who care will stop and ask what’s up.

There is nothing wrong either asking for a hug.  Perhaps only in America though!  Although the French can certainly offer comfort in their on way, I have found that they don’t know what to do with a hug or hugging!

Since  I have a very hard time denying that I  am worried or not feeling food, I have in the past asked for hugs from friends and colleagues.    Actually people enjoy being asked  because it makes them feel significant that you turned to them.  The bottom line is most folks like to be of help.

Psychotherapy and or self-help groups are wonderful in providing an opportunity to meet other people who are suffering from the same hurts and pain as you.  You realise that you are not alone, and can identify with the similarities that you have already experienced.

I would like to add my belief that therapists too, need to be as authentic as they hope their patients will be.  Therapists do not live in ivory towers devoid of real human stress, sorrows and strife.  My time will always belong 100% to my patients, not me, but I can certainly briefly be real about my mood, if asked, and go on with their therapy.

I remember well a time when a certain patient  triggered a strong grief response in me.  After I said goodbye to my her, I found myself very tearful and openly cried again over the death of my cousin that occurred when I was only 12 years old.

Fortunately it was lunch time, but because I couldn’t hide my red and swollen eyes by my next session, I ended up having to reveal the truth.  My brief disclosure precipitated an incredible floodgate for my patient’s own buried grief, which turned out to be an extremely productive catharsis for her.

Being human and suffering in a universal reality that we all share.  Beware of isolating yourself, thinking that you are the only one to have this sorrow, doubt or fear.

Your boss, your teacher, your guru, your best friend, and yes, even therapist have all suffered.  You are never alone with your pain, unless you choose to believe your suffering is incomprehensible to others.

There are some secrets that disturb, torment and fester, either consciously or buried that are better off being shared initially with a professional therapist.    The deepest and the most hurtful of all is to have been sexually molested, but never revealed.

Due to very nature of this type of abuse, there are feelings of anger and shame,  which can lie dormant in the recesses of the psyche.    All  sexual abused patients harbor this.

At times even awareness of abuse can be locked away in their unconscious and will surface many years later.  Those that are aware often suffer is silence until they have the courage to confide their pain.

I dedicated an entire post on this,  called Sexual Abuse; The Hidden Pain And Suffering:  http://www.cherrychapman.com/2014/02/03/sexual-abuse-t…-and-suffering/ ‎

Aside from other deeply disturbing events, such as above, none of us are that unique in our humanity.   We are all open to the same human difficulties and pitfalls that life entails.

The bottom line, is when you share a fear, doubt or pain with another person, you are being authentically real and human.  You are also giving them an opportunity to share their own hidden selves or secrets with you!

I remember when I  was invited to a picnic in the Bois de Boulogne, a sprawling huge forested area cupping the western edge of Paris.  Two invitees, I had never met and the others only once before.  I chose to share my concern and worry about a family matter, and within minutes another started to open up about their own family problems.

Have you ever sat next to a total stranger on a flight and before you knew it,  found yourself revealing much more than you ordinarily do?  I know this has happened to me several times, and each time, this has led to a mutual outpouring of feelings.

These personal vignettes once again validates my universal conviction that only when we have the courage to reveal our true selves, do we invite our fellow human voyagers in this life to share theirs.

Our boundaries become porous when we allow ourselves to share our own secrets, vulnerabilities and true feelings.     And being seen, with all of our human frailties builds bridges to the hearts of others.

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Robin Williams; Three Main Factors That Contributed To His Death

suffering-statue-with-tearsRobin Williams, who all made us laugh till we cried, has now unleashed a world of tears from those who loved him and his extraordinary ability that enabled us to escape our everyday life with laughter. How ironic that the joy and laughter he was so capable of giving to the world, he wasn’t in the end,  able to experience himself.

Many people would have a hard time believing that Robin Williams could be depressed enough that he wanted to kill himself.  Not widely known until his death, was the fact that he suffered from the deadly duo of Bipolar disorder and substance abuse.  The third contributing factor revolved around the very talent and image that brought him fame and admiration, yet nevertheless played a part in his demise.

Bipolar disorder, either type I or II is a disorder of cycling moods of mania or hypomania and very severe depressions.  For those interested, I wrote a whole post detailing the symptoms, variations, and treatment in August of 2012;   http://www.cherrychapman.com/2012/08/20/bipolar-disorder/

Bipolar depression, the great rapist, took him away with no mercy as it does many who suffer from the same, sometimes in silence. I call depression the great rapist because it literally destroys all joy and meaning of life to the extent that the will to continue living can be totally obliterated.

Depression mangles and twists your judgment and rationale and traps you in total darkness , where the light of hope is easily extinguished.  Left untreated and unmonitored the depressed person starts to be convinced that the world would better off without them.

It makes death look much more desirable that the pain of living. Depressed patients can never see an end to their suffering, and unless stringent intervention of protection and help takes place, the risk of suicide is high.

He, like up to 56% of Bipolar patients had a dual diagnosis of substance abuse. Most bipolar patients, who are not on medication, or poorly controlled, rather enjoy the hypomanic phases, but it is the severe suffering of the depressive periods that leads some to self medicate with drugs and alcohol.  Unfortunately Robin Williams had polysubstance abuse;  cocaine, ecstasy, and alcohol.

Bipolar disorder can be deadly enough, but when the patient is using drugs, it makes everything worse.  The mood variations can be intensified, resulting in deeper depressive episodes and the cycling can become more rapid.

Let me explain why.  First of all the neurons(nerve cells) in bipolar patients are already given to being unstable with varying fluctuations of neurotransmitters, which causes the variations of mood.

Cocaine is one of the most powerful stimulators of neurotransmitters, literally flooding the brain with loads of them, especially dopamine which produces euphoria for a brief time.

The dopamine levels will then fall, resulting in a period or severe irritability and depression; in some ways mimicking the bipolar disease process neurophysiologically.

In chronic abusers of cocaine, speed and ecstasy, these chemically induced intense mood variations will harm the neurons, by reducing receptors on the cell.  When this happens, the abusers will need higher levels of the drugs to induce euphoria, and the vicious cycle ends up further damaging the nerve cells, making depressive periods much more severe with increased cycling.

The third contributing factor to his suicide, was his fame and world-wide image of him being the funny guy, always ready to break out joking.  This burden became the last frontier that Robin Williams was never able to escape.

I have often heard that comedians can be very lonely and agonisingly sad within.  I could easily conjecture that they use their gift of comedy as a compensation and defense against  their own lack of joy. Perhaps they hope their funny persona that the world identifies with them, will indeed become their true self.

But what happens when that persona starts to break? When the walls become thin and begin to crumble?  When the effort to perform is no longer there? Where does the wittiest man on earth go to hide his pain?

I can only imagine the pressure he must have felt to always be “funny”.  We know he was a magnificent actor, but still when you are clinically depressed, your energy to do anything literally ceases, and yet he still had to be the comedian, if caught off-guard in public.

The show must go, probably was so instilled in his psyche, that he couldn’t let his fans down when was not in shape to perform.   I am sure it took every molecule of sheer psychic strength to walk on stage and act ,when all he wanted to do was cry, but couldn’t.

I imagine he had frozen tears too, based on his relationship history, but his had to be buried deeper than most, as I doubt he would never had felt comfortable revealing his immense despair.   Who would want to believe that Robin Williams was often in the darkness of deep depression?

I wonder if he sometimes thought that if the world knew the way he truly felt when depressed, they would be in total disbelief.    Even worse,  knowledge of his mental illness and addictions might have been a concern of tarnishing his image.

Fame must lonely at the top, when the adoring world only holds a certain impression of what they perceive you to be.  He apparently did casually mention his depression and addiction at times,  but never really elaborated.

In an interview on NPR, in 2006 he admitted he suffered from periods of highs and sadness but denied that he had been diagnosed with clinical depression, and in general  minimised the gravity of it all by his humour.  He did say jokingly that he had taken antidepressants and medicine he called his “speed bumps”, which certainly would be in reference to mood stabilizers, used in treating Bipolar disorder.

He was such a brilliantly talented actor who knew his comic routines so well he could easily mask his pain if needed and apparently in his world he felt compelled to do so.

Suffering in silence, he unwittingly deprived himself of certainly having the support and empathy from millions who loved him.  This fact alone kept him isolated with his pain, that if shared, would have released some of the intensity and the constant pressure to hide.

We would have understood, and had he openly shared with the world, not only could he have perhaps saved others, but himself as well.

Addendum:  A recent post I wrote on suicide as well.  http://www.cherrychapman.com/2014/03/10/suicide-is-never-the-answer/