Another trip down memory lane

Phone calls from France... Mails from faraway lands... and all of sudden, new babies jump into our life.

Even though a baby usually takes nine months to get ready to pop out from a rose or a cabbage, time goes so fast nowadays that every new birth seems to take us by surprise. Wonderful surprise. Matchless happiness.

And after several months filled with much awaited births and several others coming up, I can’t help taking a trip down to memory lane.

Back to 2003.

After being diagnosed with cancer, I had a lot of tests done before my last appointment with the surgeon. Besides being a renowned specialist in breast cancer, he’s also a gynecologist-obstetrician (which is an amazing, very interesting and perfect mix of life and death).

We were in his office. Some X-rays were behind him and there was a pile of X-rays, scans, etc. on his desk, all mine. We were scared.

He looked at us and said very seriously: «I’m very surprised you didn’t tell us that your son was adopted.»

We started laughing. (Good for us in such a desperate plight!)

 Swee'Pea and me at 6. Doesn't need any explanation, does it?

And that's how we learnt that conception had been close to a miracle.
My Fallopian tubes were totally wasted and their carbon dating would have gone back to prehistoric times!

Flashback again - 1979.

It only takes me a couple of days to feel and understand that I am pregnant (two days pregnant, that is!)... It’s kind of strange but our family doctor believes me and the test is ok: I am pregnant.

It comes as a shock at first. Elation and worries, worries and pure joy. Our life is quite complicated at the time.

I’m expecting our first child (at least we thought so at the time). I should say that we are expecting our baby. (I have a wonderful husband who takes very much to heart the fact he is to become a father.)

I was a translator then, lucky enough to be working at home. It does help during morning sickness times.

I buy tons of wool and start knitting clothes for the baby and blankets and boots and you name it (after all, we’re having a December baby in the Paris area).

I buy fabric and make sheets and pillowcases by the dozen! And I keep on translating on my old typewriter! (Funny noises for the baby.)

We spend our week-ends cycling or walking in the forest so that I’ll keep healthy and strong (and don’t get fat!).

We also talk endlessly about how we’ll raise our baby. We love «it» so much that we want «it» to be happy, real happy.  We do want to be very good parents.

We also talk to our baby in French and English and Spanish. We listen to music with him. We even read stories to him. (Don’t laugh!)

Natural birth was the only way to have a baby, thirty years ago... They’d call it «painless birth» but there were classes to go to. So we enroll in classes. We learn how to breathe... how to react... how to act... We take it very seriously! And we practise at home!

Things get nice and easy. We are very happy. We don’t even have to worry about getting to the hospital on time. The clinic is a mere 100 meters away from our building... Well, there are 15 stories to get down from but the elevators are ok...

So I’m almost six months pregnant, feeling so good and happy!

One morning like every other morning, I drive my husband to the train station.  (He drives. I’ll drive back home and get to keep the car!)
It’s been raining and a car starts skidding behind us quite fast.

Guess what?

Well, we are not badly hurt. Achy all over tho. But as soon as we are on our way back home, I start feeling very bad contractions. We don’t even go back to the apartment. We stop at the clinic.

I’m only six months pregnant and my obstetrician is really worried. So are we. Those were times when a 6 months premature baby didn’t have many chances to survive without any after-effects.

But since I live so close to the clinic, he thinks it’s much better for me to go back to the apartment and lie down there in familiar surroundings until delivery time. Orders are orders tho: I have to stay in bed all the time... exactly as if I were an in-patient in the clinic.

So a new «life» starts for the 5 of us (I forgot to mention that we have two cats). Every morning, before going to work, my husband gets food, water and medicine ready by our bed and leaves enough catfood for one day for the cats in the kitchen... The texts to be translated are on the bed along with books to keep me busy during one long and lonely day.

I keep telling the baby that everything will be allright. But am I really telling the baby? Or just trying to find a way to fight against despair?

The cats love me lying in bed all the time. They get quite worried tho when they get kicked whenever they try to settle down on my stomach. But they learn and keep close to me and not all over me!

Anyway it’s a good sign that the baby is kicking so hard! We keep on having long talks with him.

I stay in bed. No bad contractions. Everything is fine even though I’d like to have a «normal» life! It does help when the weather is really bad and I listen to the rain lashing against the windows.

I’ve been down to the clinic a couple of times... Help, help! False alarm! Back to the apartment and the cats!

Until November 11th, around 5 p.m. I’m not alone at home because it’s Victory Day.

I feel suddenly really weird. A few very strong contractions. I get up and the waters break down all over the carpet!

Oh no. I’m not even in my ninth month yet!

Down to the clinic. They tell me not to worry, that the baby will be fine. One month ahead isn’t this bad. Back to the apartment. We have to wait...

So we wait. I have a translation to finish anyway! When the contractions are too bad, my "better half" types what I dictate... Then down to the clinic. Back to the apartment. Down to the clinic. Back to the apartment. Everytime I get down there, I hope I won’t have the baby in the elevator...

It's a long sleepless night. But we manage to get the translation finished, ready to be sent in the morning... Now let’s think seriously about labor!

The last time we go down to the clinic (it’s 6 a.m.), we take the baby’s bag and I put on my delivery socks... You see, I’ve been told that the delivery rooms are awfully cold. I hate to have cold feet (!) so my husband bought me those funny socks with toes, my delivery socks.

It’s been one of those nights at the clinic. There are pregnant women in labour, everywhere, on trolleys in the hall because the delivery rooms are full! Very pregnant women screaming, yelling, crying. Nervous nurses. Overworked doctors.

Where are we? Why don't we go back to our apartment?

We look at each other. A grin on our face. His hand in mine. Ouch, a contraction. Breathe, breathe... Well since our baby has decided to come today (now, it’s already the 12th of November), let’s get him safely and happily into our real world.

I start wriggling my toes! It’s delivery time!

"It" turned out to be a very beautiful baby boy, healthy and everything...

Years later, people would ask us why he was an only child (with lots of friends, tho), I’d say: «My first born is so perfect I was afraid to bungle the second one.»
His father would answer: «I was very busy. After a while, I probably lost the instruction leaflet.»
Which shows by the way that men are from Mars and women from Venus!

Little did we know...



The day my taxi driver told me I was well on my way to recovery...

In Paris, I’m a «subway» girl.

I quit using it when I started my first chemo in 2003. At the time, I felt it’d be much better to get the flu or whatever from a friendly taxi driver than from an anonymous subway user... It made sense to me, besides the fact that I was feeling too tired to use the subway anyway!

Another thing: I love perfume. Sadly enough, chemo is quite incompatible with perfume. At least, that’s the way it was for me.
Then one day, I found THE perfume... the one that kept smelling good on poor me. It was conveniently called «Dior Addict».

So in a desperate attempt to feel feminine (sort of), I started using "Dior Addict" and I loved it! Maybe sometimes I used it too generously. (I had also kind of lost my sense of smell!)

Chemo ended in May 2004 but I still had to have radiotherapy 5 days a week for almost 3 months... which meant that I really needed to take a cab every day.

The taxi station is very close to JC’s appartment.

I’d tell the taxi driver: «I’m going to the "H." Clinic». And he’d know instantly what my problem was... besides the fact that I was wearing a headscarf in May. Usually, it’d be chitchat all the way to the clinic, which was good since I’d kind of doze off and just made a few friendly sounds from time to time. It usually was a 30mns drive.

Until one day...

There was a long line of cabs at the station. You are supposed to  get into the first one in line. Actually you have the choice but it’s much better to start with the first one!

So there I was, walking up to the first taxi, when the taxi driver (about my age) suddenly jumped out of his car to open the back door for me... much to my surprise!

It made me feel like a queen!  I got a big smile from the taxi driver and I smiled back at him:«Thank you very much, monsieur».
And I flopped down into his cab as graciously as I could...

«Where are you going, Madame?»

My answer was rather grumpy. It was the end of the second month of radiotherapy and I was feeling terrible.

And then the guy said: «May I tell you that I love your perfume, Madame? And you look lovely today.»

By then I was fully awake.
A pervert! My taxi driver was a crazy pervert!
Liking my perfume could be ok. But who can find a cancer patient lovely after one whole year of «barbaric» treatments? Especially me who was hiding under my scarf and very big and dark sunglasses!

What should I do? I was too tired to jump out of the cab. No phone in my purse...

The guy was grinning. (He didn’t look this crazy after all. Actually he looked nice.)

«How long has this been going on, Madame?», he asked me with true kindness in his voice.

I gave up. I told him how hard those months had been. I did not complain. Just the mere facts and as concisely as I could.

He listened intently.

And then he smiled to me again: «I know what we’ll do then. You deserve a break. No radiotherapy today. I’m driving you to Deauville. We’ll spend the day on the beach, go to a nice restaurant and then I’ll drive you back home later on. This is my treat.»

Deauville is 2 hrs away from Paris,  in Normandy. The guy had to be kidding or he was definitely crazy.

«Oh no, my taxi driver is crazy.»

«This is a joke. It has to be a joke.»

«I need my radiotherapy. I need it!» (I’ll feel very bad one year later when I’ll learn that cancer is back, spreading from the area where the radiotherapy had been too  strong or whatever!)

«What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?»

«Calm down. Calm down.»

I told him how kind he was. I told him that I was very happily married and that my husband would certainly not appreciate me going to Deauville with another man... I told him I could not skip my radiotherapy treatment. I told him... I told him...

He kept smiling and rephrasing his offer over and over. He really was trying to convince me.

Since he had kept driving towards the clinic, I was slowly feeling better! We finally got there. I got off from his taxi (after he had jumped out of it to get the door open for me before I could do it!).

He refused to take his fare. «My treat, I told you, even though I’d rather be in Deauville with you.»

I started walking towards the clinic door (To safety? To my doom?) when he added with a big grin on his face: «Hey, you really are lovely. We’ll meet again one of these days, Madame. We’ll meet again. Good luck to you.»

And then I thought: «You’ve got to be kidding... There are more than 15.000 taxi drivers in Paris. Besides, I’m going back to Brussels at the end of the treatment.»

This could be the end of the story... because you see, once the nightmare was over (or so I thought), I came to realize that this man had truly brought a little bit of sunshine in a very dreary life. And then I forgot the whole thing.

One year later, they discovered cancer had soared... Blah, blah, blah!
My last chemo ended on the 4th of August 2006. I went directly to Brittany where I spent two months licking my wounds.

I had to go back to the hospital every two months for an intensive check-up.
Things started getting better and better. Then they were looking better and better!
And even though I haven’t been declared officially cured, I’m feeling better all the time and the results of my tests are excellent.

Six months ago, I needed to go to the hospital for an appointment with my rhumato (yes, I’m getting older, in a natural way, which is a real treat!).
So I walked down to the taxi station.

I was in a hurry so I got into the first taxi in line and said: «Bonjour, Monsieur. I’m going to the HAM, please.»

And then I heard:

«I still love your perfume and you are even much lovelier now, you know.»

Oh no!

(By then, the number of taxis in Paris had grown from 15.000 to 20.000...)

Well, we talked a lot. Of course, he asked me all about those past 5 years or so. I told him.

Then he said: «It’s obviously never my day with you. I’ll never get to drive you to Deauville now! But I am so very, very happy for you!»

By then, we were at the HAM on time. We said goodbye. We both were grinning broadly. And he left.

And this was the day I fully realized cancer could be over and done with!

"Good Night, and Good Luck"


"Which war was your war, Bon-Papa?"

 I grew up in a very strange family in Southern France.

On my mother’s side, I had one grandmother, «Bonne-Maman» and one grandfather, «Bon-Papa». Bonne-Maman was my mother’s mother.

But Bon-Papa was not my mother’s father. He was her grandfather.
Therefore my Bon-Papa was my great-grandfather and he loved me very much.

We called him Bon-Papa Mathieu and I don’t know why we had to single him out since he was our one and only «grandfather».

Bon-Papa was born in 1869. Too young to remember the 1870 war against Prussia...

His father bred horses and sheep in a small village in the montain, 25 miles above Carcassonne. At the beginning of the XXth century, the sheep were replaced by cows.

By the time I was born, the cows and horses had been sold but my grandfather still bred one pig and several geese, every year, for family use only!

Even tho he was close to 45 in 1914, he was drafted, went to war and remained away up North until 1918. He was lucky enough to survive what was to be called «The Great War»... or «The war to end all wars»!

He had gotten married quite late but he had three young children by the time he went to war.

I’ve read his letters to his wife who taught school during the war while raising the children and managing the farm.

He wrote beautifully but never said one word about the war except that he kept telling his wife that he’d be home very soon since «it» was bound to stop «next month» and this went on for four years, in every letter!

He also helped her manage the farm from the war front in a very amazing way that I’m still trying to understand. No phone, no e-mails... And yet he did keep on running the whole business from «distant lands» (at the time).

Since he was a horseman, he had to carry orders, accompany the supplies brought to the entrenched troops and then on his way back, he’d bring back the wounded and the dead.

A lot of young men drafted from his village, friends and cousins, didn’t survive.

But he came back home, «apparently unharmed». His children grew up. They all went to school, then got married and had children. I was his first great-grandchild.

Before I was born, another world war started in 1939. Being 70, he was obviously too old to be drafted but his son and sons-in-law went to war but not for long and then they spent four years as prisoners of war in Germany. So he was the «pater familias», watching over his daughters, daughter-in-law and grand-children.

Then he decided to help the (French) Resistance as it was called.

In the 1920s, he had been hired by the government to be a gamekeeper in the Ramondens forest, close to his village.

It is a huge forest but he knew all its paths and more.

When in 1942, it became an important base for the Resistance, he offered his help to the younger men who were hiding there to fight the Germans occupying this part of Southern France.

He’d lead them to safety. He’d bring them food and the precious messages from London he’d listen to on his banned radio (hidden somewhere in his house, probably in the pigshed!). He’d help them move to another part of the forest when the Germans were attacking... He almost got caught and killed several times.

The war ended. The younger men went back home to their families and Bon-Papa went back to his Bon-Papa life.

He never boasted about his Resistance life. We learnt about it from older family members and friends. I found what he did so incredible and almost mythical. He truly was my hero.

Instead he was always telling us stories about his «Great War»... And we’d get bored... because we all were born either just before or right after the 2nd World War which after all, belonged to our very recent past. Who could care about a war that had happened so many years ago?

It took me a long time to get that ‘14-18’ was probably «his» war because it had happened long ago and far away from his beloved village and family.
I slowly came to understand that it had been a real trauma for a much younger and «apparently unharmed» Mathieu. We failed to see the younger man within our very old Bon Papa.
Children can be cruel sometimes.

He died when I was 14 and left a big gap in my life.

And that’s exactly when I started reading a lot of books about the First World War. Too late.

«Good Night, and Good Luck».


One of those nights at Orly...

When I was a young girl growing up in Southern France, I’d spend a few weeks in Paris, every other year. Versailles could have been my best memory ever or maybe the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre.

Not at all, the big thing was a visit to Orly.

At the time, Orly was the only airport in France and it had open terrace roofs from where you could watch planes take off to distant lands.

In 1963, on the radio, there was this song called: «Dimanche à Orly» (Every Sunday, I go to Orly).

«Every Sunday, I go to Orly. From the airport, I see planes taking off to every country... I’ve got plenty to dream for my whole life...»
Then the boy in the song goes on saying that at night he’d listen to the songs of the «Boeings» up there in the sky... He is in love with his night-birds! (And please understand that our sky scenery was definitely American. Another reason to make me dream!)

What a song!!!! I still remember it, silly as it was!

Then it happened that "they" closed the terrace roofs (times were getting more dangerous) and then "they" opened Roissy... And then we started flying all  over the world.

It no longer was very exciting to go watch the big birds taking off... All you wanted was to get aboard one of them and take off... Because the rocking 70’s were there!

Those were the happy times of low-cost chartered flights when you didn’t even know whether or not you’d make it back home... because the flights could be cancelled just like that for a mere lack of funds and then you had to go get help at your nearest embassy.

Or you were supposed to fly to New York from Paris. But instead, at the last minute, a bus would drive you from Orly to Amsterdam where you'd wait for hours and hours. Then your long-awaited plane would land and refuel in Iceland! No food, no drinks! (Now, who's complaining about low-cost companies?)

Who cared at the time? We were the flower children, happy to be alive and eager to mingle with other cultures and foreigners not to say strangers.

Those were also the times when a lot of small airports opened everywhere in France. Taking a plane then and there was a lot of fun! Those planes all flew from and to Orly because Roissy was ab-so-lu-te-ly our international airport.

So I flew from Roissy to distant places and I flew from Orly everytime I’d go down South from Paris because it was definitely faster than going by train! (Then they invented the TGV and the small airports lost their passengers and closed because it became faster and cheaper to go by train!)

So I quit going to Orly this much...

Until a week ago, when Swee'Pea got onto the last Air France flight from Nice arriving in Orly, and we went to pick him up.

The last flight from Nice was also the last flight to get to Orly, that night.

We were there at 10 p.m. and you know what...

Orly had turned out to be really spooky... Where were the bustling and rushing passengers we were so used to? The  flight announcements? The noisy personal messages? The planes? No sound. No one there. The airport was completely empty!

Suddenly I felt my teenage memories were vanishing completely, sort of drained away by the emptiness and the loneliness of my beloved airport.
I was lost in a strange and unknown world. And I’m not sure I liked it at all.

And then Swee'Pea arrived!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Why I love Paris so much

One of my favourite movies is Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You". Part of it is set in Paris and there is this wonderful scene almost at the end of the movie where Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn are dancing together on a deserted bank of the Seine on New Year's Eve. Actually Goldie is not really dancing but  ever so gracefully floating over the bank. Oh, so wonderful!
This is Paris for me. Whenever I get there, my heart starts leaping with joy and anticipated pleasure. I'm there, in magical Paris... ready to float over the Seine bank... except that it doesn't get this real for me. 
I do enjoy walking around tho.

My son, JC, who's living right now in Nice, says that as soon as his plane lands in Paris, he starts breathing again. (He obviously doesn't know about air pollution in Paris. But he's got excuses living as he does among stars and galaxies.)

Of course, our breathing is also totally and completely emotional. We both are deeply in love with Paris.

The other day, I called a cab at Gare du Nord (which means that I was coming back from Brussels) to go to JC's appartment which is very close to the Invalides. I enjoy taking car rides through Paris too (allright, allright, I know... environmental pollution at its worst).

It was a beautiful sunny day with a tinge of autumn in the air. A glorious day!

I love to chat with cab drivers. Well, actually I love to talk a lot. But that day, the cab driver did the talking. He was from Morocco and had been a cab driver in Paris for a long time. 

Then he said to me while we were crossing the Seine: "You see, Madame, everyday Paris gets more beautiful for me. It's been 29 years and everyday, I discover something new and my heart gets thrilled."
What else could I say? His smile was so genuine and warm. I didn't feel like talking anymore. I basked in his happiness and in the beauty of Paris.

Well, Paris is not always this beautiful. Let's face it.

One day, last summer, on our way back from Brittany, I saw, right across from JC's building, in the most beautiful city in the world... a homeless dwelling well hidden in the shrubbery, close to "avenue de Breteuil" (Have you ever played French Monopoly?).

Hard to end today's blog like this...

Well, I LOVE Paris.

"Good Night, and Good Luck"*

*Edward R. Murrow