When I used to get sick in America, I would get congested, a sore throat, sometimes a runny nose, and a fever.
In France, whenever I get sick, it bypasses every other organ and heads straight to my stomach.
I don’t know if it’s the rich foods, the dubious rules of storage, or a new set of germs as foreign to me as the 14 different tenses of French verbs.
But since arriving in France a few years ago, I’ve been felled by a few serious bouts of la gastro.
Yes, even though some people think I’m too careful about hygiene than I should be (and no, I don’t scrape up chocolate off the floor and re-use it either), I suppose it’s just a matter of taking chances before all those unrefrigerated dairy products, rosy-pink, barely-singed beef and pork, eating an unusually large amount of raw cookie dough, and touching the petri dish-like metal handrails on the mètro, would eventually catch up with me.
The changing face of French hygiene?
So last week my descent began when I was at le cinema, watching Walk The Line. I started feeling dizzy. Figuring maybe I was sitting too close to the screen, I moved back. I still felt funny in the gut, so I unbuckled my belt (Now I wonder if anyone was looking and thought I was the neighborhood perv.)
By the middle of the movie, I was fighting the urge to race to the bathroom. The movie was so good and I didn’t want to miss the last part, where Reese Witherspoon had her hair all teased-up in the front, real pretty and all.
Luckily I made it through, but I got home and was shaky, feverish, and ready to hit the bedroom.
(After a slight detour to another room pronto.)
I may be shallow, but the good thing about stomach flu is that you can eat whatever you want when it’s all over. Hell, you’ve just lost 10 pounds. The whole experience wasn’t pretty nor was it easy, was it? So eat up. You’ve earned it. And those new abs ain’t gonna be around forever.
But while you’re lying in bed, semi-delirious, mustering all your energy to lift the remote control, all you want is a bowl of nice, hot chicken soup. Unless if you’re Jewish. Since at the same time you’re imagining that you’re certain to be remembered as the first person in France to fall victim to the Avian Flu.
Is that me, on the right?
Which certainly presented me with a deathbed dilemma: If the chicken from the market I ate made me sick and will be the end to life on earth it as we know it, how does one justify eating hot chicken soup as a cure? Is it like making anti-venom for snakebites out of the venom of the deadly snakes? Is it another of the great Jewish dilemmas?
(The other dilemma is bacon at half-price.)
So I got into bed with my laptop, the modern equivalent of the teddy bear, armed with the remote control, to watch the Olympics. A bit too much gyrating, sequins, and glitter…would I later suffer from Post-Glitter Disorder, like Mariah Carey, I imagined? All those twirling, glittery dudes gliding across the rink. (Is there anyone in the universe, outside the skating world, or a few Eastern European countries, that finds those men’s outfits even remotely attractive or flattering? And why do the men have more glitter than the woman? And since I’m asking questions, can someone should ask those men who speed skate to slow down a bit as a courtesy to viewers trying to get a closer look?)
The beauty of France is that if you need any medication, there’s at least one (usually more) pharmacie on your block and they’re ready to send you home armed with as many as you can carry. And the doctors here still make house calls. Gladly, I might add.
The bad thing is if you need something simple like a battery for your thermometer, you need to mètro across Paris to the special shop that sells batteries for thermometers. When you get there, they’re invariably closed that particular afternoon. They’re open from 9:45am to 11:15am, Monday through Tuesday, and from 2:45pm to 4:15pm on Wednesday.
Except in February, when they’re open on Thursday, instead of Wednesday.
But only from 2:45pm to 3:45pm.
Unless the people who sell batteries for thermometers are on strike.
In my stupor, I wondered if the few ‘comfort foods’ (a word I hate, but it’s appropriate here, I think) that I depend on in these rare hours-of-need are available here. If I manage to drag myself to the supermarket, will I find Canada Dry Ginger Ale? (yes) or Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Soup? (no).
(I did have one dream-like vision over and over, in my delirious haze. It was the Most Fabulous-Looking Chicken Soup Ever. I swear I had a dream about that soup. Would they send me some? Could I call Germany? How many numbers do I need to dial? Will they think I’m insane? How far is Munich? Do they deliver? Did they really somehow manage to link Bob Ross with food?)
But unless I had some chicken stock in the deep- freeze, chicken soup wasn’t gonna happen chez David. The idea of being vertical for longer than 10 seconds was impossible to imagine, let alone buying and eviscerating a chicken, then simmering and straining the stock. And yes, I know all you Americans sitting there all smug with your freezers are loaded up with chicken stock. I hope it’s all freezer-burned next time you need it. Ha! That’ll teach you to be prepared when I’m not.
Ok, that doesn’t make any sense and was kinda mean. I’m still delirious, so at least I have an excuse. (But did you see what Mariah Carey wore at the Grammy Awards? What’s her excuse? Is she the only person in the world who can wear couture and make it look like she’s getting ready for a gynecological exam?)
The first thing you do when you’re better is go to the refrigerator and toss out anything that you ate within the last few hours, before you first got sick. Even if it wasn’t the culprit, out it goes. I was more than happy to toss the rest of the leftover rotisserie chicken, or as CNN would have politely said, “He culled his roast chicken.”
Most Americans who move to France wonder, “Where can I get canned chicken stock?” For some, canned chicken stock is the magic ingredient in the pantry, able to turn a plate of rice into risotto, or pilaf with the turn of a Swing-A-Way™. Last minute batch of jook? No problem.
When I moved to France and couldn’t find it, that surprised me. The land of great cuisine, and no ready-to-pop stock. So I began making my own. And what did I learn? Homemade chicken stock makes everything taste so much better. And from then on, I vowed I would never use the canned stuff again.
Which admittedly is easy to brag about, since I don’t exactly have a choice in the matter.
So on the mend, I trekked out to one of my new favorite food shops, where I bought the chocolate bars with quinoa a few weeks ago, called Markethic. They have lots of unusual things from all over the world, mostly organic, and I seem to always find something to bring home, from tamarind pâte de fruit to fragrant shards of brilliant-red mace.
Then I saw them up.
I swore I would never do it. But I picked them up.
The culinary version of going to the ‘dark side’…
My only experience with dried soup was years and years ago, and it was so salty and tasted like stale spices that I couldn’t imagine using one again. It felt like taking a deer at a salt-lick. It was about the time when we were fixated by all-things-Knorr™, blending the dried-vegetable soup mix with sour cream, thinking how sophisticated we were for graduating upward from Lipton Onion Soup™ Dip. But in my case, with my head facing bowlward most of the weekend, I fondled the tight little box as something to have on hand in case I needed a quick, emergency broth-fix.
But after I got home and opened it up, I sadly looked at the pathetic, dry little square, and tossed it in the back of a drawer where I would most likely never see it again…
…and entered the Munich telephone code into my speed dial.