Birthdays are better in France

This birthday was a big one. I hesitate to tell you I turned 65. I want to hide behind all those old lady caveats — “but that doesn’t really describe me,” “but I don’t feel a day over 24, 35, whatever,” but all that just makes me sound, you know, old. Nothing to do about it, really. It is what it is.The best thing I can say is that I celebrated in France. Friends got this old lady out to a nice restaurant or two. Other friends celebrated at home. Much champagne was consumed, enough to help a person forget most anything. And Mr. France, in a stroke of absolute genius, booked us into a week of thalassotherapy.

Les Thermes Marins are at a grand old hotel on the beach at Saint Malo. In case you are wondering, I get nothing for mentioning them. I’m just saying. I could go back any time. More yoga, more massage, more time doing guided meditation while floating in warmed and purified sea water, bring it on. Oh, and as long as you don’t drag him right into the spa, your dog can come, too. You can see him above, hoping that if he holds still for a bit, we can go to the beach. and here, if the link works, is he actually at the beach.

We weren’t ready to go back to Paris, so Mr. France found a little hotel that is part of a group called “Relais du Silence,” luxury hotels out in the middle of the countryside. So which part of the countryside did we choose? You get one guess and one hint.

Now back to real life.

Jacques Report

Jacques is putting on a brave face but he’s in some discomfort.

I awoke this morning to a dog who was not trying to jump onto the bed. Clearly, something was wrong. I pulled him up anyway and he just went to the foot of the bed and fell asleep: no snuggles, no face lick. That was really worrying, especially when I noticed he was limping.

I gave him a baby aspirin. Apparently this is not advisable, even though at 10 kilos, he’s about the size of a lot of babies. But I didn’t know that at the time and no question, it reduced the inflammation.

A couple of hours later we were at the vet. The problem? Apparently it’s what he gets for being white. I guess all light-colored dogs have allergies, which are exacerbated by urban pollution. Who knew? But the vet bounced his fingers along either side of Jacques’ spine — if you know Chinese medicine, it was along the bladder channel — and my little guy went from uncomfortable to absolutely shaking. I gave him a hug and the vet gave him a more serious anti-inflammatory and he settled back down.

This allergy thing, though, it’s serious. The vet’s recommendation is a series of insanely expensive treatments and a diet of insanely expensive salmon-based dog food. 200 euros later we were back on the street and now, a couple of hours after that, Jacques feels well enough to go for a walk. The vet said the limp was due to inflammation along the spine. That appears to be the case.

I think I need a second opinion. Jacques spends most of his life in the countryside. So really, is this a simple reaction to pollution? Fortunately Mr. France has a sister-in-law who has a niece who is affiliated with a veterinary school in or near Lyon. I allowed as how I wouldn’t say no to a long weekend in Lyon but, oh well, I guess she comes to Paris fairly often. We’ll have to see what she says. I’d like it if Jacques got back to his old hyperactive ways.

Black thumb gardening tips

This is how my house looks, these days. The house is basically done. The garden is basically a wreck. I have a long way to go — okay, an expensive way to go — to be able to grade, pull up stumps and replace topsoil, all of which are needed to make this place the garden spot it so thoroughly deserves to be. However I have staked out a few spots where I am planting anyway. So far things are not going too badly. Mind you, I started from not being able to grow rosemary just outside my kitchen door. The bar was set pretty low. So, bearing in mind that my idea of incredible results (“they’re still alive!”) may not be yours, let me show you what I found.

Garden centers here in Vendee have boxes of seeds “for difficult terrain.” Of all the seeds in the couple of boxes I have scattered around, these are the ones that reliably sprout. I think we are looking a nicotiana — the pink one — black-eyed Susans — the yellow one — and I don’t know, some orange thing.

Of the bunch, the orange thing is the best. It self-seeds, even before it stops blooming. Pretty soon it might take over this whole planter, which will suit me just fine.

Mr. France — if that ever gets shortened to MF you’ll know the relationship is over — is rooting for the hollyhocks. He thinks the house needs tall plants. I can see his point. They self-seed too, and are even out there breaking through the gravel and fighting with the concrete.

I even have a few actual garden plants that are doing well. I went through the David Austin rose catalog and found a few where they basically dared you to kill them. Even I can’t do it. Give them some water and they’re good to go. Of all things I have what look to be yellow crocuses coming up now, in September. I know the weather has been crazy, but still.

Once upon a time I thought I’d plant hydrangeas at the house. They’re pretty tall. My grandmother hated hers and still couldn’t kill them. There are new varieties and a couple of nearby nurseries that specialize in them. I’m a little nervous about being any more intentional about this garden, though. The accidental, super-low expectations strategy has worked pretty well. Maybe I should stick with what works.