Somewhere in a corner of the house where I keep my ‘old stuff’ I have a recording of this song by Ella Fitzgerald with the Count Basie Orchestra. It’s in Mono and briefly replaced St Pepper on my Dansette when my musical education took a sideways turn, thanks to a meeting with a young lady who sang with her father’s jazz band. The romance did not last, but my love affair with Ella Fitzgerald did.
And so – “April in Paris/Chestnuts in blossom/holiday tables under the trees”. Chestnut blossom was very much in evidence and there were plenty of tables. This trip replaced one postponed in October owing to the effects of radiotherapy. Thank goodness the songwriter was not inspired by an Autumnal Break – “October in Paris” is never going to work. Except perhaps as a rap.
It was touch and go for a few days whether this one would come off or not. Apart from train cancellations due to industrial action by ASLEF and ‘engineering works’ scheduled for our day of departure, Annie overdid it at the gym and damaged her knee; and my steady heart went AWOL again. A trip to a physiotherapist sorted out Annie’s problem and a 18th Century medic sorted out mine. The Valsalva Manoeuvre, named for Antonio Valsalva, an Italian physician known for poking around in people’s ears – is, according to a site on the internet I came across, “guaranteed to stop a palpitation dead”. An unfortunate turn of phrase given that it can go horribly wrong.
It does have some credibility as I recall a doctor trying this when I was in A&E back in February, although at the time I had no idea what was going on. It goes something like this; hold your nose, take a deep breath, close your mouth and then try to exhale – with as much force as you can. You’ll know if it’s worked when your ears pop (hence Valsalva’s original interest). If done properly the manoeuvre causes a sudden rise in blood pressure forcing the heart to respond by correcting its rhythm and beating more slowly. The key of course is ‘done properly’. I found it quite difficult to do and don’t recall my ears popping, but as we sat on the train heading towards St Pancras, Annie confirmed my heart was beating steadily and normally.
The hotel was located in the Latin Quarter, close to the Pantheon and the Sorbonne, tucked away up a side road behind a pair of enormous doors – the sort that has a door within the doors. Inside was a courtyard full of camellias and cherry blossom. And quiet.
Completely unknowable from inside and just a few hundred yards further up the street was a small square, complete with fountain, surrounded by bars and restaurants (French, Italian, Greek, North African – even Tibetan). In the evening people (mainly young students and some tourists) sat outside nursing a coffee or beer, to see – and be seen.
Notre Dame was about a 15’ walk downhill from the hotel, so we tended to stay around that end of the City, walking around an area defined by the Palais-Royale and Les Jardins of Luxembourg in the West and the Place des Vosges and Notre Dame in the East. Apart from walking through the courtyard of the Louvre, we avoided most of the big tourist destinations, preferring the quieter squares and side streets. I had wanted to climb to the gallery of Gargoyles in Notre Dame but it has 400 narrow steps – my limit is about a dozen right now – so we sat outside and watched the queue instead.
This break was much needed. To my great surprise I managed to walk everywhere without too much effort. Not only that, the aches and pains around my chest which seemed a permanent feature just a few days before, disappeared entirely. I felt really good – as if I was getting back to normal. Steps and hills tell me I’m not though – the last few hundred yards or so up the cobbles to the hotel needed a base camp and oxygen.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since my cancer returned, bursting back into my life with a “Hi there – did ya miss me?” And it will be months before the consequences are dealt with. But like all good holidays, I came back from Paris determined to change something. So I resolve now to concentrate on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.
The new bike is finished. For those interested in these sorts of things it’s a new-fangled 8-speed hub gear. A bit like my Dad’s old fangled 3-speed. I took it for a spin at the weekend. I managed 3 miles:)