Friday, July 13, 2012

a Separate Reality ~ Part II

The entrance to Le Manoir Souhait is quite grand. After our long and arduous journey, we were quite impressed and pleased when we got to the gates of 7 Rue du Chateau D’ eau (which “nav-sat Emily” pronounces unintelligibly). Will and Liz Weeks (proprietors) greeted us warmly. We drove onto the beautiful grounds of the villa and parked our car. Ian was not feeling well at all, but managed to do a small tour of the upstairs and downstairs. Liz offered us one of several rooms upstairs or the smaller one downstairs.

We chose the downstairs bedroom so Ian didn’t have to trek up and down the staircase (impressive as it was). Turned out to be a good choice. The small room was very comfortable and looked onto a lovely garden. We had an ensuite bathroom with a shower so I was in heaven. Ian went straight to bed as his vertigo was getting worse. Liz was kind enough to serve us an omelet for lunch and brought it to our room. By dinner, Ian was no better so we had dinner in our room as well.

While Ian slept I checked out the grounds. It was such a beautiful place. I hoped that we would get to take advantage of it. The pool was so inviting, but the weather was not cooperating. It was cool and rainy. I lugged our stuff into the room (glad I didn’t have to lug it up those stairs). Took a shower and snuggled in beside Ian. Maybe tomorrow would be better. Chris and Wendy were coming out to the villa for dinner. We were hoping to spend some time with them over the weekend and see some of the local sights. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

The next day Ian was actually a little worse. He was starting to get nauseous from the vertigo. He looked very frail and pale. Liz, who happened to have worked in cardiac and was a great help to us, suggested we call the local doctor. He spoke English (as he was Dutch). Turned out he wasn’t there, but his assistant came. She didn’t speak English, but Ian speaks fluent French so there was no problem in communicating his symptoms. She was concerned about the meds he was on as they seemed excessive even for a heart patient. She took some blood samples and ordered some meds for me to pick up at the local pharmacy. Thank God for “Emily” because even though the Pharmacy was 5 minutes in a small village near the villa, finding my way through the vineyards and intersecting country roads would have been impossible. I got to the village, found the pharmacy and got back to the villa, all in one piece.

Of course, it was still raining on and off and kind of cool. Didn’t need ANY of the lovely summer clothes I had sent from New York in time for our holiday. By the time Wendy and Chris came for dinner, Ian was in no shape to join us.

Cheese Course
So, our first meeting with our dear Facebook friends was joining poor Ian at his sickbed, while we had our aperos. It was so good to finally meet them in person. Wendy has been our “angel” during many of Ian’s health emergencies. If it weren’t for Facebook, he would not be alive today. During one of our webcam sessions (while I was still in New York and he was in Vauvert) he collapsed straight to the floor. I sent out an SOS on Facebook and Wendy came to the rescue calling emergency from where she lives (near Cognac) to get to Ian down in the south of France. I was unable to do anything from New York because of the language barrier and not knowing where to call for help. They came immediately, broke down the door and got Ian out and to the hospital. We (me, my mom and my niece Kristen) watched the whole thing unfold on the webcam. The EMTs that came, saw that we were on the webcam and one of them spoke enough English to assure us that he was not dead, and that they had him stable enough to get him to the hospital. They were so great, I was very impressed. Wendy is also responsible for Ian and me connecting with each other… also on Facebook. So not only was she our angel, but also our cupid. We have a lot to be thankful for in our friends Wendy and Chris.

Liz cooked up a wonderful duck dish for our main course. We had a delicious salmon starter. After our main course was an assortment of wonderful cheeses and a delightful fruit tart for dessert (and of course, in typical French style, the wine was flowing all night). While we ate in the magnificent dining room, I brought Ian small trays of each course into our room. It was a lovely evening, but Ian’s absence at the table was felt.
Dining Room
The next day, Ian was no better. We were waiting for the results from the doctor’s blood tests. Ian wanted me to go to la Poste to draw out some money because we were running out of cash and the cards we had with us only worked at a Poste Bank. Had to get it from the wall (cash machine), because they are in Ian’s name and he can’t get out of bed. So me and my best bud “Emily” found a Poste in one of the larger villages. I go inside… damn… no cash machine. So, I leave to head back to Le Manoir Souhait… I get into my car. My car is DEAD. The battery just clicked. CRAP! Of course I left my phone at the villa because I left in such a hurry. So, I went back into the Poste and in my best “crappy” French asked to use the phone because my car died and I don’t have a phone. I got my message across and they were kind enough to let me call Liz at the villa. H E L P !! -- Will immediately came to my rescue to jump my car. Of course, it couldn’t go as smooth as all that, my friends… we need a little hiccup here… ok, here it is… my car was parked with an open spot next to it. I thought that would be ideal for him to be able to jump me. But when he pulled in, he saw that his battery was on the OTHER side. There was no spot next to me on the other side… so Will and I had to PUSH my car out of that spot and into the open spot so that he could pull his car in where the cables would reach the battery… luckily… it wasn’t pouring down rain at that moment.

The car started easily with the jump. I drove the car directly back to the villa and let it run for a while before I shut the motor off. Then I tried to start it again… dead as a doornail. Hmmmm. Will said we’d take it to his mechanic in the morning to have him replace the battery. I went to our room to find Ian in a state. The nausea was much worse and he was in the “wretching” stage… which is terrible because it can trigger his defibrillator to go off. Liz called the doctor and he was on his way. The doctor got there pretty quickly, took one look at Ian and knew he needed to get to a hospital. The nearest one was about 15 minutes away, but because of his cardiac history we needed to get him to a cardiac hospital which was 2 hours away in La Rochelle. The ambulance got there but I couldn’t go with him in the ambulance because he was in such a state that they may need to attend to him and I would be in the way. Also, they were wary of situation on the long trip. In that case they’d have to veer off to the nearest hospital emergency room. So… here is me, without my car and my husband on his way to a strange hospital in a strange city 2 hours from where we were on holiday. Will and Liz immediately offered the use of their car so that I could be with Ian. I was grateful for their kindness, generosity and all the help they were giving us. We must have been the “guests from hell” … I think they were just amazed at our incredibly bad luck during our holiday in the Charante. They are amazing people and could not have been more supportive in our time of need.

Nav-sat “Emily” and I were beginning to become very close friends. No matter how many wrong turns I took, she never got frustrated with me… she just calmly announced RECALCULATING at every wrong turn and got me back on track. The 2 hour drive in unfamiliar territory was made more difficult by the intermittent rain. Bad enough trying to find my way in the sunshine, but the rain was freaking me out. I managed to find my way to the hospital. They only had one parking lot which was payable… so you had to park your car… (which, of course, was at the back of the lot) and walk all the way to the front of the lot to pay and get a ticket to put in your car window. They had other ticket machines throughout the parking lot, but none worked… why would it..? I AM in France. So then I had to walk BACK to the car to put the ticket in the window and then back to the front to exit the lot. Then I had to find emergency. It was in a different building a few blocks from where I parked. I once again spurted out my fake French at the front desk and was able to get them to take me to Ian who was in an emergency room. He was not doing well. He was not coherent and his speech was inaudible. It looked like he was stroking. I called a doctor in and a bunch of them came into the room. They let me stay the whole time they were administering to him. Ian managed to ask them if he was having a stroke. They said no… but it turned out he did have a ministroke. They brought him into another room where he needed to wait for the results of his blood tests before they could sort out a room for him. Whatever meds they gave him, he was back to speaking intelligibly and almost at a normal state, except the vertigo was still present. They let me stay with him there as well, but when another patient came in I had to leave for a while until they got him settled. They were very nice in that hospital. The staff was very friendly and accommodating which was a refreshing change from the Nimes hospital staff (well not ALL of them at Nimes were bad, but we didn’t have great experiences with some of the staff).

I needed to leave the hospital to get back to le Manoir Souhait before dark… it was hard enough to find in the light. By the time I left Ian he was about to be taken to the neurological ward so that they could take tests the next day. He was doing a lot better and I was relieved that he was in a place where they could immediately help him if he got into any trouble. I wasn’t coming in the next day because I needed to get our car’s battery replaced and he’d be in and out of the room anyway due to the string of tests they set up. I got home with hardly a blip … well, I needed to get gas and even with Emily, got totally lost getting to a gas station that was just a few minutes from the hospital. I was soon to learn that no matter WHERE I go in La Rochelle, I will get TOTALLY and COMPLETLEY and HELPLESSLY lost! I’m not so crazy about La Rochelle, though it was a beautiful small city that sat on the Atlantic. It had a harbor and beaches and was a tourist spot. But all I knew was, I couldn’t find my way around in it!

“Rain, rain go away… come again some other day…” Next day it poured. I was at least grateful I didn’t have to drive 2 hours in the downpours back to La Rochelle hospital. I was also looking forward to getting my battery changed so that I could be self-sufficient. After one of Liz’s fabulous breakfast spreads (coffee, yogurts, cereals, cheeses, meats, croissants, breads, pastries, fresh fruits, fresh squeezed orange juice) Will and I headed out to jump my car and drive out to the mechanic. It was a Saturday morning. In my experience… not too much happens in France on weekends, unless it’s the market. But Will said they were open so off we went. … And they were open… just “impossible” to do that day. Will made an appointment for me for Monday at 3 pm (that was the earliest we could get). So, I returned to the villa, depositing my crippled car back into it’s nesting place on the gravel drive. Will and Liz once again offered the use of their car so that I could visit Ian. I was grateful for their generosity as I don’t think I would have gotten so much assistance and support from just “any” proprietor. They certainly were something special as was Le Manoir Souhait.

It was still pouring down rain. Liz attempted to help me contact Ian (with her French) at the hospital but they weren’t sure exactly where he was. Once again, Wendy expertly navigated the hospital system and found him. I was able to talk to him. Now I had the number to neuro and his room number, so I was able to contact him on my own now. Wendy and Chris invited me out to their place for lunch. They were only about 5 minutes away and Chris came to pick me up. I was happy to be able to just hang and not worry about everything that was going on, even if it was just for an afternoon.

Wendy is the creator and owner of a wonderful business called Facilitutors. The easiest way to describe her business is to directly quote from her website –
“If you’re looking for a learning vacation or local classes in France for you or for your children, you’ve come to the right place. From holiday courses in the beauty of the French countryside to intensive one to one tuition in your own home; from millinery to music, arts and crafts, it’s all here…”
She is your liaison and guide to a perfect match to a dream learning vacation. She knows just about everyone and everything going on in France and can hook you up to whatever you might be looking for. (She hooked us up with Liz and Will Weeks at le Manoir Souhait… thank God for that!). So whether you are looking for something special in France, or have something special to offer… I would definitely take a look at her website. -- just sayin!

Chris arrived at the villa gate in the pouring rain which is my ingrained impression of “sunny Charante” … He has the cutest little Fiat 500, my sister Jo would love it. I should have taken a photo. Anyway in a few minutes we were at their home in Fontaine Chalendray, a gated old stone home with a couple of out buildings and a yard with a wonderful garden and view to the beautiful French countryside. It looked like, on a clear day, you could see the mountains. I assume they would be the Pyrenees. I don’t know how old the house is, but you could tell it was OLD even by French standards. They obviously did a lot of work on it without losing it’s wonderful “French-ness” … I really loved their home. I was obsessed with what they did to their bathrooms… I must have been.. I have a million photos of them. I would love to take either one of them home with me… very zen and relaxing… yet FRENCH!

One of Wendy's Bathrooms
Chris' Soup
So nice to relax on a comfortable couch with a great cup of fresh ground coffee made in a French Press and chat “en anglais” with friends. For our aperitif they turned me on to Pineau des Charentes; a unique sweet fortified local wine produced from grapes used to make both grape juice and Cognac. It was tres delish. We went into the eating area which was an addition they recently put on. I loved that it had a wall of windows so that you could see the great view of the garden and beyond. Chris made a wonderful soup, perfect for the cool rainy day, and I had my first “French pizza” with a salad. It was a perfect lunch. We ended it with some incredible French cheese and then back to the comfy couch for some brainless reality tv with our feet up. It was a lovely afternoon and just what I needed. Although we had planned to see some local events and hang out more, Ian’s health and the weather just wouldn’t cooperate with the best laid plans.

Wendy and Chris' Garden
The next day was Sunday. Liz kindly lent me her car once more and I headed out on the 2 hour trek to La Rochelle with my faithful Emily at my side. I got to spend the day with Ian. They took lots of tests including inner ear and he was waiting for the results. We weren’t sure how long he’d be in there, but our time would be up at Le Manoir Souhait on Tuesday. I had the option of taking another room (as ours was let out) or finding something close to the hospital. Ian and I discussed it, and as much as I would have liked to have stayed at the beautiful, peaceful villa surrounded by the support of Liz and Will as well having Wendy and Chris close by… we thought it would be wisest to get something near the hospital. The 4 hour a day commute was a lot, especially in bad weather. I found an apartment-hotel 10 minutes from the hospital. It was also supposed to be right near the old port of La Rochelle, so I thought it would be alive with tourists and cafes I could explore, by foot, on my own. I booked it for a week because although we didn’t know when they would release Ian, we figured he would need a few days to recuperate before the long trek home. We took an apartment so that we could just shop and cook our own meals and stay in until he got his strength back. So the plan was, get the battery on the car fixed on Monday and try to enjoy the rest of the day at the villa, on Tuesday pack up the car, check out and head to the hospital for a short visit, then go check into the hotel.

The return trip from the hospital to the villa on Sunday night was, once again, a rainy one. Thankfully, it wasn’t the blinding pouring down rain. I arrived at the villa at dusk… almost 10 pm. In the driveway (parked behind my crippled little Megane Renault, was one of those sporty European cars.. I don’t remember the name of it, but it was exactly the kind men purchase during a “mid-life crisis” … tres cher, tres chic. Ah, at last, another guest. I had been the only one there all week. I walked in as Will, Liz and the guest (who’s name I forget) were finishing up their meal. They invited me in to join them for a glass of wine before I turned in. The guest was an older gentleman, Briish and a return customer. He was only staying overnight on his way back to England from a visit with his children in France. He was very interesting and the conversation was easy and light. He left early the next morning.

Ah Monday… new battery day. I spent the rainy morning outside under a covered portion of the building writing a long overdue email to my dear friend Michelle in Virginia. I spilled out all my woes and perils of our holiday from hell. Shades of all the long letters (pre email days) I used to write venting all my woes and perils of my new move to Chicago from New York City… that used to be done over cups of coffee at the Duncan Donuts, this one in a villa in the French countryside… things change but remain the same… Michelle, always there to lay down my troubles upon. She has wonderful shoulders. That afternoon I finally got my battery changed. I followed Will to the mechanic’s. Since it was raining (big surprise) I had my headlights on. He noticed one of them was out. But of course! I’m glad he noticed it though. I had the guy change the headlight as well as top up the oil and check any fluids necessary for a long trip back to the south of France. I was good to go.

About 4 pm the sun came out! It was a strange yellow orb hanging from a sky of blue… amazing thing. Liz suggested I go by the pool, which I happily did. It was still too cold to actually go for a swim, but I sat in the sun, gloriously sunning myself and listening to my favorite playlist on my laptop. Aahhh heaven. How nice it would have been if Ian was healthy and the sun shone all week. But I was thankful for my couple of hours in the sun by a pool, looking out on the beautiful le Manoir Souhait.

While I sat in my little piece of heaven, more guests arrived. They were from Britain as well. I came in from sunning myself, changed for dinner and joined them in the salon for an aperitif. They were very nice people... two older woman (sisters) and the adult son of one of them. Once again I have forgotten their names. I really should start taking notes. Liz must have told them my “Holiday Tale” as they were so sympathetic and eager to hear my “story.” We had a nice conversation over dinner about how I met Ian on Facebook and how they come to the villa every year. They were originally from England (one still lives in London) but one sister and her son live in Scotland. The son was doing a lot of ancestry tracing and was very proud of his newly found heritage. He wore his tartan tie to dinner and explained how he was in direct lineage to the Stewarts. I found them very amusing because they were SO old style English in manner and attitude. Very proper, spoke like “pip pip cheerio” would come out of their mouth at any given moment and the son was always dressed in posh schoolboy jacket, ties and trousers and called his mother “mummy.” But I also found them exceptionally personable, interesting, sympathetic and kind.

The next morning was Tuesday and I was checking out of Le Manoir Souhait. I packed the car up, checked out, said my goodbyes to Liz and Will and thanked them for going above and beyond for Ian and me. Then I said goodbye to the English family and headed toward the next phase of this trip… La Rochelle and the Apartment Hotel. Without Ian there and with no other support system in place I drove out of the safety of the villa into the unknown; feeling alone, apprehensive and weary. I couldn’t help notice the sun was shining… a beautiful pool day at last… just my luck.

desole mes amis ... need to break it down even further
Next Part is the trip to LaRochelle and home to Vauvert... promise, this will only be a trilogy

a la prochane... 

** anyone planning to visit the Poitou-Charentes region of France... I highly recommend le Manoir Souhait. Here is their website:

Will and Liz Weeks are amazing and the accommodations, service and meals are exquisite. I was so lucky to find myself in a beautiful place like that with such wonderful support during a difficult time.

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