July 30, 2013

Happiness: a Chair and a Book in Les Jardins du Luxembourg

When I knew I was returning to Paris, my first thoughts were not of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, or the Arc de Triomphe. I really wanted to relax in the Luxembourg Gardens and read a book. The first few days of our stay were too hot to sit in the park, but by midweek we had ideal weather. Off we went to “les Jardins du Luxembourg.”

History of the Gardens
Marie de Médicis, the wife of Henry IV, ordered the Palais du Luxembourg built on this site in 1612 shortly after she was widowed. Born in Florence, she wanted a palace and gardens that reminded her of the Pitti Palace in Florence . . . which is why these gardens seem Italianate.

The gardens are surrounded by the Left Bank neighborhoods where so many American writers and artists took up residence in the 1920s. Hemingway once told a friend that the Jardins du Luxembourg “kept us from starvation.” He related how in his poverty-stricken days in Paris he would wheel a baby carriage through the park. When the gendarmes were otherwise occupied and he spied a particularly plump pigeon, he’d scatter corn nearby, grab the bird, wring its neck, and pop it under the blanket in the baby carriage. “We got a little tired of pigeons that year,” he added, “but they filled many a void.”

July 29, 2013

Our Favorite Paris Experience: a Vivaldi Concert in the Exquisite Sainte-Chapelle

Comparing notes at the end of our week in Paris, we agreed that attending one of the regular evening concerts at the Sainte-Chapelle chapel topped our "most enjoyable" lists. I'd enjoyed the experience years ago, so we got our tickets as soon as we arrived in Paris.

Sainte-Chapelle is a few blocks from Notre-Dame Cathedral on the Île de la Cité, but the casual tourist wouldn’t know it's there. The entrance is hidden inside the Palais de Justice. You enter through an unimpressive lower chapel. After ascending a flight of stairs, you enter the stunning upper chapel.

Fifteen stained glass windows fill the walls. When the sun shines on them, they glow with blues and wine-colored reds. These beautiful windows depict over 1,100 scenes from Christian history, starting with the Garden of Eden.

July 27, 2013

Thanks Hugh!

A brief thank you note to my friend Hugh Yarrington who had recommended the Guest Apartment Paris.  If you're intrigued by the posts below on the apartment we had in Paris this past week or the Ile Saint-Louis, you might want to click on the link above.

Guest Apartment Services owns about 60 apartments, 90 percent of them on the Ile Saint-Louis. As you can tell from the posts, we were delighted with the apartment, the island, and the service provided by our hosts.

I'd be happy to answer any questions.  But the answers may be delayed since first priority is continuing to enjoy the next month exploring more of Europe.

 P.S.  For a tribute to Hugh who died last year, see http://bit.ly/16aUz4x

July 26, 2013

A Stroll Around the Île Saint-Louis, our Paris Neighborhood

Here's the view from the front door of our building. The bridge leads to Paris's Right Bank.
(Click on photos for larger view.)

Looking downriver from the bridge, you can see the Hôtel de Ville in the distance. But if you just go straight ahead when you cross the bridge, you're in the Marais -- a neighborhood I rediscovered on this trip and now consider my favorite in Paris.

If you head a few blocks in the other direction, you'll find the bridge linking the Île Saint-Louis and the Left Bank.  A few steps along the bridge gives a nice view of Notre-Dame's

July 25, 2013

The Île Saint-Louis: "The Best of Paris on One Small Island"

That's the way my dear departed pal Hugh Yarrington described the Île Saint-Louis, where he frequently rented an apartment during the years he lived and worked in Amsterdam. His description of this small, quiet haven -- a retreat from hustle and bustle of the rest of Paris -- convinced me to follow his lead when we decided to kick off our "Summer in Europe" with a week in the "City of Lights."

Now, as that week comes to an end, I'm already wondering when I might be able to do this again.

Today, I'll share a few pictures of our apartment. Tomorrow, we'll take a walk around this charming neighborhood. Most of my earlier visits to Pinaris were 20 to 25 years ago when I would arrive, clutching a copy of Frommer's Europe on $25 a Day, which I would use to find a tiny hotel room, often on Rue Hugo in St-Germain-des-Pres. This was a dramatically different experience.

July 24, 2013

Food: Black is Beautiful

A recent article in the e-journal Everyday Health reminded readers that a plate of colorful fruits and vegetables is a good thing. Those richly-hued foods – dark green kale, orange carrots, purple potatoes – pack powerful doses of disease-fighting phytochemicals.

We’ve heard the warnings about white foods: white sugar, white flour, white pasta, white cereals, polished white rice. They’ve been stripped of their nutrients for “cosmetic” reasons.

But . . . what about black foods? They’ve been hailed as the latest “superfoods,” since they contain high concentrations of various antioxidants. We know that antioxidants can help reduce inflammation and combat the dangerous, disease-inducing free radicals in our bloodstreams.

So . . . what ARE these powerful black foods?

July 23, 2013

Curcumin for Depression

Regular visitors to this blog know I’ve written often about the many positive peer-reviewed clinical trials for curcumin, the active agent in the Indian curry spice turmeric, often called "the holy powder." Studies have indicated curcumin’s efficacy in treating an amazing range of illnesses and conditions, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Some have even characterized the natural compound as a "cure all."

Now, a new study reported in a recent Wall Street Journal e-article indicates that this natural product – specifically the high absorption BCM-95® Curcumin I’ve frequently described – treats people with major depressive disorder (MDD) as effectively as the prescription drug fluoxetine, Prozac’s generic.

Results WITHOUT the Side Effects
What’s more, study subjects taking curcumin avoided all the standard side effects that typically plague sufferers who take this wildly popular prescribed medication.

Co-author Dr. Ajay Goel (Baylor Research Institute and Charles A Sammons Cancer Center, Baylor University Medical Center) explained how curcumin helps people suffereing with MDD:
It is a novel and surprising application for this natural medicine. People with depression have higher levels of inflammation in the brain. Also, people with depression have lower levels of neurogenesis in the brain, meaning they make fewer new brain cells than people with no history of depression. Curcumin is both a potent anti-inflammatory agent and a powerful stimulator for neurogenesis. A recent animal study was published on BCM-95 Curcumin compared to both fluoxetine and imipramine (an older class of antidepressant medications) and showed excellent results. We are excited to learn the effectiveness of BCM-95 Curcumin in a human study.

July 22, 2013

Awesome Sunday in Paris for the End of the Tour de France

My son and his companion watched the conclusion of the 100th Tour de France from the grandstand across from NBC Sports' press box. They said it was an awesome experience.

I saw it from the comfort of our living room. I hadn't watched any of the race, even though it was constantly on in the living room! I really liked what I saw of the winner, Chris Froome. I particularly liked his smile.

July 19, 2013

Here's A Good Sendoff to My European Trip

By the time this post gets published, I should be in Paris, my Higher Power willing. To fill this space, I can't think of a more timely video to remind us that "We Are Forever Young."

I like the Brits' irreverent humor, and I'm glad we'll be in England and Scotland after our week in Paris. One day before boarding the Air France flight from Washington-Dulles airport, I visited Dominique, my barber for at least 20 years. She came to America from France, and we've often discussed the differences between U.S. and French cultures. Ours invariably loses.

I lit a fuse this time by asking Dominique if she'd read Maureen Dowd''s piece in the Sunday NY Times. Maureen reported -- after attending fashion shows in the City of Lights -- that Parisians are in such a low mood these days "they don't even have the energy to be rude." Dominique and I have often talked before about this reputed rudeness of residents in the French capital. I said I've never felt treated any more rudely in Paris than in America. Dominique suggested comparing an American's impression of Parisians with a Frenchman's first experience with a New York City cab driver.
Dowd's piece didn't disturb me as much as the report in the Washington Post that a third of French restaurants acknowledged serving factory-produced frozen foods!

But I'm looking forward to seeing the city as depicted in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

July 18, 2013

Prescribing Drugs SAFELY for Seniors

For anyone, taking prescription drugs – with their limitless unintended consequences – can be a tricky business. For seniors, the territory is especially perilous for many reasons:
  • We develop more problems as we age. 
  • Our aging bodies become less able to handle unexpected or adverse events. 
  • We see multiple specialists who may not know our full medical history. 
  • We use multiple pharmacies that may not know about prescriptions we fill elsewhere. 
  • We’re typically excluded from drug trials. 
  • Our own issues may prevent us from keeping track of our medications and dosages. 
  • Sometimes we don’t – or can’t – accurately communicate our problems to professionals. 
  • Most drug guidelines are based on a single-disease focus. Seniors typically have several issues. 
  • We absorb drugs differently as we age. 
  • We eliminate drug residues differently as kidney function changes. 
So many things can go wrong. Often, an adverse drug reaction is misinterpreted as some new issue. That common scenario then leads to additional testing, more and new medications, new and different adverse reactions, and lots more anxiety, discomfort, and expense. Much of this negative event cycle can be avoided if senior patients and their doctors act with care.

Several medications raise red flags by causing the most adverse events:

July 17, 2013

Retire Early, Increase Your Dementia Risk?

Could half a million Frenchmen be wrong?

That’s about how many workers were included a recent study -- reported in a July 15 Huffington Post article -- that suggests retiring later might help forestall or prevent dementia.

Carole Dufouil, a scientist at INSERM (the French government's health research agency) served as the study’s lead researcher and presented the findings at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Boston on July 15, 2013. She said: "For each additional year of work, the risk of getting dementia is reduced by 3.2 percent."

It’s a conclusion that’s difficult to challenge, since working people stay physically active, socially connected, and mentally challenged. Those are all factors known to have positive effects on cognitive health.

Vive the French Record-Keeping
France maintains excellent medical records for all who participate in its national healthcare system, including the self-employed. In this case, Dufouil’s team examined the records of over 429,000 workers – median age 74 -- who had been retired for an average of 12 years. Most of the subjects performed work that kept them physically active; there were many shopkeepers, bakers, and woodworkers in the mix.

July 16, 2013

Zimmerman and TV and Me

I had planned to write today about lessons learned in the two years dealing with lower back pain. But I've been so astounded by the Zimmerman case I have to sort out my feelings by writing about it. I wasn't astounded by the verdict. I was surprised how everyone BUT me seemed intensely involved in the story.

My first surprise came last week at my regular Parkinson's support group meeting. One of our smartest members mentioned that he had spent seven hours the day before watching the TV coverage. Over the weekend, I began to realize that lots of people were mesmerized by the proceedings. On Monday morning, I got an email from a friend at work who said everybody was talking about the verdict . . . not working.

I knew about the trial from the newspaper, but was more interested in other stories. Why had I missed the Zimmerman mania?

Then the light bulb clicked on. I hadn't watched any TV for almost two months.

Me and TV
Obviously, I'm not big TV fan. I can't stand commercials, so I don't watch evening network shows. I usually watch morning news programs while exercising and getting dressed. At night, I used to faithfully watch the PBS News Hour. Lately, I listen to the headlines at the beginning of the broadcast. If nothing really interests me, I turn off the set.

July 15, 2013

Enough about Alaska. Ready to Spend the Rest of the Summer in Europe?

My Alaska cruise was in June, but I just finished my photo-journal posts about it last Friday. Now, on Thursday, I'm taking off for Europe and won't be back until nearly the end of August -- assuming I survive!

Europe Itinerary
Here are the highlights :
  • Paris: On Thursday night, my son, his companion and I fly to Paris, where we've rented an apartment on the Ile St. Louis for a week. We selected this location because my son, an avid biker, will be able to see the finish of the Tour de France on Sunday. The two of them have paid a hefty price to get grandstand seats. I decided not to join them, but I'm having second thoughts. It's the race's 100th anniversary, and for the first time, it will end at dusk in the "City of Lights." I just saw this description of the last day:
"It's the final day, and it's going to be incomparable in the strictest sense because we really wanted to pay full tribute at the end of this 100th edition. From the sporting perspective, there shouldn't be too many surprises: it's difficult to imagine the sprinters missing out! And if that sprinter happens, for the fifth consecutive occasion, to be called Mark Cavendish, then that really would be an extraordinary exploit. From the celebratory point of view, we have an unforgettable route, which will start in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, pass the monument to Jacques Anquetil, then go through the courtyard of the Louvre, before turning not in front of but around the Arc de Triomphe. The finish will be at dusk, at around 9.45 pm. It will be magical..."
Hmmm. I imagine they sell Pampers in Paris. Maybe I could last three or four hours in the grandstands.

July 12, 2013

Alaska Cruise Problem #2: A Mild Discontent

As the seven-day cruise progressed, I began to realize something was bothering me. The cruise was certainly surpassing my expectations. I've often traveled by myself and loved it, so that wasn't it. It was only a mild feeling of unease or discontent, and I didn't brood about it.

On the last night of the cruise, the light bulb clicked on. For the final fling, the ship didn't feature the usual night club act. Instead, we were encouraged to show up in the lounge -- with its dance floor -- for an evening of Beatles songs. In light of the average age of the passengers, the evening was a big hit. I sat in the back of the lounge, watched the "older" couples on the dance floor, and thought how great it was that they were loving the old songs . . . and each other.

Then it hit me. Deep down, I was feeling like I used to feel as an adolescent growing up in Ithaca, and then attending Cornell while still living at home. During those years, I felt I was the only homosexual around. The overwhelmingly hetero environment on the ship brought back that painful old feeling.

July 11, 2013

Alaska Cruise Problem #1: Meds for Back Pain

I like the way travel disrupts my routine and often makes me learn more about myself. The Alaska trip brought two revelations. I'll discuss the first today and the second tomorrow.

Pain Pills for My Bad Back
Ever since fracturing a vertebra in my car accident two years ago, I've been more handicapped by lower back pain than by Parkinson's. I've tried a variety of pain pills and therapies ranging from acupuncture to reiki. I've discussed how NSAIDs -- aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve and Modil) -- are considered particularly dangerous for seniors.

The medical consensus: we're better off taking acetaminophen, like Tylenol . . . but cautiously. I tried CVS's "Arthritic Pain Relief," basically 650mg of acetaminophen. It didn't help much.

Before an earlier trip, I asked my internist for a prescription pain pill. I got Tramadol, which gave more relief. Later, when I tried to renew my prescription for Azilect (one of my Parkinson's meds), my CVS pharmacist raised a red flag; their database showed a danger for adverse drug interaction and I would need my neurologist's OK to proceed.

July 10, 2013

We Interrupt the Alaska Program To Bring You This Important Message: "Sex During Old Age Makes You Look Younger"

That was one of the headlines in today's email from Medical News Today. Here's the subhead:
An active sex life during old age could be the key to maintaining and preserving a youthful look.
When I was in my 70s and answered questions about my age, I'd often hear things like "Gee, you look ten years younger!" Today, I rarely get that response. We may have a correlation here.

The MNT report is based on a study by British psychologist Dr. David Weeks that was presented to the British Psychological Society. After examining the effects of having regular sex in old age, Dr. Weeks concluded that an active sex life is essential for preserving youth. The key to looking younger is being active and having a good sex life. He urged society to adapt a more positive view of sexual activity among the elderly.

July 9, 2013

Reflections on My First Sea Cruise: Regent Is a Winner!

My only cruise experiences before this Alaska adventure were a Nile River excursion in the 1980s and a Yangtze River cruise in the 1990s, just as the Three Gorges dam was being built. I've always preferred traveling on my own and have avoided group tours. But time marches on, so I'm ready to consider other options that will allow me to continue traveling, something I've always loved.

I booked the Alaska trip after I'd already signed up for a Venice-to-Barcelona 11-day cruise in August. On that cruise, I'll be joined by the three younger generations of my family. One reason I decided on the Alaska cruise was to test the Regent Seven Seas Cruise line, which I booked for both.

Regent and I Hit It Off
I selected Regent after talking with a couple up the street who have gone on many cruises and used different cruise lines. They rated Regent No. 1 for reasons that appealed to me: smaller ships (500 to 700 passengers compared to 2000-plus on the big boys), no-tipping policy, great accommodations, great room service 24/7, excellent food, and exceptional shore excursion. Regent's most-cited negative is a plus for me: its sedate night life with no late-night disco parties.

July 8, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Hubbard Glacier -- An Awesome Last Stop

At the Hubbard Glacier, the ship stopped but we stayed onboard  (fortunately since we stopped in the icy waters in front of the glacier). Most of us got out on deck, taking photos and watching in awe. Once again, we were unusually lucky on this cruise. The captain said that on other cruises this year, the closest he was able to maneuver the ship through the ice-filled waters was eight miles from the point where the glacier reaches the sea. We got within a half mile.

Hubbard Glacier in Brief
Hubbard is the world's longest glacier, flowing more than 90 miles from Canada's Yukon territory to Alaska's Yakutat Bay. It is famous for "surging," moving forward quickly. Most glaciers slide an inch or two a day. In 1986, Hubbard made headlines around the world by moving so quickly that it created a wall across the mouth of Russell Fjord, one of the bay inlets. The fjord then became a lake, trapping hundreds of migrating marine creatures. Scientists still haven't figured out why it happened . . . or why, a few months later, it receded to its original position, reopening the fjord and releasing an enormous amount of water -- a tidal wave in reverse.

July 5, 2013

A Pause in the Alaska Cruise Story While I Celebrate the Fourth at Our Palisades Parade

This year, I turned the camera over to my housemate Nimesh, a much better photographer. It was his first Palisades parade and -- as you'll see -- he got some great shots. He also showed me how to change the way the photos are formatted. Now if you click on the photo, you'll get a nice enlargement. In the unlikely event you're as computer-challenged as I am and need this added advice, click the x in the black box at the upper right corner to get back to the blog. 

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I celebrated the Fourth of July the same way I have for many, many years. You may know that I love my D.C. Palisades neighborhood. It's like living in a small town, but the White House is only a quick 15-minute drive away . . . in non-rush hour traffic, that is.

I could venture down to the Mall and watch the big parade with the big bands and floats. But I prefer our hokey small-town Palisades parade. This is its 47th year; I've lived in the Palisades over 50 years.

I've probably watched 40 of those 47 parades. In recent years, family and friends have gathered at the house. Then we walk three blocks down the hill to the parade:

July 3, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Sitka -- A Real City at Last and a Great Boat Tour

Sitka easily won my vote as the best port city on the cruise. My pal Traveler Terpening, the Alaskan salmon fisherman and guidebook author who helped me select my special tours during this trip, wrote:
Sitka is a really cool town with a snow-capped volcano and great restaurants. Go to Ludwig's bistro (make a reservation).
Unfortunately, I didn't have time for Ludwig's. But Sitka struck me as our first "real" city. In Ketchikan and Skagway, fishing and tourism were the main industries, and the downtowns resembled theme parks. Juneau was a government town.

In Sitka, fishing is still the biggest industry, followed  by healthcare and education. Tourism is  fourth. The downtown has a traffic light and a tsunami evacuation route sign:

The Russians established an outpost here in 1799. The Tlingit Indians destroyed the settlement in 1802, but the Russians retaliated and soon pushed the natives from the area and renamed it New Archangel. The Russian Orthodox Church spread its influence. For a time, the Russian-American Company based in Sitka was the world's most profitable fur trader.

In 1867, when the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million, the transfer ceremony took place in Sitka. The culture today blends Tlingit, Russian and American influences. The local population is a mix of fishermen, artists, retirees and native Alaskans.

In the center of town is the onion-domed Russian Orthodox church, St. Michael's Cathedral. It was built in 1884, burned down in 1966, and rebuilt.

I went inside the church and had a nice chat with the deacon. The church maintains an active congregation.

I had intended to return to the ship for a bridge game, but it was a gorgeous day for wandering around my new favorite Alaskan city. I spent an hour exploring and sitting in the waterfront park overlooking the harbor:

While not as historic or imposing as St. Michael's, the Episcopal Church near the waterfront has its own more modest beauty:

July 2, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Skagway -- Western Movie Set, Great Glacier Walk

This isn't my photo. I was too busy charging around town trying to find a computer (http://bit.ly/17Pxt76). But it captures my impression of the town: a movie set for a Hollywood Western.

We docked in Skagway on Sunday, the only ship in port, and a small ship at that. Most shops and restaurants were closed. A DESERTED movie set.

Jack London came here in 1897. The ship's newsletter included these comments:
Oddly enough, London didn't describe this trip in any of the dozens of stories based on his northern experiences; perhaps it was simply too peaceful.
Or boring.

But during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century, gold miners flooded the area hoping to strike it rich.

Today, tourists have replaced the miners, making the town less interesting. The seven-block downtown district is known as Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.

A large stone marks the spot where two people were murdered in one day several years ago: an historic event in Skagway. If we did that in DC, the place would be filled with these stone markers.

Tours Are Much More Exciting than Town
I had a hard time deciding which tour to choose here.

I could have selected the three-hour ride on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad through mountain scenery from Skagway to the Yukon, Canada border.

Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation it shares with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statute of Liberty.

The WP & YR climbs almost 3,000 feet in just 20 miles and features steep grades of up to 3.9%, cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels, and numerous bridges and trestles. Today the train operates on the first 67 miles (Skagway to Carcross, Yukon) of the original 110-mile line. It's Alaska's most popular shore excursion and carries over 450,000 visitors during the May-September season.

I choose instead the helicopter ride with a glacier landing -- which was sensational -- but I wish time had allowed me to do both excursions.

Skagway Glaciers by Helicopter
We lift off from the heliport near Skagway:

and get glorious views, looking back at the harbor:

We head into the region of rugged mountains and glaciers:


Our helicopter lands on the glacier:

Parkinson's and a bad back create balance problems for me, so I was a bit concerned about getting out for a walking tour of the glacier. But the mountaineering crampons over my shoes and the trekking poles gave me a greater sense of security than I have walking around my own house.

We spent about 30 minutes walking around, as our excellent pilot/guide taught us a lot about glaciers.

It was a great tour and another gorgeous day. Tomorrow, it's on to my favorite port city: Sitka.

July 1, 2013

A Pause in the Alaska Photo Journal as I Contemplate My Final Exit

My computer problems will soon be fixed, and the Alaska cruise photo journal should resume tomorrow. So bear with me while I report on my Sunday morning "Joy of Quiet" hour.

When I make a bathroom visit around 4am, I stay up for about an hour. I used to call this break my meditation time, but I think of it now as my "Joy of Quiet" hour. I spend most of the time just letting my mind wander, and I do some easy seated exercises for my hands, fingers, back, and legs. It's my favorite time of day.

On these hot, humid DC summertime days, I take this quiet time on my back porch -- enjoying the relative cool and watching the dawn break. I took the picture above around 6am, after I'd spent more than an hour thinking about several faint signs that I might be adding Alzheimer's to my list of afflictions. I wondered whether such a diagnosis might prompt me to "opt out." I was in a very serene, happy mood when I took the photo and went back to bed for a few more hours.

Don't be concerned. I have a tendency to overreact, to make unwarranted conclusions. One of my nearest and dearest frequently refers to me as a "drama queen."