Philippe’s mother, Ninette, turned 102 last week and we drove to Normandy to celebrate. Until last year, Ninette lived unassisted in the family’s three-story home. A wonderful housekeeper came every day to prepare lunch and, as she reached 100, to help with bathing and morning toilet, but she slept alone in the big house.
Ninette even accompanied Philippe on his annual opera pilgrimages to Wagner’s hometown of Bayreuth until age 101. Both share a love of opera and Wagner, and the trip seemed to energize her to walk, talk and listen as she did in former years.
Unfortunately Ninette had a simple fall last winter and broke both femurs. After months in hospital, she was moved to a retirement home in the small town of Le Treport, the village next to her former home. The fall and the operation diminished her faculties enormously, which might be a good thing, as she usually thinks she’s staying in a nice hotel.
We offer most sincere thanks go to several doctor friends of Philippe’s including:
Jean Marc, a Wagner and opera fanatic like Philippe, who agreed to operate on both legs and put pins in Ninette’s femurs when the anesthesiologist in the Abbeville hospital refused. Without Jean Marc, the verdict would have been infection and death. He and most French doctors are unsung heroes. Socialized medicine has meant low fixed prices for everything involving doctors. Jean Marc is one of the best orthopedic surgeons in France.
And equal thanks to Florence, who’s a gerontologist and runs a large hospital ward for elderly patients in Paris. When it seemed no hospital had room to take Ninette for her recovery, Florence found her a beautiful room, and Philippe was able to visit her often. Philippe would visit with a bottle of champagne, and Florence and friends would join them in Ninette’s room. Last month, Ninette was well enough to go home, or as close as possible to the little seaside town of Le Treport, on La Manche or the English Channel.
Ninette doesn’t remember her two sons’ names anymore. She calls each her petits lapin or little bunnies – not remembering their names, but always happy to see them. Thierry and Philippe, ever the mischievous boys, have begun to call themselves Lapin Un et Lapin Deux.
It’s sad, and at the same time a blessing, that she doesn’t recognize her surroundings. Ninette thinks she’s in a hotel and is always complimenting the staff. She has always told us that she owes her long life to two things: her husband's coffee and champagne. Philippe’s dad was a coffee roaster in the region, so the family grew up tasting beans and roasts.
Their old house is closed now, but the wisteria still blooms every spring. We recently toasted her birthday (and Philippe’s), with champagne and chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat.
The retirement home is typical of the region–very nice people work there. I was at the home when dinner was served and love the fact that it comes with your choice of water, wine, beer or Normandy apple cider. Only in France! The servers laughed when I took pictures, as I explained that I don’t think these are the drink options in US retirement homes.
Ninette came to France hidden in a furniture truck at the end of World War II, to join her future husband Pierre. Pierre made a nice living as a wholesaler of canned goods and coffee for the region’s restaurants and shops, until the grandes surfaces or hypermarkets took hold. He continued to roast coffee, until he sold his business in 1990 to a competitor. Pierre passed away at age 94, and you might find the story of his capture at Dunkirk and of life in their town interesting.
We spent a delightful evening catching up with cousins Pascal and Marie Agnes, and spent the night in their beautiful home. Pascal is a dermatologist in the region, whose daughter’s wedding we attended last summer. Ladies, if only you could get to Normandy for your beauty treatments. Since medicine became socialized in the '80s office visits were fixed at €30 — before office expenses, assistants, nurses, supplies and taxes. So he slowly migrated his business to beauty and women from all over the region come to him for Botox injections, laser treatments, light therapy and now, a new series of treatments with hyaluronic acid.
I love the French sticker art Marie Agnes found, especially the quote from Pierre Curie: “Il faut faire de la vie une rêve et d’un rêve une réalité.” It was especially touching because their home is on Pierre et Marie Curie rue and because Philippe attended the Pierre et Marie Curie Medical School in Paris, one of the best in the world.
This may be one of the last times we make a regular stop in Eu and truly the countryside seemed greener and more beautiful than ever. Cows were in fields for the famous milk and cheese from Normandy. We drove from Normandy to London on a beautiful summer morning, and as ever I was transported by the village life, the greenery, the rolling fields of this magical region.