The morning after surgery

After the usual poor first night in hospital, my charismatic surgeon swept in on her heels and natty trouser suit.

She whipped off the attelle, the strapping which prevents one moving the shoulder or arm, remarking this had been put on as standard procedure by her team, but now I must ‘bouger, bouger, bouger’, doing some dramatic sweeps of her arm, including the imaginary cello bowing ( my physio had said in her letter to Marion Bertrand that I needed to be able to play the cello).

She was satisfied to note that although my arm clearly felt like a sack of potatoes the familiar old knife pains, which have made movement so painful for the last year, have gone. So it was worth cutting this tendon.

She checked I did want to go to a centre de re-education – and swept out again, no doubt for another intensive day with knives, saws and hammers.

Shoulder saga – next chapter

Guess what. I am back in all too familiar surroundings: the ultra modern Clinique St Roch in Montpellier. And once again tapping this with one finger of the left hand.

Long suffering readers of this blog will know that recovery after last year’s second shoulder replacement did not go to plan. Right from the start I had sharp knife like pains on movement which baffled the surgeon and the rest of the medical profession and which prevented proper reeducation to mobilise the shoulder.

Finally  there was consensus that the main tendon holding the biceps was the cause, though the surgeon, Marion Bertrand remained unconvinced it was the sole problem. So it was agreed to cut this damaged tendon, leaving the other, shorter one to do its work.

I packed for what is usually day surgery, but because I live on my own, would include an overnight stay. The VSL taxi picked me up at 5.30 this morning for a 7am start. Almost immediately – after my second Bétadine shower of the morning, I was being prepped up.

All very familiar, and because I thought this was going to be a quick in and out job, not stressful.  Besides the staff here are very friendly and the advantage of a local anaesthetic is one can continue to chat throughout proceedings.

i saw Marion Bertrand across the corridor and she waved to me  I learnt that she has two adjacent operating theatres for maximum productivity.

Finally it was my turn and I realised that the striking young black woman scrubbing up was her assistant.  That really pleased me, given surgery’s notorious reputation as a macho discipline. The two women worked away calmly and amicably.

Then I started to wonder why a quick snip was  taking so long. Marion Bertrand explained: we are taking advantage of having opened the shoulder to do some cleaning up. The prothèse itself is ok but it is surrounded by adhérences – adhesions.  We have to sort out all these muscles glued together and remove unwanted bits of bone. Judging by their conversation which I eavesdropped, this was not easy. There also appeared to be quite a lot of unpleasant yanking of my arm.

Finally Marion Bertrand popped her head round my side of the makeshift curtain hiding their gruesome work and did some energetic semaphore like moves with her arm. You  are too optimistic, I said, understanding that she expected my shoulder to be able to emulate these. No,no, she said, we have already moved (wrenched…) your arm in these three positions  it is now a question of concentrated re-education to achieve this yourself.

Once again I attempted to get her to understand the reality of services in le Vigan and told her that I had been driving three times a week to Ganges.  She was adamant: I need daily treatment if this shoulder and arm are to work again – and she did imaginary flourishes as if playing the cello.

So she is going to see if the Centre de Maguelone will take me again  and then she was off for the next op, leaving her assistant to close up and stitch.

After an uncomfortable few hours in the salle de réveil, I am back in my room, surrounded by very friendly staff but not feeling particularly great yet.  It is now eight in the evening and my arm and hand are still completely numb.  At least I am now allowed to sit in a chair – far easier than trying to type almost horizontally, with my iPad trying to slide to the floor.

Next task: I must make a list of what Margaret needs to bring if I have a longer stay.  Why oh why did I not pessimistically but realistically not pack a second suitcase? When in the past five years have I had a normal, straightforward hospital visit??







My departure

When planning the trip I had not really taken in the departure times – that seemed so far into the future. Now I realised that with departure time of 8.45, I would need to be at the airport two hours earlier, before public transport was working.

I was contemplating a night at the airport when Goksen suggested I should take a taxi.  The price was reasonable and the driver his uncle, so I agreed to set off at 4am to be safe, later brought forward to 3.30 (not sure why).

Thanks to the music along the street, I reckon I had a maximum of two hours sleep and was therefore dozier than usual at the airport, and when at about 8.10 I sauntered to look at the departures board to saw to my horror that my plane was boarding.  Worse still, I discovered that gate 710 was the furthest you could go, and ran-walked along interminable corridors and up and down stairs, thinking this was going to be a disastrous First for me.

I was not the only one, indeed we had to wait till the bus was full of other stragglers and then drove for ever round a perimeter road to the opposite side of the airport,

After an uneventful three and half hours air travel I arrived at Marseilles where my first requirement was a loo.  As usual, there were none to be seen before or in the baggage hall, and when I got outside I could see no signs for Toilettes anywhere.  I queued up for ages at the Information Desk, who told me they were just after the fast food restaurant (forget which).  When I commented that there seemed to be no signs, she agreed.

Still I could not see the loos, so asked at a nearby airline desk.  She was very rude and told me to go to Information.  I was so angry by now I told her she was rude and not nice and stomped off – and eventually found the wretched loos which were substandard.

Anyhow, all that frustration must have woken me up, because I did not need one sleep break during the four hour drive home, despite endless traffic jams and, once again, which buffeted my little car.

The wind dropped when I left the Rhone valley and I was able to have the roof open and enjoy the 24 degree temperature.

Voilà.  And tomorrow I must really finish unpacking, come down to earth, work out how to turn on my central heating and prepare for Monday’s hospital trip.


Apologies for the verbosity and excessive posting of photos.  I was struggling with poor internet access and this left me with inadequate time and energy to prune.

Food in Turkey

First and most important: I discovered I have a real penchant for Turkish coffee.  It arrives in a tiny cup, always accompanied by a glass of water, and was almost always good.  I wonder whether it is like drinking ouzo as a student: when you get home it no longer has the same allure. But in fact I think the coffee itself was good quality, as Jude said that her western white coffees were also good.

I don’t think I drank any alcohol in ten days.  A pity really, as I should have tried Turkish wine, which presumably is similar to Bulgarian and Georgian.  But I was happy with a glass of Aryan, a kind of watered down yoghurt drink.

My first night in Istanbul I found myself in my hotel room with no water to drink. I learnt the hard way to ensure I had bottled water with me at all times.  Even the Turks do not seem to drink tap water in Istanbul, instead paying one lira (20-25p) for a small bottle.

The other mainstay of life in Turkey is bread.  I have never thought of myself as a bread fan (except for my addiction to toast) but I would definitely like to learn more about bread in Turkey – another visit needed. Towards the end of my stay I was beginning to appreciate the range of breads on offer, both leavened and unleavened, in so many forms, some savoury some sweet, some with sesame and poppy seeds, some like pancakes…

Maddie also enjoyed discovering this paper thin bread:

I think Maddie has also inherited my sweet tooth.  We both enjoyed out Turkish Delight samples.  I was particularly surprised as I have never liked Turkish Delight, but here they seem to have branched out into varieties more like nougat.  And then, of course, as a fan of nuts and honey, I much appreciated the widespread availability of shops selling baklava. So desserts were never a problem for our family – oh I forgot to mention the delicious rice pudding we had on a couple of occasions.  How do the Turks manage, with all these delights to seduce them off a sensible regime?

Main courses were more variable. In our restaurant meals we were invariably offered a wide range of meat dishes, and in huge quantities.  I basically liked these, though I would have liked them to be more spicy on occasions, but we did begin to crave the sight of a plate of vegetables.  The plates of salad were not particularly appetising; I am used to salad being dressed.

But on the whole we ate well and a lot. It is just a pity that my real gastronomic experience happened after the family left.

Goji Apartments, my last stay in Istanbul, is run by a young man, Goksen, whom I knew immediately and instinctively to be generous and trustworthy. Breakfast (free) he said, would be downstairs, in the family restaurant, run by his parents. He didn’t mention that breakfast would be huge and delicious and made by his absolutely delightful parents.

Musa, his dad, came out from the kitchen to greet me.  He doesn’t speak a word of English, but the international language of sweet smiles was sufficient. Any attempt to restrict breakfasts to bread and coffee had to be abandoned.  Musa insisted I had the full works, starting with delicious soup (a huge choice each day, I had mushroom the first and rice and yoghurt the second) cooked by his wife. Then a boiled egg and a huge plate of salad, and a variety of vegetable based things I could not name.  I did not like to ask them as Goksen was hard at work serving breakfast (equally huge portions) to the tables of working men who obviously knew how to start the day well.

Then Goksen brought some delicious bread (there was already a basket of bread on the table) together with jam made by his mother – strawberry the first day and quince the second.  On the second day I asked if there was any of the same bread as yesterday.  Goksen started to say No, but his father indicated yes, and arrived shortly with some made specially for me. What I didnt know was that I would be getting that day’s special offer of bread as well.  So by the end of the meal I was well and truly breaded out.

I arrived rather late for lunch and Goksen said apologetically there were only two dishes left.  Fine, I replied, and proceeded to be served with two giant portions of both! One was aubergine based, the other basically rice and lentils.  Both were delicious. The flavours delicated distinctive and not overcooked as in other restaurants.  In fact in two days the relative absence of vegetables the previous eight days was more than made up.

Goksen showed me with some pride a magazine article written some years ago about his parents.  They are a little older now, but all that was said in the article is still true.  This was a real discovery of quality working class gastronomic fare, served by a warm hearted family.




My last three nights were in Kumkapi, a downtown district close to the sea (highway now cuts the district from the fishing boats which provide it with its life) and a kilometre down hill from the historic sites.

The place comes alive at night.  Suddenly all these restaurants fill up, with both Turkish and some tourist clients.  It seems strange that I did not venture out in the evening.  It was not that I felt unsafe.  I never felt unsafe in Istanbul, particularly not here where everybody knows where I am staying.  I just felt I would be uncomfortable, a woman on my own, in an essentially masculine environment – it reminded me of similar evenings in Greece fifty years ago.

But I did have a bedroom window view.  My first evening I could not fathom what was going on down below.  Long after I would expect things to close down, in fact all night, there seemed to be people roaming round, some looking suspiciously rough.  I wondered if this was about drugs, or maybe the van parked with its doors wide open was feeding the homeless.  In the morning I discovered a more mundane truth: the restaurant opposite was being used as the set for a film.

The second evening I was drawn by a different sound: that of musicians, really quite good ones.  The restaurants apparently hire bands, who then supplement their earnings by being paid by diners to come and play at their table.  Down below there was a singer, clarinet and two drummers playing with skill and energy.  The clarinettist in particular was good.  As the evening progressed it was clear that the group of businessmen I had seen arrive had now consumed a fair bit of raki, were joining in the singing – and dancing.  All this only half under cover, with the rain pouring down.

The third evening, when I needed some sleep before a 3.30 am taxi drive to the airport, the music was elsewhere, with persistent drumming that began to get me down. In fact, much as I appreciated the music that second evening, I think it would be hard to live with this relentless level of noise every night.

University of Istanbul

My route home from the Suleymaniye Mosque took me through the University of Istanbul area.

Like many universities in Europe, there seems to be a main building, presumably with the administration and formal functions, and then faculty or departmental buildings.  Some faculties seemed better off than others, notably Pharmacology, Education and Medicine.  Perhaps that was historical chance, but I fear the uninspiring entrance to Liberal Studies suggests otherwise.

Entry to all parts of the university was forbidden.  I wonder if that is a foretaste of the future of universities everywhere. I could see no sign of student halls of residence, but maybe they were tucked away elsewhere.

I stopped for a late lunch (coffee – invariably good here – and a slice of delicious cheesecake) in a cafe obviously a central hub for students.  Its modest entrance gave way to a series connecting rooms packed with students.  I could not help noticing that in the front area the clientele was almost entirely girls (three elderly Italians and me the exceptions).  I got the feeling that most male students were right at the back in an outside courtyard, while the room after mine did seem to have the odd couple.

It always does me good to pass through a university scene like this and to see young, enthusiastic people. I am struck by how happy, excited and confident these girls looked, with or without veils (and often a mixture in a group). I do just wonder about the mixing of the sexes and whether it is happening, discreetly, somewhere else. Certainly when you see them together, they seem very relaxed, as were the young, mixed student workers in the cafe, which was very efficiently run by an older woman (in veil).

Suleymaniye Mosque

When we looked at the panoramic view of the Old City from our rooftop in Galata, it was the giant form of the Suleymaniye Mosque which dominated the skyscape.  And when we visited the Suleymaniye Hamam we caught glimpses of its minarets but did not visit, something I now wanted to remedy.

It was the same renowned sixteenth century architect, Mimar Sinan, who designed not only the mosque but the whole complex of hospitals, schools, tombs and hamam.  He designed and supervised the construction of nearly 500 buildings, including almost 100 mosques and his influence on subsequent architects was immense. The Suleymaniye Mosque was his biggest project in Istanbul.

The surrounding buildings, now shops, and the outside view of the mosque were already impressive, but I was particularly captivated by the harmony of the huge internal courtyard. The huge square domed interior was magnificent of course and more restrained than in the Byzantine Hagia Sophia or the later Blue Mosque.  But then again I was drawn by the beauty of the more intimate mausoleums containing the tombs of Suleyman I and his favourite wife Hürrem Sultan (a fascinating woman who rose from concubine to first wife and active in state affairs as well as running the sultan’s household and, from the evidence of a poem he wrote to her, clearly much loved by the sultan). It was in her mausoleum I spotted and photographed the kittens.


Revisiting the Blue Mosque

I went back to the Blue Mosque for a third, wetter and chillier visit than the previous ones.

Before the rain started, I walked from Kumbaki to Sultanahmet, through a district that must once have seen better days.  I noticed that several of the houses were built in the same clapboard style as we saw on our island trip. These appear to be in an old Ottoman style, no doubt much reduced in number by fires and earthquakes.

Just before reaching Sultanahmet, I stopped at a (relatively) little mosque not mentioned in my guidebook but which looked promising.  It was.  The Little Hagia Sophia turns out to be another, sixth century, Byzantine church later turned into a mosque. I particularly liked the carved capitals on the columns.

There is no doubt that the Blue Mosque is more glorious when the sky is blue, but nevertheless, it is still an amazing building, and I cannot resist putting up more photos.

By the time I came out, it began to pour with rain.  I revisited our lunchtime restaurant for a coffee and to hide from the rain.  Not quite the same allure as one watches the rain drip off the awnings and feels the temperature dropping. Time to call it a day.




Kumkapi – and revisiting the Bazaar

I took a taxi to my next place with some trepidation.  First, it started to rain – heavily – and the forecast for the next three days is not good.  Also, I had not properly researched the location of the B&B place, simply going on good reviews in, plus wanting to return to the Old City.

It turned out that the taxi driver was equally vague about its whereabouts. He read the address I gave him with much sighing, and stopped increasingly frequently to ask for directions (with much turning around in narrow back streets, often facing traffic in one way streets). I saw he had a  smartphone and wondered why on earth he did not key in the address. (I couldn’t use mine as I had run out of credits).

Eventually I rang Goksen, the owner, and passed the phone to the driver. Within minutes we were there – and Goksen was waiting with umbrella to take me the last few minutes across the pedestrianised (sort of) centre of Kumkapi to the apartment.

The first floor room was pleasant (evidence of shopping in Ikea) and I dried out before setting off to revisit the Grand Bazaar.

What the map does not show is that the one kilometre walk is non-stop uphill.  Kumkapi is after all the centre of fish restaurants and a stone’s throw from the sea.  The bazaar is on one of Istanbul’s hills. The way up is past endless bustling local shops, but uneven almost non-existent pavements and unnerving traffic.

As I approached Yeniçeriler Caddesi, the main road in the Old City, I passed through the shoe shop area.  It is always amazing to comprehend how a business can operate when it is selling exactly the same goods as its neighbour – something one sees a lot in Istanbul.  But as I said earlier to Ed, according to my faint memories of introduction to economics this model of competition assumes that the total sum of prospective shoe buyers is proportionately greater.

Once in the Bazaar I of course had no way to retrace my steps along the route we had taken earlier.  But I did come across a narrow alley of leather goods stalls.  As my family knows, I am a sucker for bags, though never finding the ideal one. Small enough not to be an encumbrance, large enough to accommodate more than the minimum of things (for example room for a guide book), strap to carry the bag across the shoulder, zipped pockets to avoid an anonymous jumble in the bottom of the bag, non-black interior so one can see what is inside … the full list is even greater.

As always I could not resist the temptation and bought a small bag (for thos occasions when the full list of requirements above are not needed…). When I got home I realised the red looked different – and unattractive – in natural light.  Ah well, it cost me about ten euros.  The salesman spoke good English and when he found that I lived in France, exclaimed: Ah, I must meet his patron, Florence, who is from France but has lived here for several decades and is the French Consul in Istanbul.  She has a rug shop nearby. I’m not buying rugs, I said. Firmly.  Not important, he said, just come and meet Florence. Well, I had no pressing engagements, so I allowed myself to be taken to Florence.

Florence was out – back shortly – but the bag salesman left me in the hands of a rug salesman to wait for her.  I repeated my position: absolutely no purchases.  The salesman, also fluent in English, said not a problem, just to show me examples of what they had. And of course I was completely captivated.  Those who have known us know that Chris and I were particularly partial to Middle Eastern rugs and would have bought many more if we could have.

The saleman was interesting and authoritative.  He came from a country area towards somewhere in Eastern Turkey and grew up in a village where everybody – including his family – made rugs.  So, he said, he knew what he was talking about. This was no ordinary rug stall; it was clearly top of the range.  I thoroughly enjoyed being showed various rugs, some of which left me indifferent, others which left me craving to own them.

His uncle was in the process of setting up a modern Bokhara rug for display.  I commented that I did not like it very much.  Just as well, as the price tag was 3000 dollars.  The uncle smiled and produced another Bokhara from the pile, a smaller, old one and like everything in the shop, handmade and individual.  I remarked that as a child I used to love following the patterns on a Persian rug on my bedroom floor, spotting the irregularities.  The salesman said yes, one of the most common problems was that when the weavers started a new batch of wool, often the colours were not quite the same, and he pointed out the irregularities in the rug he was showing to me – we both agreed the subtle changes in the pinky red were part of its charm.

This was the rug I fell for.  The salesman said that the price was 1500 euros (very muddling when they keep changing currencies) but I could have it for 800.  No doubt if I had entered the bargaining I might have got it for 500 euros.  So, so tempting. I felt proud of my restraint when I decided it was time to stop waiting for Florence, thanked the salesman and his uncle for their presentation, and left empty handed.

End of the family trip

Time, sadly, for the short BP holiday to come to an end. Ed has to be in court the next day, while Jude will be juggling work with continuing half term (Michaela, the nanny, is also on holiday).

It’s been a great trip. A lot has been packed into three and a half days. We the adults have loved all that Istanbul has to offer, and the children have had a good time, enjoying cafe stops and above all the boat trip.  They are too young to appreciate the mosques and palaces but are incredibly well behaved while we go round them. A lot of the time they were wrapped up in their own imaginary world, in which elements of what they were seeing were bound into the storyline. They didn’t seem to mind people reaching out to stroke their blond(ish) hair and Maddie certainly enjoyed being made a fuss over in the various Turkish Delight stalls.

We found the general atmosphere wandering round Istanbul very welcoming and with one or two exceptions remarkably free of persistent would-be sellers. And like in Italy, having two young children in tow is a definite asset.

So, the BPs headed off for the airport.  But I stayed, for a couple of days further sightseeing.