Jan 25, 2014

What a Headache: Saint-Germier


Our first pharmacy foray, as Anthony realizes he is out of his Omega-3 fish oil pills.  He does not actually have a cholesterol problem, so much as he has an ego problem, and when the doctor told him his cholesterol was just a smidge too high to be in the perfect zone, he promptly went on a regimen of extra oatmeal and Omega-3s.

In the pharmacy, Anthony and I easily find a bottle of 100 pills, and we pass the bottle back and forth trying to decipher the price tag stuck to the bottle top.  We are often confused by numbers here because they use commas where we use decimal points, and sometimes (but not always) vice versa, and as far as I can tell they sometimes don't write out the hundreth's spot.  So 14,9 could be the equivalent of 14.90€, if I am, in fact, correct.  Since we both are clearly misunderstanding the sticker, we ask le Monsieur who works there for a price clarification, then nearly have the heart-attack we are trying to avoid with the fish pills when he confirms it is 102,9 -- that is 102.90€ or about US $150 -- for the bottle.  Well, that's only 10 times the price for one-fifth the pills.  "I'm sorry, honey, but at those prices, you're just going to have to live with imperfectly high cholesterol.  Now shut up, and have some Camembert."

Another time, I go in to find some face scrub at the pharmacy, and she shows me an itsy bitsy tube for 40€. When I ask if they have something simpler, like Neutrogena, she looks down her nose at me and says, "Well, for cheap cleansers like that, you'll need to go the Monoprix, where they cost 5€." I know she means it as a sarcastic insult, but frankly I take it as sage advice.

So you can understand my sense of impending doom when I run out of my thyroid medication, a prescription pill I need to take daily, and walk into the pharmacy. Not only do I not have a prescription, but I also don't have a suitcase of cash with me. In the US, I pay $10, with insurance covering the rest, each month. Here, I walk in, tell her I'm out of my medication and haven't had a chance to get a new prescription, and approximately 2 seconds later, she walks over to me with a box of exactly the right pills, in a neat pack of 30, and sells them to me for 2,54 -- that's right, about US $4.  This feels so much like winning the lottery that I go into 2 other pharmacies and do the same thing, effectively stocking up for 3 months to give myself some back-up. 

When I get a migraine, and need to return to the pharmacy, I don't know what will happen.  It's like playing Russian roulette around here.  In addition to the fear of pricing is the fact that the last time I had a headache in France was when I was an exchange summer camp counselor during college near Biarritz, in Southern France.  I walked into the camp nurse with a headache, and she handed over a suppository.  I re-explained what was wrong with me, complete with lots of pointing and sign language.  But no, she understood me perfectly, and again tried to hand over the suppository.  Finally, I said to her, "OK, then just give me whatever you give the campers" (who were 3-12 years old).  She held out her hand with the suppository in it. "This is what we give the campers."  Oh screw it.  I'd rather have a headache.

The pharmacist answers all my pain-killer questions, and I do find something that while not exactly Excedrin Migraine (my own personal miracle drug) does seem to have some of the same active ingredients, is taken orally, and only costs 5 times what I wish I were paying. When I ask about pain-killer for children, hoping for a chewable tablet, she shows me some pediatric acetaminophen and tells me, "We have dissolvable powder, syrup, or suppository." Hmm...just how much of a true French experience do we want the girls to have?

THE CHEESE: Saint-Germier

Saint-Germier reminds me of a Camembert but a little gummier, and made with raw sheep's milk in the Pyrénées instead of cow's milk in Normandy. Saint-Germier is a farm-house cheese made by hand (every step of the way) at a farm called Arnoult. It's good, if a little gummy, when cool. But like all cheeses, it's much, much better when it warms up to room temperature. Then it gets all gooey and creamy and divine.

It's strongly flavored of sheep and grasses and fields, just like the many hard cheeses that come from the region. This is an unusual Pyrénées sheep cheese in that it's soft, and produced more in the style of a soft cow's cheese. The sheep -- a herd of 250 Lacaune sheep -- eat in the pasture eight months of the year, and in the stables during the winter, where they are fed hay from the farm's own fields. This connection to the local earth comes through in the complex flavor.


I end up praying to the saints when I'm feeling germy or (even worse -- germier), and I have to go see what the people at the pharmacy will try to sell me. And though this cheese is not Camembert, it's very much like a Camembert -- just the thing to clog up Anthony's arteries.



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