In a news series, author and Luberon resident Jamie Ivey unravels today’s Provence.Some years ago our local doctor pronounced me “a medical marvel”: I was the first man ever to develop gout from drinking too much rosé. At the time I was selling pink wine in the local market and over a long leisurely lunch it was my habit to finish off the tasting bottles. Repeated on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, the doctor emphasised, this type of behaviour was not advisable.
Fortunately the affliction has never recurred, although this month there were some worrying signs, which prompted another trip to the doctor, and more French medical history. My concerns began after a trip to Château Pesquié in the shadow of Mont Ventoux. In the space of a few weeks Robert Parker, the American wine sage, and Jancis Robinson, wine critic at the Financial Times had both published immensely favourable reviews of the Château’s red. Parker in particular advised that people should buy the wine by the crate load. And so, never one to ignore the advice of a wine writer as respected as Parker, I purchased four cases. Château Pesquié was a dangerously easy drinking wine and every night for a week I enjoyed a bottle. I found it lubricated my fingers and so I enthusiastically tweeted away about its virtues and all things Provençal.
A few days and an empty crate later, my hands stiffened up. At first I believed it was a repetitive strain injury caused from over tweeting. The website had accused me of behaviour resembling a robot. However, the pain worsened and soon it was alarmingly reminiscent of my previous attack of gout. A quick look on the internet confirmed that although the big toe was the host of choice for gout, hands could also be afflicted.
I reassured myself that the previous incident had not been all bad. Being afflicted with gout in a French village brings a certain kudos. For a few weeks I was no longer a foreigner but an honorary Frenchman. I sometimes heard my true nationality being debated as I hobbled passed the local café: did I not love blue cheese, red meat, and fine wine? And was my passion for all things French not stronger than some of the more weak-willed locals who had succumbed to government propaganda and become teetotal? People (well, largely the regulars at the bar) had suddenly approved of me; I was slapped on the back and offered medicinal glasses of wine (which of course only prolonged my condition).
And so with these memories fresh in my mind, and with throbbing, supposedly gout-infested hands, I presented myself to the doctor. She was dressed, as always, immaculately and showed me to the raised examination table. I sat in a semi-recumbent position and showed her my fingers, sheepishly advising her that I thought I had gout again. I insisted that the pain levels were just the same, and described the intense tenderness to the touch.
She looked at me with her fierce lecturing eyes. “How’s your wife?”
“Very well,” I replied.
“And in the bedroom?”
“I’m here for my hands,” I stuttered.
“I know,” the doctor reassured me. “Do you cuddle?”
I nodded, too bemused by the extraordinary direction of the questioning to protest.
“And you have three small children?”
I nodded again.
Clearly a process of observation and deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes was going on. She sat down at her desk and wrote out a prescription for painkillers. Her loopy handwriting noted the name of my condition: Paralysie amoureuse.
I thought this sounded so wonderfully French I had to know more. Did President Hollande and I perhaps share an affliction? Did this mystery disease strike other parts of my body, working its way inevitably towards the heart? And, most importantly, what could be done to end the paralysis? I feared a prescription to see the sexual therapist who practiced from the office next door and terrifyingly encouraged his patients to openly discuss their conditions in the waiting room.
“We typically see it in couples about your age,” the doctor explained, “exhausted by the kids, tired out by work, without even the energy to break the nightly clinch, you fall asleep on top of each other’s arms. The blood supply gets cut off and you end up with a temporary paralysis. It can last for up to three weeks.”
“Is there any cure?”
“Separate beds,” the doctor smiled as she ushered me out.
So proud was I with my new affliction that I paraded around the village, dropping into the conversation details of my ailment. In a similar way to the attack of gout, it made me feel part of the community. Whereas an Englishman suffers from pins and needles in his hands, only a culturally-assimilated expat develops la paralysie amoureuse. Once again I was a medical marvel: the only Brit ever to have been paralysed by love.
Jamie Ivey is the author of Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog and runs the website www.provenceguru.com