Normandy and Brittany…Mont-Saint-Michel…

_1150614Well, it’s taken a long time (!), but I finally got around to editing my second, and last!, post on our AUGUST holiday in Normandy (and a piece of Brittany, too). Here goes…

Honfleur. An absolutely lovely little town. Pretty Medieval houses. Well worth a stop and a tea break. See first two photos.

Caen. The Medieval part of this city was almost entirely destroyed during World War II, but I still very much liked it, its liveliness,  lots of cafés and good eateries. Stefano, _1150569however, had eaten something he shouldn’t have (!) back in the city of Le Havre and spent more than 24 hours in our hotel bed, quite sick, poor dear. Food poisoning. Ugh. So he missed our walk around Caen. My photo no. 3 depicts the Abbaye aux Hommes. Take the guided visit…it was fantastic.

Bayeux. Its main claim to fame, deservedly so, is its amazing Tapestry, measuring 70 meters long and illustrating the events that led to the Norman conquest of England in 1066. It has survived, incredibly, more than nine centuries. How about that??? Highly recommended. By the way, definitely get the audio guide!

D-Day beaches. And it is here that I got sick again. This time with a high fever, more than 39° Celsius. So I don’t remember much about the beaches. I mostly slept in the rental car while Stefano and our two friends went exploring. My photos from _1150949that day are terrible. I wanted to get a shot of Omaha Beach with all the flags and the memorial…but I was too dazed to get more than this one of the Les Braves Memorial…I have to admit, I got quite emotional…

The following two days are a bit of a muddle, since I slept, mostly, in the car and then in the hotels where we stayed. And then, bam!, I was fine again. Stefano and I had even considered returning to Italy with our friends (who had to leave), but we decided to prolong our stay for another week…after all, the time we’d both been sick added up to almost a week…We wanted that week back!

_1160038By then we were in Rennes, Brittany. After saying goodbye to our friends, Stefano and I took a day trip to Carnac to have a look at the thousands of standing stones dating to the Neolithic. Very interesting, but, I have to admit, I am still madly in love with Avebury, near Salisbury, in southwest England. And that is that.

Still, Carnac has its own charm, too. And it is near the first site that we had the BEST crepes of our entire trip, so let me know if you are traveling in that area, and I’ll give you the name of the place…yummy!

_1160358In fact, that reminds me of a nice little story: after we had finished our crepes in this small, ancient farmhouse, our waitress asked us if we wanted anything else, but we were too stuffed so we declined. I proceeded to tell her, though, in my rusty French, that those were the best crepes we’d had in France. She looked amazingly pleased and thanked me over and over again…and then I overheard her telling the cooks in the kitchen. But it didn’t end there.

A short while later the head cook came out and THANKED me for my kind words. I was quite overwhelmed, overwhelmed in a good sense, of course._1160345

It really takes so little, a few words, a small gesture, to put a smile on someone’s face.

Food…or rather, crepes for thought. :-)

After Rennes, which is nothing to write home about (we stayed in a lovely little inexpensive hotel, though), we stayed in Saint-Malo for three nights. As it happened, our hotel was located outside the town walls…about a 20-25 minute walk from the town. Lucky us, since we didn’t care for the Saint-Malo at all…too touristy and crowded for us. That said, we _1160256had a nice rest there (with day trips to Dinard and Dinan, both very cute and worth a visit, especially Dinan.

But the promenade (see photo on the right, below) along the beach in Saint-Malo is indeed quite something. I remember walking back to our hotel after dinner one evening and hearing someone belting out a familiar Italian tune (not “O sole mio” but something similar).
And so we ran into a group of loud and Venetians who were ready to party. I guess they hadn’t heard yet about the earthquake that had hit the region of Abruzzo in Italy earlier that day and that had killed almost 300 people. But we had, and our mood was somber. We walked past the Venetians without telling them…_1160599

Mont-Saint-Michel. Talk about crowds, mamma mia! But we stayed there one night, and the hotel staff had given us an upgrade, so our room was on the third floor with a great view of the bay.

In mid afternoon we went down to the tourist office to find out about the guided crossings of the bay that Stefano had read about and wanted to do. _1160641We found out that the final tour of the day was about to leave. Now, I had no idea what this tour was all about. I thought we would merely step outside the walls and take some photos, and that our guide would help us avoid stepping in the quicksand that can easily form thanks to the shifting sands surrounding the town. So we were not prepared for what was to come…

The guide instructed us to take off our shoes and sandals. But we hadn’t heard his presentation (in French), since we were the last to join the group, so we looked at each other and said, in Italian, “no way we’re taking off our shoes. There is horse doo doo in the square outside the main town gate.” 😉 And so we were the only ones to keep our shoes on. But as soon as we got outside and began walking off to the left, we realized why the guide had said that: _1160690the dry caked mud began getting wetter and slippier. So off came our sandals, which we attached to our knapsacks. The trek outside the city walls ended up lasting more than THREE hours. Three hours of walk walk walk WALK in slippery mud and sometimes in water up to mid-thigh.

We saw people doing the crossing on their own, but that would not be my choice at all. The guide at one point gave us the experience of getting sucked in by quicksand, and it was not nice at all. So be safe!

At one point I turned to Stefano and said, almost panting, “there’s no bloody way the guide is going to take us all the way to that little dot in the distance, right?” And Stefano, equally out of breath, replied, “no, I don’t think so.” Well, we were both wrong…He did! That little dot turned out to be a tiny island, mainly inhabited by nesting birds today…Our guide told us all about the history…very interesting. Anyway…

The tour is really worth it, in spite of the slightly negative aspects (the slippery mud, _1160720mainly…almost lost my footing a couple of times…that would have totaled my camera, for sure!). We were able to take photos of Mont-Saint-Michel from a completely different perspective compared to the regular tourist who might spend just a few hours inside the town. Not to speak of the spectacular views we had (see the first photo of Saint-Michel, above).

All in all we had an enjoyable holiday…Okay, time to prepare my lessons for tomorrow. Ciao! P.S. if you drag your mouse over the photos, you will find a bit of info about ’em. :-)

“This pill could make your dog (and maybe you) live longer”

That is the title of a FASCINATING article by CNN’s senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, about an experiment involving a few very sick dogs and a compound–also a drug–called rapamycin, discovered in the dirt of Easter Island (it’s a bacterial by-product…yum yum!) and mainly intended for humans with cancer and transplant patients. The article is so full of twists and turns that I am not even going to try writing a synopsis…Here is the link:

But I do have a few comments, as always. Ah yes, rapamycin is being studied in myeloma treatment, too…A number of clinical trials testing rapamycin, and its analogs, such as temsirolimus, on MM patients are going on right now, in fact.

It’s a strong immune suppressor, and it’s also a mTOR inhibitor (like quercetin, I would like to add). I mentioned rapamycin years ago in my quercetin post, which you can find by using the blog’s Search box on the upper right. In fact, if you type mTOR into the above-mentioned Search box, you will also come upon my mTOR-rhubarb post. Hey, I’d forgotten about rhubarb…!!!

At this point you might be wondering what mTOR is. Well, quoting from my 2007 quercetin post, it’s “a really nasty pathway involved with myeloma disease progression. When mTOR is activated, you see, MM cell lines resist being killed.” Bad, bad, bad.

I haven’t done any followup research on this topic, but you can bet your basket of ripe bananas that I am going to have another look at PubMed. And a look at those MM patient trials, too. Very interesting…

Sorry if I sound a bit hurried, if not a bit on the rambling side!!!, but it’s getting late over here, and I must go feed the cats and get dinner started. I’m suddenly STARVING! So…off I go! Ciao! Oh, MANY thanks to Stan for letting me know about this article, btw! :-)

Does turmeric really help protect us from cancer?

That is the question posed by a program called “Trust me, I’m a doctor,” which was recently broadcast on BBC2, a channel that I cannot get here in Italy, unfortunately. I heard about it from some friends in the UK, and then I got to work and found a bunch of articles about the program, one of which I will share with you today. turmeric

The program’s presenter, Michael Mosley, and his team of doctors decided to look into the claims that turmeric can “cure” everything from depression to cancer. So they devised an experiment, which they carried out on 100 volunteers. You can read about it here:

They split the 100 volunteers into three groups–one group took a placebo, another a teaspoon of turmeric powder (mixed in with their food), and the third one took the same amount of TURMERIC in the form of a supplement.

My first note: it appears that the third group didn’t take CURCUMIN, but turmeric, the spice. We’ll get back to that later on.

Blood samples were taken at the beginning of the experiment, then after six weeks. As far as the immune system was concerned, there were no significant changes.

But the results from the DNA methylation test were compleeeeetely different. Methylation, in a nutshell, is a process that can stop genes from working. That can be a bad thing…or a good thing. An example of “bad” is that methylation is can be a BIG trigger for the development of cancer.

I like the way Michael Mosley describes methylation, as “a dimmer switch that can turn the activity of the gene up and down.” Images can really help us understand complicated processes, methinks. Anyway, as far as this experiment is concerned, all we need to know is that, as I said before, methylation can trigger the development of cancer.

The BBC experiment showed no “methylation” difference in the placebo group, and no significant difference in the supplement group, BUT there was a “very significant change in the methylation patterns” in the group using the turmeric powder. And, remember, they were taking just one teaspoon of turmeric a day…

“This is a really striking finding,” said the professor in charge of the experiment.


One gene was affected, in particular…the SLC6A15 gene, which is associated with 1. depression and anxiety, 2. asthma and eczema, and…3. CANCER.

Now, as I mentioned above, my only problem with the experiment is that they apparently tested turmeric, not curcumin, supplements. Had they used a curcumin supplement, I have a feeling that the results would have been different.

That said, the fact that the turmeric powder users cooked with the spice and had this amazing result in such a short period of time confirms what we already knew: that turmeric (and therefore, curcumin) becomes more bioavailable when taken with heat and/or fat.

Another important result of this experiment: for perhaps the first time ever, scientists have shown that a change in diet can have an important effect on gene methylation and, consequently, on our risk of developing cancer. Amazing, eh?

I thought I’d write this post on this rather cloudy/rainy, lazy, and cool autumn morning in Florence…A few hours from now Stefano and I are having lunch with a Harvard classmate of mine (arriving in Florence today), and then the three of us are going to an exhibit of little-known works by Botticelli and Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (isn’t the latter a simply wonderful name? Love how it sounds!). Should be interesting and lots of fun, too…Oh, the sun just came out! Off I go, then. Have a great Sunday, everyone! Ciao! :-)

Voting from the heart

I considered staying silent on this matter. I really did. But then this morning I watched a powerful video that I really wanted to share with you. Here it is, courtesy of ABC News:

_1160803It’s no secret that I’m a Democrat, a registered Democrat in Massachusetts. I’ve posted about it here on the blog. This year, though, I feel more strongly than ever before about what I see going on in the U.S. presidential campaign. This year, I really fear for my country…and this has never happened to me before, not even when I really disliked the other party’s candidate.

And this year, for the first time, I asked myself: “if the Democratic party had chosen a candidate like Donald Trump, would I vote for him?”

No. I couldn’t. I would vote for someone else, even a Republican (yes, I would, if the other choice were a Trump-like character)…or I wouldn’t vote at all, for the first time in my life.

So I don’t follow party lines. I vote because it is my duty to vote, goes without saying, but I also vote because I KNOW that my candidate is going to do a good job and not screw things up for my country and, let’s not forget!, the entire world…

There are a bunch of reasons why I’m bringing up this unusual topic (unusual for a myeloma blog, that is). First and foremost, because, as I mentioned, I am really SCARED. I’m scared about WHOM we might end up electing…

But I am also OFFENDED…deeply offended by what Mr. Trump said, and by all those offhand snide and sneaky remarks he said during Monday night’s debate with Hillary Clinton. (By the way, many thanks to CNN International for re-broadcasting the entire debate, which I was able to watch on Tuesday, around lunchtime.)

It’s not by chance that I am writing this post today, that is, just a few days after the first presidential debate. Here are a few things that really disturbed me while I was watching it…

Let’s start with the housing crisis. When Clinton accused Trump of rooting for the housing crisis, in which thousands of Americans lost their homes, their jobs, their futures, their children’s futures, Trump lowered his head toward the microphone and remarked, and I quote: “That’s called business.”

In other words, he actually bragged about making a profit off the terrible misfortunes of so many Americans. I don’t know about you, but that REALLY bothered and still bothers me. It shows what kind of person he truly is…

Moving on to taxes…Clinton brought up the fact that he has NOT released his tax returns (which is simply OUTRAGEOUS and unheard of for a presidential candidate, btw). The only tax returns we know about are a couple that date to the late 1970s (I forget which years exactly, but that isn’t the point here). These returns show that Trump had paid ZERO income tax. While she was talking about that, he interjected, “That makes me smart.”

Smart????? Really? Now, I’m hardly (hah!) a billionaire, but I have paid my taxes all my adult life. On time, to boot. I have paid taxes in the U.S.A., in Canada (where I did my Ph.D.), and in Italy. It’s our DUTY to pay taxes. It’s the LAW. It’s the right thing to do. But I guess I’m not “smart.”

I would like to add that even though I pay taxes in Italy now, every year I still file my tax return in the U.S.A. (I don’t make enough money to pay taxes in both countries, but I still have to let the IRS know how much I make over here, etc.).

It’s the LAW. The law, Mr. Trump.

Now, I know that NOT paying taxes is a felony in the U.S.A. So I can’t help but wonder how a candidate for the highest office in the country can get away with saying, indeed BOASTING, that he didn’t pay any income tax. In fact, that is almost certainly why he hasn’t released his other, more recent tax returns yet…and why he will undoubtedly NOT release them before the election, mark my words. He doesn’t want us to know that he has always dodged paying taxes.


Are we going to let him get away with it? But, even more importantly, is this the sort of person we want in the White House? Do we think that Trump is a good role model for future generations?

Of course, I could go on and on about all of Trump’s outrageous LIES (according to all the fact checkers, during the debate he told a lie every three minutes or so…every THREE minutes!), his misogyny, his rudeness, his temper tantrums, his ignorance, his womanizing, and even his inability to speak proper English and stay on course whenever he begins a sentence…But that would lead to a very long laundry list. Besides, it’s all there on the Internet…

I would like to end my post with an appeal, an appeal from the heart: fellow Democrats, fellow Independents, fellow Republicans, we NEED to prevent this rude, arrogant, self-centered, dangerous man from getting anywhere near the White House and the Gold Codes…

I pay taxes, I don’t speculate on other people’s misfortunes, I don’t interrupt people, I’m not rude and obnoxious, I don’t call other human beings “fat” “pig” or “slob,” I don’t tell lies (EVER!)…And I vote…

How about you?

P.S: The photo above, on the right, by the way, is of my absentee ballot, which I received yesterday. I am about to fill it out (voting for Clinton, obviously!) and send it off.

Watch and wait. A new blood cancer website

keep-calm-and-wait-and-watchI have a VERY important and exciting announcement to make today:

We finally have a NEW website dealing with the issue of watching and waiting for blood cancers. It discusses issues that are very near and dear to us, particularly “cancer-protective nutrition” and “supplements with CLINICAL evidence.” YAY!

“Watch and wait” doesn’t mean we have to sit back, do nothing, and just wait for the inevitable to happen. No way. There is a lot we can do, as I think I have shown in all these years…The worst thing is to feel helpless, but–as we can read on the homepage of this website–there is absolutely no need for that…

Here is the link:

If you go to “About Us,” you will find that one of the four founders of this great project is Dr. Terry Golombick (j’adore!!!). Incidentally, I owe a big-time apology to her, since I should have written this post a couple of months ago, more or less. But a lot has been going on in my life, and it’s only now that I feel that I can return to blogging on a more regular basis. Still, I apologize, Dr. Golombick!!!

Last but not least, I’d like to thank Dr. Golombick for having included my blog in the section devoted to curcumin.

Such an honor!!! :-)

Watch and wait…wait and watch…but be proactive…always! And, er, be calm, too,,, 😉

Normandy, August 2016

_1140683Continuing with my August holiday posts, I decided not to go for the standard format, that is, “on August 10 we did this, on August 11 we did that, blablabla,” which would turn out to be super boring, but rather jot _1140750down my thoughts about some of the places we visited…a bit similar to random diary entries.

So here goes…

_1140684When our friends arrived from Italy a few days later, we left Paris, and our Normandy adventure began.

The town of Giverny was our first stop. Giverny is famous for one of its inhabitants, Claude Monet, one of my favorite painters ever!!!, who lived and worked there from 1883 until his death in 1926. His house and gardens are absolutely fabulous. Lovely archways with climbing plants, beautiful flowers and plants everywhere, and of course the famous water lily pond…my photos don’t do it justice…

I should add that Monet’s house is also lovely…as are bthe paintings in Monet’s study. But the gardens and the ponds…mmmh, so pretty…well worth the visit…_1140822

The town of Vernon: stop there mainly to take a photo of the 16-century flour mill still hanging over the Seine river (photo no. 4, on the right). It was built on top of the first two piers of an ancient bridge. Before you leave, don’t forget to take some photos of the Medieval town center of Vernon, too.

The stop we made at the 12th century Moulin d’Andé, see, (photo on the left, below…and yes, the two mills look very similar, don’t they?) turned out to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. We arrived at this ancient mill in mid afternoon one day and happened to be very thirsty. So, in my rusty but, I hope!, cute French, I asked the ladies in the mill’s office if we could possibly have something to drink. _1140842They very kindly told me that normally only their paying guests are allowed access to the tea room but that they would make an exception for us (we left some money in one of the boxes before leaving).

It turned out, as you can see from the above link, that this is quite a lively cultural center. As luck had it, we had its quaint little tea room all to ourselves, and one of our friends, who is a jazz musician, was able to play the piano for us. Absolutely delightful. We also visited the mill…inside and outside. I would love to stay there someday, as a paying guest I mean…It was so peaceful…I could easily see myself lying on a lawn chair by the river, reading a book, as some guests were in fact doing…

If you ever plan on stopping at the town of Les Andelys, which was next on our itinerary, let me know. I can recommend an excellent bed & breakfast. The ruins of its castle, the Chateau Gaillard, are definitely worth checking out…plus, it offers a great view from above of the Seine River and valley._1150025

Lyons-la-Foret (photo on the right). A very pretty little town, worth a quick stop (my photo depicts its main square, dominated by the 18-century timber-framed covered market place)…Have a wander around…the town isn’t very big, and offers plenty of pretty photo opportunities.

The city of Rouen–the capital of the region of Normandy. Ahhhh. I fell in love with Rouen immediately, in spite of what happened to me the night we arrived (keep on reading! 😉 ). Rouen has a lovely cathedral (the Notre Dame cathedral, see photo on the left), and _1150071interesting ties both to Joan of Arc and Claude Monet, but no, I’m going to skip the history “lesson,” since you can easily find all that information online. 😉

My photo on the right, below, which I took the day we arrived in Rouen, shows the city’s 14th-century astronomical clock, the Gros Horologe. Lovely. But here we get to the point: I don’t have any truly amazing memories of Rouen, unfortunately, because that is where I became quite sick with my “familiar” 24-hour virus, a virus that I’ve already described here on the blog. This lovely virus normally goes into “attack mode” when/if I get overly tired and/or stressed out. It hadn’t hit me in a long time, though, so I wasn’t expecting it…_1150083

But, in retrospect, I should have been more careful. After all, we had been walking on average about ten kilometers per day. And it was also unusually hot this summer both in Paris and in Normandy. This is an important detail because I don’t do well at all in the heat…never have, never will…absolutely hate it. I’m a cold temperature person… :-)

So yes, yes, yes, I should have rested a bit more instead of being on the go all the time. Easy to say now, after the fact. But, after all, I only missed one day. I mean, I was fine by the time we left Rouen, but that obviously means that I missed most of our planned tour of the city, which was a huge bummer. Of course, Stefano and our friends told me all about what they had seen and where they had gone, and I saw some of Stefano’s photos, and besides–once I felt a bit better–Stefano kept me well supplied with crunchy, buttery, delicious croissants. So, hey, it wasn’t all bad. 😉 Anyway, so much for Rouen…_1150204

Oh, I wanted to note that I’ll be skipping a few of our less interesting stops, such as a couple of abbeys we had a look at as we wound our way up from Rouen to the coast of Normandy. _1150191

We spent one night in Etretat, a small town right on the coast. It is best known for its “falaises,” that is, its famous white chalk cliffs and its three natural arches, which are quite a sight, including the one on the left, above, which Guy de Maupassant described as an elephant’s trunk, if I am not mistaken. We walked all around the falaises and took heaps of photos. Very pretty. Very crowded, though…

_1150275We also spent two nights near Dieppe, a bustling port up the coast from Etretat. I love my photo on the left of an illuminated sign on a building, “Tout Va Bien” (meaning: “Everything’s fine”). It’s actually the name of a restaurant located right on the port. We didn’t eat there, though… But, speaking of restaurants, we had a couple of our best meals in Dieppe…fish-based, of course. Dieppe’s most famous dish is called the “marmite dieppoise,” basically a fish stew. Not my cup of tea, to be honest, but I had other types of fish, which were excellent.

From Dieppe we went on to Le Havre just to visit the museum of modern art (André Malraux)…worth a stop, for sure. The rest of the city, well, can be skipped…just my opinion!

Okay, I think I’ll stop for today. I still have a lot of photos to go through, and it’s hard to pick the ones to publish on the blog, I must say. I have one more post to write, methinks, then I’m done with the holiday and can get on to other, more serious matters. :-)

Antidepressants seem to weaken bones

I just read this bit of news: it looks as though antidepressants have a negative impact on bones.

A Columbia University study found that people who took Prozac for at least a year were at a higher risk of bone fractures and depletion. So if you are taking “some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI),” especially any containing fluoxetine, you should definitely have a look at this “New Scientist” article:

Note that not all SSRIs have a similar effect on bones…

Holiday romance

_1140887It was late in the evening, a few days before the end of our French holiday, and we were in our hotel room in Saint-Malo. Stefano turned to me and said:

You know, I wouldn’t have traveled so much and seen so many wonderful things and places if I hadn’t met you.”


Paris, the first stop on our August holiday…

_1140594Stefano and I hadn’t made any concrete plans to go on holiday this summer, a holiday that Stefano REALLY needed, actually, much more than I did. So when a couple of our closest friends asked us if we might be interested in joining them on a tour of (mainly) Normandy plus a small area of Brittany, we said “yes!” without any hesitation. Traveling with friends and sharing costs = an ideal situation. So off we went, from the second week in August until just a few days ago.

Stefano and I left for France a couple of days before our friends did, in order to visit Paris where we hadn’t been in more than a decade.

Ahhhhh, Paris. Splendid, beautiful as always.

But we did notice some changes. _1140376
There were police vans and heavily armed policemen a bit everywhere–at the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, in front of most of the bridges, etc. It was a constant reminder of the horrifying terrorist attacks (November 2015, etc.).

Speaking of which…our first night in Paris we chose to eat in a restaurant on the Seine river bank…We were inside the restaurant, but practically on the sidewalk via an open set of French doors.

Just as we were about to dig into our main course, we heard a loud noise of screeching tires.
_1140469We looked up and saw a police car come to a halt just a few meters from our table. No, I’m not kidding.

Two policemen carrying assault rifles jumped out and raced over to a car that was stopped in front of them…again, very close to our table. We could see them clearly, speaking with the driver. A third policeman also got out of the car at one point in order to inspect the trunk.

Anyway, nothing happened…but this was another reminder of what the city has been through.

The next couple of posts will be devoted to our adventures in Normandy and Brittany…But now it’s late, and I have to go feed the kitties! Ciao! :-)