Paris bits and bobs

We got back to Boston last Friday, and even the morning of our departure, I was terribly down. I find myself torn between wanting to be in the mountains/by the ocean, but also wanting the culture and amenities of a proper city. Boston has a pretty good Western food dining scene, but I would not call it a city. I miss the ethnic diversity of major cities, the different neighbourhoods, a proper public transportation system. I am struggling to map out next steps, because I am not sure what the concrete end goal is. Do I try and pursue skiing and climbing as a full-time endeavor, while trying to make a difference in the world and in the lives of others? To do these things simply for fun is not enough. Or do I choose to have these be hobbies, while trying to find meaning and purpose in a career? How do I achieve either of these given constraints – financial, personal, physical etc.?

In the mean time, I am posting some of my favourite photos from my trip. Paris is just a hop-skip away so I know I can always go back. Yet, right now, it seems so so far away.

By total chance, I stumbled into a total gem of a shop: the Librairie des Alpes in the 6th arr. along the Seine. I highly recommend this book store if you are in Paris and at all interested in alpine climbing/mountaineering and the history of it. I got talking with the store owner and expressed my interest in old manuals for climbing, skiing, mountaineering.


I am not sure if there are enough shades of blue in the photo.

These are not the oldest texts I own, but they are still pretty damn cool. This is the 1934 publication of the Alpinism manual from the French Climbing and Mountaineering Federation. The two volumes together are remarkably comprehensive. The first volume covers the “Science” of alpinism e.g. meteorology, geology, snow science and much more. The second volume covers techniques and skills for alpine travel and climbing. It even had a diagram on how to do a hand-jam. Who said the French don’t climb cracks?

1934 publication of the Alpinism manual from the French Climbing and Mountaineering Federation

1934 publication of the Alpinism manual from the French Climbing and Mountaineering Federation

When I am in Boston, my back pain and leg neuropathy can get quite intolerable from work, driving, and the generally sedentary lifestyle outside of being in a gym/weekends. However, I found my pain levels were much lower when I was in Paris, due to all the walking/standing and not sitting at a desk.  This is a clear job requirement, but it is tricky because I need to move/can’t sit (or stand) for extended periods of time, but I also can’t take on a job that revolves around manual labour.

Morning calisthenics along the Seine

Morning calisthenics along the Seine. It is funny, one arm pull-ups are quite easy for me yet there are many other goofy exercises I cannot do.

All the walking in Paris meant that I could eat like this every morning. The croissants and baguettes at Blé Sucré are honestly the best I have ever had, and there other pastries are fantastic too (the madeleines are considered some of the best in Paris).

Blè sucre's pastries are unaware of the impending demise.

Blè Sucre’s pastries are unaware of the impending demise.

While I never tired of going to this bakery for breakfast every morning, I did tire of the museums and old architecture of Paris. Yes, that sounds a bit awful, but I feel like my tolerance/interest in these things is quite low. For our last day, I did not want to see yet another monument, building, etc. So we went to Belleville. This neighbourhood was a big surprise for me, in that I was not expecting to enjoy it so much. Quite a few things there reminded me of Hong Kong, and not just because there are lots of Asian people there: the slightly hillier residential areas, with lots of stairs, the density of restaurants (lots of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Lebanese restaurants)…

I really enjoyed the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Belleville because the paths, foliage, people using it reminded me a lot of the parks in Hong Kong.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Temple de la Sibylle in Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Belleville, Paris.

And, of course, we got up close to the Eiffel Tower. My friend Yves lives very close by to the Eiffel Tower, and picked a wonderful spot for dinner with a great view of it.


Eiffel tower from the Pont de Bir-Hakeim

View of the Eiffel tower from the restaurant on our last night in Paris.

View of the Eiffel tower from the Café de l’Homme on our last night in Paris.

The Eiffel tower later that night.

Same view, different light.

As a total aside…we were riding the Paris Metro and opposite from us, an African man dressed in baggy jeans, a flat brimmed hat, was carrying an instrument I had never seen before. He saw my quizzical look and said in English, It is a Kora. He proceeded to pluck a few strings casually. Beautifully. Then launched into a song in an African language. I have no idea what the origins are of that song, but the spontaneous act of playing this instrument and singing while riding a train, making the people around him smile…this man who would not look out of place on a basketball court in an inner-city neighbourhood…brought me to tears.

Sold out Finals

(I will be writing about my own climbing soon.)

I went to watch the Mens Lead Finals this afternoon. The climbing was at such a high level; but I found the audience to be just as, if not more, amazing. The AccorArena was sold out. There were even people scalping tickets outside the arena. For a climbing competition! That would never happen in the U.S. Climbing, in all its varieties, is a much more recognized and appreciated sport in Europe, as are climbers of all kinds. But I certainly was not expecting so much energy and noise!

Amazing! You would never see even a fraction of this number in the U.S.

Amazing! You would never see even a fraction of this number in the U.S.

A lot can be, and probably has been written about why sport climbing competitions like this do not attract such numbers in the States, and questions asked about why climbing, of all varieties, is less visible/appreciated/attractive in the U.S.  Previously, I had asked a friend how much more do guides in Europe get paid versus guides in America. This led to my friend telling me that in Europe, Guiding as a profession is regarded just as well as any other profession; tailor, doctor, mechanic, white-collar jobs, etc. One reason for this is that for a long time, Europeans had/have to hire a guide to access mountains. Another one might be that climbing and guiding is so much more visible to the public, e.g. on television, non-climbing magazines, more competitions.

Anyway, I was able to watch some very very impressive performances by the finalists.


This photo shows the entire wall. The Italian in motion.

The finalists are introduced.

The finalists are introduced.

The Japanese climbing doing something like a Figure 4!

The Japanese climbing doing something like a Figure 4!

I really enjoyed watching Gautier Supper from France climb. He moved so elegantly. He eventually finished third.

He climbed to third place so beautifully.

He climbed to third place so beautifully.

Adam Ondra was the last finalist to climb.

Adam Ondra about two-thirds of the way up

Adam Ondra about two-thirds of the way up

The crowd went wild when he stuck a very difficult hold at the top and knew he was going to reach the top.

Adam Ondra nearing the finish hold, which he reaches.

Adam Ondra nearing the finish hold, which he reaches.

So that was a fun way to spend part of an afternoon. It felt weird to be sitting in the athletes section, dressed in jeans and a cardigan with a handbag. In some ways, I felt like the other non-paraclimbing athletes must be judging me. Maybe a few did, but it is likely that is just me projecting onto other people.



Tourist overload mode

We found ourselves unexpectedly in tourist mode yesterday, just because we could piece together a number of things along the way to our final stop, dinner.

A large part of me is just not all that interested in seeing the usual tourist sites. It is not the lines and crowds (those suck too). It is worse; I just do not always grasp the significance of a lot of these sites. This is something that worries me quite a bit because I think, wow Wendy, if visiting these places/sites does not make you happy, what will? The explanation is pretty obvious though: a) I tend to be drawn to natural wonders and b) I have experienced so many beautiful/majestic/awesome places and things that I am somewhat jaded to places/things that many people would consider beautiful/majestic/awesome. And that sucks right? I will say though, there are many non-conventional experiences that I enjoy and value.

Is there a difference between being unimpressed (which I often am) and being unappreciative/not realise how lucky you are (which I am often not, but sometimes do forget)? I think so.

With that being said, we found ourselves unexpectedly in tourist mode yesterday. It just so happened we could piece a number of things between our first stop and our final stop (dinner).

We started off at the Marche aux Puces (so literally, a flea market). I realize I do not have as fine an appreciation of some antiques, furniture etc. , but even with this in mind, I was soon bored. The perimeter was just like an oversized Stanley Market, and the interior did not appear to be a place to find deals. The one exception was a shop owner showing us really cool stone implements, the oldest being 24,500 years old. And these.

A Curta: a small mechanical calculator

A Curta: a small mechanical calculator

Makes total sense.

Makes total sense.

We found out a lot of the following sites are along the number 1 (yellow) metro line, aka the Tourist line, so why not?

Arc de Triomphe. You can probably make out all the people who are at the top of the structure

Arc de Triomphe. You can probably make out all the people who are at the top of the structure

Sacre Coeur Basilica is rather unsightly. It has a somewhat interesting history.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, located at the highest point in the city (it's not very high).

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, located at the highest point in the city (it’s not very high).

Today was considerably more relaxed. For once, we did not get a croissant or other pastry from Blé Sucré (baguette, cannele and madeleines don’t count) and had breakfast closer to the March d’Aligre. We went to the market to shop for a light Sunday night and Monday night dinners (we have been frequenting this fromagerie) because we have the lunch tasting menu at Arpege in between! I honestly have no idea how I will fit 12+ courses in me.

Scott had to have his falafel sandwich at L’As du Fallafe, so off we went.


The fallafel shrine

The fallafel shrine

Scott’s tolerance for lines is about as bad as mine, so the fact that he would wait in this line says something about the fallafel.

This is the takeout line in front of us. Not pictured is the takeout line behind us and the restaurant seating line. All are very long.

This is the takeout line in front of us. Not pictured is the takeout line behind us and the restaurant seating line. All are very long.

It was good. Very good.


Behold. The best fallafel sandwich in Paris (to some/most)

Our next stop at the Musée des Arts et Métiers isn’t really touristy at all, but it felt like it as our feet grew more tired.

It was worth it though. I mean, it’s not every day you get to see this.

Foucalt's ACTUAL pendulum!!

Foucalt’s ACTUAL pendulum!!

Or this.

Pascal's calculator. I mean, that's pretty f'ing cool.

Pascal’s calculator. I mean, that’s pretty f’ing cool.



Another side of Paris

After the disappointment of just how poorly I had done in Qualifiers (future post on this), Scott proposed walking along Canal Saint Martin. With the lovely weather, I thought this was a very good idea. We decided to start our walk out of the metro station Juares (look along orange line 5 on the right bank side), and were immediately struck by all these tents right outside the station and all along the canal. These tents went on a fair distance and looked like fairly long-term residences for what seemed to entirely Middle Eastern people. My first thought was, are these refugees?

There were tents both at canal and street level (Photo:

There were tents both at canal and street level (Photo:

It turns out they are. I had no idea such a large encampment could exist so visibly and in a gentrified area such as Canal Saint Martin.

This picture gives you a bit of a clue of the litter around the camps (Photo:

This picture gives you a bit of a clue of the litter around the camps (Photo:

As I approached each section of tents/men, I quickened my pace, clutched my handbag, to get past them. It made me wonder, why do you feel threatened by these refugees? Part of the answer is I did not know for certain they were refugees. And I think that a long row of men, of any race/status is threatening. Except for frat boys or guys at a American football game.


One of the locks along the canal.

While our walk was not as scenic as we expected, it yielded information on one of the many issues Paris deals with.

Paris: MurMur, Le Marais

It is only Monday but we have had such full and tiring days that it seems like we are further into the trip.

This morning

This morning

Scott sneakily took this picture of me this morning

Scott sneakily took this picture of me this morning

To keep things loose, I wanted to stretch out a bit at a climbing gym. My friend Yves very kindly procured a day pass for me to climb with him at Mur Mur, a climbing gym located outside the Peripherique. It took us about an hour to get there via metro and walking. It was interesting to see neighbour hoods outside the Peripherique. Mur Mur’s seems heavily North African. The gym itself is fantastic. It has really interesting routes on all sorts of topography. The variety and features of the walls was particularly impressive. I also like that you have to lead to put a rope up (and Mur Mur has ropes you can use) rather than just have all these top-ropes hanging.

Part of the Mur Mur lead area

Part of the Mur Mur lead area

Mid-afternoon sustenance:

Raspberry Millefeuil with Yuzu cream filling. This is how Millefeuil should be. And a chocolate eclair.

Raspberry Millefeuil with Yuzu cream filling. This is how Millefeuil should be. And a chocolate eclair.



After a break at home to let outside temperatures cool down a bit, we headed to the Marais. The architecture is nice but, frankly, the pricier shops/chains were pretty boring.

We had dinner at Cafe des Musees in the Marais, mostly because they are open on Mondays (most French establishments are not), and it got good reviews online. We were, yet again, surprised by what amazing food could come out of a bistro kitchen.

My appetizer: "Notre spécialité : Champignons de Paris farcis aux escargots." The escargot stuffed mushrooms are covered in simple clarified butter, garlic, parsley, some kind of spinachy/herby puree.

My appetizer: “Notre spécialité : Champignons de Paris farcis aux escargots.” The escargot stuffed mushrooms are covered in simple clarified butter, garlic, parsley, some kind of spinachy/herby puree.

Paris, arrival!

We arrived! Our journey from Boston to CDG was uneventful, and the taxi ride from the airport to our apartment was perhaps the fastest I have experienced (it was a Sunday morning I guess). It’s a bit hard to characterize exactly what neighbourhood we are in. We are in the 12th arr. near Bastille, a short walk to marche d’Aligre, right near the Ledru-Rollin metro. Maaaaybe the edge of Canal St. Martin? Feels more like Bastille to me. I already love the area. It is full of real people.

Our apartment on Avenue Ledru Rollin

Our apartment on Avenue Ledru Rollin


We are on the 4th floor (U.S. 5th floor)

The bas reliefs in the entrance way of our apartment building are really beautiful.


his is ete (summer).


Hiver (Winter)


Printemps (Spring)

Automn (Autumn)

Automn (Autumn)

To my pleasant surprise, the apartment has a lift. Not having to trudge up five flights of stairs (the ceilings of each floor are very high too) will save me a lot of energy. The lift is very small and without ventilation. I sure as hell would not like to be stuck in it.

The lift is very small one and without any ventilation. Myself and those two bags are the maximum it can hold. Just Scott and me is pushing it too.

Myself and those two bags are the maximum it can hold. Just Scott and myself is pushing it too.

The apartment was larger than expected. It is so great to have a welcoming and comfortable place to have as home base for the next fortnight.

Home for the next 2 weeks!

Home for the next 2 weeks!

View down from our apartment down to the street. It is very important to have a cafe at every possible corner.

View down from our apartment down to the street. It is very important to have a cafe at every possible corner.

Keeping in line with the building's shape

Keeping in line with the building’s shape


Our breakfast balcony

This is a teeny-tiny "bedroom" in the apartment. Probably where you send your child into banishment. Yes, even being 5'1" with a negative ape index, my arm-span is wider than the "room"

This is a teeny-tiny “bedroom” in the apartment. Probably where you send your child into banishment. Yes, even being 5’1″ with a negative ape index, my arm-span is wider than the “room”

We managed to get to the marche d’Aligre before it closed early on a Sunday. The market is just a 5 to 10 minute walk from us, meaning we have access to ridiculously good boulangeries, pâtisseries, fromageries, produce and vegetable stands, fish, and meat. It is, conveniently, somewhat on the way to the Accor Arena where the climbing competition will be held.

After a much needed break in the apartment, we headed to the place de la Bastille. It looks like a pretty happening neighborhood which we will explore more later.


Colonne de Juillet, place de la Bastille

We took another slight detour to walk through the place des Voges.


place des Voges

The topiary in the place des Voges is pretty cool

The topiary in the place des Voges is pretty cool

One wonderful thing in Paris is the unexpected courtyards hidden behind closed doors. At first I thought the facade of this gallery was some kind of industrial looking store-front, but upon walking in, we discovered this cool space.


A totally unexpected art gallery in an industrial courtyard. Here I am looking quite disheveled and tired.

All the walking took a toll on my back and left leg, so I was very happy to eat at the well-regarded bistro our apartment sits above. The bistro surprised us with their incredibly interesting, well-made and well-presented food.

A lovely close to not even a first full day.

Sunset from our apartment. Notice the cool mammatus clouds, which I rarely see (at least in the U.S.)

Sunset from our apartment. Notice the cool mammatus clouds, which I rarely see (at least in the U.S.)

It’s getting real…

My USA Climbing kit arrived today. It feels a bit strange…one of the reasons why I am drawn/suited to climbing is that I thrive on being high up on a rock and alone for the climb. Now, I am only just starting to feel like I am going to be competing as part of a team. As usual, I am nervous about the competition and my ability to on-sight a route well. I may not be climbing as well as I did this time last year, but I am reminded that I came back from nearly dying to being close to full-strength.

I guess it is official.

I guess it is official.

A description of my sepsis episode

My partner sent a Washington Post article to me (copied below since I do not have a paid subscription), titled “Sepsis is a medical emergency, CDC says. It can be stopped if caught in time.” It is like the article author was watching a video of me. Quite sobering to think that I fell in the 40 to 70 percent mortality range.

Sepsis is a medical emergency, CDC says. It can be stopped if caught in time.

By Arlene Karidis August 23 at 2:43 PM
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared sepsis a medical emergency, reporting Tuesday that about 72 percent of patients with this fast-moving and deadly illness have recently been seen by doctors and nurses, representing missed opportunities to catch it early or prevent it.The most common illnesses leading to sepsis include pneumonia and infections of the urinary tract, skin and gut, the CDC said in its report. There is no specific test for sepsis and symptoms can vary, which means it is often missed. But the report outlined several ways medical personnel could act, including vaccinating against pneumonia, preventing infections by washing hands and increasing general awareness of sepsis.

“When sepsis occurs, it should be treated as a medical emergency,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement.

[The bacteria-fighting super element making a comeback in hospitals: Copper.]

While the deaths this year of actress Patty Duke and boxing legend Muhammad Ali (and Muppets creator Jim Henson in 1990) have brought attention to sepsis, fewer than half of Americans know what the condition is, according to Thomas Heymann, executive director of the Sepsis Alliance.

“There is a lot of work to do to change that,” he said, and noting that, despite common belief, sepsis is more often contracted in community settings than in hospitals. Tuesday’s CDC report said sepsis began outside of the hospital for 80 percent of patients.

Megan Jones is an example of how quickly sepsis can develop. She went in for knee surgery after a sports injury one day in 2004 and was home eating pizza a few hours later. She tossed away her crutches the next day; then a 20-year-old living near Annapolis, she was feeling pretty good.

But a week later she was back in the operating room: Her knee had swollen to about triple its normal size; it throbbed intensely, and she had spiked a high fever. “As I was drifting off from the anesthesia,” Jones recalled, “I heard my surgeon say, ‘If we don’t move now, she is going to die’ ” as the doctors began working to clean out the infection she had contracted, probably from the first surgery.

In addition to the severe swelling, pain and fever that Jones experienced, classic symptoms include a body temperature that is too low, an elevated heart rate, a high respiratory rate and white blood cell counts that are too high or low. Sepsis can ravage tissue; it causes organ dysfunction, and it kills: According to the CDC, more than 258,000 Americans die of the condition annually, more than the number of deaths from heart attack.

Sepsis deaths are difficult to track because there is no test for it and no standard definition. As a result, death certificates may not offer a reliable count. But some figures suggest death rates are climbing. In-hospital deaths rose from 128,766 in 2009 to 159,690 in 2013, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported. Mortality is probably even higher than that, according to AHRQ, because its figures account only for primary and not secondary sepsis diagnoses.

Sepsis is most common among older people, the very young and those with compromised immune systems, particularly if they have chronic diseases such as AIDS, have had surgery or take immunosuppressant drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy. Along with antibiotic resistance and invasive surgeries, a rise in the use of those drugs is believed to be responsible for the higher sepsis numbers.

Jones’s second surgery was the start of a rocky ride to rid her body of the aggressive microorganisms. She has since had numerous others to prevent or control re-emerging sepsis, to rebuild part of her leg damaged by spreading infection and finally to amputate the limb above the knee.

Sepsis is so difficult to control that even though Jones went to her doctor quickly and he diagnosed her condition by the severity and rapid onset of her symptoms, the infection wasn’t eliminated.

One of the biggest hurdles in treating sepsis can be identifying it, and quickly, because the condition can rapidly advance to septic shock, where blood pressure drops so low that blood does not reach vital organs.

Aside from specialists in critical and intensive care, it is not uncommon for doctors to miss sepsis, according to Steven Simpson, a professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Even those well versed in sepsis debate how best to diagnose it.

“It gets tricky,” Simpson said, “because some symptoms result from multiple conditions. Also, not everyone has the same responses, often because something else may be going on to mask symptoms, such as the effects of certain medications. But we know you can improve mortality with the right actions.”

His hospital, he said, made an astounding reduction in its sepsis mortality rate, from 49.1 percent in 2004 to 7 percent in 2015. The turnaround, Simpson said, came about not because of medical breakthroughs but from persistent efforts to catch it early and treat it quickly and aggressively, with antibiotics a mainstay of treatment.

Attention to the condition has been encouraged by a Medicare rating system that includes sepsis outcomes in hospitals. Yet many still fall behind, Simpson said.

In 2011, sepsis was the No. 2 reason for readmissions, following congestive heart failure. Forty percent of those sepsis readmits could have been prevented with timely and appropriate care, according to a study in the journal BMJ in 2015.

When sepsis is caught early, prognosis is very good, but mortality climbs to 25 to 30 percent for severe sepsis and 40 to 70 percent if septic shock occurs. “Early” can mean within a matter of hours. One study found that once a person goes into septic shock, chances for survival decrease 7.6 percent for every hour that it goes untreated.

Physicians trained to look for sepsis typically see warning signs in fever, elevated heart rate, elevated respiration and low blood pressure, said Henry Masur, chief of critical care medicine at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda.

“We use these vital signs and supplement with a history and preliminary lab work [such as white blood cell count] to determine whether to admit and whether to go straight to the intensive care unit or a general medical floor,” he said.

If he suspects sepsis, he will first address low blood pressure by administering fluids, ideally increasing pressure so blood will circulate to organs.

If the fluids don’t work, he begins IV drugs to constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure. He starts patients on broad-spectrum antibiotics that are likely to attack multiple organisms while he awaits culture results to reveal the actual offender. Then he narrows the drug arsenal to those most likely to target the problem. If he can identify the original source of infection, he drains that spot.

“So basically, outcome depends on fluids, blood pressure, antibiotics and source control. But it also depends on what organs are affected and underlying health status. Some people turn around in a few hours; some in days, weeks or months. Some will, unfortunately, die,” Masur said.

Knowing the symptoms

A rapid pulse, fast breathing, and swelling and red tissue should put people on guard. The most troubling symptoms are a combination of intense pain and mental confusion that worsens within a few hours, Simpson said. “If you have these symptoms, ask the doctor in these words: ‘Is this likely sepsis?’ ”

Practitioners also urge that people of all ages get vaccinated for the flu, that those older than 65 get vaccinated for pneumonia and that teenagers get vaccinated for meningococcal meningitis. These are among the infections that can lead to sepsis.

For Megan Jones, “having one leg and the ongoing risk for serious infection changes how you live,” she says. “Everything has to be handicap-accessible; you need antibiotics for when you travel, just in case; I have all my doctors’ home and cell numbers.”

After a fever triggered seizures last August, she gets post-sepsis headaches. Still, she calls life “stable and normal” overall.

“I am doing my graphic design and writing. I get around well with crutches or a wheelchair, and I drive. I realize waking up is a good day when you know you came close to not being able to do that again.”

World Championship bound

Well, I can parallel park (both sides) like a champ again, so I must be fully recovered!

The World Championships in Paris are just over three weeks away. Since the last World Championships, the various categories have changed, mainly to discretize formerly broad groups into smaller groupings that better represent different ability levels. This applied to my category, which is basically the “you don’t fall into any of the other categories, so we will just plop you here.” This meant that my category was the largest and most competitive in the competition (men and women). This year, my category was broken down to better separate climbers of very different abilities. Some competitors do not have any apparent impediments. Others have minor ones, such as having one leg slightly shorter than the other, but with full muscle function. I was probably the most “disabled” and would have fallen into the “less able” category this year. However, because the minimum number of participants was not met, I will be competing with the big group. The competition this year looks even fiercer and larger. All the women stand a good 5 to 10 inches taller than me!

Short (5’1″), negative ape-index, gimpy. I picked the perfect sport!

Tickets have been purchased, accommodation has been arranged, the list of food destinations is long.