Saturday, 3 December 2016

apothecary stories

One thing that makes me happy is stumbling upon little gems like the apothecary museum of Alexandria. Two hours earlier I didn't even know it existed and now I am the owner of an impressive photo collection of pharmaceutic bottles on my phone. It's a little piece of heaven for nostalgic souls like me and I'm happy to be able to share it here on my blog.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary closed its doors in 1933 after declaring bankruptcy and its last owner - Edward S. Leadbeater Jr. - died a few days later, putting an end to a long family business story that started back in 1792. Luckily for us, the apothecary was preserved as is with the original shop furnishing and objects such as mortars and pestles, those incredibly beautiful hand-blown medicine bottles with gold-leaf labels standing on old, wooden shelves, formula books, prescriptions (whereof one is written out for Martha Washington, George Washington's wife), journals, letters, invoices, boxes with magical inscriptions: dragon's blood, prickly ash (and not ass like I initially thought) berries, unicorn roots...

Typography, vintage signs, beautiful brick walls, squeaky wood floors, drawers with porcelain knobs, all so well preserved. And the manufacturing room on the second floor where the medicine was prepared is incredible to step into.

The part I'm not so nostalgic about is how approximate the science was at the time. It seems a lot of the time luck was your best ally in getting well. Some of the treatments worked, some where mostly about drinking alcohol (which in high amounts sure does make you feel better), for babies too, some didn't work and some would actually worsen your condition or maybe even kill you.

I found an interesting article about these little blue pills - not the ones you're thinking about - the (in)famous blue mass pills Abraham Lincoln apparently took, a mercury-based medicine widely used from the late 17th century to the 19th (you can see a box on the very first picture of this post if you scroll back up). Originally used to treat syphilis it ended up being used as a remedy for tuberculosis, toothache, childbirth pain, constipation, you name it. At the time they didn't know how toxic it was in high doses or that it could lead to heavy-metal poisoning. Each blue mass pill contained at least 33% mercury and if you took a typical prescription of 2-3 pills per day you would be more than 100 times above the limits set today. Imagine a treatment running over several weeks or even months...

Lincoln's heavy and regular intake of these blue mass pills as a remedy for his "melancholy" (what we would probably call depression today) is said to be the reason for his violent rage attacks and the erratic behaviour he was subject to over a period of years. He would clearly not have passed a drug test if Donald Trump had been around at the time to ask him for one...

A chicken foot for good luck? Or maybe I just don't get apothecary jokes.

It was also a time where doctors would bleed you to make you feel better (didn't exactly work out for George Washington). They weren't even all doctors, sometimes just barbers using leeches or simply cutting open a vein and draining the blood. This was when blackheads were thought to be tiny worms burrowing into your skin - just when you thought blackheads couldn't get any grosser - and when an ointment of sage, chamomile, bay leaves and red roses was thought to be efficient to treat breast cancer. I'm sure a lot of modern parents would have loved the "soothing syrup syringes" for babies containing pure morphine, sweet dreams guaranteed for the entire family.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary is located in Alexandria, Maryland, a short drive from DC.  For 5 dollars you will get the grand tour of this little museum.

Address and opening hours can be found here

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Saturday, 12 November 2016

the perfect weekend getaway

t h e   i n n  a t  p e r r y  c a b i n  b y  b e l m o n d

It's very difficult to wake up in surroundings like these and not feel an overwhelming sense of serenity and gratitude. We had just left DC behind us and crossed the bridge to Chesapeake Bay the evening before and now that I think about it, this is probably the best way to discover a new place, arriving when night has already fallen, tired from a long week, quickly unpacking in the light of a fire roaring away in the fireplace of your room, slipping into a warm bath and then in the arms of Morpheus, having seen nothing yet of the Eastern Shore of Maryland except for a starlit sky. And then this.

I woke up early, got dressed randomly (read: put back on yesterday's clothes) and went outside. The Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond is facing the Miles river and that makes it a perfect sunrise spot. That morning it was just me, a few birds and the calming sound of boats rubbing against the berth while the sun slowly came out announcing an extraordinarily warm November day, a complete change of scenery from DC even though it's less than 2 hours away.

Travelling with teenagers has taught me it isn't a very good idea to run into their room and wake them up this early while enthusiastically flailing your arms and screaming "look, look" no matter how beautiful the sunrise is, so we let them sleep while enjoying the quietness, the first rays of sunlight on our terrace, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Did you know that if you don't drink coffee you get to eat all the scones? Mild remorse once we got to the breakfast table.

There have been a lot of stress factors in our lives these past few months. Moving from Paris to DC is a big thing. It's a long process full of goodbyes, drastic changes, paperwork frustration and a lot of unknown. Deep down it's about being sure you're making the right choice and moments of doubt will sneak up on you from time to time. It's also a balancing act when there are several people in your household and you don't all go through the same phases simultaneously. In other words a break away from all of that was well needed, a chance to slow down time and spend it together. Too much stress will make you forget what's important in life and why you're here at all. This weekend and the serene surroundings allowed us to do just that.

A couple of hours with the wind in your hair under a blue, blue sky will certainly help putting your worries behind you. Our captain Jason took us to remote, unspoiled reaches of the Myles River and Chesapeake Bay while telling us more about the area, the Canadian geese flying above us, crab fishing, the town of St Michaels, its famous Maritime Museum.

The hotel has several boats you can rent for a cruise, a few hours, half a day, a sunset trip, whatever suits your needs. There are both sailing boats and yachts and there's even a sailing academy where you can sign up for classes. We had a cheese platter prepared by the hotel that we enjoyed while at sea and our daughter got a private lesson or at least got to pretend she was the captain for part of the trip. An unforgettable moment and a perfect introduction to the Eastern Shore for our first time here, a lot of beautiful islands, shores and houses that one can only dream about.

If you're not a sailing person there are plenty of other activities such as the incredible Maritime Museum I already mentioned and the cute town of St Michael's right next to the Inn at Perry Cabin. During our two day-visit we went there on the hotel's complimentary bicycles for ice cream, took a stroll through its main street, visited the local Lyon Distillery and did some whiskey tasting. We also took the car for a little trip to nearby Easton, we went kayaking (the hotel has both kayaks and paddle boards for you, you just need to sign up) and also practised some less ambitious but no less pleasant activities such as taking a nap in the afternoon sun and enjoying a glass of wine in front of the outdoor fireplaces facing the river while the sun set. 

And if you think we weren't already completely relaxed by now we also indulged in one of the Linden Spa's treatments. It's one of the top spas of Maryland and we went for the in-room couples deep tissue massage. They set up everything in our room and I have to admit the toughest part was realising our two masseuses Sarah and Natalie didn't fit into my suitcase. 

If you're going, don't miss out on the hotel's Stars restaurant. We had a delicious dinner here, tasting local specialities such as crab cakes and rock fish, some delicious desserts (the wine card is great too, we tried our first Pinot Noir from Oregon) and finished the evening with S'mores by the outdoor fireplace roasting homemade marshmallows and telling stories in front of the fire.

One last cup of coffee, one last cookie and it's time to head back to DC. Driving over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge it feels all right to be on our way home. You know how sometimes it's much too soon and the weekend flew right by without you barely noticing it? This Sunday evening doesn't feel like that. We had time, together, we unwound, there where precious slow moments amidst all these great activities. I think it's the place, the serenity of it that somehow rubs off on you. I'm sure we'll be back, maybe in spring for the hydrangeas.

You can read more about the Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond right here 

Condé Nast Readers Choice Awards just named it one of the Top Hotels in New York State and the Mid Atlantic.

Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond
308 Watkins Lane, St Michaels, MD 21663, USA
Tel: 1 410 745 2200

[Fun fact: A large part of the movie "Wedding Crashers" with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn was filmed here.]

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

apple picking

w a l k i n g    t h r o u g h    o r c h a d s

Did we just create a new family tradition? Together with what seemed to be most other families of DC... Could be. I definitely wouldn't mind doing this every year. I really enjoy activities linked to the change of seasons for reasons I can't quite explain, maybe it gives me a carpe diem feeling, saying goodbye to one season, greeting the next one, realizing it with my own eyes, enjoying the characteristics of each one. Of course it makes it a lot better under a beautiful bright and blue autumn sky. Watching the sunlight filtered through the rows of trees, picking your own apples (that lovely little sound when the branches let go of them), listening to the wind and feeling the sun in your face it makes these apples better. Even before you've tasted them. We picked some beautiful non-shiny pink ladies and cameos (not a big fan of shiny apples) with richer colours than the ones you'll find in most supermarkets, more orange, more purple & pink, less red. It's a pleasure just looking at them. We'll be eating them like that this week and baking too of course: apple crumble, apple jam & thin French apple tarts, because new traditions should always be paired with old ones.

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