Catherine Deneuve & Cate Blanchett Cure the Common Cold

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Photo: Dan Saelinger/Trunk Archive

You’re in the office, rooting around Uniqlo, on a bus, a plane, or trundling along the street and feeling just fine—and then you hear a sneeze.  Turn and run.  If you do not, you will walk into the sneeze cloud.

The air in a sneeze cloud is strangely thick, and there’s a distinct gummy smell to it. The moment you smell it, you’ve lost the next ten days to feeling like crap. Doctors say nothing can be done against a cold but liquids and rest. The stars say otherwise.

Ten minutes before the night flight to Paris took off, Catherine Deneuve stood in the aisle waving a bottle at me. “You have to have this!” she said, “I never fly without it.” Alarming coughs and sniffles came from the passengers around me. Catherine Deneuve probably felt a little bad about having screamed at me—something to do with a cover of French Vogue, that kind of thing happened all the time—and this was her way of making it up. She handed over a little spray bottle. The label said, “Climarome.”

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“Spray it on your hands, your seat cushion, your pillow, your blanket, and put some under your nose,” said Deneuve. “You won’t catch anything that way.”  I landed from the overnight flight healthier than when I’d boarded, and stocked up on Climarome at the pharmacy. The stuff is made (by a master of aromatherapy named Doctor Valnet) of lavender and pine and mint and good fresh air. It works.

I keep one with me at all times, and the moment a sneeze cloud comes my way, I spray. I never travel without it; before I settle into my seat, I spray Climarome on the seat, the pillow, my blanket, my nose, my scarf, my sweater, and my hands, and sometimes I accidentally drench my neighbor, who might think I’m setting out to aggravate their asthma, or even trying to poison the entire plane. This has led to some tense moments. There have been confrontations, especially when the threat level was at orange and my head was covered with a shawl to protect against drafts, which could be construed as sinister foreign dress. But I have usually made peace and converted even the most suspicious—“No, it’s not chemicals, it’s all natural herbs and flowers! It’s organic! It stops you from getting colds! ” They try it, and at the end of the trip they ask where they can get some. “Not in New York,” I sigh.

For a while Annie O stocked it in her boutique at the Rivington Hotel, but now that she does the music series at the Standard Hotel, she has no time to import healthful essential essences. It’s just turned up on Amazon, where it costs more than it does in France.

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I sprayed Climarome all the way through the 16-hour flight across the Pacific on the way to interview Cate Blanchett for Vogue, and when I arrived in Sydney, I felt great, but she had a cold. I found her backstage in her dressing room downing massive spoonfuls of honey from a jar.

“It’s Manuka,” she said. “From New Zealand, it’s a natural antibiotic, and it gets rid of the cold faster.”

I wrote “Manuka” in my notebook, underlined it three times, and did some research. The honey is made from wild Manuka flowers that grow only in New Zealand. The Manuka flower contains a compound called dihydroxyacetone, which gives the honey superior anti-bacterial properties. I have no idea how New Zealand beekeepers keep their bees from inferior flowers; I imagine vast Manuka cages covered in a mesh so fine that no alien pollen can penetrate.

The honey is rated according to something called Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF. The UMF used to be indicated in small numbers— +10, +20.  But the honey from Manuka Health is rated with the letters MGO in bigger, stronger, numbers, and the Manuka Health jars with the blue lids are what I buy. You can get 100+,  250+, 400+, even 550+.

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I found my first Manuka honey on the Internet, but now it’s sold at Whole Foods and health food stores. I buy the 400+ on the principle that a jar of honey that costs the same as a good bottle of wine is better for you than one that costs the same as a jar of Welch’s Grape Jelly. You eat a spoonful from the jar when you need it. You never put it in your tea, because heat destroys that UMF factor .

A skeptical bee-keeper friend recently asked how there could now be so much Manuka honey around, given the rarity of the flower and the size of New Zealand. Faith is part of healing.

I’m used to losing a great many things on planes—address books, jewelry, my sleep, my looks—but Anjelica Huston told me years ago that I was also losing electrolytes, which we can happily think of as sodium,  potassium, calcium, and magnesium. And if you lose your electrolytes, you’re more likely to get sick. To preserve them, she drank Emergen-C through every plane trip. Soon I was carting Emergen-C back to Paris and pouring four packets at a time into Evian bottles that I sipped at smugly through long trips. Given one effect of Emergen-C, it was better to have an aisle seat. An advantage of dosing your bottle of water with Emergen-C is that it imparts a nasty cloudy color—purple for Acai Berry, gray-yellow for lemon—so that no one will swipe your water. Ever.

There are now countless flavors, but the aura of the little packets has dimmed as great walls of boxes of Emergen-C have risen around checkout counters everywhere, in every flavor except bacon.

Anjelica Huston has moved on to the Nutri bullet—a mini blender into which she whizzes spinach, kale, maca powder, walnuts, frozen berries, coconut and cilantro for a jolting morning immunity cocktail. But you can’t use it on a plane.

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I’ve taken advice from people I respect:  The screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury taught me about Zicam melts and Airborne; the guru of holistic electrical current facelifts Marie Liz Unwin urged me to use Quantum Cold & Flu formula, which comes in a dark glass bottle with an eye dropper. Laura Day, the intuitive whose best seller is titled How to Rule The World From Your Couch sprays Sovereign Silver into her mouth.

But the only thing that really works for me comes from the produce aisle.

Shelley Von Strunckel, who is an astrologer in London , once explained that the thymus gland was the key to the immune system, and that thyme strengthened the thymus. This information floated around in my head until one day I walked into a sneeze cloud before I could stop myself. Memory kicked in; I went straight to the health food store, bought three bunches of Thyme, came home, boiled some water, jammed seven thyme stems into a mug, and covered it. After ten minutes the hot liquid smelled like roast lamb, and tasted like a German pharmacy. I didn’t get sick.

People remark how odd it is that I carry bunches of thyme in my bag from October through March. Stoners get excited until they realize it’s only thyme. I endure many puns about time. I don’t care; the bags always smell good, and I don’t get those colds.

On the other hand, no one has said anything useful about allergies.

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