mercredi 25 février 2009

The reason we come here, and au revoir

Baccarat discovers skiing

She still doesn't know that's why we come -- essentially -- to this place she'd probably prefer to Moosesucks.

You and me, Bac. You and me.

She was so surprised by the humans gliding down the packed trails, heading over to the lifts up to Grands Montets that I decided to walk on over to the chairlift and Gondola up to the slopes with them, just to see what sort of reaction that would draw. I was not disappointed! Rapide couldn't take her eyes off the chairlifts moving this way and that overhead, skis dangling into the air. Baccarat darted back and forth, from me to under the chairs, and back again.

And as if the morning hadn't been packed enough with excitement and pleasures, they found a new friend with whom to play; the dog of a lovely woman with a Nordic or German lilting accent in her French, setting out from Grands Montets on her cross country skis. I regretted my American one. A poor exchange. It was a little like a French for beginners conversation.

"Ils sont gentils?"

"Oui, ells sont très, très gentilles."

"Le mien aussi, il est très gentil."

"Elles adorent jouer avec un autre chien."

"Oui!" dit-elle, "Ils aiment jouer ensemble!" I could hear her smile in her voice, even though I was too far to see her correctly, and I was busy watching the dogs race around my legs.

"Il y a des gens qui n'apprécient pas qu'on laisse jouer nos chiens avec les leurs, mais ici, ce n'est pas le cas. Tout le monde comprend que les chiens en ont besoin."


"Allez, Rapide. Allez, Baccarat. On laisse la dame faire son promenade de ski! Viens! Au pied!" I wanted to take this nice woman home with me and keep her forever. Her dog, too.

It was our last day, and if I knew Sam (and I do know Sam), he was still sleeping. The sun in the sky, light clouds moving through the valley, he'd regret having missed time skiing, but never enough to get up. By evening, he was snoring on his bed, fully dressed still in his ski clothes, when I decided to come down to the lounge and met the pilot and the photographer. A boy needs his 12 hours, especially after a day furious that he can't throw a 360° at will and get air every time. It's not easy, I try to console him, when you live in the muddy French countryside, just this side of Normandy.

For those who have never been here, or to a place like this, I include the next two bits of video that I took yesterday, riding the chairlift Rapide and Baccarat saw earlier in the morning. When I first came to Chamonix with Sam, 10 years ago, I was immensely disappointed when we arrived in the valley around noon because there was practically no snow visible and I couldn't see a single trail or skier. I had come to one of the top ski resorts in the world, a sort of fairy tale trip for a single mom and her little boy, and all I saw was dirty snow in the streets of a fairly good sized city, settled between tree-covered slopes. I settled us in for a nap for our jetlag, hoping to awake to a new sight.

Inquiring later, we were told that the skiing is accessible via gondola at the higher altitudes. All I could see were rock peaks covered in snow. Up there?



The next morning, we got our equipment, bought our week ski passes and headed to the gondola -- téléphériques -- up to the nearest of the 5 stations just above us, le Brévent. The gondola rose up through the trees, higher and higher along the lower slope of the mountain, and then, suddenly, it cleared the trees, and we were surrounded by brilliant white snow and skiers, everywhere. We stepped off into the most stunning winter landscape I had ever encountered. It took my breath away to leave the city below and find myself in a skier's paradise, completely removed from everything that has nothing to do with the purest air and skiing.

We have returned every year since then, save one.

From the valley base, the lower portion

Arriving at the top

From here, you have to ski down to another chairlift, down a slope to where the gondola arrives -- for those who prefer not to take the series of chairs, but we don't like to wait for the gondola -- and then you can take one of the chairs or the "eggs" -- les oeufs -- up to the top of Bochard or another spot from which another red and two blacks take off. There is a second gondola, which we didn't take this year, that does to the very top, and from there, you can ski down the glacier of Argentière. For this, you need a costlier pass, or to pay 10 euros per person per trip. We did this last year, and it would be well worth it for me to track down those photos, probably taken with Sam's camera. Stunning.

And a 360° panoramic of the view from the top of Bochard,

And, since there was a specific request to see Sam, and not just the dogs, here you go. I did my best. The subject was less than enthusiastic.

Time to finish loading the car, pay the hotel bill, and leave the valley. I could stay here at least until the snow melts, the rhododendrons bloom, and the summer hiking begins, and then stay on again.

When I return, I will find the balcony mostly finished on our house. That's another story. They did come on Monday, a week late, just as Audouin was threatening to have our lawyer take action. Joaquim bent his ear for two hours on the telephone, explaining all over again -- all he needs is reason to be excited and an audience of one -- how Eric had made a mess of everyone and abused us all.

There is certainly a true story in all that is said by the various parties, but I am so, so sick of it. All I wanted was my delapidated house renovated so that I could live in it more happily, and I have to live a Portuguese soap opera.

What is certain is that in the end, we will get less for more.

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