lundi 30 mars 2009

Spring skiing aux Portes du Soleil, Euphoria gracias!

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

I love Euphorbia characias. It sounds like Euphoria gracias! Thanks for immense bliss, ecstasy, elation, exhilaration, jubilation, exaltation, exultation and glee!

I bought these two Euphorbia characias plants last year and stuck them in amongst the overpowering mint alongside the steps to the second terrace last year. They weren't much to behold. I bought them wilted and on sale at Florosny at the end of the season just because I wanted some of this plant, but having no specific intention for it [trans.: no plan worked out requiring them]. Just plant them, let them establish themselves somewhere suited to them, and figure the rest out later.

Is it later yet?

So, I accompanied Audouin to les Gets, part of Les Portes du Soleil ski resorts some 20 kilometers north of Chamonix as the crow flies, but not as the car drives, last week. We returned last evening. We'll take our car next time.

What an odessy.

We left the hotel to return to Paris yesterday with friends on the trip with us -- colleagues of my husband's from his hospital -- at 9:30 am in the rental car one of them had gotten in desperation, fearful that there wouldn't be a navette to Morzine, where the conference was actually taking place, and from where the bus to the train station in Thonon-les-Bains was leaving at 3 pm, and arrived home to two very happy dogs, two cats trying to appear indifferent, and one very pleasingly pleased son at 11 pm. If you only count our departure from 3 pm, that was still at least 8 hours. It takes about 6 1/2 by car, traveling at the speeds of an adult with a full driver's license.

We had had navette issues in les Gets - Morzine since we arrived Wednesday night. So, Wednesday night's one was there, diligently waiting for us at the conference center in Morzine to deliver us to our hotel in les Gets 7 kilometers away, when we got off the bus that had met us at the TGV in Bellegarde sometime after 11 pm, but it seemed to be the last one on which we could count, at least when we'd need one. As it was, our companion on the bus ride Wednesday night from the train station in Bellegarde to Morzine was only gradually recovering in Audouin's company from his foul mood, the product of having been deposited by the 4 pm TGV from Paris in Bellegarde only to discover that there was no bus to Morzine there to meet his train, and -- the salt in the wound -- he was the only conference participant on that train. The next bus hired by the conference planners to take those of us arriving from the Paris area to Morzine was to meet our TGV, 3 hours later.

You have to actually travel to Bellegarde to formulate a concept of just how bleak this news is, and just how aggravated you would be, were you he.

The train station in Bellegarde sur Valserine is a step below ours in Mantes la Jolie. There is not even a kiosk selling newspapers and magazines, candy and gum. Nothing. There is only a ceramic-tiled tunnel connecting the several platforms, disgorging the passengers not continuing all the way to Geneva in a miniscule vestibule at the parking lot, where a closed hotel café showed how much Bellegarde cares to welcome its arriving visitors and own.

Actually, let's hope there is no relationship whatsoever between the availabilty of hospitality and Bellegarde's interest in seeing people travel there.

There might have been benches upon which to sit. There was a cart selling sandwiches, and Antoine counted the numbers of each of the three types available for sale -- jambon et beure, jambon et fromage, et fromage -- until there were no sandwiches, or no passengers to whom to sell them, left. About 15, he concluded.

"J'ai failli faire demi-tour pour rentrer aussitôt."

"Jusqu'à Paris?" I asked, amazed. Audouin had told me that he is somewhat impetuous, mais sacré bleu!


He had called our contact for the conference organization and explained the situation. Full of apologies, she suggested that he take a cab. The company that had invited my husband's group would reimburse him. He thanked her, refused politely and sat down to think. He'd checked on a taxi from Bellegarde to Morzine... 300 or 350 euros would do it, and this being France, he was shocked, amazed, scandalized and refused to pass such a bill along to the company paying our way. Somehow, he summoned the calm and the resources to withstand 3 hours waiting as night fell in a drizzly Bellegarde evening.

This unpropitious beginning summed up our transportation woes for the remainder of our stay in the Haute Savoie sans voiture, ending with our missing several possible hours of skiing on our last day, yesterday -- for which we had acquired passes -- for fear that we'd never get to Morzine and our bus, only to hear from the conference director that we could have had a navette to bring us at any of the times we had needed one.


"Mais vous ne le saviez pas?" she exclaimed, dans un état d'étonnement.

"Mais non."

"Thierry vous n'a rien dit?" she asked, full of wonder and amazement. Thierry was the maître d'hôtel at our hotel, said to be worth the distance from Morzine for it's quality, as well as the more charming nature of les Gets, certainly smaller than Morzine these days, anyway.

"Non, Thierry nous a dit qu'on pouvait vous appeler, sans préciser que vous l'avez informé depuis ces derniers 12 ans qu'il n'a que de nous appeler l'une des navettes du congrès." It appears that the succession of front desk attendants at La Marmotte over the last 12 years that the conference has housed people in this hotel has caused a failure to communicate the precious information that their guests attending the Conference of Fetal Medicine are to be transported between the hotel and Morzine at times other than before breakfast has scarcely begun to be served and after lunch time and corresponding with their needs and convenience, within -- of course -- reason.

"Comprenez," she sought to make herself clear, "on a eu une dame une année qui a fait appeler une navette du spa dans son hôtel pour l'amener à Morzine dans une demi heure, et ça -- ça, vous comprenez, on ne peut pas gérer, mais de vous amener à l'hôtel pour vous changer pour le dîner et vous ramener à Morzine ou vous descendre pour prendre le car à la gare c'est tout à fait autre chose!"

Ah bon. It seemed that Thierry had indeed failed to communicate to his reception staff this most critical information, but worse, we let her know, he seems to have forgotten after all these years himself, for we had asked him, and he seemed to be convinced that there would be one navette and one navette only, and this would entirely prevent us from profitting from our final day.

"Il n'y a même pas une navette du village qui circule entre les Gets et Morzine?"

"Peut-être à 13 heures, Madame, mais il est dimanche et je ne sais pas si l'information est toujours bonne pour le dimanche." It was difficult to comprehend that this charming maître d'hôtel, who has directed service at La Marmotte these last 7 or 8 years, was neither familiar with the schedule of buses between les Gets and Morzine, nor offering to check his information to be certain to better inform us and be of service, either to us or to Madame Bidas, but such was the evident case.

"Vous pouvez appeler Madame Bidas," he offered, with great concern and attention, "J'ai son numéro à la réception."

"Non, c'est très gentil," I said. And très insufficient, I thought.

It couldn't possibly be a tremendous hypocrisy because our group was largely Moroccan, Lebanese and Benini doctors possessing French citizenship, could it?

Let us hope not. This seemed to enter no one else's mind, so let it leave my own. He had been so very attentive, and charming.

Our transportation woes were only completed by not only having spent from 10 am to noon, sitting in the emptying lobby to the conference, as the various manufacturers of diagnostic equipment, tampons and gel douche for "sensitive areas" representatives packed their brochures and equipment, loaded their vehicles and left us more and more to ourselves, while we waited for a pizza lunch we'd as happily skipped to ski had we known that we could have had a navette later in the day to make the 3 pm bus to Thonon, but by learning once we finally made it to Thonon that our change in TGV reservations had not been confirmed. We did not have seats on the train. No one had bothered to confirm that the travel agency had actually made the change once the organizers informed our group's inviting company representative that there was no bus planned to take people to our station -- Bellegarde again -- for the return trip to Paris, but only to Thonon-les-Bains.

So much for our first class seats. And, we'll just need to get remimbursed. Oh, remind me to tell you sometime of the attempted and of the successful theft on the RER C we witnessed, on our way to get the car in Viroflay from Gare de Lyon. Oh, yeah, and then there were the gendarmes' cars blocking the entry to the bit of road along the Seine in Méricourt as we neared home.

"Ca doit pour les gens qui viennent se garer et boire plus loin."

"Je sais, je les vois --" I started to say "when I walk the dogs in the evening," but I thought better of it. He'd already asked me not to walk the dogs alone after dark even there, along the Seine in our tiny villages. Yet, on the RER C he had said, "This doesn't happen in Mousseaux."

"Non, Ils ont seulment essayé de voler notre voiture, et ils ont réussi à voler les roues de la voitures des voisins dans la rue devant chez eux," I offered.

The trip? For all that, we had a wonderful time. I could see Grands Montets, imagining Argentière nestled at its feet, and Mont Blanc with the peaks behind le Brévent and La Flégère across the Vallée Blanche on the side where I stood, from the top of Ranfouilly, and as much as I wished that we were there, this was skiing that suited my husband better, with reds that are more like the blues of Chamonix, and he was so happy to be able to take me there that I was only to happy to sacrifice the challenge of the trails and see him actually enjoy himself on them, rather than in the banks along their sides, ski tips pointing akimbo.

And, upon our return, a garden offering the first tulip bloom, still more saxifragia flowers, and the opening of the Euphorbia ones. Now, to figure out how to -- and if I can -- save the camelia. It's looking really bad.

Oh, God, I forgot to get bread at the boulangérie, and it's too late. I always do this in the first days of the end of daylight savings time. It's too light out for it to be time for the stores to close. I spent the whole afternoon (finally) reading Dreams From My Father. Anyone who has read it already understands why it's the best excuse for forgetting to go to the boulangérie, alongside sunlight still bright on the garden outside the windows after 7 pm this far north.

What am I going to tell my husband? I can't pull out that worn explanation that I was tricked by the longer day to think it was earlier... Um, je me suis habituée de sortir en restaurant?

I'm in trouble now.

C'mon, dogs, lets go for a walk. It's still light out.
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